Not even 43 homers can make up for 195 strikouts. (Image: Rick Osentoski, US Presswire)

New York Yankees: Players with the Biggest Room for Improvement

Despite all the injuries, advanced age, and pre-season hand-wringing about the starting rotation, the 2012 Yankees were a pretty solid team. Some starters like Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda fulfilled expectations. Other players went on offensive tears like Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki.  Rafael Soriano stepped up tremendously when guys went down. Despite the fact that the final image of the 2012 team was an absolutely abysmal performance in the ALCS, a 95-win team in the American League East is more than respectable. All of that said, there is always room for improvement, particularly as 2013 will feature a healthy and restocked Blue Jay team, the always-competitive Rays, plus the Red Sox and Orioles. So, which players will need the most improvement on last season?

After a dreadful 2012, there is really nowhere else for Ivan Nova to go but up this season. (Image: Rick Osentoski, US Presswire)

Ivan Nova
There really isn’t anywhere for Ivan Nova to go but up from last season. With a ghastly 5.02 ERA and 2.468 WHIP, Nova’s season was up-and-down. While his K/9IP was up significantly from 2011 (his first mostly-full season in the majors) from 5.3 to 8.1, he also gave up almost 30 more runs in 2012 in only 5 more innings pitched from 2011. Interestingly, while his BB/9 IP average decreased, and Nova gave up fewer walks, he gave up more homers (28, up from 13 in 2011) and recorded 55 more strikeouts than the 2011 season. ZiPS projects a bit of an improvement for Nova in 2013, pitching to a 4.85 ERA in 167 IP, with a 6.72 K/9 IP and an improved WAR of 1.5 (up from .4 WAR in 2012). I do think he will make the big league camp as a starter out of Spring Training, but Joe Girardi has already indicated that Nova will have to earn the final rotation spot. Any improvement will be in the team’s best interest, but with David Phelps most likely waiting in the wings, Nova will need to be even better than that to not have his job at risk.

Mark Teixeira
In a very candid interview in the off-season, Tex spoke about the difficulties of continuing high production rates in the face of aging. All of that is well and good, but unfortunately for him, the Yankees have lost about 90 home runs. While I tend to think that the team does rely a bit too much on the long-ball, it is extremely difficult to lose that much offense, particularly on a team designed around such production. Teixeira has declined in recent years, and his projections for 2013 are expected to be about the same as 2012- ZiPS has Tex at a slash of .256/.348/.464, with 36 homers and 90 RBI. While this could be a sign of consistency, it would help out for the Yankees to see more production in the hits department out of Teixeira, not just homers. Ideally, that batting average will be up a tick, but based on the last two seasons, it would make sense for it to remain in the .250s. At the end of the day, not much will happen, given that the Yankees have locked the first baseman down for several more years, and, as Teixeira himself pointed out, it will be harder for his numbers to improve. It will be interesting (and helpful) if Tex surprises himself and the rest of us by picking it up a bit in 2013.

Curtis Granderson
It’s really hard to complain about a guy who has hit 40 homers in each of the last two seasons, but I’m going to do it anyway. I like Granderson (not enough to re-sign him in 2014, no way), but he’s a bargain at the moment, and the Yankees, frankly, cannot lose his offensive production with the current construction of the roster. Granderson’s biggest area that needs improvement: the strikeout. Outside of 2008 and 2009, Granderson has never hit above .272 in his major-league career. That said, a 30-point drop in his batting average from 2011 to 2012 is unacceptable, home runs be damned. A .232 average is just not going to get the job done, particularly out of a center fielder (who can be somewhat questionable in the outfield). Moreover, 195 Ks (up roughly 30 from 2011) is an abomination. The homers don’t make up for all the strikeouts. While there isn’t a good enough metric for projecting strikeouts (and certainly none from a source that I’d trust enough to include here), Granderson’s free-swinging ways at the plate have only gotten worse over the last two years. And, as his bat speed declines, it is unlikely that Granderson’s strikeout numbers will decrease. The good news is that ZiPs has a slight up-tick at .242/.329/.483 slash-line, with less homers (33) and RBI (93) than 2012. Interestingly, ZiPS also has Granderson hitting more doubles, triples and stealing more bases in 2013, which is odd considering speed doesn’t improve with age, but if true, it’s a welcome addition to his repertoire.

Other Nominees:

Brett Gardner
After a lost 2012, it will be necessary for Gardner to make more action with his legs and get on base at the same clip (read: pitch-eater) he did in 2011 and 2010 with the re-composition of the Yankees.

Chris Stewart
If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, Stewart will need to bat a bit better than .241 to be the everyday catcher, even when playing for a manager who emphasizes defense over offensive output when it comes to catchers.

Travis Hafner
Injuries can mostly be blamed for the extreme decline in Hafner’s production. While staying healthy is always out of a team’s hands, the Yankees will be putting him in the best position to do so by keeping him out of the field and let him see the cast majority of the action as DH. That said- .228/.346/.438 isn’t going to get the job done. Still, 12 homers, even in a ghastly season, is an inspiring sign for Hafner.

 

With that, those are my nominees for the individuals who need the most improvement for the 2013 team. It’s still early, and the Yankees have a lot of promise for this season, but it would be a lot easier for the Yankees (and, the fans, really) if these guys upped the ante once the calendar changes and the games start to matter.

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