Over the last few months, I’ve heard a new narrative about the 2013 Yankees regressing like the team did between 1964 to 1965. Though there are some fair comparisons when it comes to age and injuries, the two teams are built in much different ways.
By the end of 1964, the team put up 99 wins on the season, and finished in first place 9 out of the last 10 years. The team had a strong core of players for the majority of this decade, which was built up of Mickey Mantle, Roger Marris, Elston Howard, and Whitey Ford. By 1965, both Maris and Mantle were playing through injuries, Howard was 36 years old, and Ford was turning 35. Here’s where the similarities between the two teams begin and end. Both the 2013 and 1965 team are/were comprised of an older core group of players coming off a long and successful run.
When examining the regression in 1965, one must look at how the team was built in the previous year. In 1964, the team was built upon a top heavy offense. All three of their core offensive players led the team in fWAR, with Howard putting up 7.1 wins, Mantle 6.6, and Maris 5.3. Outside of Tom Tresh, the rest of the team’s starters had below average wRC+. In fact, the 1964 team finished with only the fifth highest offensive WAR, but an overall below average 97 wRC+.
Entering 1965, the team relied on Maris, Mantle, and Howard to carry the offense, but age, abuse, and poor medical care caught up to all three. The 19.0 fWAR the three put up in 1964 turned into just 5.7 the following season, the main reason why the team regressed so harshly.
The 2013 Yankees have their own set of injured and aging hitters, but none of whom are expected to carry the team so dramatically. Aside from Robinson Cano, the 2013 offense is much less top heavy. Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner, and Mark Teixeira, will likely finish in roughly second, third, and fourth place (not necessarily in that order) for positional player value. None of the expected top four offensive players are entering the season with known injuries or old age.
Looking at the core, Derek Jeter is both injured and old, but he provided the team with only 3.2 fWAR in 2012, while Alex Rodriguez also contributed just 2.2 fWAR. The 43 year old Mariano Rivera pitched 8.1 innings last season, and Andy Pettitte 75.1 innings, which leaves little value to see disappear. When it comes to pitching, the most worrisome player is CC Sabathia, who may be this team’s most valuable core player. If anyone is carrying a portion of the team, it’s the big southpaw, who had a bone spur removed in his elbow this off season. Hiroki Kuroda did a wonderful job stepping up for Sabathia last season, but if out for an extended time, it forces the Yankees to rely on another 38 year old players.
In comparison to 1965, this season’s offense is much more well balanced, and they’re also much more dominant in terms of their present competition. Their 113 wRC+ in 2012 was 15 points higher than 1964’s team. Pitching regression is more worrisome, but the Yankees have done a decent job at stockpiling young pitchers. I, for one, am very optimistic about Phil Hughes this season, and I think there’s something to like about Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and David Phelps.
When the math is all done, and injuries and regression are added into the equation, the 2013 Yankees look to be a high-80 to low-90 win team. Losing one or more of the aging core players isn’t going to bring this team down to 77 wins.