This offseason I’ve taken you through every major projection system I could get my hands on: shortly after the World Series we looked at Bill James’ expectedly optimistic projections; SG’s pragmatic CAIRO projections; THT’s rather pessimistic non-park adjusted Oliver projections; Tango’s slightly-less-dire-than-Oliver non-park adjusted Marcel projections; and PECOTA’s reasonable, CAIRO-esque projections.
Today we finally tackle the last of the major projection systems; Dan Szymborski’s park-adjusted ZiPS. While no more or less accurate than any of the other forecasts, I do have a certain fondness for ZiPS as Fangraphs carries daily updated Rest-of-Season (RoS) and end-of-season ZiPS forecasts throughout the baseball season.
Here’s what Szymborski has to say about the 2011 Yankees:
“As anybody can see, the Yankees have a championship-caliber offense. There’s little question about the abilities of any of their starters and if Jesus Montero were a few years younger, ZiPS would be seized by the Robot Enforcement Authority and deleted as a sex crime offender. The Yankees will need the bats. To say the Yankee pitching, especially the starters, is top-heavy is a pretty big understatement. As top-heavy goes, it’s more ‘Joba Chamberlain wearing 10-gallon hat filled with gravy riding piggyback on David Samson’s shoulders on a unicycle’ type. If Sabathia is Citizen Kane, the prospective 4th and 5th starters are Meet the Spartans 2: The Lycians Go to Band Camp developed by your idiot cousin and his troglodytic moonshine-buddies and filmed in pitch black with a video phone from 2006. Don’t even think about what happens if Sabathia or Hughes or (!) Burnett go on the DL for any reason. It’s actually a little worse than the lines below given that Pettitte is retired and neither Banuelos or Betances, even if relatively competent to pitch in the majors now, shouldn’t be rushed. The Yankees do have enough firepower that they’ll be in the thick of things, but I think the Yankees, like the Rays, are a clear step behind the Red Sox right now.”
While Dan is probably overstating the Yankees’ back-end of the rotation problems just a tad, I don’t think anyone would disagree with the Rays and Yanks being a step behind Boston at the present time.
Here’s what ZiPS holds in store for the 2011 Yankee offense:
For the most part this table should be greeted with smiles. ZiPS — like just about every other system we’ve looked at this offseason — likes both Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to bounce back from their down years, with A-Rod leading the team in slugging and Tex in on-base percentage. While this isn’t quite the elite level of offensive production we’ve come to expect from the Yankees during the last decade — if you scan through the last 10 years of Yankee rosters on Baseball-Ref, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more than one starter below an OPS+ of 100 — it’s still a robust heart of the order, and if Jeter can get his OBP above .360 (I know a lot of his OBP is tied up in his batting average, but is this really too much to ask of a hitter with a career .385 OBP, even one on the wrong side of 35?) and SLG above .400, he’ll at least be back above league average. The only two potential weak spots are Russell Martin and Brett Gardner, and while the former has a fair amount to prove after three straight years of declining performance, I think the latter has a decent chance to outperform his projection, especially now that he finally has a fully healed hand. Oh, and perhaps the most enjoyable component of this chart? Jesus Montero projects to be the fifth-best hitter on the team (at least by OPS+) in a robust 539 at-bats.
Pretty much about what we’d expect to see on the pitching side of the ledger. CC Sabathia is of course projected to be a beast, while ZiPS likes Phil Hughes to improve slightly on his 2010, but not overwhelmingly so. A.J. Burnett projects to be league average, and when you’re in league average territory by your third starter, that’s a bit of a scary sign. ZiPS hates Ivan Nova, which seems to be a recurring theme among projection systems, but there’s no way he’ll be allowed to throw 150 innings of 5.29 ERA ball, so I’m not terribly concerned. I’ve sorted the remainder of the hypothetical starting pitching candidates by projected ERA, although of course Dellin Betances — who ZiPS likes best among this particular grouping — won’t be starting the season in the big leagues, and is unlikely to see any action in the Bronx at all. ZiPS isn’t quite as high on Manny Banuelos as just about everyone else in the world is, although a projected 4.92 ERA (90 ERA+) for a kid a few weeks shy of turning 20 and who’s never pitched above AA seems pretty special, especially when you compare it to what ZiPS thinks about everyone else in that table.
The bullpen, as expected, looks beastly on paper, and could be even better if luck smiles on Joba Chamberlain in the form of a slightly lowered BABIP, which was the 6th-highest among AL relievers last season.
In any event, I basically echo Szymborski’s assessment of an elite offense with questionable pitching, but unlike Szymborski I think the Yankee pitching staff will get help from some unexpected places this season and will end up surprising a lot of the naysayers.