I define X-Factor as, “The player who has the greatest range of variation.” An X-Factor could be really good, or really bad. X-Factors ultimately will make-or-break your season. C.C. Sabathia may be the best player on the roster, but he’s so consistent it’s almost boring. Players may be aging, but many are pretty easily judged by the back of their baseball cards.
So, who is the 2012 Yankee X-Factor? I can think of three candidates.
Michael Pineda – Pineda could have a relatively poor (say, an ERA around 4.oo) 2012 season and still be a good acquisition for Brian Cashman when all is said and done. He’s still very young, and one can expect major league growing pains for the vast majority of prospects. If I were a betting man, I’d set the over/under around his 2011 ERA of 3.74. However, I think Pineda has a great deal of potential for greatness. It’s not hard to envision a breakout season where Pineda puts up a Sabathia-like 220 innings with an ERA around 3.00. He has that kind of ability. It’s not just all scouting report either – Pineda’ strikeout rate in 2011 was very real, and portends well for the future. If he does so, look out. The Yankees will have a 1/2 punch rivaling pretty much anyone out there.
Alex Rodriguez – Image for a second a picture of Alex Rodriguez’s 2012 season. Arod enters 2012 healthy. His knee has healed. His hip isn’t bothering him. He doesn’t develop any lingering issues. The Yankees take good care of him, resting him at DH frequently and with a complete day off roughly once a week. He plays 145 games, and doesn’t have any major nagging injuries to weigh down his performance. How good is that player? I think we’re talking about 4-5 WAR 3rd baseman, even if his hitting lags behind. Arod has been a slightly below average (not counting 2012’s small sample size) 3rd baseman during his tenure with the Yankees. If he hits something like .270/.360/.480, which I think he’s easily capable of, he’ll be one of the top two or three 3rd basemen in the American League. On the other hand, Alex could play 70 games and continue to suffer every injury possible. That’s the X-Factor for you.
Ivan Nova – If Ivan Nova can pitch a full season with an ERA matching his 3.70 in 2011, the Yankees will want to keep buying lottery tickets. Fact is, no one thought, even for a second, that Nova could be as good as he showed us in the second half of the season. Toward the end, he even started to show off a nasty breaking pitch. The problem is that he still didn’t strike many batters out. Pitchers can succeed without a decent strikeout rate, but those that do are the exception to the rule. I still believe Nova is more of a Joe Blanton than a true plus pitcher. That’s not a terrible thing, but if Nova can prove he’s more of a Chien-Ming Wang or Derek Lowe, the 2012 Yankees will have one hell of a rotation.
Honorable mentions to Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and “The DH.” But this is all just me. Who do you think is the 2012 X-Factor? Who should we be crossing our fingers for?