State of Yankees Universe

Just as the President must take some time each year to address the nation on the State of the Union, so do baseball fans take time to assess the state of their respective teams. The difference is that baseball fans obsess and debate about their teams year-round, not just on one cold Tuesday night in January. So in keeping with that tradition, here is my take on the State of Yankees Universe as the roster stands right now.

Lineup

Fans seem to be split on whether the Yankees should pick up a DH or simply rotate the DH position using current players. Regardless, the fact is that right now the Yankees do not have a DH that is set in stone, so I’ve constructed my predicted lineup with Andruw Jones in the DH spot. For the projected stat lines I used the ZiPS Projections from Baseball Think Factory.

  1. Derek Jeter – .268/.329/.362
  2. Curtis Granderson – .256/.346/.495
  3. Mark Teixeira – .263/.359/.495
  4. Alex Rodriguez – .264/.350/.474
  5. Robinson Cano – .299/.347/.506
  6. Nick Swisher – .253/.358/.456
  7. Andruw Jones – .234/.335/.455
  8. Russell Martin – .249/.346/.382
  9. Brett Gardner – .260/.352/.370

This lineup projects to score 5.268 runs per game (using Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis). The optimal configuration of this particular lineup would score 5.347 runs per game and would consist of Swisher, Teixeira, Martin, Cano, A-Rod, Granderson, Jones, Jeter, and Gardner. But that’s not going to happen.

If the projections turn out to be correct, it will mean that the Yankees are slightly off the pace of 5.352 runs per game that they scored last season which resulted in 97 wins. Of course, it is the timing of those runs that means more than the projected average. The lineup as it currently stands is the same one the Yankees trotted out last year (minus Jorge Posada), and as we saw too many times the bats had a tendency to go completely silent in droves. However, we also saw plenty of times when the lineup seemed to be running on all gears. Picking up a cheap, effective DH that hits right-handed pitching well would be a bonus, but the Yankees lineup as it currently stands is pretty scary and more than capable of putting up huge offensive numbers.

Rotation

The “bad” news: there are still questions surrounding the Yankees’ rotation. The good news: those questions now have to deal with the surplus of starting pitching, not the lack thereof. So who will be the Yankees fifth starter? Strong cases can be made for both Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes, but I believe that ultimately both of them will be relegated to bullpen roles to open the door for A.J. Burnett to start in the #5 slot. However, since that decision has not yet been made, and since there are trade rumors swirling around both Burnett and Hughes, we’ll look at all three of those guys as potential fifth starters.

  1. CC Sabathia – 3.55 ERA, 218.0 IP, 211 H, 19 HR, 63 BB, 189 K
  2. Michael Pineda – 3.52 ERA, 161.0 IP, 142 H, 15 HR, 53 BB, 152 K
  3. Ivan Nova – 4.44 ERA, 178.3 IP, 189 H, 20 HR, 60 BB, 111 K
  4. Hiroki Kuroda – 3.70 ERA, 160.3 IP, 157 H, 17 HR, 39 BB, 120 K
  5. A.J. Burnett – 5.31 ERA, 159.3 IP, 170 H, 25 HR, 70 BB, 128 K
  6. Phil Hughes – 4.84 ERA, 122.7 IP, 127 H, 18 HR, 44 BB, 96 K
  7. Freddy Garcia – 4.85 ERA, 128.0 IP, 143 H, 18 HR, 40 BB, 75 K

Not too shabby, eh? Certainly better than the worrisome rotation we were facing before the acquisitions of Pineda and Kuroda. Yankees pitching allowed 657 runs last season, and obviously it would be great if that number comes down. Looking at the above rotation it does not seem too much of a stretch to predict that it will. Burnett’s home run rate is due to regress (he gave up 31 bombs last year), so that alone should help to keep opponents from putting so many runs on the board. Not to mention the high hopes I have for Nova entering his sophomore season (I believe he’ll perform significantly better than the ZiPS numbers project). Add Kuroda and Pineda into the mix behind Sabathia, who is always a sure thing, and the rotation should be able to carry the team deep into games far more often than not, allowing the offense to do its thing.

Bullpen

  1. Mariano Rivera – 3.12 ERA, 49.0 IP, 44 H, 4 HR, 10 BB, 43 K
  2. David Robertson – 3.06 ERA, 64.7 IP, 50 H, 5 HR, 34 BB, 87 K
  3. Rafael Soriano – 3.14 ERA, 63.0 IP, 50 H, 6 HR, 21 BB, 74 K
  4. Joba Chamberlain – 3.88 ERA, 46.3 IP, 43 H, 5 HR, 14 BB, 45 K
  5. Boone Logan – 3.91 ERA, 48.3 IP, 46 H, 5 HR, 17 BB, 48 K
  6. Cory Wade – 4.61 ERA, 56.7 IP, 62 H, 8 HR, 13 BB, 37 K

Man I’m going to miss Mariano when he eventually retires. (That’s a bit of a digression, I know, but it’s true and it is an observation that I believe needs to be stated every once in a while.) ZiPS has Robertson making a pretty significant backslide from the 1.08 ERA he put up in 66.2 IP in 2011. All of the projections I have read so far have Robertson pegged to regress next season, and I have to agree to a certain extent. He had a stellar season last year and it is highly unlikely he’ll repeat that performance. But I believe he will perform better than the 3.06 ERA that is projected. Sure, there was a certain amount of luck involved in his 2011 season: you don’t get a nickname like Houdini if you aren’t walking a fine line by allowing baserunners. It is only natural that some of those baserunners Robertson allows will eventually come back to bite him, but as he proved last year with his 100 strikeouts he certainly knows how to step up in a big way when he needs to. As for the rest of the pen, Soriano’s numbers will likely come in closer to his career 2.86 ERA than to his 4.12 ERA last year. And Joba will return from Tommy John surgery to provide a power arm late in the game. Last season the Yankees bullpen ranked 4th best in MLB based on ERA (3.12). Look for the bullpen to continue its dominance in 2012.

Fielding Depth

We saw Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez quite a bit last season (perhaps too much), and obviously having them in the field does not inspire the kind of confidence that comes from knowing that Jeter and A-Rod are manning the left-side of the infield. The 20 errors Nunez put up last year need to come down drastically, but his bat has the potential to be pretty solid should he have the chance to rack up regular at bats. With the departure of Jesus Montero, Austin Romine becomes the Yankees third catcher (presumably) after Francisco Cervelli, and he will certainly add some excitement to the roster should he be called up to the Bronx. As for the outfield, Jones could slot in when not in the DH role, and Chris Dickerson will return from a 2011 season in which he batted .260/.296/.360. All in all the Yankees bench is very stable, and should be able to keep the team rolling when one of the regulars inevitably hits the 15-day DL with a pulled hamstring.

You can follow Robbie (@clarkbar213) and Yanks Go Yard (@YanksGoYardFS) on Twitter and “like” YGY on Facebook.

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