2011 Season Forecast: New York Yankees

Last Five Seasons:
2010:  95 – 67
2009: 103 – 59 (World Series Champs)
2008:  89 – 73
2007:  94 – 68
2006:  97 – 65

Runs Scored: 859 (Tops in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 693 (5th in the AL)

Based on this, the Yankees could have won the division with 98 wins…

2010 Recap:

Picked by many to repeat as AL East and World Series champs, the Yankees just missed by a game of winning the east, and had their starting rotation held up (or had they acquired Cliff Lee) they might have won the series, too.

The Yankees got off to a hot start, taking 15 of 22 in April, and having winning records every month until September, when they went 12 – 15 and were run down from behind by the Rays.  To be honest, they peaked after a long winning streak at 86 – 50, but actually collapsed to the finish line.  Had they missed the playoffs, it might have been given the same treatment as a Mets September, but for some reason, the Yankees were given a pass for going 9 – 17 down the stretch.

If I were them, I’d be nervous.

During the season, in addition to the run of the mill waiver claims and what not, the Yankees acquired Austin Kearns for spare parts from Cleveland, later picked up Kerry Wood at the trade deadline for two more minor leaguers, and gave up two decent prospects (Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes) to the Astros to pick up Lance Berkman.  Wood played pretty well, Kearns was just a backup, and Lance Berkman acted like he wanted to be somewhere else.

Starters:

The Yankees rotation is led by the remarkable C.C. Sabathia, who provided yet another season as a Cy Young candidate.  Philip Hughes took a big step forward by winning 18 decisions in 29 starts, but as a pitcher was just mildly better than the average starter.  Andy Pettitte heads to retirement following a remarkably good 21 starts, winning 11 of 14 decisions.  However, the #2 starter, A.J. Burnett went 10 – 15 with a 5.26 ERA – 25 runs worse than the average starter over 186.2 innings.  And Javier Vazquez was equally poor, despite the 10 – 10 record, with his 5.32 ERA.  Vazquez suffered as a flyball pitcher in Yankee Stadium, giving up a homer every fifth inning he pitched.  Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova were tolerable when given chances to start – in fact Nova may earn a rotation spot in 2011.

However, the pitching is thin for 2011 in general.  The Yankees twice failed to get Cliff Lee to town (maybe the fans in Yankee Stadium should have been nicer to Lee’s wife).  Vazquez is now a Florida Marlin, Andy Pettitte has retired to Texas, and even Kerry Wood returned home (he’s pitching for the Cubs).  Sabathia returns, as does Burnett (he HAS to be better than last year), and Hughes will get 32 starts to see if he’s still got the magic.  That leaves Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, and former rotation stalwarts Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia – who are years removed from their better days.  I’m not a huge Garcia fan anymore, but he actually was tolerable as a fifth starter for the White Sox last year.  On the other hand, he won 12 games in his 28 starts despite a 4.64 ERA, served up a lot of homers, and only struck out 89 in 157 innings.  Vazquez came with much better credentials and stunk up the joint.  Ivan Nova or Sergio Mitre will have to step forward – and Mitre has enough innings under his belt to suggest he’s not the answer.  So that means Nova is likely to get a shot at being the #5 guy.

Bullpen:

Mariano Rivera continues to amaze as nears AARP status – a 1.80 ERA, 33 saves, and just 55 base runners in 60 innings.  Joba Chamberlain didn’t completely own the 7th or 8th inning, but there are still things to like, including a great K/9 rate and improved control.  Boone Logan and Damaso Marte served as solid one-out lefties, and David Robertson was decent in 61.1 innings.  Kerry Wood was impressive in his two months.

Looking ahead, Rivera returns for another go, but Rafael Soriano was imported from Tampa to provide an 8th inning ace and potential replacement closer.  The rest of the pen contains the familiar faces of Robertson, Logan, and Chamberlain, as well as newly added Pedro Feliciano.  Hopefully, these guys are ready for a step up in workload.

Catching:

Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli provided decent enough catching, even if teams ran rampant on Posada when he caught.  Posada can still hit some, so he will be moved to the DH role, which means that Cervelli will cede a few innings to Russell Martin.  Cervelli is a decent backup – no power, some defense, a fair batting average.  Four years ago, Martin was a solid defensive catcher and run producer, that is until Joe Torre ran him into the ground.

Infield:

The Yankees have an interesting mix of current and aging superstars. At third, you have the declining Alex Rodriguez, who is getting more comfortable at third base as his batting statistics fall off from his MVP level (and steroid supported) play.  At short is the captain, Derek Jeter.  When he hits .320, Jeter is the most productive shortstop in the AL despite his defensive flaws (range, really, is his only flaw and it’s really getting problematic – so stop giving him the gold glove when he hasn’t ever deserved one).  Last year, he hit .270 and the team let him know, through an ugly contract negotiation, that they noticed his decline was both offensive and defensive.  At second, you have the remarkably talented Robinson Cano, who is as good a fielder as can be found in the AL and light years ahead of any second sacker when batting, too.  At first, you have Mark Teixeira, who struggled to get out April, but still managed 33 homers, 108 RBI, and got on base at a .368 clip.  That’s a solid off season.  Backing them up is Ramiro Pena, who has little power but some defensive skills – much like Eduardo Nunez, who is the sixth infielder.

I’d like to think that Jeter can bounce back for one more .300 season.  If he does, that bodes well for his chances at 3500 hits and the Yankees continuing to make playoff runs.  Realistically, that’s not going to happen.  Same with Alex Rodriguez, who is barely making 30 homers per year, misses a month of games each year now, and also hit .270 instead of .310.  Playing in Yankee Stadium is also masking some of their decline; if Jeter had hit .255 with 7 homers, would anyone give him a chance of a comeback?  Cano should be able to duplicate his 2010 season, but last year was a significant step forward to superstardom.  And Teixeira will not have another April like last year.  The issue is that all four are generally durable (even A-Rod, with his hip, has never missed 60 games in a season) and now, with all but Cano at least two years into their 30s, the chances of someone missing a significant amount of time is going up.  I can’t help but think that this is the year – and neither Pena nor Nunez can hit enough to make up for that kind of loss.

Outfield:

The trio of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher return after all three provided solid production in 2010.  Of the three, Gardner has the greatest chance to produce more in 2011.  He could be moved up in the lineup (he should be the leadoff hitter), which would give him more opportunities.  Until then, he’s the best centerfielder playing left field on the team, and he’s the best #9 hitter in baseball.  Granderson found his power stroke near the end of the year, but he’s only marginally better than average because he doesn’t quite hit .250 anymore.  Swisher is coming off a career year in batting and slugging and remains a surprisingly good defensive outfielder.  Austin Kearns and Randy Winn are gone (thankfully), but they have imported aging slugger Andruw Jones to help out here and be the right handed counterpart at DH.  Greg Golson may be the best defensive option as the alliterative fourth outfielder; Golson or Colin Curtis.

DH:

Last year, Marcus Thames was the surprise hit of the team, launching 12 homers in 212 at bats, batting .288, and generating more runs per 27 outs than even Teixeira.  In 2011, look for Jorge Posada, Andruw Jones, and one or more of the others (Rodriguez, Swisher, Granderson, or even Jeter to pick up a few at bats here.

Down On the Farm:

It all starts with Jesus Montero, who is an expanded set of defensive skills away from being the next great Yankee catcher.  In AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Montero hit for more power, was more selective, and – at 20 – is just about ready.  Eduardo Nunez got his first cup of coffee after tying Montero for the team lead in batting, stole 23 bases in 28 attempts, and played a steady shortstop.  At 24, he could step in and help out.  The top pitcher was Ivan Nova, who went 12 – 3 with a 2.86 ERA, showed good control, and was reasonably solid in his Yankee debut.  David Phelps moved up through two levels, going 6 – 0 in 14 starts at AA Trenton, then 4 – 2 in 11 starts at AAA – with great command and a sub 3.00 ERA.

Trenton featured first baseman Brandon Laird, a 23 year old who hit 23 – 90 – .291.  Hector Noesi went 8 – 4 with a 1.09 WHIP and an 86/18 K/BB rate.  Another pitcher making a step up was Adam Warren, who whipped through three levels since his 2009 draft (4th round), and has been impressive with his command and control at all three levels.

Corbin Joseph was a 4th round pick out of Franklin, TN in 2008 and hit .302 in A+ Tampa.  He’s a slight second baseman who seems to be developing a little power as he ages.  Another young prospect is Jose Pirela, a Venezuelan burner who plays shortstop and hit 13 triples for Tampa.  He may be fighting Joseph for a shot at the second base job in three years.  Among the top arms were Pat Venditte (4 – 1, 1.73, 85/14 in 72.2 innings), Dellen Betances – a Brooklyn native who clobbered Tampa opponents (8 – 1, 1.77, 88/19 in 81 innings), and Mexican teen sensation Manny Banuelos, who had 79Ks in 59.2 innings and seems to be ready for a full trip in AA Trenton.

Forecasting 2011:

It’s hard to pick against the Yankees because (a) the outfielders are all in their prime, as is Teixeira, and (b) the veterans they have are all still very productive.

On the other hand, this might be the year things fall off.  The Yankees won’t be getting MORE production in center or right fields.  They won’t be getting MORE production from second base, shortstop, or third base.  They won’t be getting MORE production behind the plate.  The only spots where improvement might be seen is left field – but that would be at the expense of another position.  I think the offense will still be good – but not 859 runs of good.  More like 780 runs – a top five offense rather than a #1 offense.

Then you have the defense, which could slip a little at four or five positions.  I’d swap Granderson and Gardner, which would help, but you never know if the Yankees would do that since Granderson is only 30.  You’d ALMOST want to switch A-ROD and Jeter – but I’m not certain that after the hip surgeries A-ROD can cover short anymore.  In fact, nobody in New York can cover short – which makes a lot of the pitchers look worse than they have to.  At least Jeter is still solid at turning two.

That brings us to the pitchers.  If Sabathia, who came to spring training in WAY better shape than he had been, were to miss any chunk of time, this team could fall off the map.  Hughes is good, but not great, Burnett isn’t dependable and is one slump away from being sent to the Pirates or something.  Your fourth and fifth starters are rookies or retreads.  I think the Yankees will allow a few more runs than in 2010 – maybe 40 more.  That puts the team around 780 runs scored and just 725 allowed, which converts to 87 wins.  And wait until the Steinbrenner boys see THAT number…

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2010 – Top AL Designated Hitters

Chicago White Sox – Shared amongst several players, will be using Adam Dunn in 2011 (109.2 Runs Created).  I’m guessing he’ll do just fine.

Vladimir Guerrero – TEX (98.7 Runs Created)

29 – 115 – .300, but seemed to slow as the season wore on.  Didn’t get resigned, so he’s now getting a shot with Baltimore.  He’ll be okay, but a notch below his 2010 production.

David Ortiz – BOS (98.4 Runs Created)

One day, the slow start will be a slow season.  For now, he remains a very productive hitter.

Hideki Matsui – LAA (86.2 Runs Created)

Still a potent bat, with fair power and a discerning eye at the plate.  Now the DH in Oakland, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  Will be 37 in June, and his stats won’t look as good in Oakland, which may hasten his decline.

Luke Scott – BAL (84.7 Runs Created)

Can play the corner outfield positions (though not well) and first base in a pinch.

Jim Thome – MIN (73,0 Runs Created)

Shared role with Jason Kubel in a platoon role, though after Justin Morneau went down, Kubel played more in the field, too.  Can still tattoo a fastball to the opposite field, and is the complete professional hitter.  Approaching 600 homers with no sign of slowing down.  Of course, the 40s aren’t always friendly to batters.

Travis Hafner – CLE (69.3 Runs Created)

Platooned, which is why his totals are less than the rest – but he’s platooned for a reason.

Johnny Damon or Magglio Ordonez – DET (79.7 and 58.9 Runs Created, respectively)

Damon got most of the licks here in 2010, but Ordonez may get the bulk of them in 2011.

Jack Cust – OAK (62.7 Runs Created)

Hits for power, draws a few walks, swings through a lot of strikes.  Now gets to play full time in Seattle, where he may get more playing time.  I wouldn’t be suprised at 25 – 95 in 2011.

Jose Guillen – KC (53.9 Runs Created)

Guillen shared it with a few others – look for Billy Butler or Kila (Mt.) Ka’aihue to get the bulk of the at bats next year.

The Yankees shared the role amongst a number of players, including Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames, and any of their aging stars needing a day or three off while keeping a bat in the lineup.  Thames was very productive, and the other hitters are all pretty good.

The Mariners shared the role amongst a few players, including Mike Sweeney, Ken Griffey, Milton Bradley and Russell Branyan.  None of that really worked out well, so Jack Cust has been imported for 2011.

The Rays shared the role with a variety of fourth outfielders and extra infielders – sometimes to good effect.  For 2011, Manny Ramirez and/or Johnny Damon (mostly Manny) will get the at bats.  Manny can’t stay healthy, he has an insanity streak, but can still hit really, really well.  We’ll see if he’s got one more good year left in the tank, or if he gets bored.  Or just old.

AL Designated Hitters

Rather than rank them, I’ll just sort by team – especially since some teams didn’t really have a standard DH (Detroit, for example).

Baltimore:  Luke Scott got 89 games, the rest were mixed.  Scott is an above average offensive player with legitimate power and enough patience to help out (55 walks in 128 games).  Scott is not really an outfielder, but he can back people up in right field if required.  (73.3 Runs Created)

Boston:  David Ortiz played 139 games.  We know about his horrible first two months, but he finished strong – 28 homers and 99 RBI.  I don’t think he can rebound to being a .300/.400/.550 guy again, but if he gets off to a quicker start and hits close to .260, he’ll remain valuable.  (81.0 Runs Created)

Chicago:  Jim Thome played 98 games before being traded…  Still a great hitter and the Twins will like him.  Is Carlos Quentin the first choice in 2010?  Thome was productive – more so than Ortiz per 27 outs, but played far fewer games.  (61.7 Runs Created)

Cleveland:  Travis Hafner played 88 games…  He and the Indians are still recovering.  The rest were shared amongst the other teammates.  Hafner may never hit 25 homers again…  (61.6 Runs Created)

Detroit:  Didn’t really have a regular – Marcus Thames got 50 games, Carlos Guillen 33, Aubrey Huff 28 brutally bad games down the stretch.  Magglio Ordonez should have the job because he’s been an immobile object in right for several years now.

Kansas City:  Mike Jacobs got the bulk of the work – 102 games – and it was crushingly unproductive.  49 Runs Created, less than four runs per 27 outs.  There just weren’t a whole lot of better options – the team needs to add DEPTH and add it fast.  (49.0 Runs Created)

Los Angeles:  Vladimir Guerrero stayed healthy enough for 93 games, the rest were split among friends…  Vlad is now in Texas, but  I would be concerned about his health, as his body is breaking down after a rather long and productive career.  Even last year, falling off as a hitter, he was still productive.  Hideki Matsui‘s job now…  (58.7 Runs Created)

Minnesota:  Jason Kubel got half, Joe Mauer used the position for his bat and resting his back…  As a hitter, Kubel was the second most productive of the DH regulars.  (98.1 Runs Created)

New York:  Hideki Matsui‘s primary job – 116 games.  Kubel may have created more runs, but Matsui created more runs per 27 outs (7.0).  Now an Angel, if he can stay healthy he’d still be productive even with losing 10 – 20% of his skills.  (87.0 Runs Created)

Oakland:  Jack Cust got 96 games, Jason Giambi – while in town – got 22 more.  Nomar Garciaparra also got 22 games here.  Cust struck out 36% of the time – a frightening number – and yet had a .359 OBP and created runs.  (78.5 Runs Created)

Seattle:  Ken Griffey‘s last job as a Mariner.  Mike Sweeney was his platoon partner.  They combined for 27 homers and 91 RBI – but the net batting average and OBP was rather pedestrian.

Tampa:  Pat (The Bat) Burrell‘s job 112 times, otherwise Willy Aybar.  Aybar was better…  When Burrell signed, I don’t think 14 – 64 – .221 was what they had in mind.  (48.5 Runs Created)

Texas:  Andruw Jones and Hank Blalock split 100 games, the rest were dished out with Julio Borbon getting 21 shots.  Nobody really helped the cause, which is why Vlad Guerrero was added to the roster.

Toronto:  Adam Lind, a born DH, was here 92 times.  Randy Ruiz got 30, and the rest were shared…  Lind was the best hitter of the bunch – 36 – 108 – .305.  He’ll play outfield from time to time, but in a few years, he’ll be Jim Thome for sure.  Randy Ruiz was just as good in his shot – 10 homers in 115 at bats and batted .313.

Rain, Not Nationals, Stops Johnson… And Other Baseball Notes

Rain prevented Randy Johnson from getting a shot at winning his 300th game.  Doubleheader tomorrow – which makes me wonder if Johnson will face the A team or the B team for Washington?

Hamstring injuries?  Evan Longoria, Tampa, and Willy Taveras, Cincinnati.  Day-to-day.  Rox shortstop Troy Tulowitski’s hand will require an MRI.

I’d be nervous playing for Cleveland or the New York Mets – a DL trip is in your future.  Goodbye, Asdrubel Cabrera – 15 days to heal a strained shoulder.  Hurry back, Ramon Martinez – 15 days to heal a broken pinky finger.  Cleveland recalls Josh Barfield to replace Cabrera, while the Mets give Emil Brown a chance at a major league paycheck.

It’s not the swine flu, the Mets say, and Carlos Beltran should return to the lineup soon.  I’m not shaking his hand until next week, though, if Beltran homers.

Speaking of a bad case of the flu, Jake Peavy left his start after an inning yesterday and has a nasty virus of some kind.

You know the Yankees are feeling it when they decide to tempt fate and give Chien-Ming Wang a start and send Phil Hughes to the bullpen.  Both had been successful in their current roles, so why is Joe Girardi switching things up?

Tom Glavine’s release and an injury to Jorge Campillo opens the door to a Tommy Hanson start on Saturday for the Braves.  I’ll be watching – on the DVR later…  First, there’s this bachelor party…

Cardinal pitcher Kyle Lohse left his start against the Reds early – he has tightness in his forearm, near where he got hit by a pitch a few days ago.

Poor performances and a bad attitude may have Vincente Padilla on the waiver wire, according to FoxSports.  Officially, the Texas Rangers can’t say anything, but younger pitchers have fared better.

On the Mend?  Houston closer Jose Valverde feels great, and Tiger outfielder Marcus Thames is banging it around Toledo in his rehab stint.  Michael Cuddyer’s finger feels fine, which makes the Twins doubly happy.  Brandon Webb is throwing again, which is good news for Arizona.

And, buried at the bottom, Sammy Sosa says he’s going to officially retire, but remains mum as to his use of PEDs.

Cards Getting Healthier; David Price is Back!

Rick Ankiel made it back to the lineup on Sunday, sending Tyler Green back to AAA Memphis. Colby Rasmus was so good in his callup that Ankiel is going to move to right field for the time being. This coming weekend, Ryan Ludwick returns. This, coupled with the hopes that Chris Carpenter could stay healthy is the type of thing that baseball writers will look at and wonder if this means that the Cards will win the NL Central.

X-Rays show a broken bone in Brandon Phillips’ thumb, but the Reds second sacker hopes that he will not require a DL stint and will be able to play when the swelling goes down. His teammate, Joey Votto, remains day-to-day with dizziness tied to an inner ear infection. Saturday, Votto hit a pair of homers. Yesterday, he sat.

Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta’s hamstring injury is bad enough to require a DL stint. Yorvit Torrealba gets the starts while AAA Catcher Paul Phillips gets the call to the big leagues. Phillips can play a little, but at 32 isn’t really a long-term prospect. You Royals fans may remember Phillips in any of four stints with the parent club between 2004 and 2007.

Yankees reliever Brian Bruney remains sidelined with elbow pain, but tests have shown no damage. He’s day-to-day and slightly nervous. Joba Chamberlain won’t miss his next start after getting drilled with a liner in the first inning of his last start.

Welcome to the majors (again), David Price, who gets the start on Monday for the Rays.

Meanwhile, the Rays had both middle infielders dinged up on Sunday. Jason Bartlett injured his shin and ankle in a collision at second base with Dan Uggla and will sit a day. Akinori Iwamura injured his knee when Chris Coghlan barrelled into him to break up a double play. Aki gets an MRI and possibly a DL stint.

Coghlan’s slide was hard – Aki had stepped to the inside of the bag after taking the throw from pitcher Dan Wheeler, so Coghlan leaned over and into him right as Aki planted his left foot – didn’t look bad and he looked like he felt bad about it right away. What was amazing about the play, however, was that John Baker saw what had happened and never stopped running around third base. Don’t the umps usually call time when this happens? They didn’t, and Jason Bartlett alertly took the ball out of Aki’s hand, threw home, and nailed Baker at the plate for a rather odd 1-4-6-2 DP.

K-Rod’s back feels much better. Could be pitching by mid-week. Apparently, he’s a big fan of the muscle relaxors and pain killers.

A fun play yesterday… Indian Grady Sizemore tripled, but the throw from right field got past third base. So, Sizemore headed home. Reds Left Fielder Johnny Gomes had raced in to back up third (way alert), saved the ball before it got to the dugout, and fired home. Sizemore juked right and dove over the reach of the catcher but was ruled out.

However, the third baseman Adam Rosales was sort of still in the baseline, and because he pulled his leg out of Sizemore’s way (not sure that Sizemore would have hit him either way), the third base umpire ruled that Sizemore was entitled to home because of interference. Dusty Baker argued – but to be honest, the home plate umpire was on the wrong side of the play at the plate anyway – Sizemore had eluded the tag.

So, the right result, the wrong call, and all you get to see is Baker getting angry and Gomes getting nothing for a really alert and smart play. Baker, by the way, looks like he’s lost a little weight.

Anyway – the run tied the score, but the Reds won in extra innings.

One last Reds note – Homer Bailey was awful in his start and was dispatched back to AAA. Granted, it’s tough to stick in the majors when you only get one start, but Bailey has a 7.01 ERA in 18 MLB starts and hitters like him to the tune of a .311 average. Cincy called up catching prospect Wilkin Castillo, a mobile Dominican who might have a chance to stick in the bigs if he gets a chance. He looks like a Miguel Olivo type.

Rehab assignments? Rick VandenHurk (Marlins) off to Jupiter; Chad Bradford (Rays) off to Charlotte.

Marcus Thames is back in AAA for the Tigers, and the Giants chose to call up some catching reinforcements, bringing up Eli Whiteside. He’s a defensive wizard, I guess, because he can’t hit. Off to AAA Fresno? Pat Misch, who was allowing hitters to bat .375 against him. His days as a prospect are likely over.