Warm-Up Tosses: Apparently proving correct Deadspin’s premise that ESPN has no journalistic integrity, look who’s profiled by ESPN.com this morning: http://espn.go.com/blog/playbook/fandom/post/_/id/18799/wall-st-vet-backs-mlb-betting-in-book
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New York Yankees
What They Did: 95-67, 1st Place AL East. Lost 4-0 in ALCS.
Actual Runs: Scored 804 runs, Allowed 668.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 94.6 (0.4 below actual)
Restated: Scored 842 runs, Allowed 698.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 94.8 (0.2 below actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Yankees, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 95 games.)
Boy, I haven’t seen this much grave dancing since Seal Team Six accomplished its mission. Just about everyone is throwing dirt on the 2013 prospects of the New York Yankees with most accounts citing the decline of the Yankees lineup. On ESPN.com, Andrew Marchand opined it’s the worst Yankees lineup since 1991. C’mon. First of all, let’s consider the baseline. If I look at the SI Swimsuit Issue and tell you that’s the worst Kate Upton has looked since 2010, I’m not really saying much, am I?
Injuries to Alex Rodriguez (out of the lineup until at least July) Curtis Granderson (probably sidelined through May) and Derek Jeter (questionable for the start of the season) may have robbed the Yankees of a portion of their 2012 firepower but let’s be clear: No one is going to be calling, “Pat Kelly, Mel Hall . . C’mon down!”
Once again it’s helpful to look at starting points and marginal changes. The Yankees scored 804 runs last year, second in the league behind the Texas Rangers. A sharp-eyed reader may note that in the Angels preview I mentioned that on a park-adjusted basis the Angels were the highest-scoring team in baseball. That’s correct and on that basis the Yankees (park factor of 1.03) were third with the St. Louis Cardinals second. However, although they weren’t the highest scoring team, the Yankees, by far, had the best offense in baseball last year. While they were seventh in batting average, they augmented that with league-high slugging, isolated power, and were second in on-base percentage. So why didn’t they score the most runs? Once again it comes down to the variability of “cluster luck”.
If you’re a Yankees fan, think back to last summer. What was the one thing that had commentators, talk radio, and fans gnashing their teeth about? The Yankees inability to hit with the bases loaded. Overall the Yankees hit .265/.337/.453. With the bases loaded and one or two out – high leverage situations for either scoring runs or not – they hit .228/.276/.465. That’s the very definition of non-repeatable, small-sample size variance, or as I call it cluster luck. Overall, it cost the Yankees 38 runs of expected production compared to their actual performance (see restated runs, above.)
Why is that significant? Because it means if the Yankees lose the services of A-Rod (2012 fWAR of 2.2) for half the season and Granderson (fWAR of 2.6) for a third and Derek Jeter (fWAR of 3.2) is only half as effective in 2013 as he was for the entire year in 2012, and if A-Rod’s and Granderson’s fill-ins are no better than replacement level, -- as long as the rest of the team simply performs at an average rate with the bases loaded -- then the Yankees will score 800 runs this year. And that, unlike the 1991 Yankees, will quite possibly lead the league. (Note: 1 WAR = 10 runs. A-Rod drop = -1.1, Granderson -.9, Jeter -1.6 = -3.6 WAR or -36 runs, nearly the same as they underperformed in 2012.)
Veterans of the financial industry, and anyone who has ever managed their own stock portfolio, know this basic fact: A single stock is far more volatile than a portfolio comprised of a number of stocks. That’s important because even with the injury headlines and the normal Yankees melodrama, it’s far, far, FAR more likely the Yankees will again score 800+ runs this year than it is that Mike Trout will be as productive in 2013 as last year. The Yankees lineup in 2012 featured nine regulars who were better than league-average hitters even adjusted for the park they played in. The only exception, Russell Martin, is gone and the only other player even close to league average, Raul Ibanez is also gone. Eric Chavez is the third notable departure.
Brett Gardner (6.2 WAR in 2010, 5.2 in 2011) only had 37 plate appearances last year. He will replace, and undoubtedly improve upon Ibanez’s production. It’s hard to believe Chavez, at 34, performed at a level that would be hard to replace but with an .845 OPS he did. Still, the Yankees are the Yankees and they tabbed the perpetually underrated (although, oft-injured) Travis Hafner to fill the DH role. Even though Martin was merely adequate as a hitting catcher, it’s a fact that Chris Stewart figures to be worse. This is a true hole in the Yankees line up and while it may be a new experience for the Bronx Bombers, it hardly puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
I’ve got the Yankees scoring less than 800 runs below because I’m assuming Kevin Youkilis and Juan Rivera, in tandem, perform at a mere replacement level filling in for the injured A-Rod and Granderson. I also respect the projections that must incorporate some regression for Robinson Cano and the age of the line-up means an above-average amount of injury time must also be assumed. All that considered, this offense is still well above league average and stating otherwise is the emotion-driven product of wish-casting failure upon a hated entity.
The starting rotation loses only Freddy Garcia and his 17 starts of 5.93 ERA baseball. (He was far more effective out of the bullpen, but those starts look pretty easy to replace.) Those starts will be made up by either Andy Pettitie or David Phelps. In the bullpen, Mariano Rivera returns and I’d like to think there isn’t a Yankee-hater out there who isn’t at least a little happy about that development. New York hopes his surgically-repaired knee won’t interfere with his ability to replicate the 2.26 ERA his replacement, the free-agent departed Rafael Soriano, posted in the closer’s role.
The entire pitching staff is stable and, with the exception of Sabathia and Rivera unassuming. That’s fine as the starters posted a 6th-in-the-American League ERA of 4.05 and the bullpen was 7th best at preventing runs. Overall, both units had peripherals that suggested better skill sets than their actual results. Again, even if there is some age-related regression this year, that gives the Yankees hurlers some cushion to absorb it without allowing any more runs.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: It should be noted that the tone of the pessimism (aging core, injuries to key players, improved division opponents) surrounding the Yankees this spring is practically identical to the gloom-and-doom chatter that surround the five-time NL East champion Phillies last year. Therefore, it must be acknowledged, the naysayers were better at seeing around the corner than my model-based projections were. Without question, that’s relevant to the Yankees discussion. The Yankees market opened at 87 ½ wins meaning oddsmakers clearly haven’t gotten the ’91 Yankees memo. (Or they have a hidden fondness for a Steve Sax/Mattie Nokes-led offense.) While I still lean to the over, I’d do nothing now and I’ll readdress this market in the final Opening Day Eve preview, when the market has adjusted to Spring Training injuries.
89-73 – Second in AL East, Wild Card Entrant
759 Runs Scored 685 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) March 7, 2013 release. It is available for pre-order from a number of on-line booksellers. Here are three you can currently choose from:
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