Friday, February 21, 2014

I've Got Til 5! - Breakout Players

I visit a website called Cracked at least once a day, either at home or on my phone. If you haven't been there before I highly recommend it. The site has a lot of great and funny writers who post lists as well as videos. That website is actually the reason why I like to include photos in my articles. Although I probably fail at the humor part of them a lot more often than they do at Cracked.

Okay, a LOT more.

Well, I've taken that inspiration to another level, as I'm going to start writing lists. I have a few of them in mind already, but am open to list ideas from you.

My first list includes five players that I believe have the best chance at breakout seasons. Players having breakout seasons could mean the difference between the Yankees going deep into the postseason, and the team missing the postseason entirely. If I had to bet I'd say the Yankees miss out on winning the American League East, and instead earn a Wild Card berth. I say that because while I think the outfield and starting pitching look pretty good, the infield and bullpen have me a little worried.

So let's get to it, starting with a player I've talked about before...

#5 Brian Roberts

When Brian was healthy earlier in his career he was a very good player. His triple-slash between 2004 and 2009 was .290/.365/.438, he averaged 12 home runs a season, and also stole 35 bases a year. However, as we all know, injuries have hit Roberts pretty hard the past four years, so it's hard to count on him to be around for very long. But if he stays healthy, then I believe he'll make a fine player. Perhaps he won't hit to an OPS+ of 111 (his mark between '04 and '09), but I believe he'll do a lot better than most Yankees fans think he will.

#4 Hiroki Kuroda

It's crazy that a pitcher who threw to an ERA of 3.31 the year before would be included in a list of breakout players, but keep in mind that Hiro's ERA was 2.65 in the first half of 2013, and went up to 4.25 in the second half. In fact, #18 took the loss in seven of his last eight decisions. And I'm going to show you why we shouldn't worry about the way he finished the year.

Taking a closer look at his statistics, I found only one real problem. While the velocity of all his pitches remained relatively unchanged, there was one pitch in which the movement went down... his fastball. A quick look at his PITCH f/x data shows that the horizontal and vertical movement on that pitch went down a lot in the final two months of the season. That there is likely the reason why Kuroda's line drive percentage went way up to 23%, as opposed to a career mark of 17%.

Now, we can't ignore the fact that Hiroki isn't young anymore. He just turned 39 years old, and has thrown over 200 innings in each of the last three years. While I don't have any statistical evidence to back me up, it wouldn't surprise me if the only thing Kuroda and the Yankees have to do to avoid a repeat of last season is cut back on his work. Let's hope that Sabathia gets back on track, Tanaka is as good as advertised, and Nova continues to be a strong contributor to the rotation, as those things could help keep Kuroda at around 175 innings for the season.

#3 Dean Anna

Before I get into my reasons for including Dean on this list, I wanted to make sure you had the chance to read our short interview with him here.

Let me make one thing clear right off the bat... when I say Dean Anna is a "breakout" candidate, I'm not saying he's going to appear on anybody's All Star ballot. For starters, the word "power" has probably never been uttered when it comes to the guy. His .151 isolated power percentage in AAA in 2013 would have ranked 81st in MLB last season (among qualified hitters), and let's not get into the .122 mark he got in AA in 2012.

And chances are Anna won't be in the running for the American League batting title this season, either. But I'm going to point out a couple of reasons why I think Dean is going to surprise some people this year, and be a solid piece in the Yankees offense.

1. In the previous three seasons, two of which were played in AA and one of which was played in AAA, Dean Anna had a walk percentage of 12.6%. Of the 140 qualified hitters in Major League Baseball in 2013 (based on number of at bats), a walk percentage of 12.6% would have ranked 12th.

2. Over that same time period, Dean's strikeout percentage was 14.3%. Looking at those same 140 MLB hitters, that 14.3% strikeout percentage would rank 40th.

I'm not dumb enough to believe those rates wouldn't get worse in MLB, but I don't think they will get that much worse. So don't be surprised if, a year from now, Dean Anna's name is on a lot more of Yankees' fans tongues.

#2 Manny Banuelos

Manny Banuelos first appeared on Baseball America's list of the Yankees' Top 10 prospects back in 2010, when he was 6th. Manny rose up to 4th in 2011, then 2nd in 2012, before falling to 8th in 2013. This season, after having Tommy John surgery, he's completely off the list. However, that doesn't mean we should dismiss Banuelos. Not at all.

Some of you may not realize that Manny's only 22 years old. It's not often that a guy will appear on Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects list four years in a row, have another year go by, and still be under 25. So there's a ways to go before anybody should give up on the guy.

Kerry Wood, John Smoltz, Josh Johnson, Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson... What do they all have in common? They have all had ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, better known in baseball as Tommy John Surgery, and returned strong. That same procedure is what cost Manny Banuelos the entire 2013 season, and what he has now fully recovered from.

Chances are Manny won't be starting in the Majors this season, as there's a nice list of guys ahead of him (Phelps, Warren, Pineda, Nuno). But that's okay, because a year starting in AAA may be a great way to get ready to make a statement in MLB in 2015. However, with a very questionable bullpen this season, there's a chance Mr. Banuelos shows up there sometime in 2014 too.

Either way, I sense that we're in for something nice from this Mexican lefty.

#1 Michael Pineda

Manny wasn't the only Yankees pitcher that is coming back from injury. But unlike Banuelos, who is recovered from a procedure that has had a lot of successful comebacks, Michael Pineda is finally healthy after surgery to repair a torn labrum. And that recovery didn't just cost him most of 2013, but the entire 2012 season as well.

Right off the bat things didn't look good, as Pineda showed up to camp in 2012 overweight. Then, after the labrum surgery, he was throwing 91-93 mph as opposed to the 97 or higher before. Thankfully, all that's changed.
"I thought the ball was coming out easier [than in previous years]. I know he’s had time to clean up a couple things, too, mechanically, in this two-year span. He just looked like it came out free and easy to me. Didn’t look like he put a ton of effort into it, or that he was overthrowing it. To me, it looked different than what I saw a couple years ago when he got hurt and was pitching in games. I’m anxious to see him obviously get in some games in the next 12 days or so." - Joe Girardi
And don't dismiss what Girardi said regarding Pineda having time to clean up some mechanical stuff. While a lot of pitchers have to figure things out during games that matter, Pineda has been able to do that without the pressure of having to win. That pressure can make pitchers try too hard, which can not only mess up their effectiveness, but lead to re-injury.

Other than the fact that Michael Pineda appears to be 100%, and knowing how good he was before the injury, I don't have any other reason to be this optimistic about him. So just chalk it up to a gut feeling.

I'm close to penciling in Pineda with CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Ivan Nova for the 2015 rotation. And feeling really good about it.

Since I've done a list of breakout players, next week I'm going to give you my list of letdown players. After that I have a couple of ideas for lists, but I'd love to hear your ideas.

And one other thing... can anybody tell me where I got the name of this column?


  1. Great list. My only nit pick is the picture of Dean Anna is really Slade Heathcott.

  2. Bryan- Here's a few ideas for you. You could do a top 5 list of Jeter moments, top 5 list of possible home grown players to replace him, or a top 5 list of future captains. (Please note the heavy emphasis on Jeter)

  3. A Top 5 Jeter list would be incredibly difficult... good idea Jeff.


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