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Saturday, April 03, 2010

2010 Yankees Preview

Due to the overwhelming demand flooding my inbox (two people actually), I hereby unretire this blog to forecast the coming 162 game World Series Championship defense by the New York Yankees. First, let's look at how I did with my 2009 predictions.

2009 Prediction in Review
Rotation - "So, the Yankees bought reliability in the rotation and now the only real question mark is Joba Chamberlain... There will be no more Sidney Ponson sightings, except for perhaps the visitor's dugout. "

That was true in the spring, but then the Wanger never was able to return from his leg injury. Having been held together with duct tape and bailing wire from two minor league surgeries, it's not that surprising I guess he couldn't stay healthy. Yankees did get 130 starts from CC-AJ-Andy-Joba and really Wanger falling apart was the only thing that went wrong last year. No Ponson, but we did get a nice dose of Mitre and Gaudin. Didn't hurt the team. Champions!

Bullpen - "I predict a bit of a shuttle from Scranton to the Bronx and there will be some turnover. But bullpen management really is a strength for Girardi, so I feel confident that the Yanks will find some combination of arms that works for them by crunch time in late summer. "

I was mostly right about this. LOTS of turnover and frankly, there was no stability to be found for most of the year. Bruney and Marte were hurt, Coke regressed, Melancon sucked and only Robertson (lots of ability - 13+Ks per nine)and Aceves were contributors, but were inconsistent. It wasn't until Phil Hughes was moved to the pen that things settled down. And boy did they. Hughes was nothing less than an elite setup man. Still, in the postseason, Girardi had to lean on the ageless Mo Rivera heavily, bringing back the multi inning save that made Mo better than any other closer in baseball. So, a workable combination was found but it was Hughes and Mo with Marte coming from nowhere to strike out Ryan Howard. More depth would be nice.

Lineup - "Teixeira is better than Giambi in every single possible way. I think the amount of an upgrade will be staggering and his defense will make our infield much better. Swisher is the bench bat that the Yankees didn't have last year, causing them to use guys like Morgan Ensberg, Justin Christian, Richie Sexson to fill-in in the outfield and at first. He'll have that covered and also presents a good piece of trade bait if a trade is needed to shore up the pen. Gardner replaces Melky and should be a slight upgrade defensively."

I was 2 out of 3 here. Teix was a ridiculous upgrade over Giambi and carried the team for a solid stretch last year. Swish was a huge bench upgrade who lost out to Xavier Nady only to get to play because Nady blew out his elbow (I'll bet half the Yankee fans forget that considering what a fan favorite Swish became so quickly). Gardner didn't replace Melky. Melky hung on to his gig and had a solid season while Gardner mostly was a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Good season for the lineup as they led baseball in runs scored.

The Conclusion: "The Yankees led MLB in spring training record. They're in the toughest division in baseball. The Rays went to the WS and the Sox almost did. Still, I look at the teams on paper and the Yankees look better this year. The Rays look worse. The Sox look about the same. That tells me that I think the Rays and Yankees will swap positions in the standings. The Yankees will win 97 games, the Sox will win 95 and the Rays will be left watching in October. The Yankee rotation is far better. The lineup is better. The defense will be better. Should be good times for Yankee fans."

Damn I'm good. The Fridge is just like Wu-Tang Clan... nuthin ta fuck with.

2010 Offseason

Who left? Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. Why did the Yankees get rid of two players who a) contributed heavily to the return of the Yankees as Champions and b) fit perfectly in the lineup as #2 and #5 hitters? Age. It's that simple. Cashman has been very clear in one area since he assumed complete control of the team. When relative value is close he will go with the younger player. It would have been the easiest thing to do to bring Matsui and Damon back right at the end of the parade down the canyon of heroes. No one would question it. No one would blame him if it didn't work out. But he let those two popular players go. He traded for Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson.

Granderson vs. Damon - This is a tale of home and away splits. Until this year, Granderson played in a part that is a tough park to hit in. Damon played in a park that was taylor made for his swing. A large part of Damon's value is from the .915 OPS he put up at home. If he matched that on the road he'd rank in the top 20 in baseball in that stat, ahead of Chase Utley, Evan Longoria and other MVP level hitters. But Damon is simply a different hitter away from Yankee Stadium with a .795 OPS which ranks roughly 85th. Good, but not exceptional. Damon is exceptional on defense. Exceptionally bad. He can't throw and despite having decent speed plays left field like a drunken beer-league softball player.

Granderson is the reverse. He's a very poor hitter at his home park (Comerica field, one of the largest in MLB) putting up a pathetic .695 OPS. On the road however, he is a .860 OPS player, which is top fifty. His swing is taylor made for Yankee stadium. He's a dead pull hitter with power. Damon increased his power output by becoming a dead pull hitter with power. Don't believe me? Read this article (ESPN subs req'd). Granderson is gonna hit for power for the yankees. He hit 13 more homers than Damon on the road and his swing is suited for Yankee Stadium's short porch just like Damon's is. He'll hit 30 homers this year if he plays 150 games. And while he's doing that, he's an asset in CF, which Johnny Damon hasn't been since he played in Kansas City. Granderson during the regular season at least, is an upgrade - more on this in a bit***. On the whole I support this move.

Matsui vs. Johnson - Matsui signed with the Los Angeles Anaheim Angeles of Greater Los Angeles county for slightly more than the Yanks signed Johnson. Certainly Cash could have kept the very reliable producer instead of bringing back the injury prone former Yankee Nick Johnson. Matsui has an air of reliability while Johnson appears to always be injured. In fact, over the last 3 years, they've both been pretty unreliable. Matsui doesn't seem so, because he was a former iron man, holding the "Cal Ripken record" in Japan and keeping his streak here in the US until he broke his wrist trying to make a diving catch. Johnson's reputation is well earned. He was injury prone in the minors and will be again this year for the Yanks. He's only played 140 games once in his entire 9 year career. Only played more than 100 3 times. There's simply no way we can expect him to play 100 for the yanks, so be ready for Randy Winn at DH some games or if Johnson is out for an extended time a call up from Jesus Montero. When he's healthy, Johnson has elite OBP skills and that's really it. He can at least provide a backup to Teixeira. There's no way to look at this as anything but a downgrade and honestly, I don't like it. I'm already tired of tracking Johnson's injury status and it's only spring training. If he plays, he'll be as good as Matsui but he almost certainly will be hurt for 50 games or so. No, really. Almost certainly. Cashman gave 5 million to a guy who almost certainly will miss 1/3 of the season. I don't really get it. It may work out, but as far as I'm concerned the house has all the odds on this bet. When the season's over, Matsui will likely have limped his way to more RBI than Nick Johnson has games played.

*** What the hell was I talking about when I said more in a bit? Here's what I don't like about those moves. I don't buy into clutch hitting. I do however buy into a theory that some hitters have the ability to hit great pitching while some do not. And that statistics gathered during lackluster games in June may mask this deficiency. I think this has to do with the ability of a hitter to adjust during an at bat and hit while in a defensive mentality. Some guys are just better at this than others. Damon and Matsui were very good at this. Jeter is very good at this. Chase Utley is good at this. Ryan Howard is not good at this. Kevin Youklis is very good at this. A-Rod is not. Over the course of 162 games, this ability has minimal effect on the teams ability to make the playoffs. However, in the playoffs where the importance of each at bat is magnified and the overall pitching quality is better, it's more important. I don't know how Granderson and Johnson will perform in these situations and if they aren't as good as Matsui and Damon they may seriously damage the Yankees chances of repeating. This is my theory and it is mine.

Adios Melky, Bienvenidos Javy -In Toast's least favorite offseason move, the Yanks traded Melky Cabrera and two prospects to the Braves for Javy Vazquez. Javy Vazquez was a Yankee before and it didn't end well. (Yankee fans don't click on that...) But Javy played in the all star game that year and was reportedly hurt later in the year and tried to pitch through it and not tell the team. I expect him to pitch well and so do many others. But this continues the theme of last year where Cashman went out and acquired a big pitcher who will eat innings. There were 50 pitchers who pitched more than 195 innings last year and the Yankees have 4 of them now. Cashman didn't want to have to deal with Mitre or Aceves and another rotating 5th starter spot if one of the big guys goes down and now they won't have to. The Yankees won't need to go with a 3 man rotation in the playoffs. The difference between the innings that Javy pitched last year and Joba is 62 innings, or roughly an extra reliever. That reliability and ability to pitch deep into games is a premium. And all the Yanks had to do to get it was send Toast's favorite player and a couple prospects. If Vazquez is a bust then the Yanks can let him go next year and get a first round draft pick for their troubles. Or, if he pitches well as I expect him to, they can resign him. All in all, I think this will be regarded as the best move of the offseason.

Joba vs. Phil -Two young starting pitching prospects. Neither one has shown much as a starter. Both have shown exceptional ability as relievers. Why the controversy? Other teams have battles for their fifth starter spots and people don't flip out over the outcome. Why the excitement? Dunno, but here's my take on it. There's little statistical evidence to make a good case that either guy would be better than the other in either role. However. my armchair scouting says that Phil is right now better suited to start than Joba. I say this is for two reasons. 1) Pitching arsenal - Hughes has 3.5 pitches now. 4 seamer, cutter, curve and a half a changeup. Eiland has been emphasizing the change all spring and it was apparently the development of this pitch that won him the gig. Here's Phil's PitchFX stats where you can see how he dropped the change last year for the cutter. Here's Joba's PitchFX. You can see his pitches are all over the place. 4 seamer, Slider AND Curve and some changeups - even a few that charted as 2 seamers. After watching Joba make thirty starts on TV you can say this about Joba's change and curve. He can't throw them for strikes and no one swings that them. So, he tried to work them in and in large part that led to his consistently being behind hitters and his high pitch count. When he was dominant out of the pen, he was pounding the strike zone with big fastballs and a bugs bunny slider. Frankly, the rest of what he throws is garbage right now (it could improve at some point). And two pitch pitchers are bullpen pitchers (unless they're one pitch pitchers like Mo). You can blow through the minors with two pitches but it's hard to do it in the majors (Verlander comes to mind but his two pitches are better than Joba's). 2) Personality - this is totally unscientific, but it's my impression that some personalities do better in the pen and some do better as starters. Dudes that get amped up and freak out are better suited as short relievers - think Papelboner. Dudes that are seriously even keel and controlled do better as starters - think Mussina. Joba is more like Papelboner than Mussina and Hughes is more like Mussina than Papelboner. It's that simple.

The rest of the team - Essentially the same. Cervelli will be playing good defense at catcher and not hitting instead of Molina. Chan Ho Park will be in the pen with a blossoming David Robertson (crazy K numbers!). Hopefully Marte will be the weapon he was in the playoffs all year long. Ramiro Pena, Randy Winn man the bench. Melancon will get another chance. The bench/pen is pretty solid. A Rod is healthy going into the season. Jeter's in a contract year drive. Brett Gardner will be providing exceptional defense in left and crazy speed on the basepaths.

How will they do? Good question. The sox went out and spent a lot of money on pitching and defense, the Rays are looking really good with young starters, a healthy lineup and a new closer and the Champs cut payroll by 10 million. Despite the cut in payroll, I think the pitching will be better this year than last as will the defense. It offsets a possible loss in offense from losing Damon and Matsui. I honestly think that the three teams are very close in talent. The finishing order can be very fluid. I do think the Champs are slightly ahead of the Sox, who are slightly ahead of the Rays. So, I'll say Yankees 96 wins, Sox 95, Rays 93. But I don't feel quite as optimistic as last year. In the end, the team who remains the healthiest will win. Did I mention we have Nick Johnson?