Don’t Believe Everything You Read: A Response to The New Normal For the New York Yankees- Part II
By Nicholas Rossoletti (Yankees Correspondent/Trade Correspondent): Follow @nross56
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As with the first part of this piece, this article 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.
Once again, I would encourage everyone to visit Grantland.com as it is a one stop shop for some of the best internet based writers on the planet.
Those organizations are a huge reason for the increased understanding and intelligent discussion relating to baseball over the last decade, and they are used throughout as resources for all advanced statistics.
If you aren’t reading the content on those sites, I would strongly suggest you do.
We will start with our Point/Counter-Point structure with a discussion of the new Yankee line-up, and more so, the effect of the departure of Robinson Cano on that lineup.
For Part 1 Of Don’t Believe Everything You Read: A Response to The New Normal click here.
Alfonso 2013 Highlights as a Cub and a Yankee – Mature Lyrics so Parental Guidance Is Advised
Part III – The Cano Issue
As such, any improvements to the roster are minimal and the team will experience minor gains.
Counter-Point: My understanding of the author’s point is that using bWAR as his basis, Cano is an elite talent and without that talent the additions the Yankees have made are less meaningful and place the Yankees in a somewhat similar position to the 2013 team if not needing substantial over-performance to achieve even moderate success.
I believe at one point it was stated that the Yankees would need to make up as many as 18 wins to be in contention.
Again, I believe his starting point is a highly flawed 79 wins using the Pythagorean Theorem method of record analysis based on the 2013 team.
I won’t ride a dead horse on why that number is inaccurate in my mind as a representation of a projection on the 2014 team.
I will say that I believe the author is over-estimating Cano’s value and underestimating the value of the additions and health of the returning players in order to make his point.
Again, lets use the 2013 Yankees based on most Plate Appearances per position and the projected lineup for 2014 comparing their WAR to see where the lineups value lies and what to truly expect.
WAR From 2013
Total WAR 2013 Team- 8.9 WAR Total WAR 2014 Team- 23.4 WAR
For Jeter and Teixeira, I subtracted .5 WAR from the 2012 total in order to correct for regression due to age and potential injury, but I did not include 2013 WAR as insufficient playing time made the number useless in my mind.
Brian Roberts number was the 2013 number because he has not been healthy in four seasons so I did not feel comfortable attempting to estimate regression with his long term health concerns.
Even decreasing their WAR by full 1 win or 1.5 wins would still leave this team with a WAR in the range of 20-21 as a total line-up.
Would this line-up based on this WAR be World Series favorites? No. Would they need an additional 18 wins to compete for the playoffs? Absolutely not.
I believe what is misstated is the depth of concern for the organization.
Losing Cano while gaining the players mentioned is not a zero sum game from the 2013 season. It does not leave the Yankees in the same position.
Had the Yankees retained Cano, they would be in the range of 29 WAR going into 2014, which is far more comparable to the Red Sox World Champions of last year than 23 WAR total to start the season.
Cano’s loss hurts the Yankees immediate chances of winning a World Championship. This is not debatable by reasonable people.
That being said, the overstatement of the loss and the misstatement of the starting point create a perception of a desperate roster with little hope to compete in the next several years. This is just not an accurate perception.
Even with conservative estimates, the Yankee line-up is a far superior machine to the team that spent the majority of the season playing in the ballpark in the Bronx in 2013.
Part IV – The Myth of $189 and the “Frugal” Yankees
Point – The Yankees let Cano go because they have entered a point in time where they no longer have the financial wherewithal to pay top prices for talent and/or they have chosen to change business strategies which caused them to miss the playoffs in 2013 and will again in 2014.
Counter-point– This is just an inaccurate perception of the state of the Yankees. A lack of spending did not cause the 2013 Yankees to miss the playoffs. They spent as much on the 2013 team as they always have.
Injuries caused the 2013 Yankees to be a far inferior team to the product expected to take the field in February, 2013.
The Yankees were missing Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson for more than half the season. Jeter, Youkilis and Teixeira played so little as to be essentially non-existent.
The idea that lack of spending is even an issue right now means that, frankly, you haven’t been paying attention.
For the sake of this discussion as with all others in this response, let’s assume that Alex Rodriguez’s salary does not count towards the luxury tax “$189” number.
With the 14 players under contract plus 5 arbitration eligible players (arbitration projections courtesy of MLBTradeRumors.com) and the remaining roster spots filled by non-arbitration eligible league minimum players, the Yankees would have approximately $173 million in payroll right now.
If Rodriguez’s suspension is overturned, $189 is dead. Let’s take it a step further though.
Before the Beltran signing, the Yankees had an offer out to Cano for additional 4.5 million annually than they spent on Thornton, Roberts and Beltran combined.
In whose world does this constitute not spending?
Additionally, Peter Gammons has reported that Stephen Drew is waiting on clarity on issues with the Yankees prior to making his free agent decision, and every news outlet in the world has reported the Yankees interest in Masahiro Tanaka, who under the new posting rules will essentially be a free agent allowed to negotiate with any team(s) that agree to post the necessary $20 million fee.
If either signing happens, the Yankees have not only done away with $189 million, they have absolutely flown passed the damn thing.
The reason the Yankees didn’t sign Cano to the 10 year/$240 million dollar deal isn’t because they are frugal, and it certainly isn’t so they can avoid paying luxury tax.
It is because it was a bad decision. Ten-year contracts aren’t good moves. Seven-year contracts aren’t really very smart either, but they are incredibly more intelligent than ten year deals.
The Rodriguez contract is an albatross. The Pujols contract is an albatross. The Howard extension is an albatross. The Yankees have learned their lesson on these issues the hard way.
This was smart business AND smart baseball. The Yankees probably got most of Cano’s prime for reasonable value. The Mariners will get some of his prime and his entire decline for an immense cost.
This does not mean the Yankees are done spending.
Also, can everyone please drop this “the Royals outbid the Yankees for Omar Infante” narrative.
Does anyone really believe that if the Yankees wanted Infante that badly that one year and 6 million dollars would have been the back breaker? If you do, I have a bridge near Yankee Stadium for sale.
The Yankees have been brokering deals with free agents the same way all off-season. Take it or leave it. Cano- 7-$175, take it or leave it. Shin Shoo Choo- 7-$140, take it or leave it. Infante- 3-$24, take it or leave it.
Am I the only one who sees a pattern? The only report of an increase all off-season was a minor increase in Beltran’s offer in order to get a deal done, which came on the heels of the Cano signing.
Part V – CC, Nova and the pitching staff
Point– The age and ineffectiveness of the pitching staff, particularly C.C. Sabathia is such that it only further emphasizes the point that the Yankees are trending downward and will be unable to compete moving forward.
Counter-point– If you haven’t started to notice the bias in some of the writing towards the author supporting his theory, the paragraph on the pitching staff should probably be the biggest red flag.
Advanced metrics and proof are mostly abandoned for a short “this is the end” synopsis that paints the Yankee rotation like a morgue filled with corpses.
Let’s start with C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia is the highest paid pitcher on the Yankees by far and a key piece to the rotation.
The popular synopsis on Sabathia is that he is a shadow of his former self due in large part to a decrease in fastball velocity.
Again, let’s start out with some basic facts. Sabathia’s fastball velocity is down and his getting older. He will be in his age 33/34 season this year so we should expect some continued issues.
There are reasons to believe that the 2014 Sabathia will be better than the previous season.
First, Sabathia had off-season elbow surgery in October 2012. We cannot estimate the effect that the surgery took on his off-season work or how it changed the outcomes in 2013.
Certainly, it is possible that conditioning/recovery issues might have caused his lost velocity/control.
It is true, however, that Sabathia had seen deterioration in his velocity for several years in a row so it might be a minor addition to an already troubling problem.
The other issue is that if you subscribe to the advanced statistics is that the big guy wasn’t actually as bad as his 4.78 ERA would indicate. Sabathia’s FIP was 4.10 and his xFIP was 3.76.
The issue for Sabathia was a hugely elevated HR/9 over his career averages. Could this be an indicator of degradation of the pitcher towards the end of his career? Certainly.
It is also equally likely that the home run rate is a statistical outlier that will revert to his career mean. Besides this issue and an increased BABIP, his 2013 metrics are actually very comparable to his 2010 season.
His strike out and walk rates were almost identical to that season. If the home run rate reverts, Sabathia should be able to find more success in 2014 than in 2013.
The other issue is that Sabathia is not and cannot be the ace on this team if it intends on competing deep into the playoffs.
Kuroda assumed the role for the majority of 2013 until he regressed to the mean during the final six to eight weeks. The job of Yankee ace has to be assumed by Ivan Nova.
Last off-season, I mentioned that if Nova could put together his history of strong strike out rates and strong ground ball rates, he could be an elite starting pitcher.
He found a groove last year by increasing his ground ball rate back to elite levels, but his strike-out rate eroded a bit.
Nova needs to raise that K/9 up to the 8-8.5 level, but if he can continue his trend from last season, he will take over the role of the Yankees’ number one with Kuroda and Sabathia playing the role of inning eaters in the second and third spot.
Analyzing the remaining rotation at this point is an exercise in futility.
It has been announced that Masahiro Tanaka will be posted.
The Yankees are likely to bid on Tanaka and have shown interest in other players including Bronson Arroyo if Tanaka decides he wants to play on the West Coast or if the Cubs make him a far larger offer than the Yankees.
In short, the last two spots in the rotation are fluid and could be for some time which makes any intense discussion of the rotation as a whole for good or ill fairly worthless.
Basically, at this point, you can paint the rotation as a disaster or a unit with three solid pitchers at the top that will eat innings. It’s really up to the person wishing to interpret the situation.
In truth, I believe it’s a lot closer to the later than the former.
Part VI- The “non-existent” farm system
Point: The Yankees farm system is essentially Gary Sanchez and a group of prospects that are future bench players and bullpen pieces.
As such, the Yankees cannot rely on the farm system to produce future low cost options for their lineup or trade chips to improve the Major League roster.
Counter-Point: Again, let’s start with the premise that 2013 was a year where the Yankees farm system seemed to regress from where scouts believed it to be heading into the season.
Even with this regression, citing one individual scout’s opinion on the Yankees system and failing to notate what actually happened in 2013 with the Yankees prospect base creates a more critical perception of the situation than might be true.
According to Keith Law at ESPN’s Top 100 prior to the 2013 season, the Yankees had four top 75 prospects.
All three of the Yankees outfield prospects had down years, but the indication that these players are no longer talented pieces with potential is an extreme position to take based on what happened in 2013.
Heathcott suffered through some minor injuries early in his first turn through Double-A, and he did not seem to adjust to pitching at that level until later in the season.
His performance at the plate in the second half was very encouraging, and he has not had to shift away from centerfield to a lesser defensive position.
His injury history is concerning, but his ceiling remains high if he can stay healthy.
Austin and Williams stock both took major hits as both underperformed substantially. Austin suffered through a wrist injury that limited him during the season and in the Arizona Fall League.
The Yankees have to hope that another healthy turn at Double-A will allow Austin to exhibit the advanced bat speed and plus hit tool that had him amongst some of the elite prospects in the game coming into 2013.
Williams suffered through a terrible season after dealing with an early season arrest and an attempted change to his approach at the plate.
Both need to show something significant improvement in 2014 to still be considered worth talking about.
The point of all of this is simple. The piece indicates one perception of the Yankee system that is highly negative.
There is a basis for this perception, but the inexact science of projecting a minor league system leads me to believe that this negative perspective could be accurate or it could be a temporary perception based on the most recent data points.
Were scouts right in 2012 when they estimated a solid Yankee farm system? Are they right now when they estimate a farm system with a lack of high caliber talent?
It’s probably somewhere in the middle. Between injuries, promotion to new levels and off-field issues, there are reasons for regression or perceived regression amongst the Yankees higher ceiling prospects.
Could these be excuses made for players that aren’t really that talented? Absolutely.
Could these be reasons for struggles that eventually fall to the wayside as players begin to succeed? Absolutely.
The point is there is almost always variation in prospects from year to year. Immediate help from the farm may not be there in April or May, but all things can change by July.
The same way all things changed for several players between April 2013 and December 2013.
As I sit here in my Robinson Cano Yankees’ T-shirt Jersey, I understand the arguments made by the original author and where they come from.
I understand where he obtained his numbers (even the ones I wildly disagree with being an accurate basis for any projection).
I understand the Yankees lost a player that probably takes this team to the next level when they normally never lose that player.
I understand the Yankees have talked about limiting spending when normally spending is what the organization does best.
I understand that the popular belief is that this franchise is on the way down, a cautionary tale on how not to do business in Major League Baseball for future generations.
We will see who is right come the end of September 2014!
For Part 1 Of Don’t Believe Everything You Read: A Response to The New Normal click here.
*** 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***
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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.
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: Follow @NRoss56
“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
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Posted on December 31, 2013, in MLB Teams State Of the Unions, MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged @nross56, @Nross56 on twitter, @nross56 twitter, alex rodriguez, alfonso soriano, arod, baseball reference, baseball-reference.com, boston, boston red sox, brett gardner, Brian McCann, brian roberts, Bronson Arroyo, carlos beltran, cc sabathia, chris stewart, curtis granderson, derek jeter, eduardo nunez, fangraphs, fangraphs.com, gary sanchez, Grantland, grantland.com, hiroki kuroda, ichiro, ichiro suzuki, ivan nova, jacoby ellsbury, jayson nix, kelly johnson, kevin youkilis, lyle overbay, manny banuelos, mark teixeira, masahiro tanaka, mason williams, michael pineda, mlbtraderumors, mlbtraderumors.com, new York, new york yankees, nicholas rossoletti, omar infante, peter gammons, Rany Jazayerli, red sox, robinson cano, shin shoo choo, slade heathcott, stephen drew, tommy john, travis hafner, tyler austin, vernon wells, yankees. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.