2012 Season Preview: Power Sources

Granderson provided more power than any other Yankee in 2011. (via Reuters Images)

Since the Yankees’ 2009 championship run, power has largely defined the offense. In both 2009 and 2011 the Yankees led the majors in isolated power, and in 2010 they finished third. They’ve hit 15 more home runs than any other team in that three-year span. Even more impressively, they’ve done this at a time when they’re getting less and less from their once-premier slugger, Alex Rodriguez. But that’s the point, really. The Yankees have many power sources, which helps keep the team ahead of the pack.

Curtis Granderson

When the Yankees traded for Granderson after the 2009 season, people salivated over his power potential. He’d just smacked 30 home runs while playing half his games in homer-suppressing Comerica Park. What could he do with the short porch at Yankee Stadium? It wasn’t uncommon to hear predictions of 40 homers. While that didn’t come immediately, it did last season.

From the start Granderson’s power was evident. Not only did he homer on Opening Day, but he did so against a lefty. He continued belting homers throughout the year, putting on his best displays in May and August. This was made possible in large part because of his improvement against left-handed pitching. In 2010 he managed a paltry .120 ISO against lefties, hitting just four of his 24 homers against them. In 2011 he actually had a higher ISO against lefties than against righties, .325 to .273. If that’s a real effect of the adjustments he made to his swing, the Yanks will continue reaping the benefits in 2012.

Andruw Jones

The Yankees originally signed Jones last winter, because he added some right-handed pop to an outfield that featured two flawed lefties. One had little power, and the other, to that point, had shown little power against lefties. Jones was coming off a season in which he mashed lefties, producing a .302 ISO and hitting eight homers in 102 PA. But a slow start threatened to end the relationship prematurely, as Jones produced little power through June. From then on, though, he was phenomenal.

While his power numbers against lefties were a bit better than against righties, he still produced solid overall power numbers. In fact, his .234 ISO against right-handed pitchers was higher than Robinson Cano‘s ISO on the season.* He comes back this year with a chance to play a bigger role and provide even more power. While Jones is nowhere near the player he was during his heyday with the Braves, his ability to hit baseballs with authority has kept him well employed in the last few years.

*This is not a demonstrative statement, just a little illustration of how well Jones did hit against righties in his limited at-bats against them.

Mark Teixeira

The story of Mark Teixeira’s 2010 and 2011 seasons centers on overall disappointment. His batting average dropped precipitously, and it affected all of his numbers. That is, except his power numbers. While they look low on a superficial level, that’s in part because power numbers are down across the league. Last year in particular he produced very good power numbers, ranking 12th in the majors in ISO and fourth in home runs.

Unless he brings up his batting average, which will in turn prop up his other numbers, Teixeira will be seen as a disappointment. But even if he doesn’t, he’ll still provide an excellent source of power. Batting in the fifth spot, that could come in handy. He might miss out an opportunity for an RBI single, but he can clear the bases with a homer as well as almost anyone else in the majors.

Robinson Cano

Since his early days in the league, people saw in Cano a perpetual .300 hitter. At the same time, they saw his smooth as silk swing and thought that he could drive plenty of pitches over the fence. Yet in his first four seasons he failed to crack 20 home runs. It wasn’t until 2009 that he found his true power stroke. He hit 25 that year and has topped that in the following two. Could 2012 be the year he finally cracks 30?

The best part about Cano’s increased home run output is that it hasn’t affected his gap power. That is, he’s not driving pitches over the fence that he once drove into the gap. From 2009 through 2011 he ranks second in the majors in doubles with 135, seven ahead of No. 3, Miguel Cabrera, and five behind No. 1, Billy Butler. At the same time he ranks No. 23 with 82 home runs in that span. Perhaps most impressively of all, he’s No. 3 in total bases during the last three seasons.

Alex Rodriguez

Rounding out the middle of the order is a player whose production has faded a bit in the last few years. Clearly injuries hampered Rodriguez in 2010, to the point where he provided no more power than Nick Swisher. That he missed nearly two months of action, among all of his ailments, didn’t help his cause. In a year when the Yankees hit, according to some, too many home runs, Rodriguez managed just 16, sixth most on the team.

During his prime years, from 2001 through 2007, Rodriguez averaged a .287 ISO. It’s unlikely that, even if healthy, he reaches that mark again. But he did produce a .236 ISO in 2010, and .245 in 2009. Those are higher than the marks that he produced in 2006 and 2004, times when the offensive environment was a bit more potent than it has been recently. If he can simply reach those levels in 2012, hitting 30 homers and 30 doubles with a solid batting average, he’ll produce enough power for the Yankees’ already powerful lineup.

The Top Storylines of 2012

Every season has storylines, some more interesting than others. Last year was all about Jesus Montero‘s arrival, Bartolo Colon‘s resurrection, Mariano Rivera capturing the all-time saves crown, and Derek Jeter‘s pursuit of his 3,000th career hit. We’re unlikely to see any historic milestones in 2012 unless Alex Rodriguez goes bonkers (31 HR away from tying Willie Mays for the fourth most all-time), but there will still be plenty of intriguing storylines to follow this summer.

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Welcome to New York, Michael Pineda
The tabloids have been falling all over themselves looking for ways to criticize Pineda this month, but come April he will be judged how he should be: on his pitching. The young (turned 23 in January) and massive (listed at 6-foot-7, 270-ish lbs.) right-hander was acquired from the Mariners to add a powerful, high-upside arm to the rotation for the next half-decade. That Montero went the other way in the trade will only make the scrutiny more intense. Pineda is working on his changeup, and every five days he’ll be under that intense New York microscope.

Ivan Nova‘s Encore
Phil Hughes was supposed to be the young homegrown starter who took the big step forward last year, but instead it was Nova. He was dynamite down the stretch after a brief and mostly undeserved trip to the minors, stepping in as the team’s number two starter behind CC Sabathia in the playoffs. He got some Rookie of the Year love and doesn’t have to worry about winning a rotation spot in camp this year, but now comes the hard part: getting better. The perfect world scenario has Pineda and Nova emerging side-by-side over the next few seasons.

Hughes’ Last Chance
The competition for the fifth starter’s job is apparently rigged in Hughes’ favor, possibly his last chance to make his mark as a starter in pinstripes. Injury and ineffectiveness sabotaged his 2011 season, and he didn’t do himself any favors by reporting to camp in less than ideal shape. Hughes rededicated himself to conditioning this offseason and by all accounts has been impressive early in camp. That and $2.25 will get him on the subway. Now just two years away from free agency, results are what matters.

(REUTERS/Scott Audette)

Mark Teixeira‘s Uppercut
It must be nice when a 39 homers and a .361 wOBA constitute a disappointing season, but that’s exactly what happened to Tex last year. He admits to altering his left-handed swing in an effort to take advantage of Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch over the last few years, and says he’s working to correct the problem. His power numbers, walk rate, strikeout rate, and production as a right-handed batter haven’t suffered at all during the last two seasons, so it’s just a matter of shedding that uppercut and getting back to the line drive approach that made him one of the game’s elite hitters. Easier said than done, obviously.

The End of the Line
We haven’t gotten official word yet, but there are strong indications that Mariano Rivera will call it a career after 2012. He says he’s made a decision about his future and nothing will change his mind, not saving a ton of games or being offered a ton of money, and that seems like a really weird thing to say if he was planning on coming back for another season(s). Mo has spoiled the Yankees and their fans for the last 16 years now, and the possibility of not having him around in the ninth inning is scary. Enjoying 2012 as if it will be his final go ’round will be bittersweet.

* * *

I think those are the five most intriguing storylines of 2012, but there are certainly plenty of others worth following. There’s A-Rod‘s health (a perpetual storyline), David Robertson‘s follow-up to his insane season, Hiroki Kuroda‘s transition to the AL East, contract pushes by Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, and potential MVP pushes by Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Which one interests you the most?

{democracy:213}

Open Thread: 3/7 Camp Notes

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

The losing streak now sits at three games after the Rays beat the Yankees by the score of 4-0 this afternoon. Hiroki Kuroda allowed three runs on three hits in the second inning after a perfect first inning, and Rafael Soriano struck out two in his scoreless inning. It was his first game action of the spring. The Yankees only had four hits, including doubles by Nick Swisher and Jose Gil. Andruw Jones had an extra-base hit taken away on a nice running grab by the left fielder with his back to the infield. Clay Rapada retired all four men he faced, striking out the one lefty. Here’s the box score, and here’s the rest from Tampa…

  • Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos, Brad Meyers (all bullpens), and Adam Miller (simulated game) threw today. CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Graham Stoneburner, and Brett Marshall are scheduled for side sessions tomorrow while Mariano Rivera will throw live batting practice. [Chad Jennings]
  • Joba Chamberlain will throw breaking balls for the first time as part of his Tommy John surgery rehab this Saturday. He’ll do so from flat ground first, then get up on a mound. [George King]
  • Mark Teixeira‘s thumb is fine after jamming it on a play at first base yesterday. After Alex Rodriguez‘s thumb issues last season, I was a tad nervous. Tex wasn’t scheduled to play today but is on the travel list for tomorrow’s game. [Sweeny Murti]
  • Eduardo Nunez will take batting practice for the first time tomorrow since getting hit on the right hand with a pitch on Monday. “We’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” he said when asked about possibly playing this weekend. [Anthony McCarron & Erik Boland]
  • Today was motivational speaker day, and the Yankees brought someone in who was apparently tearing phone books in half and rolling frying pans like a fruit roll-up. Whatever works, I guess. [Erik Boland]
  • Yogi Berra arrived at the team’s complex today, which pretty much means that Spring Training is officially underway. [Bryan Hoch]

Here’s tonight’s open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing tonight, but there’s no baseball on MLB Network. That kinda stinks. Talk about whatever your heart desires here, it’s all fair game.

2012 Season Preview: All Day, Every Day

(Via Reuters Images)

When we talk about the core of a team, we can mean many things. From 2007 through 2010 the Yankees had the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. As the remaining relics from the late-90s dynasty, they led the team in spirit. We can also refer to the core producers on the team. Last year Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano were the core run producers. Still, there is one core area of a team that often gets overlooked.

With the grind of a 162-game season, teams need guys who take the field day after day. A few fragile players can fit into a team’s blueprint, but as those injury risks increase so does the need for durability. Part of a team’s core, then, centers on these guys who somehow remain healthy. After all, as friend of RAB Tommy Bennett likes to say, health is a skill.

While anyone can get injured at any time, these guys have proven their durability. That’s a big plus for any team, especially one that expects to contend from wire-to-wire. We’ll limit this to position players.

Mark Teixeira

Since debuting in 2003, Teixeira has played fewer than 145 games in just one season. That came in 2007, when he missed 27 games with a quadriceps strain. Prior to that he’d been on the DL just once. Since then he hasn’t spent a single day on the DL, unless you count his hamstring injury in Game Four of the 2010 ALCS. (Apparently Baseball Prospectus lists that as a zero-day DL stint.) In the last four seasons Teixeira has played in at least 156 games. He has become one of the game’s iron men.

Should Teixeira fall victim to injury, the Yankees do have some backup plans. Eric Chavez has been taking reps at first base this spring, as he did last year. There’s also Nick Swisher, who has played there occasionally as a Yankee. That would seemingly open up a hole in the outfield, but if Andruw Jones proves he’s viable in a regular role the Yankees could opt to use Swisher at first if a long-term need arises.

Nick Swisher

Swisher is the type of player that, as the cliche goes, bends but does not break. His injury history, per Baseball Prospectus, is actually quite long. Yet it consists mostly of day-to-day items that have kept him out one, two, maybe three days at a time. Just once in his career has he spent time on the disabled list, and that came all the way back in 2005 when he separated his shoulder running into an outfield fence. That caused him to miss 19 games. He wouldn’t miss 19 games combined in the next four years, and has missed only 30 games since returning from the DL.

In each of his three years with the Yankees Swisher has played in exactly 150 games. He has racked up at least 607 PA in those years, and has come to the plate 635 times in each of the last two. He’s lost 20 games to various injuries, including his knee and biceps, but he’s never been out of position for any significant stretch. With a greater focus on conditioning — Swisher was noticeably thinner in 2010 and 2011 than he was in 2009 — he could remain one of the Yankees’ most dependable players.

Robinson Cano

Remember back in 2006 when Cano missed 35 games — 43 days — with a hamstring injury he suffered running the bases? That felt like a long time for him to be out. The injury didn’t seem that severe, and the Yankees did downplay it to a degree. But he came back with a fury, hitting .365/.380/.635 to finish the season and contending with Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter for the batting title. Since then Cano has missed two games — two games! — due to injury. This includes the time in 2010 when Josh Beckett hit him right in the friggin’ knee with a pitch; he was back as the DH the very next game.

In the last five years Cano has averaged 159.8 games played per season. He’s dipped below 160 just twice: in 2008, because he got benched in September, and last year, when he got a couple of days off in the season’s final weeks. Considering his on-field production at a premium position, Cano’s durability has been a great boon to the Yankees.

Curtis Granderson

It might seem odd to count Granderson among the more durable Yankee players. He did, after all, suffer a groin injury early in his pinstriped tenure, and that sticks in our craws. But that was just Granderson’s second career trip to the DL. He opened the 2008 season on the DL with a broken finger, suffered as the result of a spring training hit by pitch. He also missed time last spring training with an oblique injury, but that cost him just 10 days. And, as we saw, it had little bearing on his regular season performance.

What’s odd about Granderson’s injury rap sheet is that it contains zero day-to-day injuries. It’s just the fractured finger, the groin injury suffered while running the bases, and the oblique injury. That’s uncommon, especially for someone who plays a physically demanding position.

Derek Jeter

If Jeter’s injury history is long, it’s only because he’s been in the league for 16 years. He’s had his minor dings and dents over the years, many times after being struck in the hand with a pitched baseball. But last year was the first time since 2003 that he hit the disabled list. Between those DL stints he missed just 42 games, which covers seven full seasons and parts of two others. In those seven years he never dipped below 150 games and has averaged just under 155 per season.

The Yankees, then, have a great advantage, in that five of the nine hitters in their lineup have proven their durability. What of the other four? As it turns out, with one exception, they’ve been durable in the past as well.

Brett Gardner

Gardner did miss time in 2009 after fracturing his thumb while sliding into second. He also underwent wrist surgery after the 2010 season. He’s had a few other nagging injuries here and there, but nothing serious. He might not seem durable, due to his size, but he’s managed to stay on the field for most of his time with the Yankees.

Russell Martin

Time was, Martin played almost every day. That’s usually a commendable trait, but since Martin squats behind the plate for nine innings that workload can take its toll. The injury problem started in 2010, when he hurt his hip while crossing home plate. Before that the worst he’d suffered was an abdominal strain in spring training — though it came the same year as his hip injury. He also underwent knee surgery that off-season, and then missed time last year with a sore lower back.

Still, Martin has remained on the field for an incredible portion of his career, especially for a catcher. Even last year he managed to miss the DL, sitting out just seven games with the back injury. He started 118 games behind the plate, which is good for a catcher. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him around 125 this year.

Raul Ibanez

Since 2004 Ibanez has been on the DL just twice. The first came in 2004, and the other came in 2009. The pair of injuries caused him to miss 52 games total. Other than that, he has a few day-to-day stints. They have added up to 20 games since 2004. That’s a pretty impressive track record. The biggest knock on Ibanez’s health right now is that he missed four games in 2011 with a groin injury, which is the same one he suffered in 2009. He also underwent surgery to correct a sports hernia after the 2009 season. But for the most part he’s stayed on the field.

That just leaves just two regulars. Andruw Jones has been mostly healthy since 2009, but he’s also played limited roles. It’s tough to say how he’d hold up given more playing time. Then again, prior to 2008 he had never hit the DL. There’s also Alex Rodriguez, who has been on the DL every year since 2008. It’s tough to expect him to remain healthy at this point in his career, but he is working with the same trainer that has kept Grant Hill on the basketball court for the last few seasons.

One of the Yankees’ biggest advantages on offense comes in the form of durability. Injuries can hamper a team’s production. It’s not just that they’re missing the one player’s production. The entire lineup changes, and suffers, when one of its main cogs goes on the DL. The Yankees, with the exception of Rodriguez, have been thankful to avoid that in the last few years. Again, injury can happen to anyone, but if the Yankees maintain their injury record, the offense will be all the more powerful.

SWB Yankees to be renamed Empire State Yankees for 2012

Via Mike Ashmore, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees will be renamed the Empire State Yankees for the 2012 season. The club will play all of its home games on the road this summer because of extensive renovations to PNC Field, including 60 games throughout New York. The new logos can be seen here and here, and will be featured on the team’s caps this season. They’ll go back to being the SWB Yanks in 2013. Pretty neat, guess I have to buy a hat while they’re available.

ST Game Thread: Hiroki’s Turn

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Two days ago, Michael Pineda got his first chance to show us what he had (for two innings). Now it’s Hiroki Kuroda‘s turn, the other guy the Yankees acquired on Friday the 13th. The veteran right-hander has seemingly flown under the radar this spring despite being on track to serve as the number two starter on Opening Day. I’ve been hoping the Yankees would acquire the guy for about two years now, so I’m very much looking forward to today’s start even if it doesn’t mean anything in grand scheme of things. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
1B Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
RF Andruw Jones
C Russell Martin
LF Brett Gardner

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Available Pitchers: RHP Rafael Soriano, RHP Cory Wade, LHP Boone Logan, RHP Adam Warren, LHP Clay Rapada, and RHP Kevin Whelan are all scheduled to pitch. RHP David Phelps, LHP Cesar Cabral, RHP Ryan Pope, RHP Dan Burawa, and LHP Juan Cedeno are also available if needed.

Available Position Players: C Jose Gil, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Bill Hall, SS Jayson Nix, 3B Corban Joseph, LF Brandon Laird, CF Dewayne Wise, RF Colin Curtis, and DH Cole Garner will replace the starters. Garner was battling a minor hamstring problem earlier this week, but is apparently fine now.

The game is scheduled to begin at 1:05pm ET and will air live on YES. MLB Network’s replay won’t air until 9am ET tomorrow. Like Monday, we’re going to chat in honor of Kuroda’s unofficial debut. I’m not going to stick around for all nine innings, but definitely for the first few. Fun starts after the jump…

Update: Cover It Live is having issues, so no chat today. Sorry, blame the iPad launch.