Monday, April 03, 2006

Start Spreading the News...The Yankees are Flawed!

By John Williams

Honestly, where is this coming from? Two well-known experienced columnists (Jayson Stark and and Peter Gammons , click for respective articles) predicting the Yankees to win it all in 2006. Have Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams found the fountain of youth. Is Paul O’Neill coming out of retirement? Did the Yankees add some dominant arms in the offseason without anyone noticing? No, no, and absolutely not. This is the same basic team the Yankees have been showing up with for the last several years. A ridiculously star-studded (and overpaid) lineup, and a pitching staff thin enough to burn through by October. In fact last offseason the Yankees added as little talent as they have in any offseason since the late 90s and their core keeps getting older and older. And it’s not as if standing pat got them somewhere in the AL. The Indians are building another unbelievable powerhouse lineup, the A’s have the AL’s best pitching and possibly best team, the White Sox just won the world series last year (blowing by another powerhouse Red Sox team), and weren’t the still young Twins a world series favorite just last spring? Not to mention the perennially contending Angels and the Blue Jays adding on in the Yankees own division.

So why the sudden Yankee resurgence? The answer is divinely simple. They have added Johnny “What would Johnny Damon Do” Damon. The hard hitting, world series winning, center field playing rock star from the Red Sox has changed sides and has given the Yankees the leadoff hitter they have been seeking for years. Think about it, with Damon versatility at the top of the order followed by Jeter, Sheffield, A-rod, Matsui, and Giambi, the Yankees might just jump from 2nd in the AL in runs scored all the way up to 1st! And as far as pitching (that little thing that wins championships), well…can’t Damon pitch too? Sadly, the answer is no. In fact, Damon can barely reach his fellow outfielders (I use the term loosely) with warm up throws. Realistically, Damon is only the answer to adding a few more runs to those 15-4 blowouts against the Royals, not the answer to the major flaws on the Yankee team that continue to be exposed when facing solid teams in October.

I’ll mention the defense issue later, but more importantly the Yankees survived 2005 due to some no less than miraculous pitching performances from throw away pitchers Small, Wang, and Chacon. But instead of thanking their lucky stars and restocking in the off season, these three guys are somehow now dependable pitchers being relied upon to fill out the Yankee rotation. This, after the twin disaster signings of Pavano and Wright the previous offseason. The Yankees have done little to improve their rotation in the last few years aside from trading for the rapidly aging Randy Johnson. Since Johnson and Mussina atop the rotation are only going downhill, I believe the 2006 staff is shaping up to be just as weak as the previous few years of teams that were wiped out early in the postseason.

I’m going to look at the eras of the top 5 starters (in terms of GS) for the Yankees over the last 5 non-World Series winning years and then show the projected top 5 for this year along with their PERAs from last year (PERA being an ERA calculated not from runs allowed but expected runs allowed using peripheral stats, which are a much better indication of future performance than the raw earned run numbers).

ERA data with games started shown in parentheses:
Mike Mussina (34) – 3.15
Roger Clemens (33) – 3.51
Andy Pettitte (31) – 3.99
Ted Lilly (21) – 5.37
Orland Hernandez (16) – 4.85

Mike Mussina (33) – 4.05
David Wells (31) – 3.75
Roger Clemens (29) – 4.35
Orlando Hernandez (22) – 3.64
Andy Pettitte (22) – 3.27

Roger Clemens (33) -3.91
Andy Pettitte (33) – 4.02
Mike Mussina (31) – 3.40
David Wells (30) – 4.14
Jeff Weaver (24) – 5.99

Javier Vazquez (32) – 4.91
Jon Lieber (27) – 4.33
Mike Mussina (27) – 4.59
Kevin Brown (22) – 4.09
Jose Contreras (18) – 5.64

Randy Johnson (34) – 3.79
Mike Mussina (30) – 4.41
Carl Pavano (17) – 4.77
Chien-Ming Wang (17) – 4.02
Kevin Brown (13) – 6.50

Now the 2005 team also had Jaret Wright and Al Leiter “contributing” respectively a 6.08 era in 13 starts and a 5.49 era in 10 starts. Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small helped out with respective eras of 2.85 era (12 starts) and 3.20 era (9 starts). Overall the numbers are not going in a positive direction, with the last relatively strong rotation in 2003. But the Yankees still managed 101 wins in 2004 and 95 wins in 2005 on the strength of their offense. The lack of dominant starting pitching only really hurt in the postseason when running into very good starters who could work through their lineup (thanks to holes in the bottom that didn’t exist in the dynasty years). The rotation for 2006 is not shaping up to be much better. The PERA data is from each pitchers’ 2005 AL peripheral stats.

Randy Johnson – 3.93 (PERA)
Mike Mussina – 4.15 (PERA)
Chien-Ming Wang – 4.58 (PERA)
Shawn Chacon – 4.87 (PERA)
Carl Pavano – 4.96 (PERA)

If Pavano is not healthy then the alternatives are Aaron Small and Jaret Wright. Jaret Wright is not even a league average pitcher, and even Joe Torre recognizes that Aaron Small’s total of 37 k’s in 76.0 ip last season does not bode well for any more extended mlb success for him. This rotation looks decidedly similar to the 2004 and 2005 versions, which were dismantled by Boston Red Sox (2004) and Los Angeles Angels (2005) in the playoffs.

I feel there’s not really much else to say about the starting pitching, it clearly has problems, and the longer the Yankee brass is blinded by the glittering eras of the 2005 replacement parts, the more problems they will have just getting to the postseason with those numbers from the rotation.

On the other hand it is possible to do well in the postseason with a backloaded pitching staff capable of throwing heat at you after ordinary starters leave in the 7th (as the 2002 Angels showed). The Yankees, however, might have only weakened their bullpen after losing stalwart Tom Gordon last offseason. The replacement, Kyle Farnsworth, has good stuff but has repeated failed in important innings. And possible contributor Octavio Dotel has a similar track record and is coming off major surgery. There is not a whole lot of talent out their in the increasingly Rivera-centric bullpen.

And finally, it has been said that pitching and defense wins championships. This is probably giving defense way too much credit, but there is a point at which bad defense becomes a measurable problem. Looking back at the last several years of world series winners, the only team that might have been considered a poor defensive team, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, made up for it with a dominant roster and a slew of defense replacement experts for the late innings. The 2004 and 2005 Yankees were extremely weak defensive teams. Of course the Yankees could improve infield defense dramatically by just shifting A-Rod from 3rd base to ss, but that would be too easy. Instead, let’s see what the Yankees did in the offseason to change their defense? They traded for Johnny Damon, a center fielder with decreasing ability and no arm, and re-signed Bernie Williams. This latter move, which mainly results in the defensively challenged Jason Giambi being forced into 1st base duty regularly, must have been made to offset any slight defensive improvements that the acquisition of Damon would bring. Or else my first idea, George Steinbrenner has found the fountain of youth for his quickly aging team.

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Blogger ben said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:49 PM  
Blogger ben said...

this selection pretty much sums up all my issues over Stark's preseason prediction:

"You can't just add Damon to the Yankees. You have to subtract him from the Red Sox. Coco Crisp is a terrific player. But he isn't anywhere near as patient, as savvy or as charismatic as the guy he's replacing."

Damon's 2005 OBP (.366)
Crisp's 2005 OBP (.345)

4:52 PM  

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