Thursday, October 15, 2015
Yankees: Heroes and Zeros
I did this earlier for the Red Sox. In that case, it was about finding the bright spots in a season that resulted in yet-another last place finish. In this case, with the Yankees, it's more about digging for the disappointments.
Make no mistake; this Yankee team over-performed relative to just about everybody's expectations. There were plenty of die-hard Yankee fans who looked at this team and thought third place would be doing well. But on the back of their most devastating late-game pitching duo since the late 90s and some productive years from aging veterans, the Yankees made it into the wild-card playoff game. And that is after leading the AL East for the majority of the season. All stats are courtesy of Fangraphs.
Projected: 495 Plate Appearances | 132 H | 9 HR | 48 RBI | 35 BB | 95 K | .251 BA | .307 OBP | .369 SLG | .676 OPS | 1.8 WAR
Actual: 578 Plate Appearances | 139 H | 9 HR | 56 RBI | 33 BB | 85 K | .265 BA | .318 OBP | .370 SLG | .688 OPS | 3.1 WAR
Projected: 377 Plate Appearances | 77 H | 17 HR | 65 RBI | 41 BB | 73 K | .236 BA | .326 OBP | .433 SLG | .759 OPS | 1.5 WAR
Actual: 462 Plate Appearances | 100 H | 31 HR | 79 RBI | 59 BB | 85 K | .255 BA | .357 OBP | .548 SLG | .906 OPS | 2.9 WAR
Projected: 407 Plate Appearances | 82 H | 15 HR | 57 RBI | 40 BB | 99 K | .229 BA | .312 OBP | .399 SLG | .711 OPS | 1.3 WAR
Actual: 620 Plate Appearances | 131 H | 33 HR | 86 RBI | 84 BB | 145 K | .250 BA | .356 OBP | .486 SLG | .842 OPS | 2.7 WAR
Projected: 4-1 | 2.39 ERA | 66 Game Appearances | 82.7 IP | 116 K | 33 W | 1.10 WHIP | 1.5 WAR
Actual: 6-4 | 1.50 ERA | 74 Game Appearances | 84.0 IP | 131 K | 40 W | 1.01 WHIP | 2.4 WAR
Projected: 5-2 | 2.59 ERA | 58 Game Appearances | 48.7 IP | 76 K | 21 W | 1.11 WHIP | 0.7 WAR
Actual: 3-2 | 1.90 ERA | 60 Game Appearances | 61.2 IP | 100 K | 20 W | 0.86 WHIP | 36 SV | 2.0 WAR
Projected: 8-9 | 4.51 ERA | 28 Games Started | 159.7 IP | 121 K | 48 W | 1.37 WHIP | 1.6 WAR
Actual: 14-3 | 4.20 ERA | 27 Game Started | 154.1 IP | 121 K | 49 W | 1.45 WHIP | 3.2 WAR
As big a surprise as A-Rod was this year, I was blown away by what Didi Gregorius did for the Yankees. Viewed as placefiller for the retired Jeter, nobody was expecting much from Didi. The idea was his glove would be a little better but his bat would be worse. It would, in essence, be a wash.
So here's a stat to tell you what actually happened: Didi's 3.1 WAR is the highest for a Yankee starting shortstop since 2009. He performed so far above and beyond expectations that he is, to me, the MVP of the team. He is only 25 years old and all he cost the Yankees in trade is Shane Greene. Without a doubt, this is one of Brian Cashman's best deals in his career.
At the other end of the "unexpected production" scale are Teixeira and A-Rod. Both aging veterans, both with declining numbers, one injury-prone and the other coming off a year-long suspension...the expectation was that they would be average at best, being paid way too much for their production.
And while they may still be overpaid, they also both pretty much doubled their expected WAR. Even playing only 111 games, Teixeira gave the Yankees a year's worth of production. And Rodriguez may have unintentionally shown all of baseball that giving an aging superstar a year off to rest could be beneficial. All his PED baggage aside, he was solid this year and is one of the big reasons the Yankees even had a chance to make it into the ALDS.
But the main reason the Yankees made it that far was their 1-2 pitching punch at the end of the game. Betances and Miller reminded me a lot of the '96 Yankees with Mariano Rivera setting up John Wetteland. If the Yankees carried a lead into the eighth inning, or were even tied or just a run behind, they knew they had a good chance of winning with Betances and Miller pitching. That kind of support on the mound makes a good team better. And while they faded late in the season, there is no reason to doubt if they can do it again next year.
As far as starters go, the big surprise was Nathan Eovaldi. Now, his supporting numbers are decidedly average. His WHIP is not impressive, his ERA meh. His BABIP is actually the highest of his career (.337). But yet he goes 14-3 and posts a 3.2 WAR, double his projection. Which is the difference between playing for the Marlins and playing for the Yankees.
His support numbers are not far from what he during his 6-14 season with the Marlins in 2014. So, is Eovaldi better than his Marlin stats or does the better team disguise his flaws? Next year will tell us more about that but for now, doubling his projected WAR makes him a hero for the Yankees in 2015.
And now, for the more disappointing Yankees of 2015.
Projected: 570 Plate Appearances | 127 H | 20 HR | 73 RBI | 59 BB | 145 K | .253 BA | .340 OBP | .427 SLG | .767 OPS | 4.1 WAR
Actual: 642 Plate Appearances | 150 H | 11 HR | 62 RBI | 51 BB | 135 K | .259 BA | .324 OBP | .369 SLG | .693 OPS | 1.5 WAR
Projected: 592 Plate Appearances | 152 H | 14 HR | 62 RBI | 43 BB | 86 K | .281 BA | .337 OBP | .424 SLG | .761 OPS | 4.0 WAR
Actual: 501 Plate Appearances | 116 H | 7 HR | 33 RBI | 51 BB | 135 K | .257 BA | .318 OBP | .345 SLG | .663 OPS | 0.9 WAR
Projected: 7-8 | 4.35 ERA | 18 Games Started | 118.0 IP | 106 K | 30 W | 1.27 WHIP | 1.4 WAR
Actual: 6-10 | 4.73 ERA | 29 Game Started | 167.1 IP | 137 K | 50 W | 1.42 WHIP | 1.2 WAR
Projected: 7-7 | 4.08 ERA | 18 Games Started | 121.3 IP | 103 K | 38 W | 1.33 WHIP | 1.2 WAR
Actual: 6-11 | 5.07 ERA | 17 Game Started | 94.0 IP | 63 K | 33 W | 1.40 WHIP | 0.5 WAR
Chase Headley was a big free-agent signing for the Yankees in 2014. Expected to be the full-time third baseman in 2015 and beyond (he has three years and 39M left on his deal), the Yankees needed Headley to be productive.
He was anything but. Despite almost 650 plate appearances, he under-performed his projections across the board. His fielding was worse than league average. His 23 errors at third lead the AL for the position. Chase Headley was a disappointment and the Yankees have to be thinking about what to do if he plays this way in 2016.
Projecting near 600 plate appearances for Jacoby Ellsbury was adorable. There is a reason Boston fans weren't that torn up about Ellsbury leaving the cozy confines of Fenway Park. Hitting that mark two years in a row (2013-14) was an anomaly, not a new standard. He is fragile. When Ellsbury is healthy, he is a very good player. But he is not going to replicate that 2011 monster season, and New York paid him like he would. Now that he is 32, the very real possibility is that this is close to the new normal for Ellsbury, and that should frighten a lot of people. On the upside, they are only stuck with him through the next two Presidential elections.
Putting CC here kind of makes me feel bad. With his alcohol problems and rehab, it explains some of his performance. Nevertheless the Yankees needed Sabathia to hit a certain level of performance. And he somehow pitched 11 more games than projected yet gave the Yankees less WAR. His control was poor and that is what hurt him the most. Can CC ever reach his old form? Being 35 and rehab makes it questionable. The Yanks owe CC 25M next year and another 25M in 2017 unless CC blows his left shoulder out in 2016. Then it's just a 5M buyout.
Ivan Nova is a Yankee prospect. In his first three full seasons he went a combined 37-18 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.366 WHIP. Then he got hurt in 2014, starting only four games. The expectation was that Nova would return to form. Instead, he seriously dented the Yankee rotation.
17 starts, a 1.40 WHIP and 0.5 WAR. That is the full extent of Nova's contributions. He lost 11 games in half of a season, which is impressive in a way.
The truth is that the Yankees were in a weird spot in 2015. With a lot of veterans over-performing and an unexpected 1-2 combo in the 'pen, the Yanks were in playoff contention. And at the deadline, Cashman had a real Sophie's Choice: either stay the course, keep his youngsters and hope the over-performance held through the post-season or trade some young talent for reinforcements and try to win that 2015 title.
He made the right call. Truth is, even with some trades I don't think the Yankees were close to deep enough to win a title. But in Judge, Bird and Severino (among others) the Yankees have some really good young talent to build a competitive team for years to come. And they would have lost some of those players in a deadline deal.
Viewing the 2015 Yankee season as anything less than a success is being shortsighted. And while 2016 may see a drop off (A-Rod and Tex really over-performed), this is going to be a good team going into the latter half of the 2010s.