|2007 Season Postmortem: New York Yankees||| Print |||Send|
Written by Justin Zeth (Contact & Archive) on November 12, 2007
Another year, another massive failure in New York. Once again the Yankees embarrassed themselves, winning only 71 games and finishing ahead of only Ta… what? What’s that? The Yankees actually won 90-plus and posted the second-best run differential in baseball? I would never have known, reading these headlines.
Since we all know the playoffs are – and here I’m paraphrasing – freaking luck, and ways to “build a team to win in the playoffs” are as easy to come by as ways to “purchase the winning lottery ticket,” we’ll focus our attention today on the more important matters: How the Yankees compiled their regular-season record, which direction they’re trending, and what’s on their to-do list to keep themselves at the top of the league in 2008.
Best Seasons by Position Players
1. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, 96.6 VORP. Hey, in case you didn’t notice: Alex Rodriguez is really freaking awesome. He enjoyed what really amounts to just another Alex Rodriguez season, which is mind-blowing by human standards: .314/.422/.645, leading the American League in pretty much everything the Raccoon Lodge likes to see (HR, RBI, all that). He also provided decent defense at third base and – you might have missed this part – outstanding baserunning (24 SB versus 4 CS, and that doesn’t tell the whole story).
Rodriguez was this superb in part because he was playing for money; in case you didn’t notice, Alex Rodriguez really likes money, just like you and I do. Now he’s a free agent and that wacky ol’ $cott Bora$ says the bidding starts at $350 million. We’ll come back to this later, when we talk about offseason plans. For now, let’s remember that Alex Rodriguez is worth ten wins over J. Random AAA Third Baseman (known in New York as Wilson Betemit), and a good five or six wins over even somebody like Mike Lowell. Um, that’s pretty important. Six wins are hard to replace. If you replaced Nate McLouth with Torii Hunter… you still haven’t gained six wins.
2. Jorge Posada, C, 73.4 VORP. Yet another free-agent quandary the Yankees now face, the team would not have reached the postseason without an MVP-caliber performance from their stalwart catcher. When we look back in twenty years, Jorge Posada figures to stand as the second- or third-best player of the Yankee dynasty, after Derek Jeter and maybe Bernie Williams.
3. Derek Jeter, SS, 53.3 VORP. It wasn’t a particularly strong season by Cap’n Derek’s standards (.322/.388/.452 with declining defense), leaving for next season the question of whether it was just a random vaguely off year or if the years are finally starting to catch up to the Consummate True Yankee©. As a shortstop, Jeter makes a good first baseman, but his bat at the top of the order is still a vital cog in the Yankees’ run-producing machine. Jeter had an especially bad season on the basepaths (15 for 23 stealing bases, and he looked noticeably a half-step slower than we’re used to seeing him.)
Worst Seasons by Position Players
1. Melky Cabrera, CF, 9.8 VORP. For all the hullabaloo, ultimately Melky Cabrera didn’t come in as a particularly good starter; a 9.8 VORP over a full season’s work is the stuff fourth outfielders are made of. .273/.327/.391 is, suffice to say, not going to help any lineup, and his defense isn’t nearly good enough to make it worthwhile. Stay tuned, though, as Cabrera is still young enough to improve.
2. Johnny Damon, CF/1B/DH, 17.8 VORP. That VORP figure is comparing his hitting stats to center fielders; if you pro-rated them to compare to first basemen and DH’s too, his VORP would approach zero. Damon has become a problem; if he’s not playing center field, he’s not helping your team. His OBP and baserunning make him a functional starter at CF right now, but even the tiniest further slippage in his defense and he’s going to be a very expensive bench player. Damon does not have the bat for first base or DH, period.
3. Bobby Abreu, RF, 27.9 VORP. Abreu’s .283/.369/.445 with decent defense and good baserunning would qualify for the top three performers list on not a few clubs, so his presence here says more about the power of the Yankees’ lineup than it does about Abreu, who weathered a miserable start to the season and finished up strong.
Best Seasons by Starting Pitchers
1. Chien-Ming Wang, 48.5 VORP in 199.3 innings. Wang figures to serve as the Yankees’ ace for at least one more season, and maybe a few years longer than that if they don’t wind up with Johan Santana. Wang is a very good pitcher, but if he’s your staff ace, your staff could probably use a real stud—good thing the Yankees have a couple potential real studs in the house.
2. Andy Pettite, 36.8 VORP in 215.3 innings. Pettite’s innings pitched is the shocking thing; even if he did pitch again, I would bet heavily he’ll never approach that figure again. As it is, Pettite declined his option for sixteen freaking million dollars, which is a strong indication he plans to retire. He might pull a Clemens and just sit out until late May, but the Yankees can’t count on having him around next year. That’s a hole they’ll have to plug, because the list of really dependable Yankees starters in 2007 ends here.
Worst Seasons by Starting Pitchers (minimum 10 starts)
1. Kei Igawa, -3.5 VORP in 67.7 innings. For more than a few million dollars, the Yankees got worse pitching than J. Random AAA Lifer would have provided them. Yeah… that didn’t work out.
2. Mike Mussina, 11.0 VORP in 152 innings. The “Mike Mussina is done!” talk is a bit overblown, but he certainly is no ace anymore. The Yankees can plug him in at their 4 or 5 spot next year and probably get LAIM (League Average Innings Muncher) performance out of him, and that ain’t terrible.
Best Seasons by Relievers
1. Mariano Rivera, 22.4 VORP in 71.3 innings. Rivera’s peripherals remain very strong, and he should have at least another year left in him. There’s no chance in hell the Yankees don’t re-sign him, so don’t worry about that.
2. Joba Chamberlain, 14.0 VORP in 24 innings. That’s a mind-blowing innings-to-VORP ratio, but Chamberlain is moving to the rotation, probably to take Andy Pettite’s place, and expectations are sky-high. Chamberlain may be able to replace Pettite’s 36 VORP in the rotation, but 14 VORP out of the bullpen is not easily replaced, so the Yankees have some work to do here.
Worst Seasons by Relievers (Minimum 35 innings)
1. Sean Henn, -8.2 VORP in 36.7 innings. Um… yeah. The Sean Henn thing? Not working.
2. Kyle Farnsworth, 4.8 VORP in 60 innings. Farnsworth’s presence on this list is no surprise to any Yankees fan, but really, it wasn’t a terrible performance, for Kyle Farnsworth, and Joe Torre carefully avoided using him in any situation where the outcome of the game might still be in question, as much as he could. So he worked out OK as staff filler, albeit for a lot more money than a lot of AAA guys would do it for.
What Went Right?
Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera performed pretty much at the level a reasonable person (or computer!) would have expected them to. That alone goes a long way toward winning 90-plus. Robinson Cano bounced back to enjoy a very strong third season, and Bobby Abreu was very good in right field, if not the superstar that was pictured in the brochure. When first base became a fiasco, Shelley Duncan provided some big hits in midseason to keep the machine rolling.
What Went Wrong?
Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi both pretty much hit the end of the line. So, finally, did Roger Clemens, a sad development for pitching aficionados such as myself.
And oh yes, speaking of which… the pitching staff. Clemens showed up with only league-average stuff instead of the Cy Young stuff the Yankees paid him $22 million for; Kei Igawa was a category-four catastrophe; Carl Pavano continued to be Carl Pavano (11.3 innings); then they brought up Phil Hughes to plug the leak and he immediately hurt himself and missed most of the year (at least it wasn’t his arm he hurt); then Mike Mussina broke down; and for most of the year nobody but Mariano Rivera was dependable out of the bullpen, especially not once the Yankees unloaded Scott Proctor.
What Went Really Right?
Despite all this trouble with the pitching staff, the following things happened. Consider the delicacy of the fate of any baseball team, even an extremely good one: Without even one of the following things happening, the Yankees would never have had the chance to get killed by the Indians in the playoffs:
1. Alex Rodriguez was the best player in baseball, by far.
2. Jorge Posada was the best catcher in baseball.
3. Joba Chamberlain pitched 24 innings of astonishingly butt-kicking relief.
4. Everyone in their lineup except Giambi stayed healthy all year, minimizing the playing time of such luminaries as Wil Nieves and Miguel Cairo. One random high ankle sprain by Robinson Cano or something would have spelled doom.
Projected Lineup as the Roster Stands Right Now
SS Derek Jeter
RF Bobby Abreu (the Yankees picked up his $16 million option)
2B Robinson Cano
LF Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
DH Jason Giambi
1B Johnny Damon
CF Melky Cabrera
3B Wilson Betemit (presumably)
Projected Rotation as the Roster Stands Right Now
Pick one: Ian Kennedy, Darrell Rasner, Tyler Clippard
Who knows? (Edwar Ramirez would be a good idea)
If Hughes and Chamberlain both stay healthy enough to give them around 170 IP of above-average performance, and adjusting for expected decline from Giambi and Matsui… that looks like a team you would expect to win around 88 games in the American League. That isn’t good enough. The team you see above isn’t any better than, say, the Tigers, though it’s better than the Blue Jays or Twins or whatever. The Yankees have work to do.
What Do the Yankees Need To Upgrade?
First, they need a third baseman. The extremely obvious thing the Yankees must do is pay what it takes to bring Alex Rodriguez back. After you sift through all the posturing and BS-ing from all three sides (Bora$, the Yankees, and the media), you’re left with two immutable facts: Alex Rodriguez is the best player in baseball, and the Yankees are the wealthiest team in baseball. For him to play anywhere else would be a blunder by the Yankees.
If they don’t bring him back, expect them to bring in Mike Lowell. I can’t fathom the Yankees going into 2008 with Wilson Betemit as their everyday third baseman.
Second, they need a first baseman and a DH. Giambi’s about done, and Damon’s bat would make him the worst 1B in the league even if he was Vic Power with the glove. And no, Doug Mientciewicz is not a solution, and God help the Yankees if Shelley Duncan tries to play an entire year at first. What’s out there? They could have done worse than to sign Matt Stairs on the cheap, but as things are, the pickings on hitters are pretty thin. In a dream world, signing Barry Bonds would help, but… yeah. This is New York we’re talking about. First base/DH may prove to be a problem for the Yankees next year, though they should be able to sign Mark Teixeira up for 2009.
Third, they could use a reliable innings-muncher starting pitcher. Livan Hernandez, I’m looking at you. Sadly, Hernandez may be the best pitcher on the market this winter; him, or Carlos freaking Silva.
By the way, I’m assuming here that Jorge Posada’s coming back. If the Mets get stupid and give him a 5/75 contract or something, the Yankees are screwed. They need Posada in 2008—not having Posada would represent a loss of seven wins versus whatever replacement-level catcher they’d plug in—and since they’re the Yankees, they’re probably better off matching the Mets’ offer and eating the money than they are losing Posada and probably not making the playoffs next year.
This is why, at the end of all the exhausting PR bullcrap, I fully expect Alex Rodriguez to stay with the Yankees. The free agent market provides no fix for the Yankees’ problems, and Cashman swears to God he’ll trade Chamberlain or Hughes over his dead body (so no Miggy Cabrera and no Johan Santana), and if the Yankees just stand pat, they may or may not be a 90-win team. So it’s either:
1. Sign Rodriguez; or
2. Sign Mike Lowell and Livan Hernandez and Kyle Lohse or somebody and take your best shot at it, which probably will be enough to win 94 or so, but might not be; or
3. Stand pat and quite possibly miss the playoffs.
What do you think the Yankees will do? They’ll think it over, come to their senses and sign Rodriguez. If they don’t, 2008 will be the first year in over a decade in which the Yankees’ presence in the playoffs is not a certainty.