A little over a decade ago, the offseason was more subjective than objective. During these days, the Yankees would likely look at the departure of Nick Swisher, Hiroki Kuroda, and Russell Martin, and figure that they’d need to replace the position with equally competent players. That’s one way to handle the situation, but back then, competence was largely your batting average, RBI’s, win records, and everything else that we scoff at today. Wins above replacement (WAR) isn’t a perfect answer when evaluating a player, but it’s generally the best objective single number we have. It’s quick, clean, and accurate, and now it’ll give us an idea of what the Yankees really lose in 2013.
First off, let’s put fWAR in some sort of context. If you’re completely new to the stat, imagine that your team is compose of replacement level players, or players you’d easily find on a Triple-A team. If a player produces above what’s considered replacement level they earn positive WAR, and if they don’t it goes negative. A player like Robinson Cano, who posted 7.8 fWAR in 2012, helped the team win 7.8 extra games.
Since 2430 games were played in the 2012 regular season, 2430 total wins were earned. Throughout those games, FanGraphs issued 1129.7 fWAR throughout all of baseball. Subtracting these additional wins from the 2430 games, you’ll find that if all the teams had been replacement level, they’d produce a combined 1300.3 wins. Divide that by the 30 teams in baseball, and your replacement level team was worth 43.3 wins in 2012.
The Yankees hitting and pitching combined for 51.1 fWAR, and when you add that to the 43.3 win replacement level baseline, the Yankees should have won 94.4 games. In comparison, Bill James‘ Pythagorean expectation, or the formula that calculates wins based on total runs scored and allowed, had the Yankees winning 95 games. Both of these numbers are pretty much identical to the actual outcome, which was a 95-67 record.
For now, let’s assume that the player’s remaining on the team after this offseason will go on to repeat their performance in 2013. This means we can subtract the total fWAR accumulated by the players leaving, and thus figure out where the Yankees would stand next season with replacement level players filling these spots.
All together, that adds up to 17.5 fWAR leaving the team. Subtract that from the 94.4 wins they were expected in 2012, and the team is good for just 76.9 wins if they filled these sports with replacement level players in 2013, a 77-85 record. Before we get started talking about who they need to start targeting in 2013, there are some additional conditions to look at next year.
With the age of the team, there are some players we can expect deterioration, but there are also players we can expect additional WAR. Probably the biggest addition will be a healthy Brett Gardner, who produced an average of 5.7 fWAR in his first two full seasons. I’d also suggest that Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, who have respectively averaged 4.6 fWAR and 4.3 fWAR over their careers, will see more production. If these three players have average years, they’ll provide an additional 10.6 fWAR, a huge boost that would give the team 87.5 wins without replacing any of the players leaving.
But we’re not done yet. You could make a case that Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, and Joba Chamberlain should also see a slight increase in fWAR next season, though less likely than the three mentioned above. Michael Pineda and David Aardsma are also interesting pieces that should provide something above replacement too, assuming injury recovery.
That said, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are still aging, so that will likely take away some of the value we’ve already calculated into the 87.5 wins. I also wouldn’t count on Robinson Cano having another year like he just did. As good as he is, a 7.8 fWAR season is his highest ever, and it’s not something to count on for 2013.
There’s no way to accurately calculate what they’ll gain from the young players, and the same goes for what they’ll lose with the older players. Between this and a slight Cano decline, it’ll probably account for a couple lost wins, right around the mid 80’s.
Baseball Think Factory and ESPN’s Dan Syzmborski has already released preliminary 2013 Yankee forecasting based on the ZiPS projection system. Much like our fWAR shows, Syzmborski has the Yankees going 85-77.
As nice as it would be to enter this offseason with 85 wins, both of these projections assume that the starters will be fully healthy through 2013, and that’s something that absolutely won’t happen. The ultimate goal is to finish right around where they did in 2012, since around 95 games should win them a playoff spot in a weak 2013 AL East. Preparing for injuries, the team will likely seek out around 15 additional wins on top of the 85 win calculation, sitting comfortably at a 100 win projection.
Resigning Mariano Rivera will probably happen very soon, and he has averaged 2.3 fWAR per full season. If the Yankees could further resign Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda, that’ll add about 6 more wins to the projection. Russell Martin, who’s averaged 3.3 fWAR per season, would move the total wins from 85 to 96.6.
The big question is what happens in right field, and with around 97 wins accounted for, the Yankees could add Ichiro Suzuki, Eric Chavez, and further fill out the bench and bullpen with lottery ticket pieces to achieve that 100 win goal.
As weak as it sounds to virtually have the same team as last season, the 2012 team had the best record in the American League with the most injury time in the league. Without Brett Gardner producing, and a huge Granderson slump, the team vastly under produced. For that reason, fWAR and ZiPS shows that the organization is surprisingly well set for 2013, despite a close season in 2012.
Personally, my only concern is right field. With a budget in 2014/2015, finding cheap one year stop gaps like Kuroda, Pettitte, and Suzuki leaves them ill prepared for the future. As players like Teixeira, Jeter, Rodriguez, and Sabathia age on the wrong side of 30, more and more WAR must be added to these positions over the next few years. The team has quite a few young starting pitchers that could add develop into high fWAR players, but the front office would do the team well to trade for a young, cheap, and high WAR right fielder to supplement for shortstop, third base, and first base. No matter what they decide to do, at least fWAR and ZiPS have shown there is little concern for 2013 from a statistical standpoint.