Joe Pawlikowski of RAB made an excellent point yesterday that impacts how we might evaluate a player’s statistics in 2011:
There is another question to ask, though. Are the Yankees actually bad with runners in scoring position? The answer might seem like an obvious yes, but we can’t answer that question without first examining the environment. That is, run scoring and power are down this year. Every team has seen a downturn in offensive output. Something has changed in the game, and we have to adjust our expectations.
Just as the depressed run environment impacts how we evaluate the team as a whole, it should alter how we view an individual player’s stat line. Offensive numbers that appear weak relative to past performance may actually be solid in this environment, while gaudy pitching statistics may be illusory as well. The best way to evaluate players, then, is to measure them agains their peers, who are also functioning within the depressed run environment. Below I have listed how the Yankee hitters fare relative to their peers, with the numbers denoting their rank amongst all MLB players at their position with the requisite threshold appearances. I included WAR because I wanted to provide an overall measure of value, but it is important to note that WAR for hitters includes UZR and UBR at this point, both of which usually need much larger samples to be trusted. Use these WAR rankings at your own risk.
On a team level, the Yankees are power heavy, not getting a ton of hits but reaching base plenty and depending on extra-base hits to bring runs home. At the individual level, Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin have been the most impressive relative to their peers, something that was obvious to the naked eye. However, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, and Mark Teixeira have also been relatively good, which may surprise some considering A-Rod’s long stretch of poor play, Teixeira’s bevy of pop-ups, and Gardner’s poor start. Teixeira is among the top 6 or 7 at a loaded position, Gardner has turned his season around and has an argument for being the best all-around LF in the AL, and A-Rod is still among the best 3rd basemen in the sport. Robinson Cano is a notch below these 5 guys at this point, but you would expect him to move up these rankings as the season progresses. The Yankees have 5 players at or near the top of the league relative to their peers, and a 6th who falls a bit short but should recover.
On the flip side, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada are close to the bottom of the talent pool at their positions, and Derek Jeter is firmly planted in the bottom third of shortstops. The bottom of the RF list is actually fairly surprising, with names like Nick Markakis and Ichiro Suzuki showing up just above Swisher’s name. I expect Swisher to recover from his incredible slump, but he has already dug himself a statistical hole that he is unlikely to climb out of by season’s end. As for Jeter and Posada, it seems that both are nearing the end of the line, as neither player is reasonably close to the median at their respective positions.
The pitching is decidedly more mediocre. The starters are to the lower end of the middle of the pack, while the Yankee relief core belongs in the 10-14 range. CC Sabathia has been very good at giving the Yankees plenty of solid innings, and Bartolo Colon has been a revelation, but other than that, the Yankee rotation is weak. Ivan Nova looks due for a collapse, AJ Burnett’s peripherals are far from encouraging, and Freddy Garcia is a 4th starter at best. To succeed in the postseason, the Yankees will need Phil Hughes to come back strong or Brian Cashman to swing a deal in order to solidify the rotation.
As for the bullpen, while the overall metrics are not fantastic, the numbers on the Yankees’ top 3 relievers are fairly impressive. Mariano Rivera continues to be dominant, Joba Chamberlain is once again flashing strong peripherals, and the only blemish on David Robertson‘s record is his recent wildness. Overall, I think the Yankees have to be comfortable with their endgame at this point, although I am sure they want to bring some depth on to limit the innings for their top 3 arms.