The first point I have to make, in order for this analysis to be useful at all, is that the 2010 Yankees are better than the 2009 Yankees. Here at the blog, we’ve referred plenty to the statistics of Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson against those of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. Unless your statistic of choice is batting average (and if so….why?) the new guys are better offensively, as well as being younger.
|3-Year||Johnson and Granderson||0.279||0.379||0.485||0.864|
|Damon and Matsui||0.284||0.365||0.463||0.828|
|5-Year||Johnson and Granderson||0.276||0.372||0.473||0.846|
|Damon and Matsui||0.292||0.366||0.467||0.833|
The 2010 Yankees also have the benefit of starting the season with their best hitter, Alex Rodriguez, intact. You may recall that A-Rod was on the DL for the first month of the 2009 season, and wasn’t really fully himself until late in the season. So sub in Johnson and Granderson for Damon and Matsui, slot in A-Rod instead of Cody Ransom for a month, and I think it’s hard to argue that this year’s lineup isn’t a chunk better than last year’s lineup.
With that in mind, let’s compare 2009 to 1998, offensively.
So, 2009 is a tick better than 1998–especially in normalized statistics (which measure the team against the league, so we can see how good they were relative to the rest of baseball). OPS+ says that the 2009 team’s on-base plus slugging, adjusted for league and park, was 22% better than league average. 1998 was only 16% better than league average. Again, remember, this is without the new additions, and a full season of A-Rod.
Next let’s look at pitching. As above, we have to compare 2010 to 2009 before we can do any real analysis. And as above, 2010 is better than 2009. In 2009 25 games were started by Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Alfredo Aceves or the ghost of Chien Ming Wang. 25 games! People forget that Wang was slotted in as our #2 going into the season, before putting up an achingly bad 9.64 ERA over 42.0 innings. While we can argue the benefits of Hughes versus Joba all day long, in the end it’s a miniscule issue compared to the addition of Javier Vazquez.
As I’ve alluded to, last season, Javier Vazquez was the second best pitcher in the National League (by FIP), and the best by xFIP, which normalizes for HR/FB rate. Let’s clarify what that means. FIP is a fielding independent version of ERA–which allows us to better look at the contribution of the pitcher himself, independent of the defense behind him, or luck on balls in play. It also happens to be a much better predictor of future ERA than past ERA is. xFIP is FIP, but adjusted to take out luck on the HR/FB rate, which most studies have shown is difficult for the pitcher to control. Javier Vazquez is a very good pitcher. He’s filling innings previously filled by guys we pulled off the scrap heap. Andy Pettitte is old…..but he was old last year too. Seems to me the addition of Vazquez outweighs any expected regression there as well.
The bullpen is right around the same place it was last year. Which isn’t to say the performance will be the same–reliever performance is very volatile. And after the shellacking they took in the first game of this season, I’m sure it’ll be easy to convince you that our bullpen is worse than it was last year. It was one game. It’s really made up of the same pitchers, excepting Joba replacing Hughes, and Chan Ho Park (who was quite good for the Phillies last year).
I’d conclude that 2010’s pitching is handily better than 2009’s pitching. But what does 2009 look like relative to 1998? 1998 is better–no doubt. 1998’s FIP of 4.15 versus 2009’s 4.32 is a clear winner. But wait…the innings Vazquez will be replacing came out as follows: 112.1 innings, 5.29 FIP. The four headed beast’s ERA was a crushing 7.39. Vazquez’s FIP last season? 2.77. His ERA? 2.87. There’s an obvious adjustment upwards for his transfer back from the NL to the AL–but even so, this more than bridges the gap.
I won’t go so far as to say that 2010’s pitching is better than 1998’s, because I don’t think it’s that clear. But I’ll say the two are extremely comparable, and either could easily be the victor in this battle.
So what’s left? Defense. This one is hard to objectively discuss, as the advanced statistics that have been developed in recent years didn’t exist back then. I’m not going to demean you by quoting fielding percentage. I’ll simply go position by position. The outfield defense was quite bad in 1998–Paul O’Neill was never a great fielder, Bernie Williams, while not the fielding zombie he eventually became, was still mediocre at best–his routes were bad and his arm was terrible. The speed didn’t make up for his lack of defensive instinct. I’ll honestly admit I haven’t a clue how good Chad Curtis was on defense. I just doubt he’s anywhere near as good as Brett Gardner, who is a top shelf OF defender (at the more difficult CF). Swisher is an adventure, but really, RFs a tie given Paulie’s fielding. Granderson is a great defender in center field, and is head and shoulders above Bernie defensively.
Around the diamond, Posada was and is bad (he’s probably a bit worse now); Teixeira is incredible defensively, but so was Tino; Cano is a lot better than Knoblauch; Jeter is surprisingly about as good as he used to be after the last two seasons’ renaissance (we’ll see if it continues). Alex, if his hip is back to normal, is an average to slightly above-average defender–I guess Scott Brosius probably wins this, but not by too much.
Given the advantage the 2010 Yankees have in the OF and up the middle of the diamond, I’d suggest they take this home as well.
So there you have it. The 2010 Yankees are stronger than the 1998 Yankees both offensively and defensively, and pitching is a wash. In the balance, the 2010 team is, in fact, better than the sacred 1998 team.