2010 Season Forecast: New York Yankees

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 103 – 59 (1st AL East, World Champions)
2008:  89 – 73
2007:  94 – 68
2006:  97 – 65
2005:  95 – 67

Runs Scored: 915 (1st, MLB)
Runs Allowed: 753, (5th, AL)

The Yankees were good – don’t get me wrong.  Using the ratio of  runs scored to runs allowed, they would be expected to win 97 games, which is still three more than anyone else – but a little lucky.

Just a little.

If I can digress a little bit, a lot was made about the large number of home runs hit in the new Yankee Stadium.  Yankee batters hit 28 more homers at home than on the road.  The Yankee pitching staff allowed 21 more homers at home than in road games.  The net gain on this is about 70 runs.  (Pete Palmer calculates the value of a homer at 1.44 runs – so that’s how I come to that conclusion.)

Despite this split, the offense as a whole at Yankee Stadium was actually lower than on the road (819 runs in Yankee Stadium, while 839 runs on the road) – and it was their own offense that was probably more responsible for that shortfall.  what this means, of course, is that if you would expect to add 70 runs on the scoreboard but wind up 20 runs short, the REST of the hits must have been removed.

That means that there were a few other factors that had a greater affect on offense – the size of the foul territory, the shape of the outfield walls, the length of the infield grass, whatever – than whatever pushed homers over the right centerfield wall.  For example, the Yankees hit only five triples at home, but 16 on the road – and they hit 25 fewer doubles at home, too.  This suggests that by having a bit shorter wall in the alleys, some balls leave, but the rest are caught and outfielders could shade in and cut off sinking liners and bloop hits.  Singles weren’t going through the infield – which suggests that the grass must have been REALLY thick, especially on that left side where veterans with less range inhabit the infield…

You wouldn’t want to make a TON of conclusions about it, but we’re talking about making up for a lot of missing hits in 2009.  We’ll see how this holds up next year.

Let’s get back to the team review.

Season Recap:

The season started with the admission in spring training that Alex Rodriguez, recovering from off-season hip surgery, had also spent some time in the steroid cocktail lounge.  A-Rod would miss the first month of the season, and take a little while to get back into playing shape.  Still, the Yankees had made a number of significant moves – signing C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher – to rededicate themselves to the task of winning a championship in the new Yankee Stadium.

For a month or so, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate, winning and losing a couple, until a five game losing streak at home against Anaheim, Boston,and Tampa put them two games under .500.  While some wondered if it was because A-Rod was gone, the truth was that the pitchers had a 5.79 ERA in April (See Chien-Ming Wang or Sergio Mitre) and that just couldn’t be overcome by any decent offense.  After losing to Roy Halliday in Toronto on May 12th, Joe Girardi was already feeling the heat of the New York scribes who insisted that he might get fired before the All-Star break if things didn’t get turned around.

What followed the return of A-Rod to the lineup was the entire team feeling complete – and an eight game winning streak put the team on the way.  Sure – the Yankees had a couple of rough stretches, they lost three in a row twice, and were just six games over .500 on June 23.  A-Rod wasn’t yet hitting the way we were used to him hitting.  The middle relief was staggering a little.  Joba Chamberlain was hearing calls he might head back to the bullpen.  Again, however, the noise was just that.

On June 24, the Yankees got things figured out.  Bam!  Seven game winning streak.  Right after the all-star break – Bam! – eight game winning streak.  If the Yankees lost three in a row, look out.  Getting tossed by the White Sox, the Yankees responded with seven wins and twelve wins in thirteen games.  I counted SIX winning streaks of seven games or longer.  And after June, where they batted .253 with a .354 OBP, the team’s batting average was higher every month until the season ended.

The Yankees fought off Anaheim and Minnesota, then blew over a very good Philadelphia team to win the World Series.

Pitching:

The Yankees had a dominant starter in C.C. Sabathia, and then three decent guys in A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain.  The fifth slot, however, wasn’t very good – and was a problem until the Yankees finally turned it over to either Philip Hughes or summer acquisition Chad Gaudin.

Sabathia was amazing – 230 innings of typical good work, saving his team about 26 runs over his time on the mound.  A.J. Burnett won 13 and saved his team 10 runs in 207 innings.  Andy Pettitte, who has done this forever, isn’t a great pitcher anymore – he’s league average – but with this offense, that’s good enough for 14 wins.  If the Yankees could just leave Joba Chamberlain alone, he’d probably be okay.  He was solid until the latter part of the season where he fell off and was about as far below average as Burnett was above it – 11 runs.

The fifth spot was crazy…  Chien-Ming Wang went 1 – 6 with a 9.64 ERA, and will get to figure things out in Washington.  For three years, he was a fine pitcher, but 2009 was ROUGH.  The Yankees tried Sergio Mitre – nine starts and a 6.79 ERA.  After that, the Yankees moved long reliever Philip Hughes in and he was pretty good:  96Ks in 86 innings, good control, and a solid ERA.  I think he has as good a chance of anyone to be groomed for the closer role in a year or two.  Chad Gaudin got six starts and was good enough.

The bullpen starts with the greatest closer of the last 20 years, the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who saved his team 21 runs in his 66.1 innings.  With a 1.76 ERA, you’d never know he was pushing 40.  Hughes was a good compliment, but the rest of the bullpen was up and down.  Alfredo Aceves was tolerable – good control and won ten games in middle relief because the offense could come back from any number of deficits.  David Robertson struck out 63 in 43.2 innings and saved his team a few runs here and there.  Phil Coke didn’t allow too many hits – but the ones he allowed seemed to leave the yard (ten homers in 60 innings).

For 2010, the Yankees added Braves starter (and former Yankee) Javier Vasquez.  You always worry about bringing a flyball guy to new Yankee Stadium, so while I love that the Yankees added a durable innings eater, I don’t think he’s going to be the ACE that he looked like in Atlanta.  I think he’ll look like A.J. Burnett at best – with better control.  ERA around 4.00 – and fans complaining it’s not closer to 3.00.

Additionally, the Yankees probably don’t NEED a regular fifth starter.  They are the one team that could throw Sabathia, Burnett, and Vasquez all the time, Pettitte most of the time, and rotate Chamberlain or Gaudin in there to give people an extra day of rest from time to time.  Seriously – Sabathia could make 40 starts (if not abused in his starts) and MIGHT win 25 or 28 games.

The rotation is going to be about as good as last year – the benefits of Vasquez offsetting whatever loss in productivity comes from Pettitte as he wraps up his career.  The bullpen isn’t going to be better than last year – but it might get used more.  Looking at this, I see a possible five run drop off defensively, but not not more than ten runs off from 2009.

Catching:

A lot is made about how easy it is to run on Jorge Posada. That really wasn’t a problem last year.  Throw in the fact that his teams win, his pitchers are better than league average (two things he probably doesn’t deserve a LOT of credit for, but they are good), and the fact that he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes – that’s pretty good.  His backups, Francisco Cervelli and Jose Molina, do a pretty good job, though Molina won’t be here in 2010.  What will make you nervous is Posada’s age, which might affect his offense this year.

Infield:

Mark Teixeira was all that you would want – impressive offensively, stable defensively.  He’s probably the best first baseman in the AL right now, though Kendry Morales is pretty special, too.

Robinson Cano is in the discussion for best second baseman in baseball.  He has a great glove and might win a batting title – all while hitting 20 – 25 homers.

Derek Jeter remains the most productive shortstop in the AL because he can still hit, gets on base a lot, has enough power, and is so good a hitter that it overrides the fact that he’s a miserable glove – that horrible decision to give him a Gold Glove last year not withstanding.

Alex Rodriguez still towers over most third basemen, finishing 30 – 100 again as he has every year since about 1980…  His defense at the position has improved every year, but he’s still not really all that good.

What scares you is the lack of depth here.  Ramiro Pena is a good fielder and hits a little.  Jerry Hairston is gone and nobody else looks like a major leaguer.  Would you trust Juan Miranda with a job?

I’d love to tell you that this group is going to sustain its production in 2010, but I can’t help but think that age is going to creep up on Jeter or AROD, and if one or the other misses a significant amount of time, it would be problematic (although possibly a benefit defensively).  I look for this group to decline by 30 runs offensively in 2010, and for the defense to slip by five or ten runs.

Outfield:

Last year, the Yankees had a productive Johnny Damon, a tolerable but not impressive Melky Cabrera, and the fun Nick Swisher from left to right.  Only Swisher was mildly above average defensively, but all three were quality contributors with the bat.

Cabrera was moved to Atlanta in the Javier Vasquez trade, which means that Brett Gardner will be the full time centerfielder.  I like this – Gardner is better defensively and despite the lack of power is probaby going to produce more runs because he gets on base.  I like him in the #2 spot behind Jeter.

Losing Damon will be tough, but the Yankees acquired outfielder Curtis Granderson for prospect Austin Jackson to play left.  After running productivity numbers for the two, it’s literally a wash – with the Yankees getting younger.  Granderson has actually slipped two straight years after looking like one of the greats in 2007.  I like him as a left fielder, though – and the pitchers will, too.

Swisher returns to right field, will back up Teixeira from time to time.  The fourth outfielder will be Randy Winn, who is not much offensively anymore but remains a good outfielder.  If he has to play a lot, that would be a problem, though.

The net change of this group, however, I think will be positive.  I like them to score about 10 runs more than last year, and save 10 runs defensively.

Bench:

Last year’s DH was Hideki Matsui, who gets to ply his trade as an Angel in 2010.  In his place will be Nick Johnson, who has a fantastic OBP, sneaks a little power in there, and is a threat to get injured.

After that, I don’t see much of a bench.  Just Pena in the infield, and just Winn in the outfield.

Prospects:

AAA Scranton manager Butch Wynagar’s best pitching prospect is probably reliever Mark Melancon, who got a shot with the big club in 2009.  With Scranton, Melancon was 4 – 0 wiht a 2.89 ERA, fanning 54 and walking 11 in 53 innings.  Nobody else impresses me…  The best hitter was Austin Jackson, a speed demon who was traded to Detroit for Granderson.  Jackson hit .300 with nine triples and 24 steals.  Kevin Russo is an infielder with some skills, hitting .326 but without much power and with Cano and Jeter around isn’t going to get a shot without someone going down with an injury.  He’s probably as good as Ramiro Pena, but with better on base skills.  If you haven’t heard of Russo, it’s because he was a 20th round pick in 2006 and has surprised a lot of people working his way up through the ranks.  I think the kid can play, though.

The Trenton Thunder (AA) features the Yankee’s best prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, who hit .317 in AA after being moved up from Tampa (where, in a tough park, he hit .356).  He looks like the new Jorge Posada and will get Posada’s job in 2012 or so.  He’s just 20.  Eduardo Nunez has some hitting skills, but little patience.  He hit .322 in Trenton with nine homers.  It was the first time that the undrafted Dominican shorstop looked like a hitter.

If you are looking for pitching prospects, though, Trenton might have a few.  Michael Dunn fanned 76 in 53.1 innings, earning a trip to Scranton and eventually New York.  Starter Zach McAllister had a 2.23 ERA with good control in 22 starts.  Josh Schmidt has taken a while to get going but had a 1.61 ERA for Trenton last year – he has great K/9 stats and seems very hard to hit.  He’s just getting a bit old for a prospect.

At Tampa, David Phelps – a Notre Dame arm – looks to be making nice progress, and starter Lance Pendleton or D.J. Mitchell might get a chance to move up to Trenton after solid enough seasons in A+ ball.  Each could stand to work on their control, though.  And Austin Romine is a kid with a little power and speed that might work his way up the Yankee ladder in time, but as a catcher might be blocked by Montero.  2008 third round pick David Adams hit .281 with some power and patience – I like his chances to get to the Yankees (or get traded) by 2013.

Forecast:

Barring catastrophic injuries, the Yankees will be good in 2010.  They won’t win 110 games, I don’t think.  Healthy, the Yankees win 93 games and make the playoffs again.  Part of me thinks that it will be more likely 95 wins, but if the system says 93, I’ll go with that.

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2009 Season Forecast: New York Yankees

New York Yankees
2008: 89-73 (3rd AL East, 8 games back)

The General Motors of baseball – throwing good money into superficial things and veterans only to wind up with nothing because they never really invest in the core of the team, just dressing up what they have and making another run.

Well, this year, by golly, we’re going to spend top dollar on the best players available and fix things!  The Yankees spent a half billion on two pitchers and a first baseman (and Nick Swisher).  That they bought CC Sabathia was not a surprise.  That they risked a lot of money on A.J. Burnett was not totally out of character.  However, to have given the rest of the bank to Mark Teixeira seemed like one big check too many – on a team loaded with big checks.  Let’s see if they spent it on the right things.

Did you know?  Something like 20 of the 86 players mentioned in the Mitchell Report played for Joe Torre?  Ah, but that’s just beating a dead horse.

Looking Back on 2008

The Yankees got off to a slow start, winning 14 of 29 in April, but seemed to play better through the rest of the spring and summer.  Most months were about 15 – 12 – not great months – which left the team behind the Red Sox and Rays for most of the summer.  The pitching fell apart in August, leading to another losing month – but not a 10 – 20 month, just a 13 – 15 month – before actually playing really well down the stretch in September.  The problem was that by then, they were too far out of the race.

Part of the problem was injuries.  Deteriorating knees (and operations on both of them in the last two seasons) cut into Hideki Matsui’s playing time and offensive contribution.  Chien-Ming Wang tore a tendon in his foot in June and was shut down for the rest of the year.  Catcher Jorge Posada’s shoulder required surgery.  For a while, he tried to play through it – but he couldn’t throw and eventually couldn’t hit.  As it was, his batting was well off his amazing 2007 season.

Part of it was that some of the younger guys didn’t produce.  Robinson Cano seemed lethargic at the beginning of the season and hit so poorly in April that nobody noticed he hit about .280 or better the rest of the way.  Ian Kennedy was given a shot at the starting rotation and left after nine starts with an ERA over 8.00.  Phil Hughes took over, pitched a little better – which still wasn’t good enough – and then left with a broken rib.  Melky Cabrera had such a poor stretch, he lost his job in centerfield, coming back only when it was obvious that Matsui couldn’t play the field.

The rest is that the best players weren’t at top form.  Alex Rodriguez was good, but off from his 2007 MVP numbers.  Derek Jeter was rather ordinary, with fewer doubles and homers cutting into his overall production.  The Yankees added Xavier Nady, who didn’t exactly set the world on fire when he arrived, and Ivan Rodriguez, who looked old at the plate.  Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu played well – but there were a lot of holes at the bottom of the lineup for too much of the season.

Tell me about that offense

It’s rough when your “off season” is 35 homers, 103 RBI, batting .302 with 18 stolen bases in 21 attempts, but that’s what life is like for A-Rod.  Now, Alex Rodriguez will be dealing with a different kind of “off season” – as in his admission for using steroids, and now choosing to undergo surgery on a hip that began troubling him last fall.  Derek Jeter has superficially good numbers in a high batting average, but didn’t do much else last year.  He is much like Michael Young for Texas.  Playing nearly every day and batting at the top of the lineup, he gets a lot of at bats so the numbers look superficially better.  However, Jeter generated just 5.4 runs for every 27 outs – above average but not WAY above average.  As mentioned, Cano was awful in April – so much so that he finished as a below average producer.  He hardly ever walks, so unless he hits .320, he’s not much of a force.  Last year, he walked just 26 times, so made a lot of outs.  Jason Giambi had a decent year – don’t mind the low batting average (.246), he hit 32 homers and still gets on base a lot.

In the outfield, Johnny Damon was very productive.  He hits for a little power now, still is an effective baserunner, and has become more selective at the plate.  Bobby Abreu, even now, remains a very productive hitter, with decent power, some speed, and a good eye.  At some point, we may have to ask ourselves if Bobby Abreu is a Hall of Famer.  After that, however, you have a few more weak links.  Matsui is still productive, though his power is waning and his speed is gone.  Xavier Nady was okay – hit a few homers in Yankee Stadium, but otherwise had bland numbers.  Step down again to Melky Cabrera, who didn’t quite make it to .250, had little power, and doesn’t run well enough to make up for not being on base.

Behind the plate, Posada lost nearly 100 points in his batting average with his shoulder bothering him.  This forced the Yankees to play Jose Molina, who hit .216 with little power.  When that didn’t work, New York imported Ivan Rodriguez, who hit like Molina and didn’t throw very well.  Chad Moeller didn’t impress people with his bat either.

Unlike Yankee teams in the past, you had at least three holes in the lineup (second base, centerfield, and catcher), and with two other off seasons, and little help at DH, the offense was rather ordinary.  The Yankees finished seventh in runs scored in the American League.

Defensively:

Not very good.

Let’s start with the admission that it’s very likely that Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are negatively affected by the fact that opponents will let more left handed hitters play in Yankee Stadium than most other parks.  STILL, that infield is rather porous.  Jeter’s range rating the last three years has been -9.4, -12.3, -9.1.  A-Rod? -8.5, -6.1, -5.6.  At least he’s gotten better – and he cut down on his errors last year.  If the disparity were true, then Cano should be way above average, right?  He’s good, but not great.  4.2, 6.5, 5.4.  The NET of Jeter and Cano remains below zero – meaning that the infield is letting a lot of balls through to the outfield.  Giambi, who battles as best he can, is no Albert Pujols with the glove.

The end result is that if you had a ground ball pitcher, like Wang, he’s actually hurt by not having anybody behind him who can really scoop up grounders.  Wang has been successful not because of his defense, but rather because usually the team scores a lot of runs for him.

In the outfield, Cabrera wasn’t good enough, and Damon can’t cover center anymore.  Damon is still pretty good in left – but if Matsui is his backup, that’s a problem because Matsui can’t run at all.  Abreu in right is no longer a mobile outfielder.  Most days, the Yankees were playing five guys in the field who were defensive liabilities – and then you had Posada trying to catch.

Molina was actually very good against the run, allowing just 56% of the baserunners to make it – well above the league average and the best rate in the league.  Pudge did better in Detroit, but is finally showing signs of getting long in the tooth behind the plate.

Now Pitching…

Mike Mussina was great – nearly 30 runs better than the average pitcher despite having no defense behind him.  Getting 20 wins for the first (and only) time in his career was a wonderful way to leave the game – and the Yankees will miss him.  After that, the only other pitcher to make 30 starts was Andy Pettitte, and he was okay – about seven runs better than the average pitcher.  By the way – look at the hits per nine data for these two and you’ll see that the defense isn’t that strong behind them.

After that, you have Wang, who was good for two months, and Joba Chamberlain, who looked great in his 100 innings.  This year, look for Chamberlain to get 30 starts and 180 innings – if so, he could be amazing, or he could get hurt.  The rest of the staff was pretty weak.  Darrell Rasner was given 20 below average starts.  We talked about Hughes and Kennedy having poor runs.  Sidney Ponson was ordinary in 15 starts, and Carl Pavano was trying to remember how to pitch in his seven starts.  So, you had basically 2.5 good pitchers in the rotation – and for this division, that’s not enough.

The bullpen, though, was solid.  Mariano Rivera was the best reliever in baseball last year – 27 runs better than the average pitcher in just 70 innings.  Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth, Edwar Ramirez, and Jose Veres were excellent in support roles.  Most people just didn’t notice because the Yankee gloves didn’t help these guys out.  Sure – there were a few duds, but nobody in the pen was really that bad, and none were as bad as an Ian Kennedy.

Forecasting 2009:

So, let’s summarize.  The problems to address were:

A) Find some starting pitching, especially since their best pitcher retired.
B) Get a better gloves in the outfield and probably at first base.
C) Get more offense out of centerfield, catching spots and hope for some veterans to bounce back some.  Also, don’t lose too much offense when Giambi and Abreu leave the team.

I think they did it.

Let’s look at the rotation, as it now features CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Pettitte, Wang, and Chamberlain.  To be honest – that’s a force compared with what the Yankees had last year.  This could easily be 60 runs better than in 2008.  The bullpen needs Rivera to be healthy, but I think the rest of the bullpen will be okay.  Rivera won’t be as good as last year – even if he’s healthy and good – so let’s take 15 runs back from the starters.  The good news is that the bullpen may need to be used less than before.

Offensively, Nady is not Abreu.  Cabrera is fighting with Brett Gardner for the centerfield slot – and frankly, I’d let the burner Gardner play.  At least you’d have to improvements in the outfield defensively.  The pitchers would appreciate having Gardner in center, for sure.  The defensive improvement would be another 20 runs.

With A-Rod gone for a couple of months, having to play Cody Ransom or somebody else for two months (or, if worse comes to worse) longer means losing 60 runs of offense.  Granted Teixeira will be a nice addition, but is he that much better than Giambi?  Hopefully, he’ll make the defense look a little better.  If Jeter and Damon hold steady, and Cano has a better season – I’d still look for the Yankees to score 50 fewer runs than in 2008.

If the Yankees finish with 740 runs scored and 645 runs allowed, they might win about 92 games.  That puts them in line with the Rays, who also look to win that many games.  My take on it is that the Rays won’t get to 92, which puts the Yankees in line for the wild card slot.  And, if they make the playoffs, they would have the front line pitching to compete all the way to the World Series.  I don’t think they are better than Boston, but they could win a short series.

Down on the Farm…

You may not have heard of Cody Ransom, but with A-Rod out, you will.  Ransom led Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre (AAA) with 22 homers.  However, he hit only .255 and struck out enough to think he won’t be much better than, say, a rough Jim Presley…  And, he’s not a prospect – he’s 33.  The best hitter, though, was probably Brett Gardner.  Gardner is a burner with no power, but he walks and bunts and could help the pitching staff with his defense.  The pitching staff is filled with people you’ve probably heard of before – Kei Igawa, Kennedy, Hughes, and the like.

AA Trenton doesn’t have much to brag about, but Phil Coke is a pitcher you might see once in a while.  Coke has slowly moved through the minors, but at AA Trenton he was 9 – 4 with good K/W numbers.  Coke got a shot at AAA and even saw time with the Yankees and pitched very well in 14 innings.  At best, he’s a long shot to pitch long relief and may start the season in AAA.

Catcher Jesus Montero batted .326 with power, leading the Charleston River Dogs (A+) in RBI.  He’s just 19, and figures to be a replacement for Posada by 2011.  I’d pick him as the top prospect on the team (Baseball America says he’s #6 in the system).  Baseball America says Brooklyn’s Dellin Betances is a better prospect – he’s a 20 year old pitcher who had big strikeout numbers for Charleston, but he looks like he needs to gain more control of the strike zone.  Still – look for the Yankees to trade him in a future July deal.  Betances is 6’ 8” and about 250 pounds, so he must be intimidating.  Zachary McAllister is working his way up quickly, winning 14 with a 2.09 ERA at two levels, finishing at Tampa (A+) last year.