Trying to Convince Everyone Not to Worry

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?

Offense

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.

Pitching

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.

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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.

21 thoughts on “Trying to Convince Everyone Not to Worry

  1. Michael

    I am very optimistic about this season. While we won't have the greatest starting rotation, one is not as necessary with our lineup during the regular season. I expect A-Rod to be better than last season along with Jeter and Granderson. Plus we have a stellar bullpen with pitchers who can come in and eat some innings for the younger starters.

    I am not expecting to be the clear front runner for the World Series like we have been in the past, but I do expect us to compete, make the playoffs, and have a great opportunity to win it all.

    Should be a fun season and it will be the first season I will have MLB.tv so I can watch all the games, I am pumped!

    • Mark Smith

      MLB.tv is awesome. I've had it for the past three seasons, and it's made my life so much better. The only TV games I can watch in Louisville or Lexington are Reds and Cubs games (blech).

      As for the team, I agree. They should be fine for the regular season, but the lack of a powerful rotation may hurt them in the playoffs.

  2. Mike

    Mark, interesting take, I enjoyed this. I am wondering if the same analysis would show the Rays better than everyone expects and the Sawx not as much improved as everyone thinks, once again leaving it a close 3-horse race in the AL East.

    • Mark Smith

      I had thought about doing so, and if you want, I can do it for the other two major powers. Boston is pretty much put together, and they would be easy to do. Tampa would require some creativity (I'd like to see them grab Manny for DH and a Mat Gamel/Russell Branyan/Billy Butler for 1B to fill out the roster) and guesswork. There's quite a bit they can still do, but we can at least see what they'd need to contend.

      • mikeNicoletti

        With boston, I'm not thinking the Youk/Gonzalez combination to be that much better and probably a bit worse then Beltre/Youk was last year. Gonzalez has been feasting on NL west pitching through >50% of his at bats while Beltre had a transcendent year. Their major upgrade is crawford, and that puts them closer to the yankees, but their real bounceback could occur in their rotation. Beckett/Lackey could at least add 2-4 wins, but that's not a gaurentee. (Just imagine having 2 Burnett's in your rotation!) Pedroia back healthy all year is should add a win as well. Bill Hall played awfully well for them last year, and he is now gone. All this and i think smart money says the teams are very, very close.

        • Mark Smith

          Undoubtedly. The thing I'll note, however, is that Gonzalez played in an extreme pitcher's park and is now in a hitter-friendly environment.

          • mikeNicoletti

            Absolutely, which i would imagine hold his slash lines near his career averages. Looking at the park corrected statistics after this season should make for a great debate on how much different the two leagues are in their talent. On the other hand, I may be underestimating the talent and he could become a lefty Manny Ramirez circa 2001-2004. This will be a fun season. I do long for the day the balanced schedule comes back so I know less about the Red Sox and more about the rest of the league!

  3. moooose

    I hope you're right, but I think this might be a bit too optimistic. If Nova is a replacement level pitcher (I think he'll be a 2 or 3 WAR quality pitcher the first time through the league and much lower the second), the 5th starter spot never gels, and the bullpen is about the same as last year, then it's a 90 win team. This is no tragedy, but it might mean watching instead of playing in October/November.

    • Mark Smith

      It might be too optimistic. I'd like to note that I don't think the Yankees will win 101 games. My point is that this team isn't in such dire straits as everyone seems to think. If they were a 95-win team again, then the usual +/- 6 swing gives them the range of 89-101 wins. What I wanted to point out was that this team was still very good, even if they missed out on the big starting pitchers.

  4. billybeaneismyhero

    As a Red Sox fan, I never discount the Yankees chances. As of this moment, I still think they're a second place team (for now) in the division, but that's primarily due to their shallow rotation. Their offense will still be fantastic as Teixeria, A-Rod, and (to a much lesser extent) Jeter will bounce back. I expect a better season out of Granderson, but I feel as if his overall value would benefit from a move out of CF. Cano, who I greatly underestimated coming into 2010, will be the cornerstone of the lineup, and probably should be moved into the three hole with Tex moving to the four and A-Rod to the five.

    As for pitching, CC will be fantastic as per usual. Hughes should take a huge step forward now that he's had a full season in the rotation to build up some stamina. Burnett is still a concern as his velocity, along with his strikeouts and swinging strike rate plummeted last season. He's just not a very good pitcher without the strikeouts–his control isn't good enough. I'm very skeptical of Nova. He didn't strikeout a lot of guys, and he was never very high on anyone's prospect radar. (Not that being a highly touted prospect is a pre-requisite to being a quality MLB pitcher.) I don't mind him as a #5 (if Pettitte returned or they made a trade), but I hate him as a #4.

    As an objective baseball guy, I'd like to see the Yankees make a strong push for Rafael Soriano and Chad Billingsley. Billingsley would slot in perfectly between Sabathia and Hughes. Soriano, if they could get him, would be create an unbelievable 1-2 punch at the end of the game that no one could rival. If they could do those two things, it would make the AL East race very interesting.

  5. DustyYF

    You're right. A bunch of guys (Teixiera, Jeter, Burnett, A-Rod) had really down years. I'm also convinced that Granderson is capable of much better numbers in the Bronx than what he produced in 2010. Russell Martin is an underrated addition to the team. Our catchers were awful last year. Martin is great defensively, even if we don't know if he can hit .280 BA .360 OBP .420 SLG.

    Teixiera should hit better. Jeter an A-Rod have age and/or injuries so it's unknown if they can improve from 2010. Burnett needs to reinvent himself. I don't know if he's capable of that, though. I'd rather get Joba back in the rotation. The Yanks either need to give Joba a role in which he can develop or trade him. But he's already lost so much value that they probably wouldn't trade him unless he's part of a package with a better prospect or Gardner. I would really hate to lose Gardner. Both because he does something on the team that no one else does with his speed and because (bias alert) I know him (our childhood homes are a mile apart and we went to the same high school).

  6. JP.

    Cliff Lee royally screwed us this off season. Don't wanna play for the Yankees? Fine. But his annoying waiting game took the Yanks out of the running for any other FAs. If the Yankees knew they wouldn't be plunking down a nine figure deal for Lee, could they have made a great offer to say, Adam Dunn? He'd look great in that DH slot.

    Lee essentially prevented the Yankees from making any significant FA moves. That stings double, as the FA classes in the coming years are horrible.

    • Mark Smith

      Don't blame Lee for trying to get the contract that he wanted from the team he wanted. He didn't make the Yankees stalk him. And even with Lee's "hesitance", they still had/have other good trade options without giving up the payroll flexibility. As for those other FA, who did you want? Werth/Crawford–where would you put them? De La Rosa–you didn't really want him that badly? Dunn–where would you put him (Posada's the DH)? Martinez–he isn't a full-time catcher anymore? Besides the fact that the Yankees could have simultaneously negotiated with these players, none of them really made much sense. Lee was the only one who did.

      • JP.

        Well, I don't blame Lee in a moral sense. He had the right to do whatever he wanted, including taking the time to make such a big decision. I am just frustrated that while other premier FA made decisions pretty quickly, Lee just sat around and sat around, and sat around, and ultimately hand cuffed the Yanks' ability to make serious pursuit of other FAs.

        I wouldn't want Werth, but Crawford or Dunn would've made the team better. Crawford could slide to LF, making Gardner a nice trade chip. Dunn coulda DH'd. I know Jorge is set to DH, but he is a sunk cost, and Dunn would've likely been a much better hitter in that spot. Neither would add as much value as Lee, but the 2011 team would still be better with either of them.

        I imagine negotiating simultaneously with other FAs would've been very tough. Every one knew the Yankees were setting aside huge cash for Lee, and that if they landed him, they would likely have nothing left for a big move. Could the Yankees really have asked Crawford or Dunn to sit tight until Lee made a decision, to see whether they'd have the cash ready? I highly doubt that would've worked.

        This ordinarily wouldn't really bother me, except that the looming crop of FA's looks horrible (I guess other than Pujols, but whatever). It could be several years till we see a comparably strong FA class. Weak free agents means the Yankees' financial edge is largely nullified.

        At this point, the Yankees medium-term strategy largely hinges on the farm system filling in the cracks. That's not an awful way to go, but it woulda been nice to have another layer of talent via free agency. Oh well.

        • Mark Smith

          If the Yankees were so bent on giving Lee that cash, it's the Yankees' fault, not Lee's. In no way did he ever tell the Yankees to do such. It is up to the Yankees to weigh the costs/benefits of their off-season strategy, and you had to at least consider that Lee would delay while others signed. I get why you're upset he didn't sign, but it was the Yankees' fault that they didn't negotiate with other players.

          As for your points of making the team better, I don't disagree for 2011. But 2013-15 is another story. The Yankees, if having done what you suggest, would become increasingly dependent on so few players, and if a few started going down to injury (which is possible as all would be in their 30s–and many in their mid-to-late 30s), they would be hamstrung by those costly salaries and years. Again, I understand how it makes you antsy (I've been a Braves fan for a long time, and the off-season often goes without a big acquisition or something to hope for, though not this off-season) that you didn't reel in a big fish and that the team could have been better, but understand that the other decisions are not made within a vacuum and will have their own consequences.

    • Damian

      I can't fault a guy for waiting it out for the best overall deal. He didn't owe anything to the Yankees, and the Yankees put their eggs in the Lee basket at their own risk. To my knowledge, Lee never made any assurances to the Yankees that he would play for them. And besides Lee, I'm not sure there were any FA pitchers the Yankees would have been very enthusiastic about signing.

  7. Damian

    On Fangraphs, it wasn't immediately apparent to me how they allocate their WAR between offense and defense. On BR, you get oWAR and dWAR. Based upon those numbers, Posada's net WAR actually projects pretty well if he isn't playing defense. Does the Fangraphs projection take that into account? If not, he could project even better, and the team would overall from having better defense from Martin.

    • Mark Smith

      On FanGraphs, the UZR is the defensive addition (Posada lost 6 runs, or 0.6 wins, due to his poor defense). Offensively, Posada does look good, but the defensive switch will hurt his value. It's harder to find good offense in a catcher than a DH. When you make the positional adjustments from C to DH, Posada's value is decimated. I think he'll play more and hit better than last season, which is why he gets 2 wins from me, but the FANS value is so low because they think his offense will stagnate and that he won't play in that many games.

  8. domonic

    What are your thoughts on signing a Rafael Soriano? Since they can't significantly improve their starting rotation anymore and since their offense is still one of the best, why don't they try to significantly improve their bullpen. They could turn games into a 6 inning game with Rivera, Soriano, Joba/Robertson. I know they signed Feliciano, but that doesn't seem to significantly improve their bullpen. They should get a dominant reliever in my opinion in order to keep pace with the Red Sox.

    • domonic

      and shouldn't they have the money for a solid reliever after not spending it on Lee

      • Mark Smith

        Excellent question. What I love about Soriano: he's awesome and he's a reliever you actually pay good money for (the others being Nathan, Rivera, Soria, and maybe Heath Bell). What I don't like: he needs a multi-year deal and he has a lengthy injury history. Honestly, I might be tempted, especially with a potentially young rotation, to shorten some games, and with Rivera on his way out after 2012, Soriano would be a very nice replacement. It makes quite a bit of sense on some levels, but I wouldn't hand him the keys to the city or anything.

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