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.

Yankee designated hitter production of recent vintage, and a look at 2012

One of the bitterest pills to swallow in the aftermath of the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade was the fact that the Yankees were removing what many expected to be a substantial cog in the offensive machine, not only in 2012 but for years to come. Prior to being traded, Montero’s average projected wOBA for 2012 was .360 (his revised projections as a Mariner average out to a .347 wOBA, or .272/.334/.461), which was the fifth-best projected wOBA of the projected starting Yankee nine.

Interestingly, for all of Brian Cashman‘s skill at building an incredibly talented roster on the offensive side of the equation, getting robust production out of the DH slot in the lineup has never really seemed to be a primary interest. To wit (as always, click to embiggen):

Of the 14 Yankee teams Cash has presided over, they have received below-league average production (sOPS+) out of the DH slot five times. That may not seem like a lot, but it is a tad eyebrow-raising given how robust the Yankee offense has been with Cash at the helm. Only four times has the team received DH production 10% better than league average in the last 14 seasons, which seems like a fairly large waste of resources when considering we’re talking about a lineup slot solely extant to produce offense.

Cashman’s high-water mark DH season was 2009, the year in which Hideki Matsui had primary designated hitter duties and responded with a DH campaign 19% better than the league. The Yankees also got a surprising amount of production out of the 2008 DH, which was mostly filled by Jason Giambi, along with Matsui and Johnny Damon. The only other really standout year for DH production above was 1998, which saw Darryl Strawberry, Rock Raines and Chili Davis collaborate on a .276/.378/.493 line.

That .360 projected wOBA for a Montero as a Yankee worked out to roughly a .270/.360/.470 triple slash, mighty fine production out of a 21-year-old, not to mention a line that would’ve been among the better performances the Yankees received from the DH during the last 14 seasons. However, for all the hullabaloo about the Yankees wanting to fill Montero’s vacated production, it appears they’ll have a pretty good shot at doing just that with the platoon of Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez.

In 2011, Andruw Jones put up the following slash against LHP  in 146 PAs: .286/.384/.540, .400 wOBA.
In 2011, Raul Ibanez put up the following slash against RHP in 437 PAs: .256/.307/.440, .322 wOBA.

If you average those lines (and obviously this is exceptionally rough math, as the PAs are not even close to comparable), you get a .271/.346/.490, .361 wOBA hitter. Docking for the fact that PAs against RHP are roughly double those against LHP and you’re probably close to a .340 wOBA hitter, which is right around the average of SG’s 2012 CAIRO-projected platoon splits for Jones (.337 vs. LHP) and Ibanez (.349 vs. RHP).

While Jones probably won’t produce a .400 wOBA against LHP again, on the flip side Ibanez seems like a fairly reasonable bet to outdo a .322 wOBA against RHP with 81 games at Yankee Stadium, and taken together I don’t think it’s terribly unrealistic to expect the duo to combine for somewhere in the neighborhood of a .350 wOBA. While that may not quite be Jesus Montero territory, it should be enough for the Yankee offense to not miss much of a beat, especially when considering the ~.309 wOBA received from Jorge Posada in the majority of DH plate appearances in 2011.