It might be tough to find fault in an offense that scored 41 more runs than its next closest competitor, but it’s not impossible. The 2010 Yankees offense was clearly tops in the league, but they weren’t, as they say, firing on all cylinders. In fact, three of the first four hitters in the lineup experienced their worst seasons in recent memory. If the 2011 team is again going to dominate opposing pitchers, it’ll need plenty of help from Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot, Mark Teixeira at No. 3, and Alex Rodriguez hitting cleanup.
The reports on the two from camp so far have been almost universally positive. Jeter showed up early — easy for him, since he resides in Tampa — and worked on his new, lower-energy swing. Both Teixeira and Rodriguez appeared in good shape when they showed up, particularly A-Rod. While those certainly present positive signs, they don’t mean much in terms of performance. As Dave Cameron recently noted, reports of peak physical condition do not necessarily coincide with increased performance.
One place we can look for educated guesses about a player’s upcoming season is a projection system. Before launching into the numbers, I’ll provide the same warning that comes hand-in-hand with projections: these are not predictions. Each system takes into account certain factors and uses them to compare players to themselves and to their peers, and spits out an educated guess as to what we can expect from that player. Each system uses a different set of inputs and processes the data differently, hence the variations in projections.
Here’s how five major projection engines — CAIRO, PECOTA, Bill James, Marcel, and ZiPS — view the 2011 seasons for these three players.
* Note: ZiPS does not forecast HBP, but I had to put in zero to make the formula work.
The mean projection on Jeter isn’t that bad, but it’s not exactly a guy you want in the leadoff spot all season. A .353 OBP isn’t bad, but if Brett Gardner is exceeding that, as he did by a solid margin in 2010, there will and should be calls for him to take over the spot. CAIRO’s variables like him a lot more, and if he got his OBP over .360 I think he could fit in the lead-off spot. Then again, is that big enough a gap to make a he should/he shouldn’t delineation?
On A-Rod, Marcel seems to be the believer in his true decline. It’s the only projection system that pegs him at under 30 home runs, and also clearly has him at the lowest OBP. Still, it’s good to see all the positive projections, even if they don’t amount to 2007, or even 2008, A-Rod.
Again with Teixeira Marcel sees more of a true decline than a one-year blip. PECOTA, which is often considered the most discerning projection engine, actually favors him for a bounce back. I think everyone in the room would take that line from him, especially if he did it in 682 PA. That means he’s on the field, healthy, and contributing.
One final note on these projection engines: they’re all relative. For instance, despite downcasting A-Rod a bit, ZiPS actually projects him to be the best hitter on the team and one of the best in the league. Bill James, on the other hand, always appears to have optimistic forecasts, but that seems to be true across the league. That’s my only hesitancy with averaging out these projections. They make different assumptions up front, and those assumptions can lead to different baselines.
Once March 31 hits, it won’t matter how good of shape these guys are in, and it won’t matter what the projection engines say. These are just pre-season indicators we use to fill time between the start of spring training and Opening Day. Still, it’s nice to see pretty overall positive forecasts on the team’s three most important hitters. If they improve over 2010, the Yanks will be in for another big season in 2011.