Don’t Believe Everything You Read: A Response to The New Normal For the New York Yankees- Part I

Opinions have varied wildly about the effect on the wholesale changes to the New York Yankees roster.  This piece is in response to in response to a piece written for Grantland by Rany Jazayerli (which can be found here  http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10150907/the-new-normal-new-york-yankees).

Opinions have varied wildly about the effect on the wholesale changes to the New York Yankees roster. This piece is in response to in response to a piece written for Grantland by Rany Jazayerli (which can be found here lower in a link icon in the 1st couple of lines.)  As the Yankees Correspondent for the MLB Reports, I felt I needed to address the merits of the topic in question, make some counterparts, in order to move the dialogue from a slightly different perspective.

By Nicholas Rossoletti (Yankees Correspondent/Trade Correspondent):

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Before we get started, I wanted to give credit where credit is absolutely due.

This piece is in response to a piece written for Grantland by Rany Jazayerli (which can be found here) that paints a fairly negative picture of the near-future for the New York Yankees.

If you haven’t been to Grantland.com for sports and entertainment news and opinions, you are missing out.  Some of the best work in the business. 

All advanced statistics (and other statistics) are courtesy of our friends at Fangraphs.com and Baseball-reference.com

As always, we appreciate those sites making the information available to be able to debate the game we love. For ease to the reader, the response has been broken into two parts.  This is part one of the response.

Part 2 of the Don’t Believe Everything You Read: A Response to The New Normal For the New York Yankees click here

New York Yankees 2013 Year Highlights – With Full Credit Going To The YES Network

To begin my critique, let me explain how we are going to move forward. The author is well written, knowledgeable about his subject matter and his use of advanced statistics help support his theory: that the New York Yankees are entering a stage of existence where they will cease their long run of success and descend into a state of being a high-priced also ran in Major League Baseball.  It is not an unpopular opinion given the age of the team, and its abundance of “dead” money assets clogging its roster.

To begin my critique of this said post, let me explain how we are going to move forward. The author is well written, knowledgeable about his subject matter and his use of advanced statistics help support his theory: that the New York Yankees are entering a stage of existence where they will cease their long run of success and descend into a state of being a high-priced also ran in Major League Baseball. It is not an unpopular opinion given the age of the team, and its abundance of “dead” money assets clogging its roster.

With that all being said, I disagree with the picture the author paints and how he paints it. As such, I will present my understanding of his thoughts along with my counter-points.

Let’s start with two truths that I think everyone needs to own: 1) the 2013 New York Yankees were far worse than a 85 win team, and 2) if the 2014, 2015 or even 2016 New York Yankees look anything like the 2013 New York Yankees things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Like everyone is hurt, all the time, kind of wrong.

So let’s start our Point/Counter-Point structure where the original author starts, with an understanding of the 2013 Yankees and how that season should be used to interpret the future.

Part I – The use of the 2013 Yankees to project the record of the 2014 Yankees and beyond

Point: Based on the Pythagorean Theorem method of record analysis, the Yankees were far worse than their 85 win 2013 campaign, and therefore, the Yankees true Pythagorean record of 79-83 is a better base for analyzing the franchise moving forward. 

This is supported by an ineffective offense where only 2 regulars had above a .700 OPS on the season.

As such, the base for the Yankees is lower than 85 wins so additional wins would help them get back to 85 more than move them into playoff positioning.

This is the starting point for an analysis of the Yankees’ future.

Counter-Point: First, we must acknowledge that these stats are correct. 

As stated above, the 2013 Yankees were a worse team based on the Pythagorean method of analysis than 85 wins, and their inept 2013 offense is a major reason.

The author notes that the Pythagorean analysis is a much better tool for prognostication than the traditional win/loss formula, which I absolutely agree with.

For a better understanding of how this works, you can check out Baseball-reference.com’s excellent Bullpen piece here.

The problem isn’t the statistics used, but the inference drawn from the statistics. 

The logic used here is that if the Yankees in 2013 were significantly worse than their record and that their “true” record is the base for the future analysis. 

The problem with making this logical jump is that it assumes a fairly consistent roster because it uses Runs Scored and Runs Allowed as its inputs into the Pythagorean formula. 

A somewhat consistent roster is necessary to validate the use of this formula because it assumes that Runs Scored will not greatly increase and Runs Allowed will not greatly decrease in order to estimate record. 

In other words, for this to be a valid formula for estimation of future records, there shouldn’t be a large change in roster structure.

The massive roster differences between the 2013 Yankees and 2014 Yankees is a primary reason that the Pythagorean Theorem method of projection is a weak basis for analyzing the 2014 team.  Players like Travis Hafner, Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix and Vernon Wells were every day portions of the line-up.  Those players have been replaced by higher ceiling talent.

The massive roster differences between the 2013 Yankees and 2014 Yankees is a primary reason that the Pythagorean Theorem method of projection is a weak basis for analyzing the 2014 team. Players like Travis Hafner, Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix and Vernon Wells were every day portions of the line-up. Those players have been replaced by higher ceiling talent.

Let’s take a look at the 2013 Yankees Roster based on most Plate Appearances per position versus the projected roster for the 2014 Yankees:

2013 2014
 OF- Ichiro Suzuki- OF- Jacoby Ellsbury
C- Chris Stewart    C- Brian McCann
1B- Lyle Overbay 1B- Mark Teixeira
2B- Robinson Cano 2B- Brian Roberts/Dean Anna
3B- Jayson Nix 3B- Kelly Johnson
SS- Eduardo Nunez   SS- Derek Jeter/Brendan Ryan
OF- Brett Gardner OF- Brett Gardner
OF- Vernon Wells OF- Carlos Beltran
DH- Travis Hafner DH- Alfonso Soriano

For second base and shortstop, I used a combination of players as based on age and history these positions are the most likely to need multiple players to fill the position.

We will spend time analyzing the positives and negatives of the changes in the line-up in a moment, but for the purposes of this section, we need to recognize one major issue: this is in no way the same team from 2013. 

Brett Gardner is the only projected regular for the 2014 Yankees that had even 300 Plate Appearances for the team in 2013. 

Alfonso Soriano was second having 243 Plate Appearances in 2013 in slightly more than a third of the Yankees’ games. 

As such, the use of a formula based on production from 2013 to prove the potential success and failure of the franchise moving forward is, at best, ineffective and at worst flat out wrong. 

The variation in line-up is so substantial that the numbers for the 2013 Yankees are basically meaningless when trying to predict the 2014 record. 

Point blank, relying on 79 wins based on the Pythagorean Method is a poor way to start the analysis of the Yankees’ future potential.

Part II – The Lucky Yankees and Why that “Luck” won’t just run out

Point: The Yankees success in 2013 that put them above their Pythagorean Record was based on a 30-16 record in one run games, which is based mostly on two factors. 

One factor is flat out luck.  The other is a strong bullpen.  The luck will run out and statistically normalize.  As such, the Yankees will revert to much closer to their Pythagorean Record.

Counter-point: Again, for our purposes, let’s admit several points: First, the author is entirely correct in his estimation as to why the Yankees were better than their Pythagorean Record. 

We have already debunked the usefulness of this number when discussing estimation of this newly constructed roster, but let’s delve a bit further down the rabbit hole for a moment.

The author brushes over the Yankee bullpen as good but correctly points out that they will not have Mariano Rivera

In truth, this “good” bullpen is the reason there may not be as large a regression in one run games as the author would suggest.

While I will agree that having a similarly successful bullpen without #42 is difficult, the fact remains that the Yankees are well stocked in terms of bullpen depth to be able to survive and even thrive in the post-Rivera era. 

Both David Robertson and Shawn Kelley are elite, high leverage back-end bullpen pieces. 

Robertson has maintained his elite strike out rate while reducing his walk rate each of the last two years to a career low of 6.9% in 2013. 

While this isn’t quite the dominance of Rivera in keeping men off base, these numbers are comparable with several of the game’s elite closers.

For instance, Robertson compares favorably to Joe Nathan, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour and other high leverage closers when you compare their advanced statistics. 

Essentially, barring an absolutely disaster in moving from the 8th inning to the 9th inning (this is overblown over a large sample size), Robertson should be in the tier directly below Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen and Greg Holland as the elite closers in the game.

The transfer of Robertson to the 9th inning would be a more difficult loss to the bullpen as a whole, but Kelley replaces Robertson fairly well in the 8th inning role. 

Think of Kelley as Robertson from 2011.  He is a upper-20’s/lower-30’s K rate pitcher with some control issues that lead to a 10% walk rate, which is essentially Robertson from 2011 with actually a bit more control. 

If both players are healthy, the 8th and 9th inning should be well manned for the Bombers even without Rivera.  The Yankees signed Matt Thornton to replace Boone Logan as their left-handed specialist. 

The longtime ex – White Sox Pitcher will not have Logan’s elite strike out rates and can’t throw to right handed batters as well as Logan, but as far as simply getting left handed hitters out, the former is a fine replacement for Logan at a reduced cost. 

The question will be the 7th inning where the Yankees will have to hope that:

1) David Phelps is not needed in the rotation and he can bring his advanced strikeout rate into a “let it all hang out” type bullpen role or….

2) Mark Montgomery’s shoulder is sound and the strike out machine of a prospect can compete for work this season in the bullpen. 

Montgomery has been an elite strike out talent until last year where a shoulder issue created control problems and eventually cut his season short.

3) Another option is Dellin Betances, who moved from struggling former starter to high leverage reliever last season and struck out 31% of the batters he faced to a 12% walk rate in Triple-A. 

Not as sound as Kelley or a younger Robertson, but he would make an effective strike out pitcher out of the Yankee bullpen.

The long short of this issue is: just saying the Yankees lost Rivera and therefore they won’t win as many close games is a part of the narrative that ignores a strength of the ball club and paints a potentially inaccurate picture. 

This is still a strong group with the chance if healthy to be one of the elite relief units in the game. 

(Health is a key to any bullpen, which is a highly volatile group in terms of injury risk).

As you can see, the estimation of record and why the record will regress based on 2013 is a flawed beginning to the analysis.  It assumes a constant (roster construction) that is anything but constant. 

It assumes a regression from the bullpen unit when no one can be sure as to what regression will be, if there will be a regression or what the starting point would be for the regression. 

Essentially, the statistics used should be used with little confidence as the variables are drastically different from the prior year’s team. 

Part 2 of the Don’t Believe Everything You Read: A Response to The New Normal For the New York Yankees click here

In Part II of this response, we will take a look at the line-up changes and how they will affect the actually wins added to the roster, the rotation's expectations moving forward, the discussion of the team's monetary situation and goals as well as the farm system and what to expect from that part of the organization.  We are hoping that you will leave us your comments via Facebook, Twitter or email to: mlbreports@gmail.com

In Part II of this response, we will take a look at the line-up changes and how they will affect the actually wins added to the roster, the rotation’s expectations moving forward, the discussion of the team’s monetary situation and goals as well as the farm system and what to expect from that part of the organization. We are hoping that you will leave us your comments via Facebook, Twitter or email to: mlbreports@gmail.com

*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com and their partners***

For all of the Rosters, Depth Charts, State of the Unions and Salaries Posts that we do, please visit our dedicated page link here.

A big thank-you goes out to Our ‘Trade and Yankees Correspondent’ Nicholas Rossoletti for preparing today’s featured article.

Nicholas is a young professional living in downtown Miami. He is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid Yankee supporter.

Having grown up during the last two decades, he counts Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as his favorite ball players of all time.

He believes in sabermetrics and that new stats have already changed the way the baseball industry sees players.

He was for Trout over Cabrera, he thinks RBIs tell you a lot more about a team than a player and that defense and pitching, ultimately, win championships.

Rational thought and introspective analysis over the narrative is how we come to understand the game we love.

The narrative is just a way to keep those who don’t really love the game watching.

Follow Nicholas on Twitter:

“There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.” ~ Al Gallagher, 1971

a    nicholas rossoletti

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Posted on December 30, 2013, in MLB Teams State Of the Unions, MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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