Thursday, May 9, 2013

State Of The Yankees

Let's imagine that it's January 1st, and you and I are having a chat about the Yankees. We eventually start talking about the 2012 postseason, and you say that you knew the Yankees were going to get swept by the Tigers in the ALCS. I agree, saying that I didn't feel good about the ALCS either, seeing how much the offense struggled against the Orioles after Game 1 of the ALDS.

"No... no... no", you say. You repeat yourself, saying you knew the Yankees were going to get swept. I get really confused, and seeing the confusion on my face you take me over to your house. And in the backyard you reveal this...

"Nice car, but the view from your backyard is amazing!"

We hop in, you say "where we're going we don't need roads", the car starts flying....yada, yada, yada. You know the story (if you don't then stop reading and go watch the Back To The Future trilogy. NOW!).

What I'm trying to say is that if you'd told me right before the Yankees first Spring Training game that, on May 8th, the Yankees starting lineup would look like this...

Brett Gardner CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Vernon Wells LF
Lyle Overbay 1B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jayson Nix SS
Chris Nelson 3B
David Phelps P
Austin Romine C 

... I would have wanted to cry.

Yet here I sit on May 9th, and that is the exact lineup Joe Girardi put out there for last night's game against the Rockies. Allow me to repeat that starting lineup, along with what I would have thought about it prior to that first game of Spring Training...

Brett Gardner CF - okay, fine start.
Robinson Cano 2B - good, but strange that he's batting 2nd.
Vernon Wells LF - huh? Where's Granderson? And 3rd!?!?
Lyle Overbay 1B - This is the clean-up hitter!?!? What happened to Tex?
Ichiro Suzuki RF - okay, but 5th in the lineup? That can't be right.
Jayson Nix SS - The guy that hit .243/.306/.384 last year. WHY!?!?
Chris Nelson 3B - What!? What!? What!?
David Phelps P - Two things... 1. Starting pitcher? 2. Batting 8th?
Austin Romine C - Knowing Cervelli and Stewart, this is not surprising.

Two guys that were expected regulars in the lineup (Gardner and Cano), one guy that is not surprising to see but doesn't excite me (Ichiro), a catcher that I didn't expect to see in MLB for a while longer (Romine), a pitcher not only batting 8th but who was pegged as a reliever (Phelps), three players that should not be starting (Wells, Overbay, and Nix), and finally a guy that should not only be on the bench but wasn't even in the American League before the season (Nelson). 

My surprise would not be limited to last night's game, either. Take a look at the players who have played the most games at each position so far in 2013...

C - Francisco Cervelli
1B - Lyle Overbay 
2B - Robinson Cano
3B - Jayson Nix
SS - Eduardo Nunez
LF - Vernon Wells
CF - Brett Gardner
RF - Ichiro Suzuki
DH - Travis Hafner

You can't seriously tell me that you would expect that team to be 19-13, only 1 game out of first place. Of course, few people would have thought the Blue Jays would be at the bottom of the division, either... but that's the way it is. 

Making flashy trades may get you a lot of attention, but that doesn't translate to more wins.

I can't honestly say that it's the offense who has carried the team to that record. They've only produced 136 runs, 8th in the American League. On top of that, the offense has only accumulated a fWAR of 3.5, which is 9th in the AL. They are 9th in team batting average, 8th in team on-base percentage, and 5th in team slugging percentage. For comparison, the Yankees were 5th, 1st, and 1st in triple-slash categories at the end of last season, and were 2nd in runs scored. 

So it's the run prevention side of things that's really getting things done for New York. To be more specific, it's the team's pitching. The Yankees have a team ERA of 3.76, good for 5th in the AL and 1st in the AL East. The team's fWAR is 4.3, which is 5th in the AL, and 2nd in the AL East behind the division co-leading Red Sox. Take fielding out of the equation by looking at the team's FIP, and you'll see it's at 3.70, 5th in the AL and 2nd in the AL East (I'm not going to mention the team ahead of them, as one mention of that team is enough). 

Here's what excited me... The hitting is bound to get better. By the end of the month the team should get back Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Kevin Youkilis. Which means less at bats for guys like Ben Francisco (currently hitting .125/.263/.219), Brennan Boesch (.211/.250/.447), Lyle Overbay (.238/.280/.455), Jayson Nix (.232/.281/.280), and Chris Nelson (.077/.077/.077). 

"But can our pitching keep this up?"

Well, CC Sabathia's ERA of 3.31 is actually a tick worse than what he's done so far with the Yankees (3.23), and he's striking out one less batter per nine innings than he has since the end of the 2010 season.

Hiroki Kuroda's ERA of 2.30 is more than a run lower than his MLB career mark of 3.37, but looking at his FIP of 3.33 compared to his career number of 3.61, and I'm not really worried about Hiro giving up a few more runs.

The only thing that concerns me about Andy Pettitte is his health, because he was able to put up a sub-3.00 ERA in 12 starts last season, and so far this year that number is a tick above 4.00. Andy's WHIP of 1.354 is also well above the 1.142 he put up last season.

Is Phil Hughes going to keep up that 3.60 ERA? Probably not. But after seeing his last four starts, a 1.93 ERA in 28 innings, along with his velocity being almost exactly what he's done so far in MLB (his average fastball sits at 92.1 this year, and is 92.2 for his career), I feel optimistic that he'll finish 2013 strong.

I'm not going to try and guess who will hold down the last spot in the rotation for the rest of the season, but I believe pretty strongly that whoever it is can at least match the 5.77 ERA the Yankees have gotten out of that spot in the rotation so far this season (Nova's had 4 starts, and Phelps has had 2).

Then there's the bullpen... Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all time, David Robertson would be closing for all but maybe 7 or 8 teams in MLB, despite walking way too many batters Joba Chamberlain looks like a good 7th inning guy, Boone Logan does a fine job, and then the team still has guys like Vidal Nuno, Preston Claiborn, Adam Warren, and others to step in when/if needed.

Like so many others, I didn't have a great feeling about the Yankees' chances of doing some real damage this season. But as of today I can't wait to see what the team looks like by the All Star break.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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