Monday, April 7, 2008

Let's Get to Know the 2008 Yankees

As Red Sox fans, we all hate the New York Yankees. It just comes as part of the package. They are the arch rival, the dreaded enemy, the Evil Empire. It is easy to sit in the stands and simply boo and chant against the Yankees for no other reason than we hate them. But, do you know them as well as you know your own team?

A truly rational fan understands that it pays to know the enemy. Tomorrow we will be celebrating, one last time, the Red Sox 2007 Championship. But this weekend the Yankees come to town. Are you ready? If not, let's take a few minutes on this off day to prepare by getting to know the 2008 Yankees a little better. Ready? Okay, let's go.

Let's get the quick question out of the way. As currently constituted, the Yankees are NOT as good of a team as they were last year. Last year they looked like a team to be feared, but fell way short of those expectations, losing the AL East title to the Red Sox for the first time in 9 years. When that happened, we all caught our breath and said, "there are going to be some major changes in New York - Steinbrenner will not stand for that". So, here we are a week into 2008. Let's look at the huge shake up in the Yankee organization.

First, they started at the very top and, in a rather ungracious manner, severed ties with the beloved Joe Torre and replaced him with ex-Yankee player, Joe Girardi. Phew, this is starting out intense.

Next, ...

Wait. That was it. Either George fell asleep and forgot to tell Cashman to keep going, or they figured that the real reason they lost last year was because of the manager. I know what you are thinking. Don't they know Johnny Damon is no longer the guy in center field and Matsui is not the best outfielder, surely they made some moves to tighten up the outfield defense? And what about first base, we all know Giambi has a rock for a glove and the reaction time of those turtles in the Verizon ads on TV. Surely they have bought some overpriced superstar to take over that position? And what about starting pitching? Remember those years where their pitching rotation looked like an All-Star game lineup? Surely they inserted a superstar to keep that tradition going?

Nope. Nothing. Cashman sat on his hands this off season and decided that Joe Girardi could whip these players in line. Maybe he can.

Last year, the Yankees lineup was pretty terrifying to look at, but failed to consistently execute. The lineup hasn't changed, but they just don't look as fearsome...

1) Damon leads off. He still has some speed, but that is starting to decline. Why do you think he is no longer in center field? Because of his poor throwing arm? No one cared about that before. It is because his biggest weapon is dwindling each year - speed - largely due to the abuse his body has been through. It is catching up to him. To get him in the lineup, they either have to put him in left or DH. This will always prevent them from settling in to a routine lineup - largely due to their real DH (Jason Giambi) juggling first base.
2) Jeter bats second. Jeter is still one of the smartest players in the game, and can still be dangerous in the clutch. Offensively, he'll be a solid #2 batter in the order. Still a solid shortstop, but no longer the gold glove candidate he had been. Where this spot once was superhuman, it is not as much so anymore.
3) Abreu bats third. He is still a competent batter, and should hit for decent average, but his power is starting to drop off as age creeps up (he's 34). Last year he batted well, but only managed 16 home runs in a full season. He bats ahead of A-Rod, and that should help him to see more good pitches to hit (like Big Papi hitting ahead of Manny). He is a valid third hitter, but not too scary in the long run. Good right fielder with a good arm.
4) A-Rod bats fourth. Clearly the best batter on the team, but we know he has trouble producing at the most crucial moments. When has A-Rod lived up to expectations when everything is on the line? Defensively he is solid, but not too clutch, and his errors will always come at the worst times. We'll see how he performs as he weans off the steroids (according to Canseco).
5) Giambi 5th. Terrible defensive first baseman, and never the same batter since he got off steroids. I would not be surprised if the does not last the whole season. Between Giambi and Damon, they create confusion for Girardi making out the lineups. Girardi wants both bats, but neither one on defense.
6) Robinson Cano. Very good second baseman, and not a bad batter for that position. Pretty solid, and more fearless than most of their lineup. Provides depth to the batting order.
7) Posada - Had a tremendous year at the plate in 2007 - don't expect that to happen this year. He'll be solid, has lots of experience behind the plate, and certainly won't be a liability by any means. Still one of the better catchers in the game, and can definitely still hit.
8) Matsui batting this low in the order is interesting. He had been much higher up last year. Perhaps injuries and age are catching up a bit? Not a great outfielder, but adequate. He can still hit for power and cause some damage - and if he has a good season, an effective bat in the 8 hole can be quite an asset (remember Bill Mueller winning the batting title in 2003 mostly batting 8th).
9) Melky Cabrera - Looks to have pushed Damon out of center field. Solid player, but fairly light hitting for an outfielder.

So, defense is basically the same as last year, with first base still up in the air. Shelly Duncan should take over first from Giambi once Girardi gives up on the big guy. Duncan is young, and has potential, but not expected to be a star.

On offense, they'll be tough overall, and should score some runs. Not quite a murders row, but fairly balanced. Biggest confusion relates to trying to get Damon and Giambi in the lineup.

Pitching...

The Yankees have 3 starters back, Wang, Mussina, and Pettitte. Wang will be good this year, and is pretty dependable. Not a superstar, but should end up with around 18 wins. Mussina is really looking like the end is near. His fastball seems to be fizzling out, forcing him to rely on his nasty curve more and more. His fastball is consistently in the mid-80's, which is not good. At 39 years old, I don't think he's got much left. Certainly not the pitcher he used to be. Pettitte is turning 36 this year, and is also not quite the pitcher he used to be. I think he will have a decent year, barring injury, but I also think his best years are behind him. The other two slots are filled by promising youth in Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes. Both have potential, but we'll have to wait and see how they do. I think Hughes has the better chance to have a good year.

Somewhat amazed the Yankees did not secure Johan Santana this spring. That would have solidified the rotation, and put them up a notch or two.

The bullpen is anchored effectively by Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera. Mariano is still effective, but not as lights out as he once was. Joba is still showing lots of promise, so the back end looks solid. Kyle Farnsworth is dependable in middle relief, but beyond that it is a bit more jumbled. New guys trying to prove themselves. Hard to do in New York.

Lastly, you should perfectly expect a big move sometime this season, especially if they are not sitting in first place. They will be a contender, and may even squeeze into a playoff spot, but that is no guarantee this year. If they do, I do not see them getting very far in the playoffs.

How do they match up? Offensively I think they match up fairly even with the Sox, but consistency out of JD Drew could tilt that on our favor. Defensively, and in pitching I see the Sox with the edge. Remember, pitching and defense wins championships.

12 comments:

redsox.njdevils said...

Nice job! I really liked your preview abot the Yanks, especially the part where the don't make the playoffs (or at least don't go very far)!

After all, we have to "keep our friends close but our enemies closer."

Rooster said...

Exactly!

Thanks - I was actually surprised at how little the Yankees changed since last year. Glad you like it.

I do think their team will not fare so well the way it is, but I also think some things will change. I just hope we kick their steroid filled butts this weekend!

redsox.njdevils said...

Ha! Me too!

Would you mind if I added you to the sidebar links on my site?

I seem to be making this a regular stop on my list of sites I visit everyday, so I figured it would be cool if I could add you...

Rooster said...

I would be honored to be added off of your site. I'll link back to you as well.

redsox.njdevils said...

Thanks!!

Caroline said...

Since you have all of the Yankees' bases covered, I propose the following Yankee charity wine names:

Joe Torre No More, and -

Ungracious Steinbrenner

the blue state blogger said...

good job! I honestly don't think Sox fans give ARod enough credit for what he means to the Yankees, though. Let's face it-without him carying them through the first part of the season last year, they do not make the playoffs.

Rooster said...

Nice one Caroline. I think that would be fun - amke a list of funny, yet insulting names for Yankee wines.

Blue State - you are right, A-Rod is the heart of that offense, and terribly valuable. He never seems to quite come through when it matters most, but he does do plenty of damage to make sure they get to those important games.

~**Dawn**~ said...

And Jeter & Posada are already showing wear & tear. My personal rule is that I never laugh at the Yankees because it always seems to come around & bite me on the backside but... ::smiles silently::

Rooster said...

I am with you on that Dawn. I like poking fun at the Yankees good naturedly, but I won't make any predictions - they just blow up in your face.

In addition to Jeter and Posada, Damon is looking ineffective, and Fenway West pointed out today.

David said...

I think you might be counting Rivera out a little early. He's still looking pretty close to lights out. Joba has also got a better start going in the stats than Papplebaum's first year.

I also think Giambi might surprise.
Overall though, I tend to agree the yanks are in a building time now, waiting for a few more promising kids from the minors. We'll see if the new Steinbrenner regime can keep their hands off.

Rooster said...

Actually, I thought I gave them good credit. Mariano has not been lights out for a couple of years - very effective still, just not lights out like in the late '90s.

Joba is definitely doing well and will be a force!

I'm not buying it on Giambi.