This hasn’t been the most dominant Yankee season, but that’s what makes it interesting. This season may not end in October. The potential for the season to end in September is what makes it exciting. Fortunately there’s a lot to be happy about in Yankee-land right now. The team hasn’t been strong, but it remains within striking distance of a playoff berth. The Yankees also turned the corner on a five game losing streak and ran off six wins in a row before falling Sunday to the Orioles. Now, just in time for the All-Star break the Bombers are on the verge of getting back Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Five years ago that was a tantalizing prospect. Now that each player is near the end of his career, coming back from difficult injuries, how good can this be?
The answer is very. Within the context of a single team players aren’t judged relative to the league. They’re judged relative to the guys they’ll be replacing. Within the context of the Yankees, A-Rod and Derek will be replacing … well, scrubs.
On Sunday the Yankees started Luis Cruz and Eduardo Nunez at third and short, respectively. Cruz has a .279 wOBA, while Nunez has a .266 wOBA. These players are far, far below replacement value this season. The team can stand to lose them, but what will the old-timers give the Yankees in return?
No one knows how good, or bad, Alex and Derek will be returning from their injuries, but we can use recent history as a guide. Much has been made of A-Rod’s recent decline, but even in 2012 he was posting a .342 wOBA with a .353 OBP and a .430 SLG. Even if A-Rod loses 20% of his value from his 2012 rate stats (and I’d bet the opposite, given how well rested he probably is) he would still be a nearly average big leaguer, far superior to Luis Cruz.
A similar analysis can be done for Jeter. In 2011 Jeter posted a .331 wOBA. In 2012 he boosted that up to .347. It’s unlikely that Jeter will be as strong as he was last season, but if we look at his 2010 season as a baseline (taking his worst season as a reasonable comparison for an injury plagued season) then Jeter is still good for a .318 wOBA, which is a far improvement upon Nunez.
Those are the worst case outcomes, that the older players come back diminished further and perform on par with their worst seasons. It is also possible that the rest and treatment rejuvenates them. Alex and Derek could return stronger, at least for a time, just as Travis Hafner started the season strong. In either case, the Yankees figure to be getting a boost of new talent just in the nick of time.