Yanks vying for worst monthly starters’ ERA in a decade

It’s no secret that the Yankees’ collective starting pitching has not lived up to expectations thus far on the young season. While there’s nowhere to go but up at this point, I was curious to see how the team’s woeful April performance — at 5.73, the Yankee starters have put up the second-worst collective ERA in MLB; the only team with a worse mark is Minnesota. Boston’s starters, after a week of beating up on the AL Central, brought their mark down to 5.71 — stacked up against previous Yankee teams, so I went back and collected the last 10 years worth of monthly Yankee starting pitching ERAs.

If the Yankee starters were to finish April out at their current 5.73 ERA, it would represent the second-worst mark the team has put up in a month in the last 10 seasons. The worst was April 2007’s 5.94, much of which was due to Kei Igawa being allowed to throw 20.2 innings of 7.84 ERA ball, although Chien-Ming Wang‘s 5.84 in 12.1 innings and Chase Wright’s 7.88 in 8 innings didn’t help things, either.

Now obviously ERA only tells a very small and flawed portion of the story. I was also curious to see how the team got to this point and whether they were doing anything substantially different, so I grabbed their PITCHf/x stats for April 2012, April 2011, and the MLB average.

The first thing that jumps out is the team’s deployment of the four-seamer appears to be way down from a year ago in favor of more sinkers and way more sliders. And this is problematic in that the rotation’s sinkers are collectively getting crushed to the tune of -5.3 runs above average and -1.91 per 100 pitches thrown. The latter figure is 92%(!) worse than league average. This appears to be due to location issues — the team is leaving its sinkers closer to the middle of the plate horizontally than the league, and its sinkers are rising nearly an inch-and-a-half higher. As always, we need to approach the classification algorithm with some wariness, but if this data is accurate it helps partially explain why the execution’s been so poor.

Somewhat surprisingly, one of the primary culprits for the poor sinker showing is CC Sabathia, who TYA’s Mike Eder noticed last week was leaving the pitch up during his first few innings against the Twins until correcting whatever flaw in his mechanics led to this happening. Given Sabathia’s improvement in the latter half of the Twins game and strong showing against the Rangers last Monday, I wouldn’t expect the sinker to be an issue going forward. Sweaty Freddy’s sinker has been the worst in baseball in the early going, though I have less confidence that he’ll be able to rectify his situation.

The other bizarre aspect relating to the Yankee starters’ performance this month is that their peripherals have been, for the most part, outstanding.

They’ve been striking a ton of men out — second-highest K/9 in the AL, behind Chicago by 0.01 — and walking almost no one. The team’s biggest bugaboo has been the home-run ball. Surprisingly the starters haven’t even given up the most total home runs in the AL, but on a rate basis they’ve been abysmal, with a second-worst-in-MLB 1.73 HR/9, and a 17.3% HR/FB% ranking third-worst. They also have the highest BABIP in the league by a not-small margin, and all three of these figures are way, way above league average.

Despite all of this starting ineptitude, at 10-8 the team is only two games behind where it was last year after 18 games, and two games better than the 2007 team and its decade-worst monthly ERA. Even better news for Yankee fans is that it would be almost impossible for the team’s starters to perform any worse than they have, and hopefully they start turning it around sooner rather than later.

4/20-4/22 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

For the second straight season the Red Sox have gotten off to about as frustrating a start as both the team and fanbase could imagine, stumbling out to a 4-8 record due largely to some utterly abysmal pitching. Boston’s pitching staff — a significant question mark heading into the year — has been horrendous, and is currently dead last in MLB with a 6.20 ERA (an astoundingly bad 6.63 for the bullpen, and an equally poor 5.97 for the starters) and third-to-last with a 4.78 FIP. Somehow the Rays — remember them, the team that swept the Yankees during the first weekend of the season? — actually have a worse bullpen ERA than Boston, at 8.63. I suppose if it’s any consolation to the Fenway faithful, Boston was only 2-10 after its first dozen games in 2011, so it could be worse.

That the Sox have even won four games is a testament to what’s been an exceptionally hot-and-cold offense thus far — one game they’re pasting the opposition with 13 runs, the next getting shutout. The Sox currently rank fifth in the American League in wOBA (.328) and seventh in wRC+ (102), while the Yanks are second in both wOBA (.357) and wRC+ (123). The Sox offense is certainly better than they’ve shown thus far, and, like last April, a visit from their rivals to the south could very well be what helps restore order to the Red Sox.

Of course, the Yankees, at 7-6, have had some of their own issues in the early going as well. Their starting pitching has been nearly as bad as Boston’s, with a 5.59 ERA over 74 innings (for a frame of reference, the 2011 team had a 5.37 ERA over 67 innings through its first 13 games, and were 8-5); however, unlike the Sox, the Yankees feature a bullpen that has been virtually impossible to score on, boasting the lowest ERA in MLB (1.83) by a not-insignificant margin. Additionally, while the Yankee offense has certainly done its job, several key members of the Yankee lineup still have yet to really get going as well — I’m looking at you, Robbie, Alex and Russell — and a visit to one of the friendliest offensive parks in baseball could be just what the doctor ordered.

Today’s 3pm start marks the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, and as a result, both the Sox and Yanks will be wearing throwback jerseys. Per Marc Carig, this is the first time the Yankees have ever worn a throwback jersey (per that same article, the only time the Yankees have played an official game in uniforms other than their own was on a day to celebrate the Negro Leagues in 1996, when the team wore the uniforms of the New York Black Yankees while the Detroit Tigers donned the uniforms of the old Detroit Stars), and it’s quite cool of the franchise to acquiesce and ensure that Boston’s big day is properly recognized considering the history between the two teams.

The Pitching Match-Ups

Friday at 3pm: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Clay Buchholz
Today’s game features Ivan Nova (4.15 ERA/4.06 FIP, 10.4 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 41% GB%), making just his second career start at Fenway, against Clay Buchholz (9.82 ERA/4.45 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 44.7% GB%).

Nova struggled (4.1 innings, 4 ER) in his first start at Boston a year ago — also in a matchup against Buchholz — but the offense bailed him out, in what would be the Yankees’ only win against the Red Sox in the first half of 2011. Nova’s been pretty sharp in his two starts thus far — with a presumably unsustainable K/9 and sub-2 walk rate — although his improved K rate appears to have come at the expense of his HR/9, which currently sits at an also-unsustainable 2.1. Though it’s only been two starts, Nova’s slider appears to not only be here to stay, but also the best weapon in his arsenal.

Buchholz has gotten pretty roughed up in his two starts on the young season, as he makes his way back from missing more than half the season last year. If Buchholz ever finally figures out how to consistently harness his stuff — and it looked like he was on his way to doing so after a masterful outing against the Yanks last May — he’s going to be extremely tough, as he features five pitches each thrown more than 10% of the time: a 94mph four-seamer, 94mph sinker, 81mph changeup, 91mph cutter and a 78mph curveball. However, his average fastball velocity is slightly down thus far (although this appears to a baseball-wide April trend), hasn’t really been striking anyone out and he’s also walking too many guys, so hopefully the Yankees can capitalize on what appears to be a still-rusty Buchholz.

Saturday at 4pm: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Felix Doubront
The 4pm FOX Saturday Afternoon Game of Death™ features the ugliest matchup of the weekend, Freddy “Sweaty” Garcia (6.97 ERA/5.03 FIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 42.4% GB%), against southpaw Felix Doubront (5.40 ERA/2.80 FIP, 11.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 27.6% GB%).

Freddy had mixed success against Boston last year, although his one start at Fenway last August was about as good as one could have hoped for, as the Chief gutted out five innings of one-run ball in a game the Yanks really should have won.

Doubront has never started against the Yankees, and only has 4.2 career innings of relief work against the Bombers, holding them to a .188/.235/.275 line across a mere 17 PAs. Doubront’s a hard-throwing lefty with a 93mph heater that he complements with a 92mph sinker and 77mph curveball. He also features a changeup and a cutter. Though it’s quite early, Doubront’s been arguably Boston’s second-best starter behind Daniel Bard, and it’s also tough to predict how he’ll fare turning over a Yankee lineup multiple times. This one could get ugly, my friends.

Sunday at 8pm: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Daniel Bard
And in the ESPN Sunday Night Marathon Heartbreaker™, guaranteed to end well past midnight or your money back, CC Sabathia (5.59 ERA/3.58 FIP, 10.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 36.4% GB%) faces the aforementioned set-up-man-turned-starter Bard (4.63 ERA/2.99 FIP, 10.0 K/9, 6.2 BB/9, 59.4% GB%).

CC finally looked like himself during his last go-round against the Twins, and despite the unsightly ERA, he’s striking out the world and limiting the walks. Once he gets his GB% back to the mid-40%s where it belongs, he’ll be his usual unstoppable self. After starting his Yankee career quite auspiciously against the Red Sox, with 28.1 innings of 2.22 ERA/2.21 FIP ball in 2009, Sabathia’s been a bit of a mixed-bag against the Olde Towne Team, falling to 3.96/5.00 over 25 innings in 2010, and getting torched by Boston through his first four starts against them last year, with a 7.20 ERA over 25 innings and losing all four games. Sabathia finally silenced Boston at Fenway last August 30 with a six-inning, two-run bulldog performance.

Bard’s been Boston’s best starter in the early going, racking up the Ks while yet to surrender a home run, although he’s also walking the ballpark (6.2 BB/9). The Yankees know Bard well, but they obviously don’t know him as a starter. As a reliever Bard’s fastball was routinely in the 97-98mph range, but it has understandably been dialed back to around 94mph as a starter. That still makes him one of the hardest-throwing starters in the game, and his slider is a real knockout pitch, coming in 13mph slower than his four-seamer. Bard also throws a sinker and an occasional change.

There had been some rumblings that the Sox might opt to start Jon Lester on Sunday night, as he would be on regular rest, but Bobby Valentine confirmed yesterday that Bard is still slated to start. Frankly, I’m a bit shocked that the Sox haven’t shuffled their rotation so that Josh Beckett and Lester aren’t somehow combining to start all three games, given how the Red Sox routinely bend themselves backwards to make sure their big two start as many contests as possible against the Yankees.

The Prediction

If you read my Red Sox season preview, then you know that the Yankees are 8-22 at Fenway Park during the month of April since 2001, and have only won their annual April set at Fenway against the Red Sox once (back in April 2010) in that 11-year span. Not only that, but prior to their April 2010 series win, the last time the Yankees had won an April set against Boston at Fenway was in 1975. For whatever reason, the Yankees just seem to play terrible ball at Fenway in the early going of any given season.

That said, if the Yanks were ever going to accomplish a rare April Fenway series win, this weekend would arguably be the time, with the Sox pitching staff reeling, neither Beckett nor Lester scheduled to make an appearance, and a bullpen missing its pre-season closer in Andrew Bailey and an 8th-inning guy that apparently can’t get anyone out and as a result was subsequently demoted to Pawtucket. Of course, even with the Sox not performing at their optimal level I still have a hard time envisioning the Yanks taking two of three at the-bandbox-where-no-lead-is-safe, and fully expect Dustin Pedroia — who hit .406/.463/.565 across 81 PAs against the Bombers last year, and has a career .392 OBP vs. the Yanks — to get on base during every plate appearance and help grit and grime Boston to multiple victories. Also, you can book David Ortiz for 18,000 bombs this weekend as well.

In my history of series predictions I seldom call for a Yanks series loss, but given the numbers the smart money here says Boston two out of three. On the flip side, the Twins just won two games in a series at Yankee Stadium for the first time since 2001, so who knows, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

4/9-4/11 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(photo by J. Meric/Getty)

By now you’ve all read about the fact that the last time the Yankees went 0-3 to start a season was 1998, and we all of course know how that turned out; as well as the last time the Yankees were 0-3 and the Mets 3-0 1985; not to mention the last time both the Yankees and Red Sox started out 0-3 was 1966. This minutiae is important for your next trivia night at the bar, but for all intents and purposes, highly irrelevant.

Forget what you heard from the 2012 season’s first weekend. Three games are simply that — three games — and every team in baseball will lose three games in a row at some point during any given season. It just happens to be that much more magnified at the very start; no one like to see a zero in the win column for any longer than they have to. I happen to think the more interesting bit of trivia concerns when the Yankees last entered a set against the Orioles — currently 3-0 after feasting on the punchless Twins — trailing Baltimore by three games. As best I can tell the answers appear to be the morning of Monday, June 27, 2005, when Baltimore was in 2nd place (2.5 GB) and the Yankees were in third, four games behind the O’s.

In any event, the Yankees last saw Buck Showalter’s crew in early-September, finishing the season series off by playing a three-game set at Yankee Stadium (which the Yanks won, highlighted by Jesus Montero’s first career two-home-run game — and first two career home runs) and then a one-off back down in Camden Yards to make up for what many felt was a questionable postponement a week-and-a-half earlier. The Yankees played some pretty ugly baseball in losing both the game in Baltimore and the game prior by identical 5-4 scores in extra innings, though ultimately neither contest mattered much in the grand scheme of things.

On the whole, the Bombers have flat-out dominated Baltimore during the last decade-plus; since the advent of the unbalanced schedule, the Yankees have gone 135-67 (a .668 winning percentage) against the birds, which is just pure ownership. Of course, pretty much everyone in MLB has had their way with the O’s during this timeframe, who last finished above .500 fourteen seasons ago in 1997 and are coming off four-straight last-place finishes.

Last winter I thought Baltimore actually looked like a team on the rise, as the O’s appeared to have several promising young starting pitchers on the verge of breaking out and an offense that looked quite robust on paper. Alas, onetime-future-lefty-ace Brian Matusz took a massive step backwards; enigmatic-but-talented left-hander Zach Britton — currently on the shelf following plasma therapy and not expected to be ready to go until May at the earliest — got tarred and feathered before showing signs of starting to put it together near the end of the season; and Jake Arrieta had a rough year that saw him continue to feast on the Yankees but get eaten alive by everyone else. Incredibly ineffective starting pitching combined with a middling bullpen led the Orioles’ pitching staff to the worst collective ERA (4.92) and FIP (4.67) in the Majors last season. The offense also struggled, coming in at a below-league-average 97 wRC+.

Unfortunately for the O’s and their fans, things don’t appear to be getting much better for the franchise any time soon, as their very public search for a new general manager during the offseason saw them embarrassingly get turned down by qualified candidate after qualified candidate, until former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette agreed to take the reins after being out of professional baseball for nearly a decade. That the O’s had anywhere from a 0.5% to a 2.2% chance of making the postseason before they even played a single game in 2012 speaks volumes about where the franchise presently stands.

The lineup the 2012 O’s will send out against the Yankees features many of the same names as last year, with the only notable new faces coming in the person of former Bombers Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters make for a formidable one-two punch in the four-five slots while Mark Reynolds (2nd-highest HR/FB% in MLB last year) is always a home-run threat when he’s not busy striking out, but the remainder of the lineup is relatively uninspiring. J.J. Hardy had a nice season last year but needs to show he can do it again, while many have been waiting three years for Nick Markakis to replicate his breakout 2008 season to no avail. Still, while the O’s are a virtual lock for a fifth-straight last-place finish, this is still a team that’s going to score some runs and annoyingly win some ballgames it probably has no business winning.

Pitching Match-Ups

In tonight’s opener the Yankees will send Ivan Nova, fresh off an ugly spring, to the hill against the lefty Matusz, who had a better spring than Nova (3.65 ERA in 24.2 IP) but still has a fair amount to prove after the pasting he took last year. Matusz is pretty close to being a classic slop-throwing lefty, but his average fastball is just over 90mph, so he’s not quite in Jason Vargas territory. His bread-and-butter is his change, which comes in ~8mph slower than his fastball and is his only above-average Whiff/Swing pitch. Matusz will also mix in a sinker (15% of the time), curve (11%) and slider (8%). The slider took a step backwards last year — as did basically his entire repertoire — but has been one of his better pitches despite relatively infrequent deployment.

Tomorrow night’s game features Freddy Garcia vs. former Nippon Professional Baseball player and MLB rookie Wei-Yin Chen. Chen, a Taiwanese left-hander who the O’s signed to a three-year deal with a club option this past winter, won the fifth starter slot in the O’s rotation thanks in part to a strong spring (3.60 ERA in 20 IP). Chen apparently throws a low-90s fastball, slider, splitter/forkball and curve. I really have no idea what to expect from Chen in his stateside debut, although I can’t think of too many lefties off the top of my head that feature a splitter, so I’ll be interested to see when and how he deploys that pitch.

And the Wednesday evening finale sees both teams’ rotations turn over as CC Sabathia takes on the aforementioned Arrieta. The righty Arrieta wasn’t quite as good against the Yankees last season as I made him out to be several paragraphs above (4.24 ERA over three starts), but they never seem to blow him out of the water, either. Arrieta features a very live fastball (avg. vel. 93.5mph) that he complements with a sinker (26% of the time), slider (16%), curveball (14%) and occasional change (9%). Arrieta didn’t exactly have an amazing spring (6.14 ERA in 14.2 IP) but still got the opening day nod from Showalter — a strong vote of confidence from his skipper considering cases could have been made for either Tommy Hunter or Jason Hammel. As it so happens, Arrieta rewarded his manager’s faith with seven shutout innings on Opening Day against Minnesota.

Prediction

I know Mike and Joe historically haven’t offered predictions, but I’ve always enjoyed concluding my series previews with them. The easy call here is Yankees two out of three — I could see them losing one of the first two if Nova can’t shake off his rough spring or the Bombers decide its 2010 all over again and are unable to figure out the previously-unseen Chen, while Sabathia should make quick work of the O’s (who he’s gone 11-2 against as a Yankee) in the finale.

2012 Season Preview: The Boston Red Sox

More of this, please. (photo by Chris McGrath/Getty)

Much has been made of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry over the years, although for my money the so-called “rivalry” didn’t really earn its name until the 2003 season, as the teams locked horns in the first of consecutive classic seven-game American League Championship Series. For a rivalry to exist, one presumes that both sides are relatively evenly matched, and prior to the 2000s this generally wasn’t the case for a good majority of Yankee-Red Sox teams.

In addition to the Red Sox of the aughts finally fielding a team as-good-as if not outright-better-than the Yankees, also helping dramatically ramp up the intensity between the two franchises was MLB’s implementation of the unbalanced schedule at the outset of the 2001 season. This of course expanded the number of times the Sox and Yanks faced off from 12-13 games a year to 18-19.

To illustrate just how closely matched the Yankees and Red Sox have become, the following two graphs depict the Yankees’ and Red Sox’ offense and pitching staffs since 1995, which seemed like a notable cutoff as it marks the advent of LDS play. There’s too much information presented to include labels, so if you’re interested in the raw data behind the creation of the graphs, please feel free to click here.

The two teams have been in a near-dead heat offensively since 1995, with the Yankees leading all of baseball with a .351 wOBA during that time frame (112 wRC+) and the Sox boasting the second-most-potent offensive attack at .349 and 107 wRC+. While the Sox have generally out-slugged the Yankees, the Bombers have typically been a tad more adept at getting on base. Additionally, given the favorable offensive environment that comes with playing 81 home games at Fenway Park, the Yankees have led the Red Sox in adjusted offense (wRC+) in 12 of these 17 seasons despite only bettering the Sox in wOBA in nine of them. Perhaps even more impressive regarding the Yankee offensive attack is that it’s been above average (100 wRC+) in each and every season depicted here, while the Sox actually posted below-league-average offensive attacks in 2000, 2001 and 2006.

On the flip side, the rich offensive environment at Fenway makes pitching in Boston a tougher-than-normal task — that difficulty level has helped propel the Red Sox to tie or better the Yankees in adjusted ERA (ERA-) in 10 of these 17 seasons, and even more impressively, tie or better the Bombers in adjusted FIP (FIP-) in 13 of the last 17 seasons. However, one thing I was not expecting to find was that the Yankees actually lead the AL in both ERA and FIP since 1995, with 4.25 and 4.17 marks, respectively. The Sox are fourth in ERA, at 4.32, and second in FIP (4.19).

Even though the rivalry didn’t really heat up until the early aughts, if you go back to 1995 the two teams really have been quite even head-to-head over the last 17 seasons. Since 1995, the Yankees are 145-134 against Boston, with a 75-64 record at home and 70-70 mark at Fenway Park. However, if you change the cutoff to 2003, the Yankees have actually been slightly outplayed by the Red Sox, with an 82-84 record (42-41 at home and 40-43 at Fenway). Additionally, since 2003, the two teams each feature identical MLB-leading .352 wOBAs (though the Yankees get the slight edge after park adjusting, with a 114 wRC+ to Boston’s 111).

After years of essentially playing each other at a .500 clip, things spiraled comically out of control last season, as the Yankees started the year out losing eight of their first nine against Boston (a showing of ineptitude eerily reminiscent of the 2009 team’s 0-8 start against the Sox), due in part to an obscenely prolific Boston offense that was treating seemingly every member of the Yankee pitching staff as if they were Jose Cano in the 2011 Home Run Derby. However, instead of rallying to tie the season series like they did two years prior, the Bombers ultimately finished 2011 with a 6-12 record against the Sox — the Yankees’ worst winning percentage against Boston in a season since going 4-8 in 1999.

Despite dropping 12 of 18 contests against a heated division rival, the Yankees still managed to not only win the 2011 AL East, but also finished the season with the best record in the league, while the Fenway faithful had to endure perhaps the most historic (and horrific) late-season collapse in baseball history. Of course, even though the Red Sox have now missed the playoffs two years running — while boasting the top offense in baseball this past season (116 wRC+) and the second-best in 2010 (109 wRC+) — and haven’t won a postseason game since 2008, they remain one of the top teams in the American League and will undoubtedly give the Yankees fits again in 2012.

Starting Pitching

For one, if Josh Beckett can come close to approximating his 2011 against the Yankees — a season in which the Bombers acted as if they’d somehow never before seen Beckett, whose 1.85 ERA vs. New York in 34 innings was bettered only by Brandon Morrow’s 1.74 among pitchers who threw 20 or more innings against the Bombers — they’ll be trotting out a near-unhittable righty in probably five to six of the 18 games the two teams will play.

For another, if Jon Lester returns to his pre-2011 form, which saw him toss to a 1.19 ERA against the Yankees in 2008, a 4.43 ERA  in 2009 (if you take out the aberrant 2.1-inning, five-run outing on September 25 of that year, the ERA drops to 2.70) and a 2.13 ERA in 2010 — including carrying no-hitters into the sixth inning in both his August and September starts — they’ll be trotting out a near-unhittable lefty to take up another five to six of the remaining games, which means Boston will likely have a big-time pitcher on the mound in more than half their contests against the Yankees. Throw in Clay Buchholz, who has historically tended to struggle against the Yanks but appeared as though he’d finally figured something out in limiting the Bombers to two runs over seven innings in his last start against them on May 13, and Boston looks to have as formidable a top three in its rotation as any team out there.

With punching bag John Lackey out for the year and Daisuke Matsuzaka not expected back until late May, question marks abound surrounding the fourth and fifth slots in the Boston rotation — can Daniel Bard successfully make the transition from top-flight fireballing set-up man to successful starting pitcher? Will southpaw Felix Doubront or old friend Alfredo Aceves grab hold of one of the available holes in the rotation? And can the Red Sox’s starting pitching situation possibly be as bad again as it was in September of 2011, when they were forced to give nine of 27 starts to the troika of Andrew Miller, Kyle Weiland and Tim Wakefield while watching their stalwarts turn in enough ineffective performances to let the Rays come all the way back and sneak past them on the very last day of the season? Fortunately for Boston — whose pitching staff turned in a 5.84 ERA in the month of September — the answer to the latter question is almost certainly no, although whether any of the in-house candidates can step up and solidify the team’s biggest area of need will likely determine if the Sox make it back to the playoffs or get relegated to their couches for a third straight October.

The Bullpen

Though they lost elite closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies during the offseason, new Boston GM Ben Cherington rebuilt his bullpen on the fly with a series of interesting moves, acquiring former Athletics closer Andrew Bailey for outfielder (and designated-player-who-gets-a-hit-every-time-up-against-the-Yankees-even-though-he-sucks-against-everyone-else) Josh Reddick, and replacing Bard with former Yankee wunderkind Mark Melancon, acquired for Jed Lowrie (see Reddick’s description). Given the fungibility of relief pitching performances, I wouldn’t expect the Red Sox ‘pen — which actually finished the year with the fourth-best ERA and top FIP in the AL despite a wretched April — to miss a beat. Expect Aceves to log his share of relief innings, while Michael Bowden, lefty Franklin Morales, Matt Albers and Andrew Miller appear to be on their way to at least starting the year in the Boston bullpen.

Offense

As for the 2012 Red Sox offense, while I’m certainly pleased as punch that flies-in-the-ointment Lowrie (.330/.423/.534 career against the Yankees) and Reddick (annoying walk-off hit) are gone, Boston’s offensive attack remains relatively unchanged from the relentless machine that pounded out an MLB-high .347 wOBA last season. Jacoby Ellsbury will look to prove the doubters that the adjustments he made are here to stay, while Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis (if he can finally stay healthy) and Adrian Gonzalez make for one of the most potent hearts of any order in all of baseball. Add in another presumed solid season from David Ortiz (who is apparently immune to the dead cat bounce) and a year that has no choice but to be better from Carl Crawford (whenever he returns from the DL), and the Sox have no holes from 1-6 in their lineup.

Additionally, as if they weren’t already potent enough as it is, this is a crew of hitters that seems to save its best work for when they play the Yankees — Pedroia hit .406/.463/.565 (!) across 81 PAs against the Bombers last year, and has a career .392 OBP (again, !) against the Yanks; Youk has a career .313/.442(!)/.498 line against the Yanks; Ellsbury tagged the Yanks for a ridiculous .375/.439/.708 line last year to bolster his .291/.356/.443 career line; and of course, there’s Big Papi, who hit .282/.378/.577 with five bombs against the Yanks in 2011 and has utterly annihilated the Bombers throughout his career to the tune of a .303/.391/.559 line across 741 PAs, including 800,000 (fine, 36) career home runs. Given these numbers, it feels like nothing less than a minor miracle any time a Yankee pitcher can actually retire one of these batters.

However, some cracks in the armor start to appear in the lineup’s lower-third, where new manager Bobby Valentine will generally be starting some combination of Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.319 wOBA in 2011), Cody Ross (.321), Ryan Sweeney (.306), Mike Aviles (.307 wOBA, though .338 as a Red Sock) and Nick Punto (a completely out-of-character .350 wOBA in 2011; .296 for his career). While Saltalamacchia looked like he was finally coming into his own last season none of these players seem overly threatening, although then again I’m sure I would’ve said the same thing about Mark Bellhorn had I been blogging during the 2003-2004 offseason, who rebounded from a .296 wOBA in 2003 to post a .360 mark in 2004 after he joined the Red Sox. For whatever reason, donning a Boston uniform seems to turn even the scrubbiest of players into superstars from time to time, so I’m prepared to eat my words when Boston’s bottom third starts tearing the cover off the ball.

Conclusion

CAIRO has the Red Sox at 92-70, tied with the Rays for second place in the AL East; PECOTA pegs them at 90-72, also in second place in the ALE; and Oliver has them at 92-70 and second-best record in the AL. All three of these scenarios would entail the Sox securing one of the two AL Wild Card berths and playing the one-game playoff to advance to the LDS round, and so barring another disaster, Boston is most likely playoff-bound in 2012.

The Yankees’ first set of the season against Boston is at Fenway Park from April 20-22, and as ridiculous as I find conspiracy theories, at this point I almost can’t help but wonder whether the schedule-makers have it in for the Yanks by once again scheduling an April series at Fenway. Since the advent of the unbalanced schedule in 2001, the Yankees are — believe it or not — a ridiculously bad 8-22 at Fenway Park in April, and have only won their annual April set at Fenway against the Red Sox once (back in April 2010)  in that 11-year span. Not only that, but prior to their April 2010 series win, the last time the Yankees had won an April set against Boston at Fenway was in 1975. So yeah, needless to say I’m really excited to be playing the Red Sox in April at Fenway again, you guys.

The Yankees and their young pitchers

(Warren by J. Meric/Getty; Phelps by Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com; Mitchell by Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)

Following the conclusion of the chapter about the Yankees in the 2012 Baseball Prospectus Annual — a tome edited by The Pinstriped Bible’s (and now Bleacher Report’s) Steven Goldman, and, given his expertise, presumably also featuring his contributions to the chapter devoted to the Bombers — I was inspired to do some research in response to the seemingly endless number of accusations leveled at the team regarding its supposed reluctance to deploy its young pitchers in favor of established veterans.

Now, anyone who reads Steve over at the Pinstriped Bible with any regularity — and lest this post come across as derisive, I’ve long been a big fan of Steve’s work, and have enjoyed his intellectual, verbose and witty take on the state of the Yankees at the Pinstriped Bible ever since I discovered the wonderful world of Yankee blogs back in 2004 — is no doubt familiar with this particular war cry, which seemed to come to a boiling point in the aftermath of Brian Cashman signing journeyman Brian Gordon to spot start against the Rangers on Thursday, June 16, instead of letting one of Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, David Phelps or D.J. Mitchell make their first career Major-League start (and in the case of the latter three, first Major-League appearance). Brien Jackson of IIATMS wrote an eloquent rebuttal at the time (and as also noted by our own Moshe, the Gordon decision was likely entirely driven by not wanting to add a player to the 40-man roster just to make  two starts), but in light of this favored Goldman criticism littering not only the team overview in the Annual, but basically the capsule for every pitcher in the Yankees’ system, I was curious to see just how much water it actually carried.

The below chart lists the number of starters Age 25 or below by team that made their Major League debuts in the last decade. This data was compiled utilizing Baseball-Reference’s Play Index.

As you can see, the Yankees, with nine hurlers, ostensibly fall in the middle of the pack when it comes to letting youngsters make their MLB debuts as starting pitchers. Toronto has debuted the most starting pitchers under 25 during this time frame, with 16, and Seattle the least, with five. The MLB average? 10, or just one more than the Yankees have. This means that, on average, an MLB team will debut one starter under age 25 per year.

There were also cries of despair a little over a month after the Gordon incident, when it looked like Adam Warren might get a shot to start the second game of a doubleheader against the Orioles, but that plan was ultimately scuttled when Ivan Nova — who to that point had already somewhat established himself as a viable, under-25-year-old pitcher — was deemed fit to start. Now I’m not trying to argue that Warren, Phelps, et. al. shouldn’t have been given the opportunity to start one of these games, but rather, in a historical context, Goldman was twice looking for the Yankees to do something — let an under-25 pitcher make his MLB debut as a starter — that many teams let happen maybe once a season.

Further expanding on that point, it seems to me that if the Yankees truly believed that if one of Phelps, Warren or Mitchell were indeed ready to toe the MLB rubber last June, then they would have had that happen. Not that I don’t want to see a young kid be given a chance to succeed, but on the flip side, no one knows these players better than the Yankees. There’s an assumption being made here that just because the AAA pitchers have youth on their side they are going to automatically perform as well or better than hypothetical alternatives.

As much as everyone’s been talking about the starting pitching depth the Yankees have, both at the Major League level and at AAA, it’s being conveniently overlooked that the Warrens, Phelps and Mitchells of the world have all continually been scouted and described as #4/#5-type starters at best. For all the hand-wringing the Brian Gordon decision seemed to result in last year, clearly Cash felt that particular move gave the Yankees a better chance to win at that moment in time than bringing up a kid with back-end starter potential. Gordon gave the Yankees two starts, and they went 1-1 in those contests. Could one of the kids done the same thing? Perhaps, but what happens to, say, Warren’s development if he comes up and pulls a Chase Wright, whose career essentially ended after he gave up four consecutive home runs to the Red Sox? The only reason they went to guys like Wright and Matt DeSalvo that season to begin with was because they had no choice, not because they were stud prospects lighting the world on fire at AAA and forcing their way into the MLB picture.

For all the talk about stalling development, it seems like Warren, Phelps and/or Mitchell would’ve been given a chance in the Majors by now if the team deemed them ready or felt like any of them had an opportunity to be a legitimate part of the future. Ivan Nova — who the team apparently thought so little of that he was actually left unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft — turned his career around and impressed Yankee brass enough to deservedly get his shot. Even Hector Noesi — though many would have liked to have seen him start earlier in the season last year — got his shot in relief. There was a fair amount of statistical evidence that supported these promotions.

The Yankees have also given Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain every chance in the world to prove themselves at the MLB level — Joba for one has never been back to the minors — even if I haven’t always been a massive fan of the way the team has handled each pitcher’s development — underscoring that when the team believes it has elite, young, sub-25 talent on its hands that need to be in the Majors now, they will get their opportunities.

While there’s certainly value in back-of-the-rotation starters, that type of pitcher is less valuable to a team like the Yankees that typically requires frontline starters to compete in the gauntlet that is the American League East. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if any or all of the members of that triumvirate found success in the National League.

Here are the nine under-25 starters that have made their MLB debuts as a Yankee during the last decade:

Rk Gcar Player Age Date ? Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc WPA
1 1 Ian Kennedy 22.256 2007-09-01 TBD W 9-6 GS-7 ,W 7.0 5 3 1 2 6 1 96 63 0.090
2 1 Tyler Clippard 22.095 2007-05-20 NYM W 6-2 GS-6 ,W 6.0 3 1 1 3 6 1 95 65 0.166
3 1 Phil Hughes 20.306 2007-04-26 TOR L 0-6 GS-5 ,L 4.1 7 4 4 1 5 0 91 37 -0.133
4 1 Chase Wright 24.068 2007-04-17 CLE W 10-3 GS-5 ,W 5.0 5 3 3 3 3 1 104 45 0.030
5 1 Jeff Karstens 23.332 2006-08-22 SEA L 5-6 GS-6 5.2 6 3 3 2 2 2 93 45 -0.027
6 1 Sean Henn 24.011 2005-05-04 TBD L 8-11 GS-3 ,L 2.1 7 6 5 2 0 0 72 19 -0.462
7 1 Chien-Ming Wang 25.030 2005-04-30 TOR W 4-3 GS-7 7.0 6 2 2 2 0 0 81 55 0.259
8 1 Brad Halsey 23.126 2004-06-19 LAD W 6-2 GS-6 ,W 5.2 5 2 2 1 3 1 108 53 0.125
9 1 Brandon Claussen 24.058 2003-06-28 (2) NYM W 9-8 GS-7 ,W 6.1 8 2 1 1 5 1 105 55 0.216
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/21/2012.

Outside of Ian Kennedy and Chien-Ming Wang, none of these players went on to anything approaching sustained success as a Major League starter.

The list unsurprisingly expands if you change the input to relievers under 25 making their MLB debuts, and if you take the list and add the pitchers who have since spent their careers starting or are expected to primarily start — Ross Ohlendorf, Nova, Noesi and Dellin Betances — the Yankees’ total rises from nine to 12. And I realize we can play that game with every other team, but the overarching point is that it’s simply not true that the Yankees are afraid to give their young pitchers a shot.

Rk Gcar Player Age Date ? Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit WPA
1 1 Andrew Brackman 25.292 2011-09-22 TBR L 8-15 6-7 1.1 1 0 0 1 0 0 32 0.000
2 1 Dellin Betances 23.183 2011-09-22 TBR L 8-15 8-8 0.2 0 2 2 4 0 0 27 -0.004
3 1 Steve Garrison 24.316 2011-07-25 SEA W 10-3 9-9f 0.2 0 0 0 0 0 0 9 0.000
4 1 Hector Noesi 24.112 2011-05-18 BAL W 4-1 12-15f,W 4.0 4 0 0 4 4 0 66 0.450
5 1 Ivan Nova 23.121 2010-05-13 DET L 0-6 7-8f 2.0 2 0 0 0 1 0 30 0.002
6 1 Michael Dunn 24.104 2009-09-04 TOR L 0-6 7-7 0.2 0 2 2 3 0 0 19 -0.002
7 1 Mark Melancon 24.029 2009-04-26 BOS L 1-4 7-8f 2.0 1 0 0 1 1 0 22 0.024
8 1 Anthony Claggett 24.277 2009-04-18 CLE L 4-22 2-3 1.2 9 8 8 2 2 2 60 -0.108
9 1 Humberto Sanchez 25.113 2008-09-18 CHW W 9-2 8-8 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0 11 0.002
10 1 Alfredo Aceves 25.267 2008-08-31 TOR L 2-6 8-9f 2.0 0 0 0 0 3 0 19 0.014
11 1 David Robertson 23.081 2008-06-29 NYM L 1-3 6-7 2.0 4 1 1 0 1 0 33 -0.025
12 1 Ross Ohlendorf 25.034 2007-09-11 TOR W 9-2 9-9f 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0 11 0.002
13 1 Joba Chamberlain 21.318 2007-08-07 TOR W 9-2 8-9f 2.0 1 0 0 2 2 0 33 0.006
14 1 Jose Veras 25.289 2006-08-05 BAL L 0-5 7-8f 2.0 0 0 0 1 0 0 24 0.005
15 1 T.J. Beam 25.293 2006-06-17 WSN L 9-11 6-7 ,H 1.1 3 2 2 0 1 1 33 -0.065
16 1 Jorge De Paula 24.299 2003-09-05 BOS L 3-9 8-9f 2.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 23 0.003
17 1 Jason Anderson 23.295 2003-03-31 TOR W 8-4 9-9 0.0 2 2 2 0 0 0 8 -0.015
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/21/2012.

Whether or not they merit that shot is clearly a different story. In the cases of Warren, Mitchell and Phelps, simply being young doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” especially if the Yankees ultimately don’t see these players fitting into their long-term plans.

There have also been some rumblings about how the return of the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte to the rotation will further impact the development of the AAA contingent (my pal Brad Vietrogoski has a typically well-thought-out response to that development), to which I say, great — hopefully the rotation crunch will motivate Warren, Phelps and Mitchell to pitch their butts off, throw to mid-2.00 ERAs in the International League, and absolutely force the Yankees to have no choice but to give them a chance. I’d love to see them make it to the Show, but make it because they absolutely deserved/earned it, not just because they’re young. We’ve seen the Yankees bring young guys up when they weren’t ready and after a couple of turns, the results were less-than-pretty and derailed careers. Maybe, just maybe, the team is learning from its mistakes.

Pettittef/x

Welcome back, old friend. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty)

At this point the wonderful news of Andy Pettitte‘s return to the fold has already been covered to death, and so there’s no need to rehash all of the details here. As a Yankee fan I’m thrilled, and as a statistical analyst I’m equally thrilled (I did something of an ode to Andy a little over a year ago, so be sure to have a look at that). Andy has been a pillar of consistency throughout his career. To wit:

1995-2003: 3.94 ERA (86 ERA-)/3.73 FIP (83 FIP-)/3.41 xFIP (77 xFIP-), 6.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 49.3% GB%
2004-2006: 3.38 ERA (77 ERA-)/3.58 FIP (81 FIP-)/3.41 xFIP (77 xFIP-), 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 50.4% GB%
2007-2010: 4.08 ERA (92 ERA-)/3.89 FIP (88 FIP-)/4.05 xFIP (93 xFIP-), 6.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 46.9% GB%

However, today I’m primarily concerned with reviewing Pettitte’s stuff, and thankfully with Brooks’ excessively robust and reclassified new PITCHf/x database, we can have a more advanced look at what Pettitte did during the last few seasons of his career than ever before. The following table I’ve compiled details takes a look at each of Pettitte’s five pitches during the last three years he was active across a variety of categories. PitchIQ is ostensibly the equivalent of OPS+/ERA+; 100 is league average, while anything above is above-average and below is below-average. This is outstanding, as it gives us an idea of how well or poorly Andy’s pitches fared in comparison to his peers.

While he’s never had blow-you-away stuff, Andy’s been an incredibly successful Major Leaguer (and perhaps borderline Hall-of-Famer) due in part to his ability to hit his spots and change his speeds with a variety of secondary pitches that play off his 90mph fastball. According to Lucas’ and Harry’s reclassified PITCHf/x data, during his last three seasons in pinstripes Pettitte threw a fastball, sinker, cutter, curveball and changeup. Interestingly, ESPN’s Stats & Info blog put up a post last week detailing how one of the keys to Pettitte’s success in 2010 was his slider; however, according to this data Pettitte throws no such thing. I don’t know what data ESPN is being supplied with, but I’m inclined to go with the guys who manually reclassified more than 3 million pitches.

Per our data, Andy’s bread-and-butter — at least on a whiff/swing basis — has been his cutter, with a whiff/swing% an impressive 37% better than league average in 2010. None of his other pitches generated an above-average percentage of whiffs/swing. Part of the reason Andy’s able to get away with not having overpowering stuff is that his sinker and changeup each got him ground balls more than 50% of the time in 2010.

The one aspect of the PitchIQ Scores I’m still trying to get a firm read on is how to interpret them when it comes to LD/BIP and FB/BIP. I have an e-mail into Dan Brooks about this, and I’m pretty sure that we need to be looking at the PitchIQ Scores for these two categories as if they were “minus stats,” (i.e., below 100 is above-average and vice versa), given that general baseball convention holds that lower flyball and line drive percentages are thought of as a good thing. If my interpretation is indeed correct, both Pettitte’s curve and cutter have helped him limit the percentage of line drives, although the cutter is his only pitch that yields a FB% higher than 30%.

I also compiled Pettitte’s platoon splits from 2007-2010, although I won’t make your eyes glaze over by also posting a JPEG of that chart; feel free to download it here if you’d like. The gist of it is, Pettitte, as one would expect, handles righties and lefties with equal aplomb, although he’s really really good against same-side batters, with a PitchIQ whiff/swing of 148 on his cutter against lefties. For comparison’s sake, Jon Lester’s cutter against lefties during the same time period was 16% above average; while Cliff Lee’s is, rather surprisingly, 4% below league average. That doesn’t seem like it could be right, although then again for as good as Lee is I guess he’s always been a bit more about generating weak contact than outright overpowering hitters with strikeouts (though it’s not as if a 7.6 K/9 since 2007 is anything to sneeze at).

Conclusion and projections

So how well will Andy fare? Clearly if he can come close to throwing the way he’d been throwing during 2010, the Yankees will be adding a bona fide #2/#3 lefty starter at some point in May, which is just awesome to think about. Of course, only Andy knows how his soon-to-be 40-year-old body will react to returning to the grind of retiring Major League hitters and whether he still has the craftiness he’ll need to succeed.

Mike covered Pettitte’s ZiPS projection earlier this week, which sees a 4.45 ERA and 1.5 WAR for Pettitte in 125.1 IP. Marcel has Pettitte at 73 innings of non-adjusted 4.07 ERA/4.06 FIP ball; while SG’s baseline forecast (which is park- and league-adjusted) calls for 127 innings of 4.01 ERA/4.00 FIP ball. The 65% CAIRO forecast is even sunnier, with 140 innings of 3.69 ERA/3.64 FIP ball. All things considered, those are some pretty robust projections for an older player who skipped an entire season of work, and if he’s able to approximate some sort of amalgam of those numbers the Yankees will be in very good shape.

The 2012 New York Yankees All-Projection Team

Much of the 2012 Yankee offense's fortunes are riding on your shoulders, pal. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

After an offeason’s worth of projections, it’s finally time to aggregate everything and see just how good our beloved pinstripers look on paper. Loyal readers will recall I did this last year, as well.

Below you’ll see each player’s final 2011 line, along with their average 2012 projected line. In this instance, the average has been compiled from the eight major projection systems — Bill James, CAIRO, Oliver, Rotochamp, PECOTA, ZiPS, Steamer and Tango’s Marcel. Despite the variations in calculation method with each system along with the fact that they’re not all park- and league-adjusted, I’ve found that a straight average of the systems’ projections generally winds up being a fairly reasonable benchmark.

Additionally, I’ll repeat the immortal words of SG one last time: “Projections are inherently limited, so remember to take these for what they are. They are rough estimates of a player’s current talent level, and are not predictions.”

Offense

The Yankees will, for the umpteenth year in a row, feature a robust offensive attack in 2012, with no starter projected to have a below-league average (.316 in 2011, for your reference) wOBA. Derek Jeter looks to be the weakest component of the offensive attack, though he’ll outhit that .324 average projected wOBA if he comes anywhere close to replicating his second-half surge last summer. Derek’s high-water projection is James’ .333 wOBA, while ZiPS thinks Derek is essentially cooked, with a .309 projection.

After a bit of a disappointing campaign with the stick in 2011, Brett Gardner should get on base more frequently assuming he gets his IFFB% closer to his career figure of a still-worse-than-league-average 14%, rather than last year’s 19.6% (which nearly lead the league). Rotochamp loves itself some Gardner, with a .343 projection, while Oliver is unimpressed and thinks Gardner will continue to hit the skids with a .320 wOBA.

Russell Martin projects for more OBP and less power than he showed in 2011, though I think we’ll see a stronger campaign from Russell in 2012, due in part to a presumed increased comfort level along with a desire for a substantial free-agent pact. James likes Martin for a high-water .355 wOBA — a level he’s only exceeded once — while Marcel has Martin falling to .311.

Both Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are projected for significantly less-potent seasons, though in my opinion those are pretty conservative estimates and I feel comfortable expecting at least a .375 wOBA out of the Yankees’ two most potent offensive forces. Rotochamp likes Granderson at .379, while Marcel and Oliver are each at a much more bearish .351; Rotochamp also has the high-water projection got Cano at .369, while Steamer is at .355.

The Yankees’ two former heavyweights, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, are also expected to help continue to carry the offense. At .370, Tex actually has the most significantly improved average projected wOBA on the team, representing a .009 increase from his actual 2011 production. James likes Tex for a .382 wOBA; while Marcel has him at a non-park-adjusted .357 for the low-water mark. A-Rod‘s average .361 projected wOBA is exactly what he put up in 2011, although component-wise the systems see slightly more power for Alex and slightly less OBP. While at this point I don’t know that it’s reasonable to be disappointed with Alex posting another .361 wOBA year in his age 36 season, if he can stay healthy it also doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a wOBA somewhere in the .370s or higher. Strangely enough, PECOTA — which doesn’t really like anyone, and generally saves most of its venom for aging veterans — actually boasts the most optimistic A-Rod forecast, pegging him for a .509 SLG and making him one of only 15 players in all of MLB the system even projects to SLG above .500 (Tex is in there, too). On the flip side, the ever-negative Oliver sees Alex regressing to a non-park-adjusted .350 wOBA.

If we plug each player’s projected OBP and SLG into Dave Pinto’s Lineup Analysis tool, we get a lineup projected to average roughly 5.3 runs per game against lefties (with Andruw Jones at DH), and the same against righties (with Ibanez at DH). The Yankees’ runs-per-game averages for the last five seasons starting with 2011 are 5.4, 5.3, 5.7, 4.9 and 6.0, so 5.3 for the starting lineup should be just fine.

Starting Pitching

Though Sweaty Freddy is expected to begin the year in the bullpen I’ve thrown him in for comparison’s sake. Unsurprisingly Freddy also projects as the least-effective of the six starting candidates. Despite a horrid season, most projection systems still love Phil Hughes, with Bill James going so far as to project a 3.71 ERA/3.82 FIP (albeit in 102 innings), while the ever-pessimistic PECOTA also appears to still be a Hughes fanboy, projecting a 3.84 ERA over 135 innings.

None of the systems think Ivan Nova can reproduce his 2011, although Marcel’s non-park-adjusted 3.88 ERA/3.89 FIP is the most optimistic. On the flip side, PECOTA thinks Nova’s a joke, with 156 innings of 5.03 ERA ball.

Both Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda‘s average projections seem eminently reasonable to me in the AL East; truly, if the Yanks can record a second straight season of three starters giving 100-plus innings of sub-4.00 ERAs (thanks to CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia) — something that hasn’t happened for the Yankees in back-to-back seasons since 2001-2002 — needless to say they will be in excellent shape.

For those interested in simulations, the most recent iteration of CAIRO (run over a month ago) had the 2012 Yankees as the best team in baseball, at 97-65 (five games ahead of Tampa Bay); Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA also has the Yankees with the best record in baseball, at 95-67 (five games ahead of Boston); and even THT’s get-off-my-lawn Oliver forecasting system has the Yankees with the best record in baseball, at 95-67 (three games ahead of Boston).

While, as per usual, many things will need to go the Yankees’ way for the team to reach these projections, it’s tough to quibble with a roster universally projected to be the best in baseball heading into the season.