Friday, February 15, 2013

2013 New York Yankees Preview

I guess because they're the Yankees and they spend more money than anyone else (except the Dodgers now), it is almost impossible to write a preview of contending teams without including them.  Still, this is a very flawed organization that is transitioning to a supposedly more fiscally restrained model over the next couple of seasons, although they still have some poison pill contracts to work through.  They'll probably make it interesting, because they're the Yankees and they've missed the playoffs just once since the 1994 strike (in 2008).  And of course, you know, they're the most storied franchise in American professional sports, with those 27 championships and all. So what do they have this year?

LF   Brett Gardner (L): .275/.368/.371, 5 HR, 44 SB, 4.2 WAR
SS   Derek Jeter (R): .298/.359/.400, 9 HR, 2.2 WAR
2B   Robinson Cano (L): .306/.361/.515, 27 HR, 6.6 WAR
1B   Mark Teixeira (S): .266/.364/.507, 35 HR, 3.6 WAR
CF   Curtis Granderson (L): .244/.332/.480, 34 HR, 13 SB, 3.7 WAR
3B   Kevin Youkilis (R): .265/.371/.465, 21 HR, 3.0 WAR
DH  Travis Hafner (L): .258/.363/.446, 14 HR, 1.5 WAR
RF   Ichiro Suzuki (L): .294/.331/.370, 7 HR, 28 SB, 2.8 WAR
C     Francisco Cervelli (R): .253/.322/.319, 2 HR, 0.7 WAR

That would be a pretty awesome lineup if this was 2008, probably good enough offensively and defensively to erase that lone missed playoff appearance.  Unfortunately for the Bronx Bombers, it is now 2013, and that lineup is O-L-D.  Here are the ages of those nine gentlemen, in order: 29, 39, 33, 30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 27.  When the only player possibly on the upswing of his prime is a career second-string catcher who may win the starting job by default, you have a problem.  The only other guy on the right side of 30, Gardner, played in a grand total of 16 games last year due to injury.  When healthy, he's a serious on-base threat and a top-notch baserunner, which means he should score a ton of runs if the middle of the order produces its usual hundred or so home runs.  Jeter has been fighting off Father Time for years now, and even if he's merely the world's most famous singles hitter at this point, he too should get on base at a good clip.  Cano is far and away the best hitter in this lineup, a patient slugger who hits for power and average while getting on base, and can also run the bases.

Teixeira and Granderson are great case studies for how players decline in their early thirties, and can do so rapidly.  Since that 2008 season that I keep referencing, Tex has seen his OBP plummet from .410 to .383 to .365 to .341 to .332, and his typical slow start now encompasses two months rather than just April.  Here's betting that his slash line above is way too optimistic; I would estimate it winds up closer to .255/.340/.470.  Granderson, meanwhile, has turned into a one-note Johnny since the trade that brought him over from Detroit.  Remember when he had that breakout 2007 season with twenty-plus doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases?  Now he's a strikeout machine (career high 195 last year) with a low average and mediocre on-base skills who golfs for the Yankee Stadium short porch on every swing.  Behind those two, Youk and Pronk are on one-year deals trying to prove that they can produce a little AND stay in the lineup (Youk hasn't played 140 games since, you guessed it, 2008! Hafner has played in 100 games only once since 2007.), which will be no mean feat for either.  I'll take the "under" on their combined games played, whatever that is.  Ichiro, by contrast, has been the picture of health; he has missed 36 games total in his twelve major league seasons, and seemed rejuvenated after last summer's trade from Seattle.  He is on a two-year contract, likely hoping for that and maybe one more year to carry him to 3000 hits (he has 2606 now, with an average of 221 per season).  Whoever the primary catcher winds up being will likely be an offensive cipher.

The defensive outlook is likewise somewhat grim, particularly on the left side of the infield.  Gardner is a truly elite left fielder, probably the best in the league, which is a necessity given the acres of space out there in Death Valley.  Granderson and Ichiro are above average in their respective spots, although Grandy's arm is nothing to write home about.  Cano has grown into an excellent second baseman, and Tex is still better than average at first, although he certainly didn't deserve his Gold Glove last year.  Jeter and Youkilis are both pretty statuesque (although not visually so in Youk's case) on the other side of the infield these days, although Jeter may still hypnotize some viewers with jump throws from places where a Jose Reyes or Brendan Ryan would make a routine play.  Youk was once a quality third baseman, but injuries and age combined with a bad body have taken their toll.  Even if Alex Rodriguez does make any kind of contribution this year, his range might be worse than even Youk's at this point.

LHP   CC Sabathia: 233.0 IP, 211 K, 56 BB, 3.51 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 4.8 WAR
RHP   Hiroki Kuroda: 212.0 IP, 152 K, 50 BB, 3.57 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 2.6 WAR
RHP   Phil Hughes: 201.0 IP, 176 K, 54 BB, 3.76 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 2.2 WAR
RHP   Ivan Nova: 179.0 IP, 134 K, 60 BB, 4.42 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 2.0 WAR
LHP   Andy Pettitte: 146.0 IP, 120 K, 45 BB, 3.70 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 2.3 WAR

The pitching staff actually boasts youth, in the form of Hughes (27), Nova (26), and Michael Pineda (24), although that is tempered a bit by the fact that Pineda missed all of 2012 due to shoulder surgery.  If he actually pitches something resembling a full season after shoulder surgery wiped out a year, I will be surprised.  Nova is more likely to stay healthy, and also more likely to be mediocre; he has benefited more from great run support over the past two seasons than perhaps any pitcher in baseball.  Hughes has experienced some struggles since excellent seasons in 2009 and 2010; he did rediscover some of his control last year, but also suffered bouts of gopheritis.  At the top of the rotation, Sabathia is a workhorse who has tossed at least 180 innings in every season of his career, and is thus one of the most reliable pitchers in baseball.  Kuroda is a smart pitcher who won't beat himself and will keep the Yankees in games, although his stuff is far from overpowering.  The oft-injured Joba Chamberlain is the age/injury insurance for Pineda and the 41-year-old Pettitte, who is probably back on the hill for the last time.

Perhaps the most intriguing story surrounding the Yankees this year will be the recovery of Mariano Rivera, who made only nine appearances last year before tearing his ACL during batting practice.  He may be 43 now, but he's such a well-conditioned athlete that opposing scouts have long described him as one of the best center fielders in baseball.  I'm guessing that he makes a full recovery, even at his age, and continues to confound hitters with that cutter.  David Robertson, Clay Rapada, Boone Logan, and Eduardo Nunez provide very good setup help for the Sandman.

This is a good team, one that should win more than half its games, but it has some serious issues with aging and recovering players.  This is potentially the last year (for a while) of the big-spending Yankees.  They're on the hook for $210 million this year, but have only five non-arbitration commitments beyond this year: Ichiro (1 year, $6.5 million total), Teixeira (3, $67.5), Sabathia (4, $96 assuming a vesting option), Jeter (1, $8 million player option), and of course the albatross known as A-Rod (4, $86).  Next year they may be in full rebuilding mode, but right now the Yankees are trying to win with their geezers.  Fortunately for most of the world that loves rooting against them, they probably don't have quite enough to get to the playoffs in the tougher league with so many questions.