2014 Forecasting: The Defense

February 26, 2014 | 11 comments | in Featured | by Vizzini

This is the fourth installment of our series projecting the 2014 Yankees by comparing it to 2013 team, position by position. To see our take on the offense, go here. For the starting rotation, clicky here. The bullpen forecast is behind this curtain. Today we wrap up with the defense, before giving our final projection for the whole team.

In the glory days, the Yankees front office primarily fielded a team with dominant bats. If there was one criticism that was consistently levied at these heavy hitting lineups, it was that it often came at the cost of team defense. From 2007-2012, the Yanks ranked 19th and 21st in team defense, using UZR and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), respectively.

Led by anemic hitting characters like Chris Stewart, Ichiro, and Vernon Wells, the defense improved in 2013, coming in 10th in Defensive Runs Saved and 13th in UZR — at least those guys did something.

Will this defensive upswing continue in 2014? Here we go, position by position. The numbers in parentheses are 2013 UZR/DRS for last year’s players and 2011-13 UZR/DRS for 2014’s players – in that yearly sequence).

Catcher
2013 Chris Stewart (DRS: 1), Austin Romine (DRS: -3)
2014 Brian McCann (DRS: -4, -1, -2)

Defensive metrics are a bit shiesty to begin with, and pretty useless when it comes to catchers. We can measure a catcher’s value in caught stealing, wild pitches/passed balls, and fielding percentage, but so much of catching is difficult to quantify, such as game-calling and pitch framing.

UZR doesn’t even bother to try to capture catchers’ defensive value, so we only list DRS above. There is a fair amount of scouting consensus on both Chris Stewart and Brian McCann. Stewart, who caught 60% of the Yankees’ innings last year, is universally regarded as an excellent defensive catcher. There’s no way he’d be allowed anywhere near an MLB clubhouse if he wasn’t one of the best defensively — although if he wore an Eduardo Nunez costume, he’d be welcome in the Yankees clubhouse indefinitely.

Brian McCann is also well-regarded, more for his pitch calling and framing than for his control of the run game. McCann should handle the pitching staff just fine, and the media’s favorite PED user, Francisco Cervelli, will be a capable backstop every 5th day. Still, you’re probably looking at a small step down from The Chris Stewart Era.

1B
2013 Lyle Overbay (UZR 3.7 / DRS 5)
2014 Mark Teixeira (UZR: 9.8, 10.7, 0.5 / DRS: 3, 17, 0)

Lyle Overbay played over 1,000 innings at 1B for the Yankees in 2013 and was solid defensively. Tex has long been considered one’s of the game’s best defensive first basemen and one of the worst Twitter users of all-time. The advanced metrics aren’t quite as glowing as the Yankees puppet-controlled TV and radio announcers. He is also susceptible to age and injury. However, Teixeira was very good in a small sample size last year. We should have an upgrade at first in 2014.

2B
2013 Robinson Cano (UZR 1.3 / DRS 6)
2014 Brian Roberts (UZR -0.8, -5.2, 2 / DRS: 1, -6, 0)

Cano was a defensive liability early in his career, but steadily improved and put up a solid 2013 season. Joe Girardi plans to replace him with Brian Roberts. The numbers above are mostly meaningless, as they are in very small sample sizes. Roberts’ 2014 is likely to be a very small sample size as well — the guy cannot stay healthy. Over his career, he’s been an above-average 2B, so he could be a decent stand in for Cano for the first few weeks of the season before he gets hurt. Once the inevitable DL stint hits, you’re looking at Kelly Johnson taking over the keystone, which will be a clear downgrade.

3B
2013 Jayson Nix (UZR -.2 / DRS 1), David Adams (UZR 2 / DRS 1), Alex Rodiriguez (UZR -0.1/ DRS -3), Kevin Youkilis (UZR -3.1/ DRS -2)
2014 Kelly Johnson (UZR 1.5, -6.9, 2.8 / DRS 1, 5, 2)

A ton of players shared time at third last year. In addition to the above, Eduardo Nunez, Luis Cruz, Chris Nelson, Mark Reynolds, and Alberto Gonzalez all contributed time. Overall, this group ranked 12th in both UZR and DRS. Kelly Johnson’s above numbers are from 2B, a harder position than 3B. KJ still won’t be an improvement on last year’s defense-by-committee, but it’s probably not much of a downgrade either.

SS
2013 Eduardo Nunez (UZR -20.6 / DRS -28), Jayson Nix (UZR 1.9 / DRS 1), Brendan Ryan (UZR 12.7 / DRS 4)
2014 Derek Jeter (UZR -6.7, -14, -4 / DRS -15, -18, -5)

Look at those numbers. Eduardo Nunez only played 608 innings at SS last year and he managed to cost the team over 20 runs more than the average SS does during the course of the season! Don’t trust defensive metrics? Fine, the Fans Scouting Report rated him 40th out of 41 shortstops with a minimum of 500 innings played last year. We don’t want to beat a dead horse, but every time you look at Nuney’s numbers, you can’t help but notice how grotesquely bad he is at baseball. The Yankees got 530 innings of really good glove work from Nix and Ryan, but overall, they still ranked 2nd to last at SS by UZR, and dead last by DRS.

Derek Jeter contributed 100 ugly innings to that finish. He has long been ranked as a terrible defensive shortstop by every advanced defensive metric. Some fans fail to notice his utter lack of range due to his sure-handedness, strong arm, and thoroughly washed balls at the hands of the MSM. However, more attentive fans have come around to realizing how many ground balls The Captain sees safely through to the outfield. The Fans Scouting Report rated over 50 shortstops ahead of Jeter each of the last two seasons (min 100 innings). Turning 40 on a balky ankle, don’t expect a rebound. Nobody can limbo beneath the bar set by Eduardo Nunez, but Jeter is a competitor.

LF
2013 Vernon Wells (UZR 8 / DRS 5), Alfonso Soriano (UZR 11.5 / DRS 1), Zolio Almonte (UZR 26.5 / DRS 1)
2014 Brett Michael Gardner (UZR: 26.7, 0.5, -.5 / DRS 23, 1, 6)

The Yankees left fielders ranked 8th overall by UZR in 2013, and 6th by DRS. Vernon Wells was surprisingly good at something last year; Soriano continued his late career defensive renaissance; and Zolio Almonte was excellent for 200 innings. Tough to place higher than 6th in DRS, but the Yankees probably will in 2014. Gardner was the best defensive left fielder in MLB before his move to CF, as evidenced by winning the Fielding Bible award in both 2010 & 2011.

CF
2013 Brett Gardner (UZR -0.5 / DRS 6)
2014 Jacoby Ellsbury (UZR 16, 3, 10 / DRS 7, 3, 13)

BMG’s career numbers in center are not nearly as good as they are in left. He’s the best in the business in LF, but he doesn’t stack up quite as well to the game’s best CFs. Jacoby Ellsbury will probably be an upgrade over Gardner’s 2013. There was some controversy of Ellsbury’s defense early in his career, as his middling UZR and DRS numbers didn’t match up to the rosy scouting reports (or to Theo Epstein’s private metrics). However, both scouts and stats are in agreement that Ellsbury has been very good the last three seasons. Interestingly, the Fans Scouting report is much more skeptical, ranking him 40th among CFs with 500 innings over that time span.

RF
2013 Ichiro Suzuki (UZR 17.8 / DRS 7)
2014 Alfonso Soriano (UZR 3.3, 11.9, 7 / DRS -9, -5, 1), Carlos Beltran (UZR -8.3, 1.6, -15.3/ DRS -3, 4, -6)

The Yankees tried to trade Ichiro earlier this offseason, in order to unload his $6.5 million salary. Now that the Hal-Cap™ is a memory, they should hold on to him. Ichiro makes for a very nice defensive replacement (and pinch runner) off the bench. He got the large bulk of the innings in right field last year and showed he’s still a force out there.

We’ve already weighed in on the Soriano-Beltran debate. It’s clear that Soriano is the better fielder at this point. Moreover, it makes sense to keep Beltran healthy for the next 3 years by letting him DH as much as possible. But, it appears Girardi intends to use Beltran as the primary right fielder. Either way, the Yankees are in for a defensive downgrade.

As with everything about this team, health will be the difference between dignity and disaster. The Yankees probably won’t quite match 2013’s defensive heights, but they project to be a middle of the pack fielding team.

With last two deals, is Yanks’ front office smartening up?

February 24, 2014 | 30 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

A few days ago, small market Red Sox president Larry Lucchino accused the Yankees of not adapting to baseball’s changing tactical landscape, by stating that the Bombers are still relying heavily on their inimitable, old-fashioned Yankees style of high-priced, long-term free agents.”

While Lucchino is a Class A D-Bag, it’s hard to argue against (although Randy Levine tried) a team that is the defending World Series champion and owner of one of the best farm systems in baseball.

However, the last two Yankee deals have us encouraged. The Gardner deal was very solid, and perhaps even a discount. And signing Andrew Bailey to a minor league deal could pay dividends late in 2014, and even 2015. This is the type of forward thinking we’ve been clamoring for. Even our boy Ken Davidoff called the Gardner deal “the most sensible of the Yankees offseason.

There’s a long way to go though. The front office made an old team even older. It’s a very thin roster and a major injury or two could derail the season. And the infield is…well…insert your own adjective.

Yet, these last two deals are a move in a more modern direction. Add in reports that the Yankees are planning a major spending spree for amateur international free agents and are making changes within the farm system — could it be that Hal/Levine/Cashman realize their methods need to change ASAP if the club plans on being a sustainable elite force?

The Gardner & Bailey deals are only a small sample, but we hope the front office continues along this path.

Brian cashan egon spengler ghostbusters NoMaas Yankees
“I collect spores, mold, and fungus.”

RIP Egon Spengler.

If you can change, and I can change, everybody can change!

February 23, 2014 | 60 comments | in Featured | by SJK

Brian Cashman NoMaas Yankees Rocky IV If You Can Change Speech

It was only on February 17th when we highlighted the archaic Yankees policy of not giving out extensions. Somebody out there is listening, and today our minds were blown:

ESPN NY:

The New York Yankees and Brett Gardner have agreed to a four-year contract worth $52 million, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

The deal includes a fifth-year option, according to the source.

RUN BMG was due to hit free agency after this coming season.

Our analysis: LOVE IT.

First, the front office is finally waking up and realizing that other teams are passing them by when it comes to tactics. The old “no extension policy” was just stupid.

Second, the Gardner deal is very good business. Since 2010, Gardner has been the Yankees’ most valuable position player not named Robinson Cano, totaling 14.5 WAR, and that’s with missing nearly the entire 2012 season. In fact, in every full season since 2010, he’s never been worth less than 3.2 WAR.

At an annual average salary of $13 million, the Yankees are paying Gardner to be a ~2.35 WAR player — if you assume about $5.5 million per WAR on the free agent market. In plain English, this means that this deal is not only priced well, but could end up being a nice piece of value. There’s no reason to think Gardner will be in the low-2 WARs anytime soon. Projections next season have him in the mid-3s, and players with his skillset decline relatively slowly.

We are very excited about this change in front office philosophy. This is exactly the type of stuff we’ve been wanting to see, and illustrates the power of not being completely dependent on the free agent market. You get better pricing!!

Could D-Rob be next?

A nice little deal

February 23, 2014 | 14 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

For a front office that lacks creativity, this is a nice little deal.

From the Daily News:

The Yankees made what amounts to a midseason acquisition on Saturday, signing former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to a minor-league contract.

Bailey, 29, is still rehabbing following last summer’s surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He is expected to be ready to return to big-league action sometime this summer.

The contract is reportedly worth $2.5 million plus incentives this season if he makes the majors. According to ESPN, the deal also includes a team option and buyout for 2015.

Bailey has suffered from numerous ailments in recent seasons, and shoulder surgeries are tough to come back from. But, as we stated in our recent bullpen preview, the current crop of relievers is not as good as 2013′s edition, and the Yanks will likely need to add a piece at some point during the campaign. Bailey would be a boon if he can return anywhere close to his historical form (career 2.49 ERA/3.13 FIP/3.49 xFIP). It’s a clever deal from a front office not known for thinking outside the box.

No matter how good his knee feels, Beltran should be the main DH

February 22, 2014 | 19 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

NJ.COM:

Two days into spring training, Beltran said, he’s feeling good.

“Thank God, I’m 100 percent,” he said Saturday morning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “My knee feels great.”

It’s no secret that we were not fans of the Carlos Beltran signing. However, as long as he’s in the Boogie Down, we certainly hope that his knee holds up — so the early positive news is a good thing.

The main reason for our objection to the signing (besides his age) was that the sharp decline in his defensive abilities were eroding his overall value: 4.3 WAR in 2011, 3.3 WAR in 2012, and 2.0 WAR in 2013.

The man is still an excellent hitter, but by all accounts, the Yankees plan on using Carlos at their regular RF — which is a mistake. Alfonso Soriano is a better outfielder at this point. Here’s a look at Beltran’s fielding decline, which three major defensive metrics all confirm (in runs above/below average):

Beltran Defense NoMaas Yankees
UZR & DRS, courtesy of Fangraphs, TotalZone courtesy of Baseball-Reference

Turning 37 in April, we shouldn’t expect this trend to reverse either. Beltran is clearly better suited to DH, not be an everyday right-fielder.

Forecasting 2014: Bullpen

February 21, 2014 | 49 comments | in Featured | by Vizzini

This is the third installment of our series projecting the 2014 Yankees by comparing it to 2013 team, position by position. To see our take on the offense’s remodeling, click here. For the starting rotation, clizzick. Today, we look at the bullpen.

If predicting starting pitching is a fool’s errand, trying to predict relief pitching is Eduardo Nunez pushing Sisyphus’ rock up the hill without dropping it. Pitching stats take many innings before they become meaningfully predictive, and relief pitchers only accumulate small sample sizes in one season. On top of that, reliever roles vary highly as managers tend to fiddle with the pen throughout the year.

However, for this analysis, we’ll give it a try and compare the current stable to that of the 2013 campaign. Our stat of choice in this exercise is Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA is the difference between the team’s win probability when the reliever enters the game and when the reliever leaves the game (or when the game ends). So

For example, if the Yankees went into the 9th with a 2-run lead, they have something like a 95% chance of winning the game. If Mariano Rivera came in and struck out the side, he moved the team win probability to 100% and gets credited with a +.05 WPA. If Joba Chamberlain came into the bottom of the 7th with a one-run cushion and immediately gives up a two-run jack, the team’s win probability falls from 80% to 35%, and Joba is credited with a -.45 WPA. WPA provides a pretty good picture of what a player actually contributed to his team’s wins and losses, but it is a poor predictor of what he will do in the future.

Here’s how every Yankee reliever with a minimum of 10 innings performed in 2013, courtesy of Fangraphs:

nomaas yankees bullpen wpa

Last season was the Mo & DRob show, and Joe Girardi effectively utilized his best two bullpen weapons by employing them in the highest leverage situations (they ranked 12th and 29th in the Leverage Index, respectively). In fact, the two had remarkably similar and remarkably superb seasons. Rivera pitched 64 innings with a 2.11 ERA. Robertson pitched 66 innings with a 2.04 ERA. Both surrendered 15 earned runs, but Robertson was actually the more clutch pitcher. He tended to give up his runs in less important situations. Rivera’s runs happened to come in more crucial situations, resulting in 7 blown saves. We wouldn’t make much out of that, except to say that there’s no reason to think Robertson can’t handle pressure situations.

Adam Warren pitched the most relief innings for the Yankees and pitched fairly well (3.52 ERA in 69 IP), although it was mostly mop up work (.52 Leverage Index). As his slightly negative WPA indicates, he had a few costly blow ups.

After those three pitchers, Shawn Kelley contributed the 4th most innings (53). His 4.39 ERA wasn’t good, but he came up with enough key strikeouts for Girardi to keep sending him out there. The only other RP with 50 IP was Preston Claiborne, who was unremarkable (4.11 ERA), but effective enough so as to not cost the Yankees games.

Girardi went the recently-departed Joba Chamberlain quite often (42 IP), and it didn’t work out, as the former phenom pitched to a 4.93 ERA. The result was a -0.6 WAR, worst on the pitching staff. Fortunately, Joe was at least judicious enough to limit Joba’s exposure by using him in fairly meaningless situations (.67 Leverage Index), which limited his damage to the team.

As the team’s lefty specialist, Boone Logan was utilized in many crucial situations, with a Leverage Index of 1.10. He pitched well overall, finishing with a 3.23 ERA. However, when he puked up runs, they tended to be in late inning situations when the score was close. Girardi misused Logan, having the LOOGY face as almost as many righties (74) as lefties (85). That’s been a consistent blind spot in Joe’s managing since he took over the helm.

Overall, this cast of relievers was excellent. The Yankees’ pen finished 4th in MLB in WPA (6.14), and was behind only the Rangers among AL teams.

The outlook for next year is far more cloudy. Obviously, the biggest change is the loss of the GOAT. The Yankees are extremely fortunate to have one of the game’s very best relievers to replace Mariano as closer. Robertson has proven that he is an elite pitcher, and the numbers indicate that he won’t melt just because he will appear in a game 20 minutes later.

After that, things are largely unsettled. Look for Shawn Kelley to take over for DRob as the 8th inning guy. His poor ERA hid a ridiculous K/9 rate of 12 and a 3.24 xFIP. He’s a good pitcher, but his flyball tendencies mean a step down in in 8th inning reliability.

Matt Thornton takes over Logan’s spot as LOOGY. Thornton was a dominant pitcher for several years, but his strikeout rate has been falling precipitously and bottomed out last year. He was still very effective against lefty batters, so it will be important for Girardi not to get caught up in Thorton’s reputation as a lefty who can pitch to both LHBs and RHBs. He’s not that guy anymore.

A bullpen is almost as much about management as it is about personnel. This is strong point for the Yankees, as Joe Girardi seems to understand leverage better than most managers. Of course, his decisions were easier than most managers since he had Rivera and Robertson. Yet, he’s consistently used his most skilled relievers in the highest leverage spots, and kept his least skilled guys away from the important moments. On the other hand, he is oddly blind to LOOGY strategy. He costs the Yankees games by over-relying on his lefties to get outs against RHBs. It’s an easy fix, but don’t expect him to change now.

This will be Girardi’s most challenging year in managing the pen. This is a very top heavy bullpen with a lot of young, unproven guys behind Robertson. The relief corps is sure to be worse than it was in 2013, and they will almost certainly need to add someone at some point in the season. Continuing with a team theme, if Robertson gets hurt it could get very ugly.

Report: M’s shopping excess infielders (Yanks have an infield problem)

February 20, 2014 | 18 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

ESPN NY (Mets):

The Mariners are likely to trade Nick Franklin or Brad Miller — most likely Franklin — before Opening Day.

After the Cano signed with Seattle in December, we discussed Nick Franklin as a potential trade option. Here’s what we wrote:

With Cano now in the Pacific Northwest, the 22-year old second baseman is obviously on the outside looking in. Franklin can also play SS, but he’s blocked there by Brad Miller. Thus, it’s safe to say Franklin is excess goods.

The 2009 1st round draft pick was the Mariners’ best hitting prospect heading into 2013. However, his rookie season was a failed campaign, as he hit only .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) in 412 PA.

Prior to his MLB debut, Franklin hit .287/.360/.459 during his minor league career, including a .324/.440/.472 final stop at Triple-A Tacoma (39 games). So, do we disregard his youth and minor league success because of a poor 412 PA in the bigs?

Even with his lousy rookie campaign in the books, the OLIVER projection system forecasts Franklin to be a high 2-win to low-3 win player over the next 5 years. That’s better than both Omar Infante and Brandon Phillips.

In a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Franklin attributed his subpar rookie campaign to injuries:

“I tried to play with a couple of injuries,’’ Franklin said. “I probably shouldn’t have, but I didn’t want to be a downer. I wanted to have respect from my teammates and go out and play as hard as I could.”

Particularly damaging was a knee injury Franklin said reduced him to about 60 percent efficiency, hampering him both at the plate and in the field — not to mention the mental toll.

“I was getting hurt, and things weren’t going well, so it was just a combination of everything, probably a snowball effect,’’ he said. “That’s on me. I think coming into this season, I might have a better mindset.

Franklin will turn 23 in March, plays both middle infield positions, and is cost-controlled for the next 5 years — does that not sound like a perfect recipe for the Bombers? Seattle is in win-now mode though, and from our lens, the Yankees’ cupboard is bare. Franklin would be such a good fit though.

Joel Sherman gets it right

February 19, 2014 | 36 comments | in Mediot Observation | by Vizzini

On February 16th, we suggested that Stephen Drew would make a heck of a lot more sense than someone like Ervin Santana. Two days later, the NY Post’s Joel Sherman wrote a demonstrative article on why the Yankees need Drew. It’s very well done. Props to Joel.

“Yankees don’t think they need Stephen Drew, but they’re wrong”:

Jeter missed almost all of last season, mainly due to the lingering impact of fracturing his ankle. Word so far – from him and key organizational members – is he is moving and feeling well. Let’s face it, since Jeter might be the third-biggest health worry in the Yankees infield behind Mark Teixeira (wrist) and injury-prone Brian Roberts, the organization badly needs him to approximate his career output: plenty of games played, scads of hits.

However, what are the odds of that? He turns 40 in June. His range/mobility was a pre-ankle-injury concern.

Actually, this is part of a larger issue: What are the odds this infield works? Particularly when injury worries exist at three positions and the starting third baseman, Kelly Johnson, has started 12 games at third in his major league career – in none of which did he conjure the image of Brooks Robinson.

What if you can see the tidal wave coming out of the ocean and can clear the city before lives are lost rather than waiting to see if — as it almost certainly will — it strikes land and try to evacuate then?

In Stephen Drew, there remains a preemptive option to potentially mitigate disaster.

His request is down to two years with an opt-out after one.

Celebrating the Captain: A Jeter flashback

February 19, 2014 | 19 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

Derek Jeter Gift Basket NoMaas Yankees

To reminisce, click here.

To read about how he’s the type of guy “you want your daughter to marry,” click here.

Media darling comes to camp dropping F-bombs

February 19, 2014 | 13 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by Wade Garrett

Star-Ledger:

The sweat was barely dry from his first workout of the spring and Red Sox slugger David Ortiz already was bringing the heavy lumber, swinging hard at critics in the Boston media who believe he has to put up numbers this season, in the final year of his contract, to earn a deal for for 2015.

This can’t be the way the Red Sox wanted Big Papi to arrive — steamed, spewing expletives and talking about an extension.

“I don’t even know why they’re bitching about me talking about contracts,” Ortiz said. “Guys putting up my numbers, they’re making $25, $30 million. I’m not asking for that. I’m asking for half of it. And they’re still (complaining) about it? (Expletive) them. I’m tired of hearing them talk (expletive) about me when I talk about my contract. Hey, every time I talk about my contract, I earn it, (expletive). So don’t be giving me that (expletive).”

Awwwwww, that’s jus’ Papi.

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