What Went Right: The Offseason Pickups

Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.

Tex, CC, and AJ

Every season starts with some new faces in Yankee pinstripes. Some are more notable than others, but they’re all expected to produce. The offseason brought three big time free agents to the 2009 Yanks, and after several high-profile flops in recent years, Yankee haters and the MSM were chomping at the bit to tear into the club should they fail. Unfortunately for those folks, they didn’t.

Mark Teixeira joined the Yanks on an eight year deal that will put $180M into his bank account, and his poor start (.182-.354-.338 in his first 99 plate appearances) already had some questioning his ability to play in New York. Tex answered all the doubters in a big way, hitting .308-.388-.598 the rest of the way, tied for the AL lead in homers (39), runs batted in (122), extra base hits (85), and total bases (344). His defense at first was top of the line, whether he was snagging line drives, ranging to his right, or scooping throws from other infielders.

The playoffs weren’t kind to Teixeira, but it seemed like each of his hits came at a crucial time. He singled off Joe Nathan ahead of Alex Rodriguez‘s game tying two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game Two of ALDS, winning the same game with a walk-off homerun in extras. Teixeira doubled in three runs to help mount a comeback in Game Five of the ALCS, and his homer off Pedro Martinez in Game Two of the World Series ignited the offense. His 5.1 WAR was the most by a Yankee first baseman since Jason Giambi‘s monster first season in pinstripes.

For the first time in history, a team handed out two contracts worth over $100M in the same offseason, and that means Tex wasn’t the only new star in town. CC Sabathia signed on for seven years and $161M, giving the Yankees a sorely needed front-of-the-rotation starter still in his prime. Just like Tex, Sabathia struggled early, posting a 4.85 ERA as the team lost four of his first six starts. After those first six starts, though, Sabathia was everything the Yankees hoped for and then some. He pitched to a 3.06 ERA with a .226-.281-.360 batting line against in his final 28 starts, completing at least seven innings in 22 (!!!) of those starts.

The regular season was a sign of things to come for Sabathia, who was the absolute man in the postseason. He beat the Twins to start off the ALDS, the Angels twice (once on short rest) in the ALCS, and put together two commanding performances (again, once on short rest) against the defending World Champion Phillies in the Fall Classic. Sabathia threw 36.1 IP with a 1.98 ERA in five postseason starts, knocking more than three-and-a-half runs off his career playoff ERA in the process.

As if Teixeira and Sabathia weren’t enough, the Yankees added another impact player in A.J. Burnett, who inked a five year, $82.5M deal. Given his questionable medical history, Burnett had the highest flame-out potential of the three big free agent signings, but he proved to be the team’s most durable starter. He made every start without incident and didn’t have to leave any games with health concerns (even Sabathia had his little run-in with biceps tendinitis against the Marlins), and pitched into the sixth inning in all but two if his 33 starts.

Burnett may have been Robin to Sabathia’s Batman, but he turned in the biggest performance of the season (and his career) in what was the team’s most important game of 2009, shutting down the Phillies in Game Two of the World Series to tie the series up at one heading to Philly. Sure, he was frustratingly inconsistent, but the Yankees do not get to where they ended up without him.

The Yankees didn’t just stop at the free agent market, however. They also added an impact player via a trade. Long before Teixeira, Sabathia, and Burnett agreed to come to the Bronx, Brian Cashman fleeced Kenny Williams imported Nick Swisher from the White Sox in exchange for Wilson Betemit and two disposable minor league pitchers. Slated to begin the year as the fourth outfielder, Swisher was pressed into full-time duty after Xavier Nady blew out his elbow, and did more than replace Nady’s production.

Swisher hit .249-.371-.498 with 29 homers, seeing the second most pitches per plate appearances (4.27) in the AL. His .869 OPS was the 12th best among all outfielders in the game, better than brand names like Ichiro, Matt Kemp, Bobby Abreu, and Nick Markakis. While Swisher’s defense in the outfield was adventurous at times, he was solid overall and turned in several spectacular, heads-up plays in the postseason.

It’s not often that a team is able to bring in four above-average players in one offseason, let alone two that are bonafide franchise cornerstones, yet that’s exactly what the Yankees did last winter. They flexed their financial muscle to grab Tex and CC, used tremendous foresight to target A.J. over the imminently declining Derek Lowe, and flat-out stole Swish in a shrewd move. All four players met or exceeded expectations, and all four were huge reasons why the season ended on the Canyon of Heroes.

Photo Credits: AP, Getty Images, AP

2010 UZR Projections and the Yankees

Johnny Damon taking a header in the World SeriesProjection season is upon us, folks. Bill James’ 2010 projections have already been posted on individual player pages at FanGraphs, and CHONE’s batter projections hit the interwebs yesterday. Instead of talking about projected offense today, I’m going to change gears and focus on projected defense. Jeff Zimmerman at Beyond the Box Score created weighted UZR projections for the 2010 season based on the last four years of data, and I can’t remember ever seeing advanced defensive metric projections before (though I’m sure they’re out there).

I’m not going to bother to explain Jeff’s methodology, but all of the math is explained here. The individual projections can be found in this big Google Spreadsheet. Let’s kick off this post by taking a look at the projections for the players that we can assume will be back in pinstripes next year, and how they compare to last year’s UZR.

Position 2009 UZR Projected 2010 UZR
Mark Teixeira 1B -3.7 +0.6
Robinson Cano 2B -5.2 -1.7
Derek Jeter SS +6.6 -1.9
Alex Rodriguez 3B -8.6 -3.8
Brett Gardner CF +7.2 +3.7
Melky Cabrera LF -2.5 +0.9
Melky Cabrera CF +1.4 -1.9
Melky Cabrera RF -0.5 -0.1
Nick Swisher LF -0.5 +0.7
Nick Swisher RF -0.7 +0.4

There’s more red than black, but the  good news is that in general, the projections see most of the Yankee regulars improving in 2010 (Jeter, Gardner, and Melky in center being the notable exceptions). Pitcher and catcher defense is so hard to quantity that UZR doesn’t even bother to try, hence Jorge Posada‘s exclusion. As a team, the Yanks had a -18.5 UZR this season, 8th best in the AL and 19th best overall, so an improvement would be pretty sweet.

The only position in the field the Yankees have to fill this offseason is leftfield, and Johnny Damon has to be considered the odds on favorite to fill that vacancy. The incumbent leftfielder had a -9.2 UZR last season, a drop of nearly 16 runs from the year before and 17 runs the year before that. It was noticable watching the games too, as every routine fly to left in 2009 seemed like an adventure. Zimmerman projects Damon to bounce back to -2.1 UZR in 2010, which would be a welcome improvement.

If Damon doesn’t return, my personal choice to replace him would be Mike Cameron, who hasn’t played leftfield in the big leagues since 2000 and has just 9.2 career innings at the position. Regardless, it would be a waste to use him in left, because his centerfield defense is still very good. Cameron put up a +10.3 UZR in center in 2009, and projects to post a +3.9 UZR next year. Assuming Melky slides over to left to make room for Cameron, you’re looking at a combined +4.8 UZR between left and center in 2010. If you instead have Damon in left and Melky in center, it would be -2.2. Hell, even if it was Damon and Gardner, it would be +1.6 UZR between the two positions. Cameron and Melky would clearly be the best defensive alignment in this scenario.

Moving on to actual leftfielders, the two big names are obviously Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Holliday projects to post a +4.9 UZR in left next year after +5.7 this year. Bay projects to have a -9.8 UZR next year, which is actually an improvement over this year’s -13.0 mark. The guy is just awful in the field. Whoever signs him for huge money and three or four or however many years is going to regret it by year three.

A Holliday and Melky arrangement would be good for +3.0 UZR in 2010, Bay and Melky an unsightly -11.7. Replace Melky with Brett the Jet, and you’re looking at combined UZR’s of +8.6 and -6.1, respectively. Matt Holliday would clearly be the best defensive option in leftfield among free agents for the Yanks, although factoring contracts, adding Cameron and sliding Gardbrera to left would be more cost efficient.

Of course, if the Yanks really want to go big for leftfield defense, the answer is trading for Carl Crawford. The Other CC has long been the best defensive leftfielder in the game (he leads all LF in UZR over the last two years, and has ranked either first or second every season since 2003 with just one exception), and he projects to put up a +10.6 UZR next year, the best at the position. Whether or not the Yankees decide to part with a few quality young players to get him is another story all together, I’m just making an observation about Crawford’s defense.

By no means are those the only leftfield options for the Yanks, they’re just the most discussed options. They could bring Xavier Nady back (projects to have a -1.9 UZR next year) and hope the elbow holds up, but that’s quite a risk. Neither Mark DeRosa or Chone Figgins played enough leftfield over the last four years to qualify for the projections (minimum 63 games), though DeRosa projects to have a +2.7 UZR in right while Figgins projects to -2.7 in center. Rick Ankiel projects to have a -2.4 UZR in center but doesn’t qualify for left, while Marlon Byrd projects to have +0.8, -0.8, and +1.0 UZR’s going left to right. A trade for David DeJesus would bring a studly +8.9 UZR to leftfield in 2010.

Obviously defense is only half the equation when it comes to evaluating a players worth, or maybe even less depending on how you feel (a run saved is as good as a run scored in my book), otherwise Randy Winn and his projected +2.5, -1.1, and +8.8 UZR’s in the outfield (going left to right) would make a lot of sense for the Yanks. However his .262-.318-.353 batting line with a .302 wOBA (fifth worst among all outfielders) in 2009 scream “STAY AWAY!” Ditto Endy Chavez and his projected +3.1 UZR in left and .300 career wOBA.

Remember, these are just projections for one year. UZR is best used with multiple year samples, however we’re all guilty of referring to one year totals to prove a point. Zimmerman’s projections are just that: projections. Just an educated guess at what might happen in the future, so don’t take them as gospel. Sure would be nice to see the defense improve again next year, though.

Photo Credit: Tim Shaffer, Reuters

Fan Confidence Poll: November 16th, 2009

2009 Season Record: 103-59 (915 RS, 753 RA), won AL East by 8 games, finished with the best record in MLB by 6 games, won 27th World Series

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Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Thoughts on the economics of buying the World Series

When the Yankees won the World Series two weeks ago, the team set a rather dubious record. No longer were the 2007 Boston Red Sox the most expensive team ever to win baseball’s championship. With an estimated payroll around the $201 million mark, the 2009 Yankees shattered the previous record by nearly $60 million.

Of course, with these numbers as irrefutable proof of some devious Yankee scheme to take over baseball, analysts and fans outside of the city have accused the Yankees of buying a World Series championship. The economics of baseball, they say, are broken, and the Yankees are the prime example of it. In New York, we finger teams such as the Marlins ($36 million) who pocket nearly as much in revenue sharing as they pay their team as the real economic villains of baseball, but that just might be wishful thinking.

So for the first post in a series I plan to unveil as the off-season goes on, let’s explore the Yankees’ spending. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, sports economist and Smith University professor Andrew Zimbalist states that the Yankees did not buy a World Series. Noting that 20 of baseball’s 30 teams have made the playoffs since 2004, Zimbalist says that payroll accounts for only approximately 15-30 percent of a team’s success. The other factors, he writes, “include front office smarts, good team chemistry, player health, effective drafting and player development, intelligent trades, a manager’s in-game decision-making, luck, and more.” Many of those factors are related to wealth, but more on that later this off-season.

Even if the Yankees’ payroll helped them this year, Zimbalist says, it might handicap them in the future:

Imperfect though it may be, baseball has a system, and the Yankees play by its rules. Its success this year depended significantly on the acquisition of pitchers A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia, along with first baseman Mark Teixeira. But the Yankees did not sign these players to one-year contracts (though the team did sign pitcher Andy Pettitte to a one-year deal).

Mr. Sabathia was great in 2009, but he is signed through 2015 when he will be 36 years old; Mr. Burnett through 2013 when he’ll be 36; and Mr. Teixeira through 2016 when he’ll be 37. Many of the team’s other stars are also signed to long-term contracts. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez is signed through 2017 when he will be 42 and catcher Jorge Posada through 2011 when he’ll be 40.

It’s possible that the positive correlation between payroll and success the Yankees experienced this year will turn into an inverse correlation. After all, player performance tends to wane with age. But these players have contracts that require the Yankees to increase their annual pay in the years ahead. Those salaries will weigh on the team’s ability to acquire other players.

As you chew on those statements and the aging horrors that may await us, take a peek at this rough sketch of reinvestment strategies among baseball teams. Khoi Vinh of the blog Subtraction has explored the way baseball teams in 2009 reinvested their 2008 earnings on the field and found that the Yanks’ reinvestment rates were near the top and that, especially in the playoffs, reinvestment rates determined success (and winning percentage). Of the eight playoff teams, none reinvested a larger percent of their earnings than the Yankees did, and no other team, obviously, reached that 11-win mark.

And so I leave you with some initial thoughts. Maybe the Yankees’ spending came as close to guaranteeing a World Series win as is possible within the framework of baseball’s economics, but the team may pay a price for it later. Furthermore, the Yanks are simply playing by the rules of the economic game, and if the rest of baseball thinks it is broken, they will have to fix it. For decades, though, baseball has tried to bring down the Yankees, and nothing has succeeded. I wouldn’t put money on an economic sea change any time soon.

Winter ball in Puerto Rico begins

As usual, the Arizona Fall League was off today since it’s a Sunday. The regular season ends on Thursday, and Surprise is buried in last place thanks to the second worst run differential (-21) in the league.

Here’s the winter ball updates…

Dominican Winter League
Abe Almonte: 7 G, 1 for 5 (.200), 3 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 SB
Juan Miranda: 4 G, 5 for 13 (.385), 3 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 SB – check out Mr. Miranda with the steal
Eduardo Nunez: 1 G, 1 for 3 (.333), 1 R, 1 BB
Wilkins Arias: 12 G, 9.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 8 K
Ivan Nova: 5 G, 4 GS, 25.2 IP, 17 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 17 K - studly
Jon Ortiz: 6 G, 4 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
Jose Valdez: 11 G, 12 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra: 19 G, 11 for 36 (.306), 7 R, 1 2B, 4 R, 2 BB, 12 K, 1 SB
Jorge Vazquez: 4 R, 3 for 15 (.200), 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K – good to see him back from his shoulder injury and terrorizing pitchers again
Humberto Sanchez: 6 G, 7.1 IP, 11 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 7 BB, 5 K – eek

Venezuelan Winter League
Reegie Corona: 18 G, 13 for 40 (.325), 10 R, 5 2B, 6 RBI, 8 BB, 7 K, 1 SB
Edwar Gonzalez: 21 G, 18 for 63 (.286), 9 R, 2 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 BB, 11 K, 3 SB, 3 CS
Carlos Mendoza: 3 G, 0 for 3, 3 K – fail
Jesus Montero: 9 G, 3 for 26 (.115), 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K – he hasn’t played in about three weeks, though I suspect it’s nothing major … they play to win in these leagues, and if you’re not doing the job, you’ll sit
Luis Nunez: 11 G, 8 for 32 (.250), 1 2B, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K – on-base ten times in 11 games and you don’t score a run? weak
Marcos Vechionacci: 15 G, 12 for 42 (.286), 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 6 RBI, 4 BB, 9 K, 1 CS
Romulo Sanchez: 13 G, 16.1 IP, 10 H, 9 R, 6 ER, 8 BB, 22 K – he’s settled down after the bad start … love the K’s
Josh Schmidt: 8 G, 6 GS, 28.1 IP, 28 H, 20 R, 14 ER, 10 BB, 24 K
Pat Venditte: 7 G, 9.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K - he’s gotten batters to ground into 4 double plays in those 9.1 IP, so he’s getting a little lucky
Eric Wordekemper: 3 G, 1 GS, 4.1 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 0 K

Puerto Rican League
Amaury Sanit: 1 G, 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K

Soon to be ex-Yankee Jose Molina is also playing in the PRL, though he hasn’t gotten into a game yet.

Open Thread: Improving RAB

No cheesy, throw away open thread topic tonight. Sorry. Instead, we want to ask you for suggestions on how to improve the whole RAB experience.

We already have a ton of ideas ranging from mundane to major overhaul that we’re going to pursue this winter, but we feel it’s important that you guys, the readers, have some input. Do you want to see more statistical analysis? What about less? More long features, or more short blurbs? What about the game threads, any ideas for improving the flow of those guys? Paginated comments perhaps? What about comment registration? Whatever you think can be done to make this place better than it already is, let us know. We’ll review and consider everything.

Leave any suggestions in the comments, otherwise use this as your open thread for the night. The Sunday night game is a good one – the Patriots at the Colts. Go Peyton. Talk about whatever you like, just make sure you follow the guidelines and be cool.

Does Granderson make sense for the Yankees?

Steve at TYU takes a look at Curtis Granderson to see if he’s really a fit for the Yanks. Granderson’s lefty pop would fit nicely in the Stadium, but as Steve notes, he should start taking the ball back up the middle to get back to his offensive levels of a few years ago. Remember, Jason Giambi had a similar problem: he had to go to all fields in Oakland because of the park, but once he got to NY he started trying to pull everything, which dropped his overall production.

Anyway, Steve says there’s a fit for the Yanks if the price is right, which pretty much holds true for every player in the game. It’s good stuff, so make sure you head over and give it a read.