THT’s Five Questions

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Back in my first year of college I had a professor that assigned us a semester long project that counted as a significant part of our grade. Basically as the semester went along and we learned the material, we would be able to proceed further along with the project, which was great if you managed to stay on top of it on a regular basis. However, he designed the assignment so that at certain points you were going to get stuck because the material wasn’t going to be covered in class and the textbook/reference material was useless.

The whole point behind these “sticking points” was that you had to seek out the professor outside of class and ask for his help. It was his way of helping you get more comfortable with going to your superior and asking for guidance, which as we all know is inevitable in the real world. I still think he was a little lonely and liked the company, but whatever. Anyway, when you went to him he wanted you to ask very specific questions rather than just the what do I do now jobs we all wanted to ask, and when we did come with a general question like that he would say “you’re asking good questions, but not the right ones.” It was frustrating as hell, but in the long run it definitely helped me out.

So why am I talking about this? Because Jonathan Halket at The Hardball Times looked at five questions facing the Yankees in 2009. Much like my old professor was fond of saying, I think Halket asked good questions, but not necessarily the right ones. Don’t take this as a shot at Jeter him or the THT gang, his article is very good and I recommend you head over and check it out. I just think the five biggest questions the Yanks will face this year are a little different than the ones he asked. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. Can this team stay healthy?

Alex Rodriguez‘s surgically repaired hip will draw attention all year. If he’s struggling, people will wonder how much it’s hindering him, and of course there’s always the chance that it breaks down completely and he’ll need to have the more severe surgery. CC Sabathia has thrown 275.2 innings in the last twelve months, and AJ Burnett has spent 135 out of 549 possible days (24.5%) on the disabled list over the last three seasons. Andy Pettitte admitted to pitching with a sore shoulder in the second half last year, and we all know about Jorge Posada‘s wing. Even Mo went under the knife this offseason.

These are not inconsequential players. You could argue that they’re the six most important players on the team, and all of them will have some health questions to answer as the season goes along. And that’s the thing, I can’t answer this question, we just have to watch and see how it all plays out.

Luckily, the Yanks do have more depth than they’ve had in years past, especially on the pitching side. If Sabathia, Burnett or Pettitte goes down, they have Phil Hughes waiting as the best sixth starter in baseball. Ian Kennedy, Al Aceves and even Brett Tomko are as good a seventh-eighth-ninth group of starters you can find. They also have the ammo needed to go out and make a move should A-Rod‘s hip or Posada’s shoulder put them down for the count at some point.

2. What is going on in center field?

Brett Gardner won the job, but how long will he keep it? He certainly won’t hit .377-.441-.623 all season like he did this spring, and heck, if you chopped 120 points of those numbers across the board, you’d have to be ecstatic about what he’s giving you. But if Gardner can’t cut it, the job goes to Melky Cabrera by default, and let’s just say that’s not something we’re looking forward to seeing. If these two guys can’t hack it, the team has three options:

  1. Call up Austin Jackson: Not bloody likely. Can’t rush him and potentially sacrifice the future just to solve one problem in the present.
  2. Stick Nick Swisher out there: He’s serviceable in center, but has said he isn’t fond of the position. If he’s sitting on the bench behind Xaver Nady though, I think he’d jump at the chance for some regular playing time.
  3. Trade: Mike Cameron, Rick Ankiel, Endy Chavez … preferably someone with a short contractual commitment like that.

If the rest of the team plays as they’re capable of, and Gardner/Melky gives you strong defense and replacement level offense, then they can probably live with it. What are the odds that the rest of the team plays up to snuff though?

3. Will Robbie Cano rebound?

We’ve talked about this about a million times this winter, so let’s keep it short. Cano had a good spring (.333-.382-.627) just like last year, but he’s a notoriously slow starter, hitting .257-.291-.371 in April & May during his career before putting up a .322-.352-.509 line the rest of the year. With Cody Ransom and Brett Gardner in the every day lineup for the first month or so of the season, the team can ill afford to have Cano be the offensive black hole he was early last year. Regaining his status as an elite defender at the keystone corner would be nice too.

4. The  continued decline of Derek Jeter

Let’s face it folks, the Captain is at the point in his career where he’s gradually making his way over to the glue factory. Check it out:

2006 2007 2008
OBP .417 .388 .363
SLG .483 .452 .408
IsoP .140 .130 .107
BABIP .394 .368 .336
wOBP .399 .369 .343
LD% 22.3 19.9 17.9
O-S% 18.5 21.9 23.7

(O-S% is the percentage of pitches out of the zone that Jeter’s swung at, which comes courtesy of Fangraphs)

For a soon to be 35-year old shortstop, that’s a troubling trend. We know that Jeter is no great shakes defensively (heck, he’s not even average shakes in that department), but if his offense continues to go south … then where is his value? If he continues to succumb to age, it’ll only get uglier when his contract expires after 2010. Lets’ hope Jetes regains some of that magic, for the sake of the 2009 team as well as for the next couple of Yankee teams.

5. ZOMG teh 8th inning!1!!!1

Well, not specifically the eighth inning, but the bullpen outside of Mo in general. Damaso Marte has a long track record in the big leagues, so if nothing else we know what to expect out of him. Brian Bruney struggled with his command this spring, and that was never his strong suit to begin with. Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez … their performances fluctuate like the weather, you can predict all you want, but you won’t know what you’re in for until you get outside and look. (Mike 1, metaphor similes 0). Phil Coke has been great working out of the bullpen, too great in fact. It’s hard to see him sustaining that kind of performance.

Thankfully, the team is suited to deal with bullpen problems better than any other part of the team. If the guys who start the year in the big league bullpen struggle, there’s a ton of bodies in the minors capable of replacing them. You have guys like David Robertson, Steven Jackson, Anthony Claggett, Mark Melancon, JB Cox, Dan Giese, Kanekoa Texeira, Zack Kroenke, Mike Dunn, and once again Mr. Tomko just a phone call away. There are so many bodies that even with normal attrition rates, you’d still end up with three or four quality relievers.

* * *

To me, these are the most pressing issues in Yankeeland right now, none moreso than the first question. What do you guys think?

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  • Frank

    What does Carl Pavano think of all this?

    • Colombo

      how funny is it that the Indians are really looking to compete this year, yet Carl Pavano is set up to be their #3 starter…

  • steve (different one)

    i have argued in the past that Girardi’s initial selection of Nady was defensible, even though i believe Swisher will win the job eventuall. that said, i found this part very odd from a THT writer:

    Swisher failed to make his case during spring training and now Joe Girardi seems ready to give Swisher the Stephon Marbury treatment. So, Nady seems to have locked down right field and rightly so. He is a substantially better hitter and outfielder than Swisher.

    i don’t really see the justification for this statement.

    besides that i found the last question kindof annoying, especially this part:

    The one question that will keep Brian Cashman and Girardi up at night is Rivera. Besides him, the bullpen is the weakest link, and the one place where the Yankees compare poorly with the Rays and the Red Sox.

    • DCR

      Why does that annoy you? Bruney had a poor spring, Marte was injured at the end of last season and during camp. Its a legitimate area of concern.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Yes, Bruney had a poor spring. Yes, Marte was injured at the end of last season and during camp.

        No, it’s not a legitimate area of concern, because, as Mike said, we have like 15 other legitimately good bullpen arms besides those two. Even if both Bruney and Marte fail miserably, our bullpen is still MUCH, MUCH better than the Sox or Rays pens, hands down.

        Our bullpen “compares poorly” to the Rays and Sox bullpens only in the manner of how much they will potentially suck. We will not be as good as the Rays and Sox in having a sucky, craptastic bullpen.

        • DCR

          What other relievers do you speak of? If David Robertson suddenly counts as 15 other candidates, then sure. You can’t just ignore that Marte and Bruney had problems this spring. If you subtract those two from our pen then we are in deep shit.

          • whozat

            I dunno. maybe any of the plethora of individuals that Mike named in the article we’re commenting on?

            • DCR

              I obviously don’t have much faith in them if I didn’t include them with Robertson. Why Tomko is even up there is beyond me. Hes awful and I am glad they didn’t choose him over Albalajedo(sp).

              Its crazy to sit here and say that a collection of prospects, no matter how much hype surrounds them (Melancon [not dissing, just saying]) can compare to proven commodities like Okajima, Delcarmen, and a healthy Saito if our #2 and #3 relievers drop.

              • El Generalissimo

                Your faith in them is irrelevant though… the fact of the matter is they exist. Do you really expect our entire bullpen outside of Mo to fail, then yes you have caused for concern… it’s of course irrational, but you have it.

                Yet you bank on Okajima’s mediocre stuff still being deceptive, Saito 39, having no problems with his elbow, and world-beater manny delcarmen.

                • DCR

                  This mediocre stuff you talk about with Okajima has lead to ERA+ of 214 and 177 with good strikeout numbers. But yeah, I guess he will suddenly stop being deceptive. Not sure what you are trying to imply with Delcarmen so I will just ignore it. And even without Saito, there is still Masterson.

                  I never said that I expected our entire bullpen to fail. I said that it was valid for someone to question the stability of the bullpen due to Marte’s health issues and Bruney having a poor spring to go with a track record of inconsistency. How is any of that incorrect? Its also laughable when people start talking about Jackson, Kroenke, Dunn, and Giese as viable replacements. Oops, I also forgot about Tomko. My bad.

    • Troy

      more pen BS.

      it’ll never end.

    • andrew

      I was actually more annoyed by the Nady/Swisher analysis. What indication did Girardi give that he will give Swisher the Marbury treatment? First of all, Marbury was sent away from the team and told not to come back around. So, unless Girardi does that to Swisher, the comment makes little sense. Not to mention that even with Nady starting in RF, Swisher stands to be the primary backup at DH, 1B, RF and possibly CF/LF as well. He will get his AB’s, the Marbury comparison was silly and unwarranted. Secondly, I was pretty sure most of the defensive statistics had rated Swisher as the better outfielder? even if they don’t follow the newer defensive stats, what evidence is there that Nady is “substantially better?”

      • jsbrendog

        “he sees it with his own eyes”

        • andrew

          That’s what i was worried about…

          • jsbrendog

            your marbury analysis is sound tho, i doubt if girardi asks swisher to go in he’ll say nah coach, das cool

          • jsbrendog

            methinks my comment got gobbled upby the online monster.

            just saying your starbury analysis is accurate
            i doubt swisher will be like, no im not playing today when girarid pencils him in the lineup

            • andrew

              Yea, i mean Swisher has been regarded as a good clubhouse guy from what I’ve understood. I don’t know. Obviously i’m not affected by his description of Swisher as a Marbury-like situation, I just think it was a terrible analogy.

  • Josh!!

    I understand the Jeter offensive slide chatter, however, we know that he played injured for a lot of the year as well. He still hit .300, after all. I just think that his wrist injury should be mentioned especially since we never knew how serious it was, i.e. Pettitte. The drop from ’06 to ’07 is expected considering his ’06 campaign was pure MVP gold. In essence, it’s not a big deal because there is NOBODY in the AL that can replace him. When Hanley and Hardy become available, let’s reevaulate the Cap’n.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      When Hanley and Hardy become available, let’s reevaulate the Cap’n.

      Putting off analysis is just never a good or defensible idea. Sorry, no.

    • ChrisS

      As players age, they become more injury prone and/or take longer to recover. Jeter isn’t the first player to see decline in his statistics as he ages next to an increase in nagging injuries.

      My guess is that his stats this season are a little worse than last season or similar.

      • Chris

        But last year wasn’t a nagging injury. He was hit on the wrist and played through it. I think this year is very important for him. If he returns to form and matches his 2007 numbers, then the reports of his demise are premature.

  • Andrew Smith

    Never miss a chance to take a shot at Jeter :)

    Just a guess – but if we do underachieve this year, it’ll have very little to do with Jeter’s defense.

    • whozat

      If his bat doesn’t rebound, it could be a contributing factor. I mean, two groundball-heavy pitchers in the rotation would benefit from a SS with better range than Jeter. As long as hit bat is a big plus for his position, you deal with it. If his bat ISN’T a plus…then he’s actually just an average player and no longer an asset to the team.

      • Chris

        I’ve never quite understood why Wang doesn’t seem to be negatively impacted by Jeter’s defense.

  • Stryker

    so as far as bullpens go between the red sox and yankees whose do you think is better and more suited for success?

    • DCR

      Papelbon, Okajima, and Delcarmen is already pretty damn good. If Saito is healthy then its a land slide for the Red Sox.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Yankees (medium sized gap) Red Sox (big gap) Rays

        • jsbrendog

          agree. esp when taking depth at the aaa level into effect. the only major questions for the bullpen are can bruney do hat he did before the lisfranc injury last year and keep his walks down?

          can veras not get shelled every 4th ro 5th outing.

          can ramirez locate his pitches and find some consistency instead of striking out the side or giving up 3 hr

          can coke keep this up which isnt even a big deal cause marte is a givne commodity and has been for so long i feel confident in saying that

          and the answer to all 3 is hwo cares because we have robertson, melancon, among many others waiting for a shot.

        • Stryker

          why do you take the yanks over red sox? not trying to pick a fight – just some quality discussion on the two bullpens (that and i got into an argument with a sawx fan when he looked at the yanks bullpen and said “that’s it?”).

          i think bullpens are volatile beings and, not taking last year’s success into account, i’m curious as to how and why our bullpen is better. the red sox won’t be running david aardsma or mike timlin out there anymore, and in return have added saito (with a career ERA under 2) and ramon ramirez who Ks just under a batter an inning.

          their career IPs are: edwar – 76, coke – 15, albaladejo – 28, veras – 78. the only one on the Sox staff with under 100 is masterson, with dan bard waiting should problems arise.

          i’m having a reallllyyyy hard time arguing with that, even as a yankees fan.

          • jsbrendog

            saito has a bum shoulder. the dodgers didnt even think about keeping him. he is in the smoltz penny area where expect nothing, be happy with what you get

      • jsbrendog

        mo >>>> papelbon

        okajima and marte. I take marte because of his longer track record. okajima has been good but marte has been good longer and more steadily

        delcarmen is a young kid and with tow straight years of good work, so yeah, he is a more proven guy than bruney/veras/ramirez

        who else do the sox have in their bullpen? cause those 3 against the yanks pen i take marte/mo/bruney over papelbon./okajima/delcarmen hands down

        • andrew

          I don’t really think Marte has been better than Okajima for longer. Just because Okajima was not in the US yet doesn’t mean he didn’t exist. Okajima has been a very, very good bullpen option for over 10 years. Marte is good, but I think Okajima has shown over the past 2 years that he’s a better pitcher than Marte, and when you factor in the whole career, I think Okajima still has the edge.

          • whozat

            Okajima was pitching against, essentially, AA/AAA competition for most of those years.

            • andrew

              Well, even so, Okajima has been better in the MLB over the last 2 years.

              Jeter has been better than Hanley over the past 10 years, but I’d rather have Hanley right now. Don’t knock Okajima because he wasn’t in the US yet. In his time here he’s proven to be a very, very good set up man

              • whozat

                The point, though, is that bullpen arms tend to be very volatile. Do I think Marte is more likely to continue being very good than Okajima is likely to continue being very, very good? I do. Why? He’s been doing it against big-leaguers for years AND his stuff is better.

  • Benny Blanco

    Did the professor touch you where you pee?

  • Tony

    Once again… there are maybe 5 players better at SS right now and none will be on the Yankees any time soon.

    • Whozat

      Incredible analysis. I am convinced.

  • Frank

    My concern has been, and continues to be, the bridge to Mo. Veras, Bruney, Marte and Edwar are just too inconsistent and have not proven to me over the past couple of seasons they can handle the set up role on a consistent basis. Hopefully,one of them will. But as of today, this remains the X factor for this team.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Urge to kill… rising…

    • jsbrendog

      go look up marte’s statistics because it is obvious you have never done so and are basing this on what you saw with your own eyes for the first month and first month ony he was with the team last year.

      • El Generalissimo

        Does no one realize we had the #7 bullpen in the league last year with no Coke, Bruney, albaladejo or Marte for 3/4 of the year. Does no one realize who Mark Melancon is?

        This argument is getting old fast. And yes bullpens are volatile that’s why our farm is filled with 10 RHP who could fill in this year in the MLB pen.

        • whozat

          BUT I HAVE NEVER HEARD ANY OF THOSE NAMES ON BASEBALL TONIGHT!!!! How could they POSSIBLY be as good as A Proven Setup Man like Tom Gordon!?!?!?

  • jim

    I really like our bullpen this year. It looks a lot better than it has in years past. I think Phil Coke is going to be a big part of the pen and Mo isn’t human

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    …their performances fluctuate like the weather, you can predict all you want, but you won’t know what you’re in for until you get outside and look. (Mike 1, metaphors 0).

    You mean: “(Mike 1, similes 0).”

    • Mike Axisa

      Well you can just kiss the fattest part of my ass.

      (Thanks, fixed now)

      • yankeefan91 Arod fan


    • LC

      Well, a simile is just a specific type of metaphor.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        No. They’re both specific types of forms of comparison, but similes and metaphors are mutually exclusive. A phrase is either a simile or a metaphor, not both. Similes are not a subset of metaphors, no.

  • JeffG

    For the months of April and May… I think Robbie should wear hot pads under his clothes, or I’d like to see a turtle neck sweater, ear muffs, maybe even a snow suite while he is on the bench, whatever, we just have to keep him sweaty hot. The North East weather is like his cryptonite… it must be stopped.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      Robinson Cano, April 2006:


  • CB

    Last season offense, defense, and baserunning Jeter was a 3.7 WAR player.

    Last season offense, defense and baserunning JJ Hardy was a 3.7 WAR player.

    Jeter is clearly in decline. How he does this year is difficult to predict. How bad was his hand injured last year? Was his defensive improvement last year a fluke? Will he precipitously decline as happens with some older players?

    That said, it is interesting to see people’s perceptions of how he empirically played last year and to compare that with the enthusiasm many have for having JJ Hardy or someone similar replace Jeter.

    I’m not talking about 2010. But last year JJ Hardy was not particularly better than Jeter was. And many people seem to have a perception that Hardy was outstanding last season and Jeter wasn’t nearly as valuable.

    • jsbrendog

      people either have this irrational man crush on him and he’s teh bestest eva or they think he is this over rated hack. i dont get it

      • andrew

        I don’t really fall into either of those groups. I think Jetes is a very good SS who is in a decline. He currently is one of the top options at SS throughout the league, but I’m not blind to the fact that his numbers have declined a few years in a row, and may continue to do so. In a few years, he may no longer be a viable option at SS.

        • jsbrendog

          well other than us smart folk i mean

          • andrew

            well yea, obviously

      • CB

        THT has been a leader in the statistical analysis of baseball.

        As such, perhaps the most ironic comment in that article was:

        “After adding two marquee names to the rotation and getting back their former ace from injury, the Yankees’ rotation is not head and shoulders better than their closest rivals’, even though those teams’ top four starting pitchers remain unchanged from last year.”

        I’ll buy that argument on a qualitative basis if one basis it on scouting and talent evaluation.

        But based on how the Yanks, Sox and Rays rotations/ staffs project there is simply no comparison between them. The yankee’s staff is on an entirely different level. The fact is, just going by the numbers, the Yankees did in fact put their rotation heads and shoulders above the Sox and Rays this winter.

        The yankees rotation projects to have a total WAR of 23. That is phenomenal. And that is using projections that skew Wang’s likely performance because the models predict he’ll only pitch 130 innings. If he throws 200 than you could add 2 WAR on top. The Sox – 16 WAR. Rays – 12 WAR (though Price is a wild card).

        In terms of the rotations there is simply no comparison as to how they are likely to do at this point in time.

        • CB

          Sorry posted the above in the wrong thread.

  • Mike Pop

    Can this team stay healthy?
    No, not a chance in hell.

    What is going on in center field?
    Crap, because that is what the Yankees and more importantly Cashman and the Steins are. Nothing but big steaming piles of crap.

    Will Robbie Cano rebound?
    Do pigs fly?

    The continued decline of Derek Jeter
    3 gold gloves, come on Mike, you know better.

    5. ZOMG teh 8th inning!1!!!1
    Joba in the rotation does the Yankees no good and is an actual weakness for the team.

    Well, the only thing I am really worried about on this team, is the durability. But, I think if A.J., and Joba stay healthy along with the other starters that rarely go down with injuries, this team is no doubt the best in baseball. Matsui can go down, just wait till Alex comes back and this team will be A-okay ;).

  • Moshe Mandel

    I think the data you post is a bit misleading due to Jeter’s great 2006. His 2007 numbers are actually right in line with 2001-2005. When looked at in context, he has had 1 season of decline, during which he really only had one bad month following an injury skew his numbers. I think one season is hard to hold up as a trend.

  • yankeefan91 Arod fan

    Im so pisseddddd at my sister i freaking told her to get 2tickets by last nite and damm it she forgot to get them and i have no idea were to get tickets now im stuck home.They were pretty good dammm seats to and i missed out on them.

    • andrew

      step down from that ledge… it’s not worth it, man

      • yankeefan91 Arod fan

        I would of got the chance to sit by the first base side 2 tickets for a very cheap price i gave her the info where to order it from and everything i was getting a great deal and she totally forgot.

        • jsbrendog

          pull a chris brown.

          too early?

          • Jack

            Yes. An Ike Turner would have been better.

          • yankeefan91 Arod fan

            Lmaoo im not gonna beat her im just pissed i had the money but i could only buy the tickets wit a credit card and i didnt have one so my sister said dont worry about it ill get em and den i call her like at 2 and she like f… i forgot so now im stuck home.Yesterday i was working ma ass all afternoon looking around for the best tickets available and i found them and look now im stuck home.

  • Rob in CT

    Heh, I almost emailed him to explain how false his statement about Nady/Swisher is. It’s just flat wrong.

    Also, Gardner will be 26, not 27. Minor error, that.

    And the bullpen thing. Just because they’re not big names does not mean they suck.

    I actually agree that Bruney is a guy you can’t really trust. Fine. Ditto Veras (who is basically the same guy with different skin tone). Fine. Either guy could lose the strike zone and flame out. Not a big deal, really, because you still have Mo, Marte, Edwar, Albie, Robertson, Coke, etc, etc. And Melancon at some point, if things go well for him in the minors.

    I’m not sure you can say the NYY bullpen is better than Boston’s (They’ve got Papelbon/Okajima to our Mo/Marte, plus a lot of “throw ’em against the wall” guys just like us, plus promising young prospects (Bard instead of Melancon), but I don’t see how it’s clearly worse. It’s just not a point of weakness. It’s solid, and potentially an *advantage*

    • whozat

      Melancon is a lot better than Bard. Bard has a huge fastball, no idea where it’s going, and that’s kind of it.

      The Sox don’t have the same selection of depth relief arms to hedge against flameouts that the Yanks do. They have better Name Recognition, but who cares?

    • jsbrendog

      i would put edwar with veras and bruney because he seems to either strikeout the side or give up three hrs as i mentioned earlier he is the epitome of ptiching to extremes. if he can develop some consistency then hes all set

  • JimT

    Hughes is the best 6th starter in baseball based on what?

  • Ellis

    Jeter’s O-Contact percentage over the last three years:

    2006: 52.8%
    2007: 63.8%
    2008: 68.6%

    I’m assuming this stat means the percentage of balls outside of the zone that he actually made contact with. So this just means he’s expanding his strike zone, like freakin’ vladimir guerrero!

  • Ryan

    Those are five good points but the last two aren’t questions…