Everybody is talking about the newest Yankees and the holes that they still have left to fill at this time of year. Rightfully so, since the new players will have a huge impact this season, and there still are holes to fill. However, more people should be talking about the seasons that Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia will have because they may be the two most important players for the Yankees this season.
Teixeira and Sabathia can be seen as additions like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran if they can return to their former selves. Teixeira only played in 15 games last season due to a wrist injury, and Sabathia had the worst season of his career when he went 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA and a 4.10 FIP.
The Yankee infield is a mess right now and the Yankees need Teixeira to stay healthy and productive. Ever since Teixeira’s stellar first season with the Yankees when he hit .292/.383.565/.948 with 39 home runs and 122 RBI he has been in a decline. Teixeira returning to that level is unrealistic, but at this point the Yankees will probably take a season like he had in 2011 when he hit 33 home runs with 124 wRC+ and a .369 wOBA.
Texiera has certainly remained a productive player since 2009, but he has just been an above average player and not the elite player that the Yankees paid him to be. He has provided great power and defense, but he has gotten much too pull happy and his batting average has suffered as a result. Alomst every team in MLB shifts against Teixeira, and he has been unable to find a way to overcome it. Also, he has taken heat for his lackluster postseason performances.
Either way, Teixeira should be a huge upgrade over the terrible players that manned first base last year for the Yankees. Yankee first basemen last year hit .231/.292/.398/.690 with 86 wRC+, and they combined for a .4 WAR. Teixeira should be good for at least a WAR of 3, which would be a big improvement. The Yankees really missed his switch hitting presence last year, and they really need him to be productive.
While Teixeira will be huge for the Yankees, Sabathia rounding back into form may be even more important. Right now the only guarantees for the Yankees rotation are Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankees need Sabathia to be the ace that he used to be.
Maybe Sabathia will never return to ace form, but there is certainly tons of room for improvement off of his disastrous season. Sabathia had a career high 12.5 HR/FB% and 9.6 H/9. His K/9 also dropped from 8.9 in 2012 to 7.5 last season, so clearly there was a drop in his stuff.
The huge topic of conversation last season around Sabathia was his drop in velocity, as his fastball only averaged 91.1 MPH. Sabathia was unable to go through his normal offseason routine last winter due to elbow surgery, so the hope is that going through it this season will help him gain strength and regain his velocity. Sabathia still gave the Yankees 211 innings last year, but he will need to give them much more quality innings this year.
The lack of velocity ruined Sabathia’s ability to have a good fastball last year. According to Pitch F/X measures, Sabathia’s fastball was worth an egregious 19.6 runs below average last season, and he only had 5.53% whiff percentage on his fastball. Also, Sabathia served up 14 home runs off his fastball. Obviously, not having a good fastball hurt his slider and changeup as well.
The Yankees have a lot of holes right now between the infield, starting pitching and bullpen. They really can not afford to have their two free agent prizes from the winter of 2008 be problems as well.
Between losing Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera the Yankees have a lot of wins to make up since they were not a good team to begin with last year. Teixeira and Sabathia returning to the players they once were or at least above average players would help make up those wins greatly. The Yankees season may be riding on it.