The most important, and broadest, information is at the bottom. Last year’s team produced 95.4 fWAR, and sure enough, they won 95 games, which tells us that they were legitimately a 95-win team (probably). Looking forward to 2011, I did a few projections of my own, but I also included the FANS projections (it’s crowd-sourced, taking the average of fans’ projections on the player) just in case you don’t trust me (FANS has a lower total than I do, but they didn’t have predictions for Cervelli, Nova, back-ups, or most middle relievers; this could add 6-7 wins, which would probably have to be dropped anyway once all the fancy smoothing out—actually making sure outs, at bats, kinds of hits actually match up—is done). When I did so, I realized that the Yankees, even without Lee or Pettitte, may actually be better next season without any major additions. What?
Let’s start with the offense. I figure the offense, as a whole, is in line for a 2-win increase in production, but the FANS see the offense being much the same as this past season. I’m not sure if everyone realizes how epically good this offense can be if everyone clicked at the same time, which hasn’t happened (and may never, but you may I’m a dreamer …). Teixeira, A-Rod, Granderson and Jeter are the major bounce-back candidates as each of their offensive numbers took a dive due to BABiP fluctuation, and each of them should be better, to the tune of about 3-3.5 wins combined.
Another area of improvement comes from the DH spot, which was home to Kearns, Winn, and Thames, who combined for 0.6 wins. Posada will move to that spot, and I think he can be worth about 2 wins, accounting for a slight increase in offense but a large drop in positional value. That’s an increase of about 1.5 wins. Because Posada moves, we also have to account for the catcher position. Posada was worth 2.4 wins in 2010, and being conservative about Martin, Martin should be worth about 2 wins next season, meaning a loss of about half a win. Overall, the position switch should give the Yankees an additional win, for an additional 4-4.5 wins when added to the above totals.
Where they may lose some production is with last year’s heroes Cano, Swisher, and Gardner. Gardner had an incredible 21.5 UZR last season, which he isn’t likely to repeat (just because it was so incredible), and he was a little hit-lucky, though not much. Swisher was really weird last season as he didn’t walk as much and got quite a bit of help from the BABiP fairy, but usually when someone has a weird year, it’s just that, which is why I project something closer to his career numbers. As for our boy Cano, he wasn’t hit-lucky, but I’m not sure he can repeat his walk rate. If he does or even improves, he could be even better next season. After looking at all three of these players, they lose about 2 wins. When we subtract that from the 4-win improvements from above, that leaves us with the 2-win overall improvement from the offense.
Surprisingly, pitching is where we see the largest increase. Isn’t that awesome! But how did that 3.5-win improvement happen? Sabathia and Rivera are still awesome, and I imagine the bullpen will be similar to what it was last season. That means the improvement has to come from the rest of rotation, which probably gives you some pause. Watch as I amaze you.
One improvement to look at is Hughes. At his age and with some MLB experience, we can imagine some growth on the peripherals (a few more Ks, a few less BBs), but the biggest jump will be the increase in innings from 176 to somewhere near 200. I mainly see a change in innings, but FANS sees some real improvement in his K/BB ratio and a drop in his HR rate. The lower FIP is the reason for the 1-win improvement by the fans, and I don’t necessarily disagree. I’ll just be more conservative.
The next improvement comes from the Deadweight Duo of Burnett and Vazquez. Burnett was bad last season, but he wasn’t completely awful (his ERA was inflated by a poor LOB% and high HR/FB%). Burnett was usually worth about 3 wins prior to last season, but being more conservative and taking age into the equation, I’ll give him 2.5 wins. Vazquez, on the other hand, was abominable and worse than replacement level. By replacing him with Nova, you have a 1.5-2 win increase (taking away the half a win from Nova’s 2010) in Vazquez’s spot in the rotation. All told, that’s about a 2.5-3 win increase from these two and 3 wins overall.
As for Pettitte’s spot in the rotation, we don’t really know what to do. I don’t think he’s coming back, but if he does, I like the FANS projection of something near 2.7 fWAR. Because I don’t see him coming back, I’ve slotted in Betances/Banuelos/FA to give 1.5 to the spot, which loses a win from Pettitte’s 2010. That leaves us with a 2-win increase overall, so where does that extra win and a half come from?
Addition by subtraction. Removing Gaudin, Moseley, and Park will make up the rest of the difference by simply adding replacement-level relievers, which is harder than it sounds (obviously, because you’ve seen that the Yankees couldn’t avoid finding worse pitchers last season).The addition of Feliciano could bring an additional half a win to the bullpen. Adding all this up, the pitching staff should see a 3.5-4 win improvement next season.
Now, of course, these are all projections and not what will exactly happen, but I think they are plausible for next season. By simply getting better seasons from some offensive players and getting rid of some trash from the pitching staff, the Yankees may be even better team than they were last year, or if you prefer to be less optimistic, they certainly aren’t worse. When you consider all of this, it shows you just how much went wrong last year, and they still won 95 games. That’s how good they were last season, and with essentially the same team back this next season, they are still an elite team. No, everything isn’t perfect, but no team is. The incredible star power of the position players was 2nd in total value in the MLB in 2010, and the “improved” rotation for 2011 would rank 10th in total value by the same list. That is still an elite team, one that can win the World Series, and one that might even be able to withstand the breaking-in of some young pitchers. Cashman’s off-season hasn’t gone according to Plan A, but his Plan B has been strategically well-done.