Last season’s biggest surprise playoff team was not the Houston Astros. Nor was it the Kansas City Royals. Nor was it the Texas Rangers. For me, the biggest surprise playoff team was the New York Yankees. With an enormous payroll and one of the oldest rosters in baseball, Joe Girardi found a way to lead this team into the postseason. Alex Rodriguez turned back the clock, Mark Teixeira remained reasonably healthy, and a dominant set of late-inning relievers were all keys to the season for the Bronx Bombers. The big question is whether or not they can replicate last season’s success.
It’s fair to say that bullpen arms are getting a lot more attention now than they did before last season. Teams have found that allocating more resources to the construction of a bullpen is the way to go, given that the Kansas City Royals have taken awful starting rotations to the World Series in back-to-back seasons. The Yankees certainly have a better rotation than that, but it was the back end of Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson that was the backbone of this roster. Even though the Yankees were just 23-24 in one-run games, they were 66-3 with a lead entering the seventh inning. Wilson is gone, but the Yankees more than made up for his loss.
No starting pitcher made more than 29 starts for the Yankees and the guy that did that was their worst regular starting pitcher. As it was happening, and in retrospect, it’s very hard to see how the Yankees played postseason baseball. The Yankees were -38 in defensive runs saved, got starts from 10 different pitchers, and only five regular offensive contributors were above league average by wRC+ (weighted runs created plus).
The same concerns I had entering the 2015 season are prevalent this season. This team is old and full of injury worries. Alex Rodriguez turns 41 in July. Carlos Beltran turns 39 in April. Mark Teixeira will be 36 one week after Opening Day. Brian McCann turned 32 in February. Jacoby Ellsbury turned 32 last September. CC Sabathia is out of alcohol rehab for his age-36 season. Masahiro Tanaka is 27, but his elbow might be 37. Michael Pineda worked 160 innings for the first time since 2011 and just the second time in his career.
As mentioned, this same set of potential problems was presented in last year’s write-up. The Yankees went over the total and made the playoffs. Everybody is a year older and the Yankees bolstered that elite bullpen with one of the game’s most incredible arms. Can this team rally for another trip to the postseason?
Season win total:
BetOnline: 85.5 (-115/-115)
5Dimes: 85.5 (-125/-105)
Bovada: 85.5 (-115/-115)
Key additions: Aroldis Chapman, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks
Key losses: Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Chris Capuano, Adam Warren, Brendan Ryan, Justin Wilson
The Yankees had no qualms about buying Aroldis Chapman for pennies on the dollar from the Cincinnati Reds. The Los Angeles Dodgers had a deal in place for Chapman when some very serious domestic assault changes came to light. The Yankees supported my position that teams will overlook just about anything as long as a player can still contribute, so Chapman’s acquisition gives the Yankees the best bullpen in the American League.
Aaron Hicks is a sneaky-good addition from Brian Cashman, whose Yankees were more like a small-market team this offseason. Outside of minor league acquisitions, the Yankees spent next to no money in the free agent frenzy. Hicks will provide depth to an outfield that needs it with Jacoby Ellsbury’s injury problems and Carlos Beltran’s age.
Starlin Castro gets a fresh start at second base for the Yankees after falling out of favor on the North Side of Chicago with the Cubs’ youth movement. Swingman Adam Warren was a tough price to pay and Brendan Ryan was one of the few guys capable of playing defense without looking like an ad for Calphalon, but Castro adds some stability to a position that needs it.
Why bet the over?
Well, for one thing, this is a team that overachieved in a big way last season and it’s pretty clear that Joe Girardi knows what he’s doing. We’ve seen teams with huge payrolls fall completely flat (hi Red Sox fans!) and yet the Yankees have never won fewer than 84 games on Girardi’s watch. He’s had plenty of help in getting there, thanks to George Steinbrenner’s seemingly endless supply of Benjamins, but you still have to maximize talent and win games. The Yankees have finished at least six games above .500 in every season since 1993. Yes, the payroll matters, but in a 162-game season, that’s an incredible stat.
Three of the top four home run hitting teams in the American League made the playoffs. One of those teams was the Yankees. They hit 212 bombs, including 33 from Alex Rodriguez. “Rod”, as I call him, hung a 129 wRC+ with a .250/.356/.486 slash after effectively missing a season-and-a-half. His 33 home runs were the most that he had hit in a season since he touched ‘em all 35 times in 2008. The strikeout rate stayed elevated, but the patience was still on display. He’s totally useless in the field, so the upside is limited, but there aren’t many players outside of A-Rod that had age-40 seasons like that.
Quietly, Brian McCann remains a really good player. McCann has racked up 5.3 fWAR in his two seasons with the Yankees. He still hits for some power with that short porch in right field and has been a solid defensive catcher. He only allowed one passed ball last season, though he did allow 55 wild pitches compared to 29 the previous season, so maybe the official scorer was generous. He did throw out 28 of 78 base stealers, which was well above average.
Another injury-shortened season for Mark Teixeira short-circuited what was a really productive campaign. Tex is still solid at first base, so he didn’t really cut into his 143 wRC+ and the value that it provided. He hit 31 home runs, worked the strike zone, and actually posted the best ISO (slugging percentage – batting average) of his career. The chronic injury problems limit his upside and this season’s production sort of came out of nowhere, but maybe the 36-year-old isn’t on ‘E’ yet.
Jacoby Ellsbury is really tough to predict for this season. After being limited to 111 games and 501 plate appearances, the Yankees are hoping that the player capable of hitting 15 home runs with 30 steals is still in there somewhere. A more realistic projection is somewhere around 12 or 13 home runs with 20-25 steals. That’s valuable and it should represent an upgrade over last season, especially the career-worst .345 SLG and .294 wOBA.
Without a lot of fanfare, Brett Gardner followed up his 2014 power gains with a similar season in 2015. That should make Yankees fans happy and hopeful that those improvements can stick around. Of course, it is a little bit odd that Gardner hit 16 home runs and still managed to slug less than .400. Ian Desmond, Stephen Drew, and Logan Morrison are the only other players to accomplish that feat, but none of them hit higher than .235. In any event, Gardner’s strikeout and walk rates trended positively last season and a similar season is a reasonable guess.
The keystone combo of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro has some upside. Gregorius is an excellent fielder and a terrible hitter, while Castro is a league average type of player, depending on his BABIP. Castro doesn’t walk, so balls need to find holes for him to carry offensive value. Moving from shortstop to second base is a good move for him, since he struggles defensively at short. Only the White Sox had worse all-around production at second base, so this is a massive upgrade.
The “glass half full” approach to the Yankees pitching staff should probably start with Luis Severino. Severino proved that he belonged on the big stage, even though his command and control need work. Severino showcased some really good feel for pitching in high-leverage situations to keep a low ERA despite a high FIP from mistake pitches leaving the park. He stranded 87 percent of his runners, which is unsustainable, but a sign of his pitchability at just 21 years of age. He’ll be 22 when the season starts, but the strikeout upside and the high ground ball rate suggest a high floor.
Michael Pineda was the biggest victim of “Yankety Sax” in the field. Pineda was worth 3.5 fWAR with a 4.37 ERA. Sure, his command was lackluster at times, but his control was elite and his 3.34 FIP and 2.95 xFIP are good indicators of better fortunes on the horizon. Nate Eovaldi was another guy that fell victim to the defense. His 4.20 ERA was accompanied by a 3.42 FIP and a 3.81 xFIP. It’s tough to see a .332 BABIP against for Pineda and a .337 BABIP against for Eovaldi. The Yankees were -12 defensive runs saved at second base and Castro represents improvement there.
Masahiro Tanaka pitched a playoff game and then had elbow surgery to attempt to stave off a full UCL repair that would cost him an entire season and then some. Tanaka, like Pineda, showed great control and subpar command. Fortunately, his assortment of breaking stuff kept hitters from posting a high BABIP and most of his bad pitches left the ballpark. He still managed a 3.51 ERA, which can be done with a high home run rate, so long as you aren’t walking a lot of guys. Part of the reason the Yankees overcame such a terrible defensive ballclub is that the Yankees rotation had the lowest BB/9 in the league.
I don’t know what 2016 holds for CC Sabathia, but I’ll be rooting for him. The oft-injured southpaw entered alcohol rehab late last season in an effort to get his life back on track. Sabathia will be addressed later in the article, but I’m pulling for the big guy. I’ll always have a soft spot for him after pitching for the Indians for so long. If he can overcome his personal demons and thrive in a very public forum, that will provide hope for others with alcohol dependency issues.
I waited until this part of the article to discuss the pitching porn that the Yankees will roll out in the late innings because I would have been too distracted to write about anything else. Nobody comes close to the projected bullpen fWAR of the Yankees. Among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched, Aroldis Chapman was first in strikeout percentage. Andrew Miller was second. Dellin Betances was fourth. In K%-BB%, Miller was second, Chapman was third, and Betances was fifth. In WPA (win probability added), Betances was second, Miller was third, and Chapman was 16th. Girardi has the luxury to mix and match however he needs to with two lefties and a righty and all of them have legitimate swing-and-miss stuff. Chapman’s walk rate doesn’t come close to the other two, but he strikes out so many guys that it doesn’t matter.
Why bet the under?
Health continues to be a worry for the Yankees. The batters’ average age, weighted by plate appearances, for the Yankees last season was 31.1 and they didn’t get a whole lot younger this season. Even the addition of Castro is offset by the returning old guys on the roster. The next oldest team in terms of batters’ average age was Toronto at 29.4, so that is a very significant jump. League average was 28.5. I kept waiting for the Yankees to drop off, but they never really did. In the first half, they posted a .748 OPS and in the second half a .739 OPS. I’d be surprised if that happens again this season.
One big injury note is that Greg Bird is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Bird was likely ticketed for Triple-A to start the year, but he was a great insurance policy for Mark Teixeira at first base. In 178 PA in his first cup of coffee, Bird posted a .261/.343/.529 slash with a .372 wOBA and hit 11 home runs. That’s a very big loss for an old team without a lot of farm system depth. Aaron Judge is a player, but he struggled at Triple-A after tearing up Double-A. He’ll play for a bit in the minors and will help the Yankees at some point this season, but reinforcements are not coming past him.
What does A-Rod have for an encore? We’re talking about a guy that had 181 Major League plate appearances from in 2013-14. His line drive rate dropped by almost six percent in the second half last season and his pop up rate jumped dramatically. His strikeout rate also climbed 5.5 percent. The first half might have been the exception to the rule now. In the second half, thanks to his power, he was still an above average bat, but not enough to offset the complete lack of defensive ability. He’s a guy that could really tailspin this season. If that happens and he falls out of favor with the fan base, it will be interesting to watch that dynamic play out.
Carlos Beltran should continue to regress. Mark Teixeira should as well. Age seems to be playing tricks on Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Chase Headley has not been the player that the Yankees thought that they were getting and he was not good defensively either. There is very little margin for error here. Some players have been salvaged by the hitter-friendly conditions and that should stem the aging curve to an extent, but it won’t completely prevent it.
Speaking of injury worries, “Hawkeye” Pierce and BJ Honeycutt could be called in at a moment’s notice for this pitching staff. Michael Pineda is coming off of his biggest workload in three seasons. Pineda has battled shoulder problems throughout his MLB career and it only takes one flare-up for that to eat away half of a season. Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow has a bomb that only Liam Neeson and Jason Statham working together could disarm. Tanaka’s coming off of one operation and just about everything trended negatively for him last season. The K rate was down, the BB rate was up, the home run rate was through the roof. He’s still going to be well above average for as long as he’s in the rotation, but how long will that be?
CC Sabathia’s return has the makings of a great story, but it’s hard to see a sobriety chip bringing back his fastball or the bite on his offspeed stuff. Sabathia sat 90-91 this past season after sitting 89-90 the previous season. Every mistake he makes keep getting hit a long way and his control has tailed off as well. Not only that, but Sabathia’s battled some pretty serious knee injuries and not being able to use his lower half effectively has kept him from finishing off pitches and lighting up the radar gun. It’s a great story, but he’s going to be paid a lot of money to have a league average ceiling.
Ivan Nova is a past Tommy John guy. Adam Warren was an invaluable part of this team, eating up 131.1 innings over 43 appearances. That’s a guy that will be missed in a big way. Luis Severino brings promise and hope, but he also brings the growing pains of a 22-year-old. There’s some great stuff in his arsenal, but control and command will continue to be a work in progress and a 3.75 ERA, which almost mirrors last season’s xFIP, seems pretty reasonable to expect.
I can’t find anything to dislike about the bullpen (outside of the allegations against Chapman and potential suspension), but they could see a very heavy workload. The Yankees rotation was 21st in innings pitched last season, but that could take a tumble this season. If the bullpen gets overworked early, along with a very old roster and a precarious starting rotation, the Yankees may have a miserable second half. I expected it last year and it never came. I certainly don’t have high hopes another year later.
March 1 edit: Aroldis Chapman was given a 30-game suspension from Major League Baseball under the new domestic violence policy. This certainly hurts the Yankees, as they are a team that needs to get off to a hot start because of the average age of the key players involved.
Pick: New York Yankees Under 85.5 (-105 – 5Dimes)
This is just too high of a number for a team that could very well be the Boca Raton Yankees (that’s an age joke). There’s a lot of talent and a ton of big names here, but the best days are in the past for most of those players. Masahiro Tanaka has missed time in each of his two big league seasons and there’s no telling when Michael Pineda will hit the disabled list. The starting rotation certainly has major injury concerns, much like last season.
The bullpen will protect just about every lead it gets, as long as Aroldis Chapman is there to help, and Joe Girardi will have no problems picking which of the big three to use. But, it’s fair to wonder how many leads this team will get. They’ll still hit at home and should get adequate starting pitching when those guys are healthy, but over 162 games, there are better bets than the Yankees.
I spent a long time last year waiting for the Yankees to fall apart in the second half. It never happened. They’re a year older now and I’m going to expect it to happen again.
-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-
Considering what the New York Yankees endured last season, why shouldn’t people be high on their chances for 2015? The Yankees managed to go 84-78 even though CC Sabathia only made eight starts and Masahiro Tanaka, the team’s prized free agent acquisition out of Japan, was held to 20 starts. The only pitcher to make more than 20 starts was 39-year-old Hiroki Kuroda and only three position players had more than 550 plate appearances. Twenty-six different position players saw action and 33 different pitchers made an appearance. Twelve different pitchers made at least one start.
These certainly aren’t the Yankees that everybody is used to seeing. The days of expensive free agents and prolific offenses seem to be over. The 633 runs that the Yankees scored last season ranked 13th out of 15 American League teams. Their 147 home runs ranked seventh. The Yankees used to work counts and strike fear into opposing hitters. The team’s .307 on-base percentage in 2014 ranked 14th out of 15 AL teams.
Yet, despite it all, the Yankees finished with 84 wins. They fell short of last season’s win total of 87.5, but it was a lot closer than you would expect given what the roster looked like at various parts of the season. Joe Girardi did one of the top managing jobs in the bigs last season as New York finished seven games better than their Pythagorean Win-Loss record. There are two ways to look at that, and those will be discussed in the body of the article, but the Yankees are certainly looking forward to better health and better fortune in the 2015 season.
Oddsmakers are expecting the Yankees to hover in the .500 range with a win total of 81.5 at BetOnline. That’s the same number that Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas opened two days after Atlantis Sportsbook in Reno posted a line of 80.
Key additions: Nate Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorius, David Carpenter, Scott Baker
Key losses: Derek Jeter, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Francisco Cervelli, David Phelps, Martin Prado, Hiroki Kuroda, Shane Greene
Those are exactly the types of names you would expect the Yankees to acquire after missing the playoffs, right? For the first time in a long time, the Yankees did not add any of the big free agents and really weren’t even a big player in free agent discussions. A case could be made for Andrew Miller as one of the big free agents, but considering a middle reliever a big free agent, especially for the Yankees, seems like a bit of hyperbole.
The Derek Jeter Retirement Tour came to an end last season and Didi Gregorius gets to fill Jeter’s shoes. He’ll certainly be a defensive upgrade, though it’s unclear whether Gregorius can pull the epic list of women that Jeter has taken to bed. Nate Eovaldi will slot right into the rotation in the spot vacated by Brandon McCarthy and the Yankees have a very interesting starting five if CC Sabathia is healthy and Masahiro Tanaka can truly avoid Tommy John surgery.
Garrett Jones is exactly the kind of player the Yankees need, because he provides tremendous value at an affordable cost and the short porch in right field is going to be great for him. The Yankees are still saddled by some very large contracts, which requires that they find value in the same manner that small market teams do. That’s why a trade like Martin Prado for Garrett Jones and Nate Eovaldi was such an interesting deal. The loss of David Robertson to the White Sox via free agency leaves the Yankees with some tough decisions to make about the bullpen.
Why bet the over?
The first reason to bet the over is pretty clear. The Yankees won 84 games last season and a lot of their key contributors missed huge portions of the season. CC Sabathia made eight bad starts, Masahiro Tanaka was electric until his season ended, Carlos Beltran was limited to 109 injury-plagued games, and Michael Pineda only made 12 starts. That’s a lot of talent that the Yankees expected to have an impact and none of them really did in the second half of the season when the Yankees were six games over .500.
Even though the Yankees failed to retain Brandon McCarthy, who was worth nearly two wins over just 14 starts, and Hiroki Kuroda returned to Japan to finish out his outstanding career, the rotation could be good. There are a ton of injury questions and none are bigger than the ones surrounding Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka opted for platelet-rich-plasma therapy for his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament than Tommy John surgery. Whether or not that’s a good decision remains to be seen, but Tanaka did make two starts late last season to give Yankee fans hope for his 2015 prospects. Not having surgery is risky, but Tanaka has the potential to be one of the game’s elites if he can work every five days. Tanaka was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA and a 3.04 FIP with basically a 7/1 K/BB ratio in his 20 starts. He was special.
CC Sabathia will have to keep progressing as a pitcher with dwindling velocity, but his strikeout-to-walk rates suggested that it’s possible. Unfortunately, his command failed him and he gave up an inordinate amount of home runs. The now lanky left hander shed weight last season and looked like a completely different guy, but it was all for naught as a torn meniscus shut down his season. There’s still a lot of pitchability there, even if the velocity and the skill set isn’t the same.
Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova are two names to keep a close eye on. Pineda was outstanding in his 13 starts last season, accumulating 2.2 fWAR in that span. There’s a long medical history with Pineda, however, but the raw stuff and the skills are still there. Ivan Nova is coming off of Tommy John surgery, so he’s another of the injury risk guys. Nova could return in mid-May, but he was starting to put it all together before the surgery and could return to those levels.
Nate Eovaldi has some untapped potential entering his age-25 season because of an upper 90s fastball and a live arm. His development of better breaking stuff is what has held him back and perhaps a new organization can help him in that area. With a former catcher in Girardi, the hope is there that Eovaldi can fix his ugly platoon splits and become a consistent contributor.
Scott Baker and Chase Whitley may end up in the Opening Day rotation depending how the Yankees roll through the winter, but those two guys have proven at various times that they can be serviceable. The Yankees may not have an ace outside of Tanaka, but they have a lot of Major League depth and they’ll probably need to tap into it.
The bullpen may not miss David Robertson as much as you think. Dellin Betances was elite last season. And by elite, I mean that no pitcher had a higher fWAR than Betances. He struck out 135 in 90 innings and posted a 1.40 ERA with a 1.64 FIP. The bigger problem with losing a closer is what it does to the rest of the bullpen. Guys change roles and oftentimes that leads to problems. In this case, the signing of Andrew Miller helps because he’ll be a bridge to Betances. Miller is special because he’s not just a lefty matchup guy and that’s why he got so much money.
Behind Miller, Adam Warren had a solid season in his 69 appearances with a 2.97 ERA, a 2.89 FIP, and a 3.28 xFIP. Those are good enough numbers to give him the seventh or eighth without a concern. David Carpenter was a quality setup man for the Braves as one of the bridges to Craig Kimbrel, so he will fit nicely into the bullpen. Depth is a concern, but the chief relievers are good enough to protect leads.
Offensively, the Yankees are in good shape in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. That dynamic duo accumulated nearly seven wins last season and they were two of the constants for the Yankees lineup. Derek Jeter was the only other player to have over 600 plate appearances and everybody is fully aware of what his skill set had become. Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 33 home runs, 60 stolen bases, and provided league average defense.
Chase Headley was a savvy acquisition by Brian Cashman and that move was made even better by the fact that Headley stayed with the Yankees, signing a four-year, $52M deal. Headley has always been a productive third baseman in a defensive sense, while his offense has fluctuated. In 224 plate appearances with the Yankees, Headley posted a .262/.371/398 slash line and superb defense. The power slowly started coming back and Headley made some stance adjustments that should produce value over a full season. The Yankees are in great shape at third and Headley’s numbers should increase with the short porch and a full season in a much better hitting environment than what San Diego provided.
Whatever drops of production are left in Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira showed up in the power category last season with 36 home runs. Those two guys were banged up last season and could have one last hurrah this season. Another player in that category is Brian McCann, who still hit 23 home runs and had 538 plate appearances despite some injury problems. Anybody that swings left handed with some power can be a productive bat at Yankee Stadium. Garrett Jones fits that mold and should be a sleeper pick in most fantasy leagues.
Why bet the under?
Just like last season, there are far too many injury concerns to take the Yankees seriously. They overachieved last season with a patchwork lineup and an AL East Division that was worse than people expected. CC Sabathia is a shell of himself in his mid-30s with declining velocity and a knee that will never be 100 percent again. Masahiro Tanaka’s leap of faith in modern medicine leaves him with an uncertain future and the Yankees will advise surgery quickly to try and maximize what is left of their investment if Tanaka’s elbow acts up again. Michael Pineda’s shoulder has more scar tissue than a collection of set lists from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
This not a starting rotation that you can put your money on. On paper, it looks great. Looking at it practically, there’s a slim chance that these guys will stay together and the Yankees tapped into some of their depth when they traded guys like Shane Greene and David Phelps. The Yankees minor league system is bad, so there’s no help coming from below. Who’s going to replace Hiroki Kuroda’s reliable innings?
The lineup, while there are bright spots, is just like the starting rotation. There are more questions than answers. Ellsbury and Gardner are fine, and Headley is more than serviceable, especially defensively, but who else is going to hit in this lineup? Garrett Jones has promise, but what’s left of the careers of Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran? Didi Gregorius can field, but he might as well walk to the plate with a toothpick.
The bullpen has some potential, especially with two elite relievers in Betances and Miller. Warren is solid. Carpenter is making a league change to a less appealing ballpark, so don’t pencil him in for much of an impact. Who’s going to be the bridge in the sixth or seventh innings when the starting pitcher falls apart? Having an elite-level closer like Betances is great…if you can get the ball to him with a lead.
The Yankees were outscored by 30 runs last season and finished six games over .500. That generally doesn’t happen unless a team is spectacular in one-run games and the Yankees were 28-24. They were blown out by five or more runs 22 times, which helps explain the run differential, but that’s also the sign of a team that wasn’t very good.
The Yankees are in a position now where they are scrounging for value like small market teams. They pick up a player like Garrett Jones or they punt offense to play for defense with a player like Didi Gregorius. That’s not the Yankees. Perception still follows them around like they’re the $200M juggernaut that runs teams over. They aren’t that team anymore. They are a shell of that team. They’re a $200M small market team. That’s not a recipe for success.
Many of the team’s players had impressive successes in short bursts, like Pineda, who was great over 13 starts. Unfortunately, the MLB season is 162 games long. What that means is that these injury risks need to sustain production for six months because there’s no margin for error with a win total number like this for a team that may look like a M*A*S*H unit by June.
Pick: Under 81.5
I can’t buy the health of this team. I just can’t do it. In an improved AL East where Boston is better, Toronto is still there, and Tampa Bay was the victim of a terrible start, the Yankees just don’t have what it takes to be sustainable. It’d be stunning to see CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka make it through the season unscathed. If Ellsbury or Gardner winds up being out for a long period of time, the offense is going to suffer.
Nobody overachieved more than the Yankees last season and there’s regression in that. Joe Girardi did a phenomenal job with the group that he was given, but the lack of starting pitching depth is bothersome. Last season, the Yankees had guys like Shane Greene and Brandon McCarthy to rely on. This season, Chase Whitley is basically guaranteed a rotation spot and there’s no help from below unless Ivan Nova comes back healthy and ready to roll by midseason.
There’s no depth on this roster and that’s a huge problem with a team that has so much risk. The Yankees have high upside if everybody stays healthy, but that’s about as big of an “if” as it gets. Roll with the under here and expect to see this one come in comfortably because the team will look a lot different come September. I can’t bet on teams that lack depth over the course of 162 games. Replacement-level depth makes a team significantly stronger than their projections and the lack of it makes a team significantly worse than their projections.
This has the potential to be a really bad pick if the starting rotation stays in tact, but that’s incredibly unlikely. The offense isn’t that great and Garrett Jones doesn’t do enough for me to expect an upgrade. The productive days of Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are in the rearview mirror, but they’re still going to get a substantial amount of plate appearances. With improving teams in this division, the Yankees are staring at their first losing season since 1992.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
Calling an 85-win season a disappointment is a luxury that few franchises have. The New York Yankees are one of those franchises. For the Yankees, their 85-77 record in 2013 marked the fewest wins in a full season since 1992 and the fewest runs scored since 1990. It was the second time since 1995 that the Yankees fell short of the playoffs. It was an even greater disappoint when factoring in that the Yankees had a payroll of over $240M.
The payroll has dropped below the $200M mark for 2014, but that certainly doesn’t mean that expectations have. Amazingly, $240M didn’t buy a whole lot of offense as the Yankees scored just 650 runs, just barely putting the Yankees in the top 10 in the American League in runs scored. It was 50 runs fewer than anybody else in the AL East scored.
The Yankees were able to finish eight games above .500 despite a run differential of minus-21 and a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 79-83. The six-win difference was the largest in the American League. The Yankees maintained the home-field dominance that they have enjoyed throughout the storied franchise’s history, posting a 46-35 record, despite a minus-14 run differential. The Yankees were 30-16 in one-run games, which was one of the season’s biggest bright spots. The team’s 13-25 record against Boston and Tampa Bay played a big role in the standings and really defined the season.
Despite the huge payroll, the daily lineup looked nothing like the Yankees of the 2000s. Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, Lyle Overbay, Chris Stewart, and Vernon Wells all had over 300 plate appearances. Injuries played a big role in the season and it’s rather impressive that the Yankees managed 85 wins with the key players that were missing.
Oddsmakers seem pretty bullish on the Yankees, who made some big signings this offseason. BetOnline.ag and 5Dimes.eu are both currently at 87 wins for the Bronx Bombers, with a -120 on the under at BOL. 5Dimes has -115 on each side. BetDSI.eu and Bovada.lv are both at 86.5, with the under at -125 at BetDSI and -115 each way at Bovada.
Key additions: Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Matt Thornton, Brian Roberts, Andrew Bailey
Key losses: Chris Stewart, Andy Pettitte, Vernon Wells, Curtis Granderson, Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, Lyle Overbay, Kevin Youkilis, Jayson Nix, Boone Logan
There are a lot of big names on each of those lists. As is the case with a high payroll team, high-priced talent going out leads to high-priced talent coming in. The Yankees continue to throw money at what ails them rather than draft and develop, certainly a luxury that the franchise can afford. As a result, the Yankees continue to add older players looking for the magic that comes with putting on the pinstripes.
Brian McCann was the first big splash of the offseason for the Yankees, signing a contract in December after leaving the Braves. McCann was signed the day after Chris Stewart was traded to the Pirates. In that same week, the Yankees gave Kelly Johnson a one-year deal in hopes that his versatility and left-handed power swing will help with the hole left at second base by the departure of Robinson Cano. The next day, the Yankees landed Jacoby Ellsbury on a very lucrative free agent deal. Ellsbury will take the plate appearances left behind by Curtis Granderson. Carlos Beltran signed 12 days later, hoping to get one more World Series run in the twilight of his career.
Once January rolled around, Vernon Wells was released with the new glut of Major League caliber outfielders and Brian Roberts was added to the fold to see what he has left in the tank. Matt Thornton will fill the matchup lefty role vacated by Boone Logan. It was then that the Yankees addressed, arguably, the team’s biggest need – the starting rotation. After several teams were part of the bidding process, Masahiro Tanaka decided on the bright lights of New York City with a seven-year, $155M deal. With Andy Pettitte retired (again) and Phil Hughes on to Minnesota, the Yankees ignored the supposed internal spending limit they had set to sign the latest Japanese import.
It was a very busy offseason for the Yankees and one that saw a lot of money walk out the door and a lot of money come walking in.
Why bet the over?
The thing about the Yankees is that they have the potential to be really good. Even though they are an older group, there are a lot of offensive numbers among the position players and a lot of guys who will be able to enjoy Yankee Stadium’s friendly dimensions for left-handed hitters. In standard-issue Yankee fashion, this will be a lineup that hits for power and works pitchers for walks.
The outfield is a real strong point for the Yanks. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner in center field and left field, the Yankees will not only have good offensive production, but also very good defensive value. The pitching staff was good last season, but Yankees outfielders also racked up 16 defensive runs saved. Expect that number to go up with Ellsbury and for the Yankee outfield to produce better offensively without guys like Vernon Wells and Curtis Granderson taking up plate appearances. Ellsbury is a very well-rounded offensive threat with good contact skills and a little bit of power that hasn’t shown through over the last couple of seasons.
Carlos Beltran is a major upgrade in right field and having Alfonso Soriano will help the Yankees keep both guys in the lineup with the ability to utilize one of them in a designated hitter role three or four times a week. Beltran continues to defy the laws of baseball aging and has hit 78 home runs over the last three seasons. The short porch in right field will have two benefits for Beltran, as playing the outfield won’t be very taxing and his power numbers could go up with his line drive swing and the short wall. Yankee Stadium may be Beltran’s fountain of youth.
Providing depth are the aforementioned Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki. Age is clearly a concern with this group, including Beltran, but veteran hitters seem to stick around for a while. Suzuki had 20 steals and put the ball in play a ton last season, so there’s still going to be a place for him somehow. Managing the plate appearances to keep Suzuki fresh may be difficult for Manager Joe Girardi, especially for a guy who has been an everyday player since making the jump to the Majors.
Around the infield, the picture is a lot less clear, but there is reason for optimism. Kelly Johnson is the player with the most upside in this group. Johnson hit 26 home runs for the Diamondbacks in 2010 and could match or exceed that number in New York. He’ll be one of the biggest benefactors of the short porch. More than that, Johnson is a very versatile player, which is something that the Yankees need. He can play second or third as well as the outfield. He spent three games at first base with the Rays last season. Johnson managed 16 home runs in just 407 plate appearances last season. With the playing time available, 25 or more isn’t out of the question. He walks at an above average rate and a power jump will make his strikeout rate much more tolerable.
It remains to be seen if Mark Teixeira will be healthy this season, but if he is, you can expect the 25 home run, 100 RBI season that Teixeira has been accustomed to. With nearly 10 months to rest, the 34-year-old could be rejuvenated this season. Derek Jeter falls into the same boat as ankle issues have derailed one of the game’s most proficient offensive players. If Jeter can play, he will play, because the Yankees don’t have many other options. The plate discipline numbers shouldn’t drop off too much, even though the occasional power and stolen base will. It is cliché, but Jeter’s presence in the lineup means a lot and if he and Teixeira are healthy throughout the season, the lineup looks significantly different.
One of Johnson or Brian Roberts will attempt to be the everyday second baseman. Others in the fold are Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez. Ryan will carry lots of value as a pinch runner and defensive replacement for Jeter, even though he had zero hitting value. Nunez is serviceable for a few at bats a week.
Brian McCann was a great addition for the Yankees. Not only is he on par defensively with Chris Stewart, one of the game’s top pitch framers, but McCann will provide more offensive upside and he, too, will enjoy the short porch in right. He was a 20-homer guy in Atlanta for years, so there’s no reason he won’t enjoy that type of production in New York. Like the others, he also works pitchers.
If this offense stays healthy, and that’s clearly a huge if, it will walk, work pitchers, and hit home runs. Three things that have been a recipe for success for the Yankees during their long run of winning seasons.
With an inept offense last season, it was the pitching staff that carried the Yankees through. The pitching staff lost Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, but gained “Mr. Perfect”, Masahiro Tanaka, the prized Japanese import who had a perfect 24-0 record last season. Win-loss record tends to be a misleading indicator of how a guy really pitched, but going 24-0 is pretty damn impressive. Tanaka possesses elite control and a deep arsenal of pitches. Even though he probably won’t be as dominant as he was in Japan, he has the potential to be a four- or five-win pitcher in his first season.
CC Sabathia lost what appears to be a human hiding inside of him this offseason, though Sabathia reportedly weighed in at the same amount as he did in 2013. Either way, the hefty lefty turned fat into muscle, dropping his body fat by eight percent. There were major concerns about Sabathia because of a three-year drop in velocity that left his average fastball speed at just over 91 mph. Sabathia spent the offseason working out and went through a comprehensive evaluation from Dr. James Andrews to make sure that his elbow and shoulder were in working order. All of the physical signs point to a bounce back season for Sabathia. The statistical case agrees, as Sabathia got a bit unlucky with when he gave up hits and had a well above average percentage of fly balls leave the park.
Hiroki Kuroda and his elite control will be in the middle of the rotation along with Ivan Nova who took a big step forward last season. Both Kuroda and Nova posted ERAs below 3.31 and there are no major red flags in their statistical profiles that would indicate regression. Kuroda is 39, so age may be a factor, but a miniscule drop in velocity and similar plate discipline rates should leave over bettors confident in Kuroda’s ability to perform at a high level again this season. David Phelps and Michael Pineda will be in the mix for the fifth spot, with Phelps having a big leg up, since Pineda has made 10 starts since 2011.
David Robertson will have clown-sized shoes to fill with the departure of Mariano Rivera. Arguably the best reliever in the history of the game, Rivera’s farewell tour last season ended the career of one of the game’s most respected players. Robertson definitely has the makeup and the stuff for the job and will be one of the American League’s top closers.
Shawn Kelley posted a very impressive strikeout total last season in the middle innings. Preston Claiborne joined Kelley with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 3.00. While there isn’t a whole lot of depth in the bullpen, the Yankees rotation is going to give the team a lot of length, which should help hide the Yankees main weakness by limiting its workload.
Why bet the under?
Health. The Yankees have a ton of guys over 30, a lot of them over 35. With injury problems for Teixeira and Jeter, the Yankees infield is in pretty iffy shape. Brian Roberts won’t stay healthy. Kelly Johnson is a serviceable, versatile player, but the tentative plan is to use him at third base, where he has very little Major League experience. That’s, of course, assuming that Roberts can stay healthy enough to play second. For as good as the outfield is, the infield has the potential to be that bad.
Will Carlos Beltran stay together? Jacoby Ellsbury has had some injury problems in recent years. Alfonso Soriano is another one that the Yankees will have to monitor. How much does Ichiro have left in the tank? Any time you get an old group like this, there’s talent, track record, and name recognition, but along with that come injury concerns and regression.
Starting rotation health will be a major concern. Sabathia’s velo drop and control problems could certainly be a sign of something more, although he had a clean bill of health. It may just be that years of being a workhorse have taken its toll. Tanaka comes to the United States with a much bigger workload on his 24-year-old arm than most pitchers his age. Arm injuries lead to control problems and Tanaka is a guy that lives on his control. Kuroda is 39 years old now, and while there are no glaring red flags in his statistical profile or mechanics that would suggest injury or decline, common sense dictates that it’s certainly possible.
Exacerbating the injury risks, the Yankees have no starting pitching depth. For years, they’ve pillaged their farm system to acquire trade pieces. So the Yankees have no help coming from below to provide aid in case of a starting pitcher injury. Michael Pineda is no sure thing and guys like Vidal Nuno are just filler.
The bullpen is a mess with the losses of Boone Logan and Mariano Rivera. When a closer leaves, everybody has to move up a role and there is nobody capable of filling David Robertson’s. Too many Yankee relievers have command issues, with high walk rates and unseemly home run rates. The Yankees pen had the fifth-highest bullpen FIP last season and that was with Logan and Rivera. Take those two out and this is not a great group at all. Robertson will shut the door when given the chance, but it’s unclear how many chances he’ll have. Furthermore, if Girardi can’t find a guy he trusts in the sixth or seventh, he’ll push the starters and that workload will catch up with them late in the season.
Pick: Under 87 (-115, 5Dimes)
This is a very high number in a division with two very good teams in Tampa and Boston and two teams that have the potential to be good in Baltimore and Toronto. On name recognition, the Yankees look like an All-Star team. But, their glaring weaknesses on the infield and in the bullpen are going to negate a lot of what the outfielders and starters are able to accomplish.
With win totals in the high 80s, there’s very little margin for error with injuries. The Yankees rotation will prevent them from long losing streaks, but depth is going to be a concern with a weak minor league system and a payroll that is already breaching the outer limits of what ownership wanted to spend for the 2014 season.
A healthy team has a great shot at going over this, but there are far too many players that have injury concerns to expect that kind of performance over 162 games.