Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Friday, February 08, 2008

New York Yankees 2008 Preview: The Joe is Dead, Long Live the Joe

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The 2007 Yankees didn't go 162-0 and win the World Series in three games, so Yankees fan (and owner) will say that the year sucked. A rational, unspoiled fan would note that the Yankees went 94-68 despite yearlong problems with the starting rotation and much of the bullpen, and despite playing Doug Mientkiewicz at first base for a large part of the season. The Yankees passed on obtaining Johan Santana over the winter, but did remodel the manager's office, replacing Joe Torre with Joe Girardi.

They can put it on the board, yes!

Oh, can they ever. The 2007 Yankees were an offensive juggernaut, scoring an ungodly 968 runs, 5.98 per game. They led the league in both OBP and slugging, which is a pretty good way to score a lot of runs. Getting a career year from an inner circle Hall of Famer doesn't hurt, either, and Alex Rodriguez gave them that. I don't expect the 2008 team to score quite so early and so often, but even a falloff of 100 runs is still going to leave them as one of the two or three best offenses in the league.

CF-LF Johnny Damon
SS Derek Jeter
RF Bobby Abreu
3B Alex Rodriguez
LF-DH Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
DH/CF Jason Giambi/Melky Cabrera
1B Morgan Ensberg/Shelley Duncan
2B Robinson Cano

Having a career .314 hitter with some power batting ninth isn't a bad option to have. The lineup comes with a number of caveats, however. As great as A-Rod is, he will likely fall back a bit. The next most productive hitter was a 35 year old catcher. Cano will be the only regular in the lineup under the age of 32. I don't see anyone in this lineup likely to have a better season that he did in 2007, and several candidates to fall off.

Pitchers or belly itchers?

The 2007 Yankees were almost exactly league average in runs allowed. The rotation was in a state of flux much of the year; they gave 38 starts to the likes of Kei Igawa, Tyler Clippard, Matt DeSalvo, Darrell Rasner, Sean Henn, Jeff Karstens, Carl Pavano, and Chase Wright. Mike Mussina had the worst year of his career, and Roger Clemens was league average and not the savior he was expected to be. The 2008 rotation will turn to youth:

SP Chien-Ming Wang
SP Andy Pettitte
SP Phillip Hughes
SP Joba Chamberlain
SP Mike Mussina/Ian Kennedy

CL Mariano Rivera
RP LaTroy Hawkins
RP Kyle Farnsworth

Mussina is 39 and can no longer be counted on either for health or front line pitching. Pettitte is 36 and can't go on forever either. Luckily for the Yankees, the kids are alright. Hughes and Chamberlain both have the potential to be #1 starters. Kennedy is more a #3 guy, but when you already have two #1's, a #3 is what you need. Wang is looking better to me every time I see him; his strikeout rate increased from an unsustainable 3.14 per nine innings to 4.70. Rivera slipped a bit in 2007; his hits per nine innings was the highest since his rookie year, although his strikeout rate bounced back up again.

Witnesses for the defense

In 2007 the Yankees were a pretty decent defensive team overall; they were third best in fewest errors and fifth in defensive efficiency. That's a bit hard to fathom from looking at some of the pieces, all of whom are a year deeper into their thirties this year. Jeter, for all of his other virtues, remains a horrible defensive shortstop. Damon can't throw a ball across a my living room. Having Cabrera in center for much of the season will help.

Farm aid

For years, the Steinbrenner Yankees focused on obtaining veterans and allowed the farm system to rot. This is no longer the case. The Yankees have a very strong system with a number of potential impact players, albeit many with considerable risk. Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy are all ready for the rotation right now. Edwar Ramirez and Alan Horne may be in the bullpen by midseason. Outfielders Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata will team up at double A this year and are about a year and a half away. There are a number of high upside, high risk players at lower levels.

Watch out for that tree!

The warning comes too late for Giambi and Mussina; both have already crashed. As much as I love Jorge Posada, there is not a lot of precedent for a catcher to carry the workload he has as he gets closer to 40. Abreu, Damon, Jeter, and Matsui are each 34, and Pettitte is 36. The Yankees do have the resources to cover most of these, but a serious injury to Posada would be catastrophic.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

Despit having just spent several paragraphs talking about how old and decrepit the Yankees are, I still have to come to the conclusion that they are as good a bet as any to win 90+ games and reach the postseason. Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees staff has a huge financial advantage over the rest of MLB and they use it well; not only at the major league level but in the scouting and signing aspects as well. Having cash to burn helps the Yankees sign high risk, high upside prospects that other teams shy away from. Sure, many of them will crash and burn, but the ones who break through can become major stars.

After 12 years of Joe Torre, the Yankees are now managed by Joe Girardi. In his one year as manager of the Florida Marlins, Girardi guided a very young team to an unexpected 78-84 record, but may have done some serious damage to several of his young pitchers. With Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy going into the rotation this year and the massive pressure to win with this team, that's something to keep an eye on.

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