Projecting the 2011 Yankees – Part 1: The Infield

Catcher – Russell Martin

2010 Season – .248/.347/.332, .306 wOBA, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 6 SB, 4.0 UZR, 2.1 WAR

2011 Projection – .254/.352/.349, .323 wOBA, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 5 SB, 2.0 UZR, 2.2 WAR

Marcel Projection – .256/.350/.350, .315 wOBA, 7 HR, 41 RBI, 9 SB

Bill James Projection – .270/.380/.398, .333 wOBA, 12 HR, 57 RBI, 10 SB

Do you remember when Russell Martin was a young, upcoming stud catcher with solid power, above average base running skills, and great on base abilities? Yeah, so do I. With Martin having just turned 28 years old, it seems strange to think that he may have already played his best baseball. Still, after watching him play the past two seasons, I have a feeling that’s the case. While Martin has retained his ability to get on base, his power and base running abilities have all but disappeared. The torn hip labrum he suffered mid-way through last season likely not only robbed him of some of his speed on the base paths, but also shortened his shelf-life as a catcher. As a result of moving from the hostile hitting environment of Dodger Stadium to the more home run friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, we could see a jump in Martin’s power numbers. Considering Martin’s batted ball trends, he likely hits far too many ground balls (~ 50%) to realistically expect him to hit too many more home runs than what he’s hit over the past couple of seasons. Overall, Martin should provide enough value to justify the cost of his contract, but not enough to dazzle the Yankee front office into offering him arbitration after the season.

First Base – Mark Teixeira

2010 Season – .256/.365/.481, .367 wOBA, 33 HR, 108 RBI, 1SB, -2.9 UZR, 3.5 WAR

2011 Projection – .276/.384/.517, .390 wOBA, 34 HR, 115 RBI, 2.5 UZR, 5.3 WAR

Marcel Projection – .273/.368/.496, .374 wOBA, 38 HR, 96 RBI

Bill James Projection – .282/.383/.532, .393 wOBA, 36 HR, 120 RBI

After writing a 2000+ word piece titled “Don’t be concerned about Teixeira,” there’s really not much else I can add to explain why he’ll return to form in 2011.   Needless to say, my projection has him regaining his rightful place among the top five first basemen in the game.  Going into his age-31 season, Teixeira has plenty left in the tank.  He has a keen eye, draws walks, works counts, boasts excellent power, and plays Fielding Bible Award quality defense at his position.  He does have one weakness:  base running.  Luckily, that’s a weakness he shares with most lumbering first basemen, so it’s not really a problem.  At some point, Teixeira will start his decline phase.  Luckily for Yankee fans, that day is not today.

One last thing…If the Yankees manage to overtake the Red Sox this season, expect Teixeira’s name to be seriously floated about as an MVP candidate.

Second Base – Robinson Cano

2010 Season – .319/.381/.534, .389 wOBA, 29 HR, 109 RBI, 2 SB, -0.6 UZR, 6.4 WAR

2011 Projection – .311/.363/.519, .379 wOBA, 27 HR, 105 RBI, -3.5 UZR, 5.0 WAR

Marcel Projection – .300/.347/.476, .354 wOBA, 20 HR, 80 RBI

Bill James Projection – .308/.356/.502, .371 wOBA, 24 HR, 95 RBI

I have to say this upfront.  At the start of the 2010 season, I wasn’t a Robinson Cano believer.  Yes, it’s true.  I thought he was overrated.  I’ll fully admit that anti-Joe Morgan bias and team loyalty may’ve played roles in skewing my opinion.  Still, after watching his MVP quality performance last season, I can honestly call myself a convert.

While Cano has his share of faults as an all-around player, he more than makes up for those faults through his brilliant hitting abilities.  Always an aggressive hitter, he makes excellent contact, sprays the ball to all fields, and hits for power.  As Josh mentioned in his outstanding debut post the other day, Cano’s walk rate unexpectedly doubled from 2009 to 2010.  Why did this happen?  According to Cano’s O-Swing and O-Contact rates, his walk rate wasn’t the result of improved plate discipline.  Instead, Josh found that pitchers seemed to be making a conscious effort pitch around him, either intentionally or “unintentionally,” by staying out of his “hot spot.”  Since his improved walk rate wasn’t a result of Cano becoming more skilled at the plate, the smart money is on his walk rate (and therefore his OBP) regressing a bit in 2011.  Lastly, on the subject of his Cano’s defense, I admit that my projection may be a tad conservative.  John Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved metric seems to like Cano’s defense a lot more than UZR.  That said, I’m sticking my assessment knowing full well that his UZR could end up being a +3.5 (rather than -3.5), should a few things bounce Cano’s way this season.

Third Base – Alex Rodriguez

2010 Season – .270/.341/.506, .363 wOBA, 30 HR, 125 RBI, 3 SB, -1.8 UZR, 3.9 WAR

2011 Projection – .273/.359/.514, .379 wOBA, 32 HR, 107 RBI, -5.8 UZR, 4.2 WAR

Marcel Projection – .269/.354/.486, .354 wOBA, 26 HR, 96 RBI

Bill James Projection – .285/.370/.527, .384 wOBA, 31 HR, 108 RBI

All spring long, scouts, fans, and announcers have been raving about A-Rod—and for good reason.  For the first time since 2008, it looks like he’s finally recovered from the torn hip labrum that’s been holding him back.  What could a healthy A-Rod mean for the upcoming season?  Well, a healthy A-Rod is always better than injured A-Rod.  That, I think we can agree on.  Still, I’m a little guarded about what we should expect from him performance wise.  No matter how good he’s looked in Spring Training, it’s important to remember that A-Rod is entering his age-35 season.  At his age, baseball players rarely see their performance improve to far beyond their statistical norms unless it’s buoyed by either luck or some sort of PED.*  Since my projections heavily favor a player’s three most recent seasons of performance, I think A-Rod’s projection is incredibly fair.  While it’s certainly possible he could exceed my projection (along with Marcel and Bill James), his true talent level indicates that he’s an All-Star caliber, not elite level, player.  As such, it’s probably best we lower our expectations slightly.

* Note:  I am not making any judgments about players who have, are, or will use PEDs.  Just stating there is a correlative factor.

Shortstop – Derek Jeter

2010 Season – .270/.340/.370, .320 wOBA, 10 HR, 67 RBI, -4.7 UZR, 2.5 WAR

2011 Projection – .280/.354/.394, .341 wOBA, 12 HR, 67 RBI, 15 SB, -7.5 UZR, 3.0 WAR

Marcel Projection – .283/.350/.397, .334 wOBA, 12 HR, 59 RBI

Bill James Projection – .295/.365/.410, .344 wOBA, 13 HR, 68 RBI

Like Teixeira, it’s hard for me to say more about Jeter that I haven’t already said.  Going into his age-37 season, Jeter is entering some waters that have rarely been tested by full time shortstops.  While there have been a handful of success stories (Wagner, Smith, Vizquel, and Maranville), most of the men who have made the attempt have failed.  Considering Jeter’s long time status as elite level player, recent performance history, and extensive work with Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long, I feel pretty confident in Jeter’s ability to bounce back offensively.  Assuming he’s able to make the appropriate adjustments to his swing, we’ll likely see him hit more line drives and fewer ground balls.  As a result, this should positively affect his batting average and OBP.  That said, with Jeter focusing on his hitting, I think it’s safe to say he’ll more than likely see some regression on the defensive side of the coin.  I don’t mean this to be a knock on his controversial defensive performance.*  Instead, it should be taken as a reasonable acknowledgment that defensive play declines as a player ages.  While Jeter may not return to his MVP-quality levels of 2009, he should come reasonably close to his offensive production from 2008.

* If you haven’t read Brien’s latest spectacular take down of the blogger formerly known as Murray Chass, I highly suggest you read it now.

Next up, I’ll be tackling the outfielders and designated hitter position.  Stay tuned!