Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Less Evil Home Runs = Bad?

"The Yankees won't hit as many home runs! WAHHHHH!"

Lately, a lot of negative things have been said regarding the loss of power in the Yankees' lineup, particularly from Dave D'Alessandro of the Star Ledger.

Like so many before him, Mr. D'Alessandro goes off on the Yankees for cutting payroll after showing $439 million in revenue. Which is getting really boring. Major League Baseball is a business, and the idea of any good business is to not only produce a good product (or in this case "team"), but to maximize profit as well. The Yankees are trying to do that, so forgive me if I don't join people like D'Alessandro and get all up in arms.

What stuck out to me was that Dave brought up the fact that they failed to get a "star quality left fielder, catcher, and DH." It didn't stick out to me because it's true, it stuck out to me because D'Alessandro failed to say who they missed out on. That's not something to dismiss here. I mean, if they didn't really have a chance to get a "star quality" player, then it's not fair to bash them for not getting a "star quality" player... is it?

Here are the free agent catchers that signed MLB contracts this offseason...

Gerald Laird
Dioner Navarro
Will Nieves
AJ Pierzynski
David Ross
Kelly Shoppach
Geovany Soto
Russell Martin

Perhaps Dave can let us know which of these catchers are "star quality". Heck, the best of the bunch is probably Russell Martin, and I wouldn't count a triple-slash of .211/.311/.403, or having an OPS+ under 100 for the past 4 seasons, "star quality". I guess D'Allessandro knows about a trade scenario for a "star quality" catcher that the Yankees turned down.

How about a "star quality" outfielder? Michael Bourn and his slugging percentage of .391 in 2012? Yeah, that really makes up for this year's team's lack of power *rolls eyes*. Not to mention that he would have cost the Yankees their 1st round draft pick, since Bourn declined the Braves' qualifying offer.

Angel Pagan? The guy has hit double-digit home runs in a season only once in his 7 MLB seasons, and that was 11 back in 2010. Oh, but he did finish 32nd in NL MVP voting, so that has to count... right? Wrong.

BJ Upton? Sure, if you count hitting below .250 for the past 5 years "star quality". Personally I wouldn't, but to each their own I guess.

Shane Victorino? I'll take Brett Gardner and that extra $10 million instead (Shane will make $13 million in 2013, while Gardy will take home $2.85 million). I mean, Shane may hit a few more home runs than Brett will, but it's not like Victorino is going to win a Home Run Derby anytime soon.

Speaking of free agents that have "star quality", and skipping the DH position, the only player that Dave or anybody else should be ranting about missing out on his Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was the AL MVP back in 2010, and he hit 43 home runs last season, but was failing to sign him a bad thing? It's not like there are questions surrounding the 5-time All Star. With his history of drug use, could he have handled New York? Would it be wise to give him a deal of at least 5 years (that's how many years the Angels signed Hamilton for) when he'll turn 32 in May? And keep in mind it's not like the Yankees knew Granderson was going to miss the first month or so of the season, so as far as they knew then already had a guy able to hit 40+ home runs in the outfield. On top of that the Yankees didn't know the extent of Alex Rodriguez's injury until a month and a half after Hamilton signed with the Angels.

I'd take Hamilton over Ichiro any day of the week, but you can't dismiss the fact that Josh's contract has an average annual value of $25 million, while Suzuki's has an AAV of $6.5 million. Oh, and I'd like to point out that Ichiro was valued at about $8 million less than Hamilton last season (source: Fangraphs). So again... is paying $18.5 million more a season, and for 3 more years, really worth it?

And is this car really worth $3.9 million? *sighing* Yeah.

I think it's clear that Dave D'Alessandro was talking out of an orifice other than his mouth in that article. Honestly, it sounds like just another way to garner hits for NJ.com and his articles, rather than a good piece of journalism (with that link to NJ.com, I'll help him up that hit count a little). So I'm going to move on to the point of this post... the team having to rely on things other than the long ball to score runs is a good thing. Not just for this season, but for upcoming seasons as well.

How many times in the previous few seasons have you heard somebody talk about the "evil home run"? Don't get me wrong, I don't think they are bad. I'd rather have a guy just blast one of the fence and score a run, rather than depend on stringing together a few hits to score, unless a stolen base or bunt were involved. Oh, and I won't get into the whole "is bunting a good thing" issue... at least not right now. It's cool that the team leads the league in home runs the past 3 seasons by a considerable margin (they have 27 more homers during that span than the 2nd place Blue Jays), but I'd love to see the team be able to manufacturer runs using something other than the homer. And this season the team is going to have to figure that out if they are to score as often as they have in the past (they've scored the most runs in the past 3 years too, 80 ahead of the 2nd place Rangers).

Can you imagine if the team could have stolen at least 30 more bases last season? They were 2nd in the league in runs scored at 804, which was only 4 less than the Rangers. But 30 extra stolen bases could have easily brought the team another 10 runs. Seeing that Brett Gardner stole 49 bases in 2011, but only 2 in 2012 thanks to missing 146 games due to injury, those 30 extra stolen bases would have been easy to get. That doesn't include having a guy like Ichiro Suzuki, and another 15+ stolen bags, for an entire season.

Kind of like this, only stealing a different kind of "bag".

I don't think the Yankees are going to finish 1st in runs scored in 2013, but I don't think they're going to score so little that they won't have a shot at making the postseason either. I can't help but look at the 2012 Giants finishing 12th in runs scored last season with 718, the 762 runs the Cardinals scored on the way to a World Series title in 2011, or the 697 runs the Giants scored in 2010 on their way to winning it all in 2010.

By the way, the reduction in home runs is blown a bit out of proportion anyway. Francisco Cervelli is taking over for Russell Martin (Cervelli's 162 game home run average is 4 to 2012 Martin's 21, a net loss of 17), Brett Gardner is taking over for Raul Ibanez (Gardner's 162 game HR average is 5, to Raul's 2012 total of 19, a loss of 14), Ichiro Suzuki is taking over for Nick Swisher (Ichiro's 162 game HR average of 9, to Swisher's 24 last season, a loss of 15), Kevin Youkilis is taking over for Alex Rodriguez (Youk hit 19 last year to ARod's 18, a gain of 1), and Travis Hafner is taking over the DH slot for Eric Chavez (Pronk hit 21 bombs last year to Chavez's 16, a gain of 5). So the total difference in long balls from last year to this year will be somewhere around -30. Take 30 homers away from last year's team and they still lead the league by one. And again, add in more stolen bases, along with better defense, and I have to ask... is the loss of home runs really that big a deal?

"That's not all! What else have they won!?"

Yes, along with staying healthy, it's going to take some good pitching to truly compete. The Yankee pitchers had a fWAR of 20.3, good for 7th in Major League Baseball, last season and they're returning most of the same guys. And you have to take into account the fact that last year's group includes getting 45 combined starts from pitchers with ERAs above 5.00 (Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia).

I also think the bullpen should be a little better, since they won't have to march out somebody like Cory Wade and his 6.46 ERA for 39 innings, and instead will have a healthy Joba Chamberlain, Mark Montgomery, David Aardsma, Clay Rapada, and others ready to step up when needed.

After this season the Yankees will have a better idea of what it takes to score runs on top of hitting some more home runs again. Include a chance to improve their pitching, and I really don't see a big downside, if any, here.

Just like the fact that there is no downside to having too much bacon. You know... besides a heart attack or two.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)