2014 Season Preview: Returning from Injury

Martino: Yankees continue to monitor Hanrahan
King: Johan Santana barely cracks 80 mph during workout with Yankees
(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Does anyone honestly want to hear a recap of the 2013 Yankees injury situation? From the revelation that Alex Rodriguez would miss at least half the season, to Brett Gardner‘s strained oblique in September, injuries buried the team.

What hurt the 2013 team could make the 2014 team stronger. Two key players who missed almost all of the 2013 season appear to be healthy in 2014.

Mark Teixeira

How much did losing Teixeira hurt the Yankees in 2013? His relatively weak 2012 campaign might obscure his overall impact. Particularly in terms of power output, losing Teixeira hurt badly.

The Yankees went from an AL-leading .188 ISO in 2012 to a third-lowest .133 in 2013. A good portion of that loss came from free agent departures. Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Russell Martin were the Nos. 4 through 8 power producers on the team.

Not only was Teixeira the No. 3 power source on the 2012 team, but he ranked No. 23 (out of 143) in all of MLB. In a season when the Yankees needed their power guys more than ever, they lost almost all of them to injury.

Getting a healthy Teixeira in 2014 could provide the lineup with the power boost that it needs. (Particularly at first base, where they had the worst OPS in the AL in 2014.) Yet the question remains: what will Teixeira look list after serious wrist surgery?

The closest comparison is Jose Bautista, who did experience a power dip in 2013, after suffering a similar injury in 2012. Yet there are two mitigating factors here:

1) Bautista underwent his surgery almost two months later in the season than Teixeira, so Teixeira could be further along in the healing process.

2) Bautista did still produce quality power numbers in 2013, producing the eighth-highest ISO in the majors. That’s a drop-off from his No. 1 mark in 2011, but by no means a cliff dive.

There is no way Teixeira can be worse than Lyle Overbay and the 2013 cast of first-base misfits, so his return will be welcome regardless of actual outcome. At the same time, his return to form as a middle of the order bat will go a long way in powering the 2014 Yankees lineup.

Derek Jeter

Ladies and gentlemen, it feels so good to be back — only it didn’t. Each time Jeter returned last season he struggled physically. It honestly came as no surprise, at least in hindsight.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Baseball players rely on their lower halves. A novice observer might see the upper body central in every baseball movement; the ball and bat sit in our hands, after all. But everything that sets great players apart comes in the lower half. Swinging, throwing, and defensive range all rely on strong hips and legs.

Coming into 2014, Derek Jeter’s lower half was probably the weakest of his career. The ankle injury that ended his 2012 season prevented him from strengthening his hips and legs during the off-season. Sure, physical therapy got him to a certain base of strength, but that base is hardly enough to power a pro baseball player.

Jeter, unused to such physical limitations, pushed himself too hard and reinjured his ankle. Again, that meant rest and no opportunity to strengthen his lower half. Why did he injure his squad, then his calf, and then his ankle again in 2013? Because his legs were weaker than ever.

A full off-season to build strength should benefit Jeter. It’s tough to expect much of him this year, his final season, one during which he will turn 40 years old. At the same time, he is Derek Jeter. With physical strength behind him, perhaps he could come close to the .316/.362/.429 line he produced in his last fully healthy season.

As with Teixeira, it’s difficult to see Jeter not improving on last year’s shortstop production, which ranked 14th out of 15 AL teams.

Brian Roberts

Seeing as he’s the best second baseman in the league, the Yankees had no chance of replacing Robinson Cano‘s production this off-season. What they did, instead, was reinforce other areas of weakness in hopes that they can spread Cano’s production among many positions.

The man tasked with actually replacing Cano has not been known for his reliability in recent years. After three straight years of more than 700 PA, Brian Roberts has managed just 809 in the last four seasons combined. Worse, his combined numbers during that span are worse than any single season he’s produced since 2003.

Getting a relatively healthy 2014 from Roberts will go a long way for the Yankees. It’s tough to expect him to repeat his last fully healthy season, considering that was four full years ago. He did get better as last season progressed, though, so perhaps a healthy Roberts can still be a productive player.

The bet is a long one, as we all know. If the Yankees win, they get a slightly below average hitter at 2B (which would be above average for the position) for a low cost. If they lose, they have to replace Roberts from within, which means that the best among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, or Corban Joseph gets the spot. (Or it could be Kelly Johnson with one of the above, or Scott Sizemore at third.)

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Francisco Cervelli

In 2013 Cervelli got his big chance. With Russ Martin gone and no other surefire starting catcher candidate on the roster, he could get some consistent playing time. He responded well early, producing a .877 OPS in 61 PA.

Then he got hit with a foul ball and broke his hand. Before he came back he suffered an elbow problem that kept him on the shelf longer. Then he got suspended for his involvement in Biogensis. Now he’s sitting behind Brian McCann, one of the best-hitting catchers in the league, on the depth chart.

Given his lack of minor league options and his relative experience, Cervelli figures to get the backup job. His return from injury can help prevent the catcher spot from being an offensive black hole when McCann takes days off. He might also make it easier to give McCann days at DH, limiting the wear and tear on the starter.

Most of all, a successful return from injury could raise Cervelli’s trade value. The Yankees will absolutely need help at the trade deadline. A healthy catcher who still has a few years of team control remaining could prove a valuable bargaining chip. With John Ryan Murphy and even Austin Romine ready at AAA, they can certainly afford to part with Cervelli.

What hurt in 2013 can help in 2014. The Yankees will get back a number of players whose absences hurt them immensely. Combined with the new guys, and we could see significant improvement this time around.

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Martino: Yankees continue to monitor Hanrahan
King: Johan Santana barely cracks 80 mph during workout with Yankees
  • Darren

    “It’s difficult to see Jeter not improving on last year’s shortstop production.”

    Way to go out on a limb there, considering Jeter led the league in hits two years ago, is one of the best PLAYERS of all time, and you’re comparing him to Reid Brignac and Eduardo Nunez.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      “Difficult to see” is not even pretending to go out on a limb.

      • Darren

        In case it wasn’t obvious, that was sarcasm.

    • Havok9120

      *facepalm*

    • The Great Gonzo

      What is it with you and Stucky bitching about the content or gist of EVERY article?

      • stuckey

        Why is advocating for better standards problematic?

        Seems to the world’s answer to people who suggest improvement is for a chorus of people to respond ‘don’t ever advocate improvement, just except everything the way it is and go away of you don’t like it.’

        Mike’s a big boy and has some talent and a forum. So what’s the problem?

        • http://riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

          Commenters jumping on people offering criticism annoys me more than the criticism itself. Well, in most cases. This was kind of petty. It was a single line, kind of reinforcing the idea that even a heavy decline from Jeter would probably still be an improvement.

          I do, however, get annoyed when people don’t read the byline.

          • Darren

            First, my apologies, Joe, for crediting the article to Mike and not you.

            Second, I agree that harping on one line of a long, in-depth article can be seen as petty. But that one line seemed to have a lot behind it. Namely that you can predict how Jeter is going to do based on historical data of other shortstops, i.e., now that he’s 40, Jeter is more likely than not to fall off a cliff. At some point, don’t you have to throw all that out the window because it’s essentially irrelevant data? And once you do, the assessment about Jeter’s year would have read differently. Anyway, there’s been far worse and more unfounded criticism of Jeter to pick apart. I’ll just wait for the next time. :)

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              I’m glad you all were able to settle this before we had to get violent.

              *puts away brass knucks*

        • Now Batting

          I think the Submit a Tip box is better for these types of critiques. There’s no reason to share what’s meant for one person with the entire population of readers. Unless of course you’re just (unsuccessfully) trying to sound smart.

      • Darren

        My point is a simple one. If Jeter doesn’t absolutely obliterate last year’s SS production, barring injury, it would be completely unexpected and a total shock. And I don’t mean from an emotional standpoint. I mean from an analytical standpoint. After leading the league in hits in 2012, and looking at his career in its entirety (pretty big sample size, no?), there’s absolutely no WAY his numbers should fall off the cliff like that.

        • Tanakapalooza Floozy

          Bookmarked.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    not being one that’s afraid to throw random crap out there, but Jeter might not match last year’s production on offense or defense. Of course we all want the best for and from him.

    Tex doesn’t need to be Tex in order for us to have a marked improvement. There was nobody in that carousel that was as good a defender. If he’s league average on offense and defense, maybe it isn’t a good value but it is sure a giant step forward.

    I’m excited!

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      If Jeter doesn’t match last year’s SS production, it’s because he didn’t play.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    I’m loving this article. I was one of those that thought Frankie had become the real deal last year (I know, SSS).

    If he really is that guy, I can’t imagine how good it will be to platoon him with McCann or spell him on the day-after-night games or hell–late inning subsitutions for blowouts. If we’re up by four, put in Cervelli, Ryan, Ichiro and let McCann, Jeter, Beltran take the 8th and 9th off.

    Again…I’m excited! How many more days???

    • Havok9120

      They’re playing now!

      Ahhhhhhhhhh

    • The Great Gonzo

      Almost positive (from the sound of what I saw on HoLud yesterday) that Frankie is going the way of “Tanaka’s Personal Catcher”.

      • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

        I would be ok with that if they planned on trading Romine and/or Murphy. To me that would mean they plan on keeping Cervelli through Tanaka’s transition, and God forbid we get a situation where he then becomes addicted to it…

        I don’t necessarily like the personal catcher idea, because I think Cervelli’s value supporting McCann (vs lefties, day-after-night, etc) is greater than his value supporting Tanaka…but hey, I’m not there. I don’t know what they know.

        (doesn’t mean I won’t call it idiotic if it doesn’t work!)

      • OldYanksFan

        It seems to make more sense to have them play as a L/R platoon. That gives MCann 70%-75% of playing time.

        Frankie’s OPS is .119 higher against LHP.
        McCann’s OPS is .113 higher against RHP.

        • mikef

          I saw a bunch of comments on that rotation earlier, and it makes a ton of sense except if Girardi ends us assigning a catcher tom a specific pitcher (didn’t cervelli only catch sabathia before??)

  • TWTR

    Tex and Jeter will definitely help v. LHP.

  • Eddardo Nuney

    The only one I worry about it Teixera with the wrist. Cervelli is just a backup and an upgrade over Romine. Brian Roberts is a fill in until the trade deadline. Jeter will be solid like he always is. He rushed back too soon last year. He’s had the full offseason off and will be ready to go. Teixera’s wrist problem is a real concern because if he can’t hit with power then they’re in trouble.

  • vicki

    sorry to go off-topic under joe’s very nice post, but i’m just so excited that baseball is begun, after today’s friendly v. fsu.

    bmoc caught looking! yay brian mitchell! yay spring!

    also, “Meanwhile, the Yankees got RBI doubles from Dean Anna and John Ryan Murphy and an unusual RBI foul out to the pitcher when Florida State catcher Danny De La Calle left the plate uncovered while chasing Gary Sanchez’s popup, allowing Murphy to score from third.” yay!

  • Tim D.

    I’m just worried about the age of this team and the need to DH a lot of these guys. Between Beltran’s knees, Jeter’s ankle, Teixeira’s wrist and Soriano’s age, its going to be tough to sit the odd man out with the depth on the bench. It would have been nice if the team brought Mark Reynolds back to play off the bench and platoon a bit at third.

    • OldYanksFan

      I believe Jeter’s ankle is fine. It was his lower half muscles that were the problem last year, not the ankle. Soriano didn’t look old last year, and he will get plenty of DH time (I’ll guess 40+ games). Beltran SHOULD be the primary DH, so hopefully he stays fresh.

      We have had an ‘old team’ for years.
      I worry a bit about injury… not so much radical decline.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Great write-up.

    Perhaps he’s just been at the margins for too long, but I’m less than enthused about Cervelli right now. I guess that all can change if those few first weeks of 2013 actually were a harbinger of the type of BUC he could be.

    • vicki

      yeah? i don’t think last april indicated his true talent, necessarily. but i’m a regular frankie fan. yknow, fist pumps, all that. and his teammates seem to adore him.

      remember when lackey hit brains in the back? i had never seen that side of cc, and haven’t since.