Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Revisiting the Yankees

Back in April, I posted an analysis of the 2008 New York Yankees. It is now late August, the playoff race is building up, and the Red Sox kick off a pivotal 3 game series, their last regular season visit to Yankee Stadium, tonight against the Bronx Bombers. This is a good time to pull out that old analysis, and see how it compares.

Overall, I'd say it looks pretty good, but with a couple of surprises. As an overall assessment, I claimed the Yankees would not be as good as they have been in the past few years. They had critical issues in their starting pitching, had an aging, declining lineup, and would not be the feared team we had all come to know. I said they had a chance to sneak into a playoff spot, but if they did, they would not go too far. Well, their record of 70-60 is actually not too bad. At this point last year, the Yankees were 72-58, seven games behind the Red Sox who were 79-51. This year, the Yankees are 5 games behind the Red Sox, but a significant difference is that the Red Sox are in first place for the Wild Card, not for the Division lead. The Rays have changed the mix in the AL East, and with the Sox chasing them while holding on to the lead in the Wild Card race, the Yankees have become somewhat forgotten. Which is pretty much what I had assessed. This series against the Sox could, however, make a big difference. The Sox need to avoid a sweep to keep the Yankees off their heels. Otherwise, that sneaking into a playoff spot could begin tonight.

On offense, I was reasonably on track as well. I said that Johnny Damon was beginning a physical decline, and would cause problems for Joe Girardi. Damon is no longer a shoe-in as a starting outfielder, but do you want him tying up a DH spot in favor of more typical DH sluggers? Johnny has played 88 games in the outfield and 25 games at DH. Damon did go on the DL for the first time in his career this year after a collision with the outfield wall, but has managed to put up good numbers offensively. He is batting .312 with 9 HR, 55 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. So, he is still a productive force on offense, but declining in his value as an outfielder, although certainly able to hold down the position.

Derek Jeter, batting #2, has also lived up to my expectations. A smart player, and solid #2 batter, he is batting .293 with 8 HR's, 60 RBI, and a .352 OBP. Overall, his offensive production is down from his best years, and he is no longer a perennial contender for the batting title, but he gives you what you need from the #2 spot in the order. He is solid on defense, but beginning to lose a half step in quickness and in range. He's not a Gold Glove candidate anymore, but still is one of the top 5 or 6 shortstops in the AL.

Bobby Abreu bats third, and has also lived up to my expectation. Decent average (.297), solid batter, but beginning to drop off in power (15 HR's, .467 slugging percentage). He's anchored right field well and has been a steady contributor.

A-Rod is having another fine year. His power numbers are better than most players, but down from his best years. That could be attributed to possibly weaning off of certain enhancement substances that he has been accused of taking, but since none of that is proven, we'll just assume he's simply not swinging as hard this year. But, who would not be happy with his .312 average, 28 home runs, and 75 RBI (.590 slugging percentage) ? He is basically playing a great year, as usual.

Jason Giambi has exceeded my expectations in offensive power, but that's about it. He is an average to below average first baseman, playing 86 games at first compared to 28 games as the DH. I had expected that he would be good on offense, but not like his steroid days. That is certainly true. His drop off since quitting steroids is a clear line in his career stats. I figured he would be a good batter, but his .250 average is marginal, and well below his potential. He does have 25 home runs, 77 RBI, and a .503 slugging percentage, so when he hits the ball, he hits it hard.

Robinson Cano has had a bit of a drop in his offense from the last couple of years, but he's a good second baseman, and a good bat for lower in the order. Beyond Cano, the bottom of the order raised the most surprises. Jorge Posada's production was down quite a bit from last year, more so than I had predicted. However, his ailing shoulder may have had plenty to do with that. The surprise was that the very durable catcher only lasted 51 games into the season before suffering from shoulder problems that have ended his season. Hideki Matsui also lost significant playing time with knee issues, but Matsui has worked his way back to New York, and seems to be ready to contribute, however, only as a DH. Lastly, Melky Cabrera, while fine on defense, had his offense drop through the floor in August, and is now serving time in the minor leagues trying to work things out.

What about pitching. That is where is was most surprised (as a baseball player, I was not a pitcher, so analysing pitchers simply may not be my strength). I thought Chien-Ming Wang would have another good solid year with 18 wins. He may very well have done that, had he not come down with serious problems in his foot which sent him to the DL after only 15 games.

I had predicted that Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte would be showing big drop offs. I was wrong about that. While it is true that Mussina has lost a few mph's off of his fastball, he has not let that keep him from being effective. His record of 16-7 with a 3.45 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 27 games is quite impressive. He has been durable, and an anchor in the rotation. Pettitte has also been quite durable, neither of them missing a start as far as I can tell. Pettitte has dropped off from his prime years, but his record of 13-9 with a 4.17 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 27 games is quite good!

The young guys, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, did not last long. Not much to say there. Both have 0-4 records, and were both very disappointing. The Yankees made two significant moves relating to starting pitching. They acquired Sindey Ponson, which has worked out pretty well for them, and moved Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the rotation. Joba was faring well as a starter, slowly building up his innings, and learning to get through the order multiple times. His strikeout count was quite high, but in 12 starts he only amassed a 3-1 record. Then, he went on the DL with rotator cuff tendinitis. Was that brought on by the switch to a starting role? Very possibly. He throws incredibly hard, and when you do that over 100 times in a single game, that creates a different type of wear and fatigue on the shoulder. His should may not have been quite ready for that incessant strain yet. But, he is hopeful to be back soon, with a debate as to whether he should return to solidify the bullpen or return as a starter. Kyle Farnsworth, who was having the solid season I predicted, was traded to acquire Ivan Rodriguez. The loss of Kyle in the bullpen will be felt, but is that the best thing to do with Joba now? They need to be careful with this young talent and not ruin the potential they have there.

In the back of the bullpen we have Mariano Rivera. I felt, back in April, that Rivera would have a good season, that he was still effective, but that he was no longer the "lights out" guy he has been in the past. While that statement is very true, Rivera has gone and assembled a terrific season. Not the "lights out" guy of his prime years, but pretty darn close. He has 31 saves and a 1.53 ERA. He opened the season with a flurry, going into the 15 game before allowing an earned run. But, his 4-5 record and 1 blown save show he is, in fact, human. But, if you are a Yankee fan, you have to love having Rivera as your closer. He clearly still has gas left in the tank at 38 years old!

So, overall, the Yankees pitching was actually better than I expected (believe it or not). I thought that they were terribly wrong in not going after Johan Santana with more urgency than they did, and that, in the end, their starting pitching would not hold up. That was all true, but I thought the rookies would play a bigger role, and the old guys would show more of a decline.

In general, they are living up to expectations. A team with talent, but aging talent. A team that needed an infusion of talented youth, but did not get it. A team that can still compete, but has more flaws and weaknesses than we are accustomed to. The end result is a team that is on track to miss the playoffs for the first time this century. But, as a memorable Yankee once pointed out, "it ain't over 'til it's over"!

The if the Yankees can take three games against the Sox, they'll be breathing right down their necks again. But, if the Sox win just one game, that will hold them in check for now. I don't have high hopes for tonight. Tim Wakefield is pitching in his first game since going on the DL with shoulder tightness. He does not generally fare well in those situations. Andy Pettitte often fares well against the Sox, and as a lefty starter, he helps offset some of the Red Sox' punch from the left side. Should be a good series all around. Don't sit back and expect this to be easy. The Yankees have a habit of handing the Sox a poorly timed sweep late in the season. Get complacent, and that will happen again.


Suldog said...

Spot-on analysis, Rooster. Little to argue about.

I'm hoping, really hard, that the Sox can pull off a sweep of their own in their final visit to Yankee Stadium II. That would be just awesomely sweet.

Rooster said...

That would be great - a sweep by the Sox. But, while very possible, I am doubtful. Just a bad feelign naggin at me about this series. Hopefully it is just the Chinese fod I had for lunch.

Anonymous said...

As your resident Yankee fan in Fenway, I had to post a comment. I agree with all you wrote. I don't see the Yankees doing it this year and I don't see a sweep in the cards; two out of three maybe, but no sweep.

Unless Tampa and Boston have a tough September the yanks will be playing golf soon.


Peter N said...

I agree with Sul, but last night, Timmy and the 'pen might have surprised you. There will be NO sweep, and I hope we hit the daylights out of that punk Ponson.
Dave, hello to you. You have a realistic view of your team. When Hankie (Steinbrenner) cries over his lost pitching (due to injuries) and brought up the Sox in contrast, he didn't seem to realize that the Sox have been without their ace, Josh Beckett, and Wakefield for an extended period of time. Good comment, though. Go to the Sox side? No, I don't think so...you love your team, and that's great! Enjoy September...

Rooster said...

Dave, thanks for commenting. I watched the game last night, and I can't put my finger on why, but the Yankees seem kind of "loose", meaning, "not tight and efficient". Not really saying that right, but they are just not locked in as a team. A-Rod, again, just dropped the ball (literally and figuratively) when he was needed most. I was nervous about a sweep, but must have been the Chinese food after all.

Peter, you have valid points. Basically, the Sox have been juggling players more than I've seen in years to deal with injuries. Why the Sox have fared well it because the "call-ups" have performed so well. Brandon Moss, Masterson, Colon, Lowrie, Hansack, Pauley, Smith, Zink, Bailey, Carter, Thurston, Van Every - they've all made key contributions. I will say our pitchign situation has been more stable than the Yankees', but the Red sox have definitely dealt with injury issues all year.