Swing State Pres

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Yankees 2013 Prediction: Is It 1965? I Think Not (March 31, 2013)


Is this 1965 again?  Yes, that is the question.  Yankee fans of a certain age – those of us who barely caught the tail end of the vaunted Yankee Dynasty from 1921 to 1964 -- remember that awful year well, when the Yanks suddenly aged and fell to sixth place (and, worse, 10th and last in 1966).

The 2013 Yankees’ weaknesses have been well-documented, quite breathlessly, in fact.  The departed Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones took with them 94 homers and a good deal of clubhouse leadership.  With Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson on the DL for varying periods, another 100 homers are at risk.  For pitching the Yanks are relying on three ancient craftsmen – Hideki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera -- to play crucial roles.  The gap fillers are a bunch of guys who might make some all-decade teams – a decade ago.  All of that – with Robinson Cano as the only Yankee who is:  a) a star, b) in his prime, and c) not coming off surgery.

But I actually do not see this as 1965 Redux.  My fearless prediction:  the Yanks will win 90 games.  This is indeed my weakest prediction in 21 years, but one that still leaves them in the hunt for the AL East and the wild card.  Before I explain, a little background…

THE MODEL

For those of you new to this, I developed a regression model to predict Yankee wins back in 1992, and since then I have used it with gusto and achieved a rather mixed track record.  In over 21 years, I have never been “right on” and on average have been off by 6.4 wins per year, with 14 of those years off on the optimistic side. 

Year
Prediction
Actual
+/-
 2012
 102
 95
 -7
2011
95
97
2
2010
103
95
-8
2009
95
103
8
2008
99
89
-10
2007
102
94
-8
2006
101
97
-4
2005
102
95
-7
2004
108
101
-7
2003
103
101
-2
2002
101
103
2
2001
91
95
4
2000
98
87
-11
1999
109
98
-11
1998
104
115
11
1997
97
96
-1
1996
98
92
-6
1995
101
89
-12
1994
95
100
5
1993
92
88
-4
1992
81
76
-5



The model itself has its roots in Bill James (and Yankees GM in the early 90’s, Gene “Stick” Michael), seriously predating Billy Beane and the Moneyball guys.  Those guys knew all about on base percentage and the like, but they lacked the modeling and wealth of data available in this century.

My model essentially has two variables, one for hitting, one for pitching.  The hitting variable is fairly fancy: “OPS”, which is the sum of on base percentage plus slugging percentage.  This is a variable that, 21 years ago, only the real die-hards calculated (with slide rules and abacuses).  Now it is the hitters’ “one true measure” that you can find everywhere.  The pitching variable is more straightforward: ERA.  Basically, I come up with a prediction for each team’s overall OPS and ERA and plug those numbers into the regression equation I developed (using 20 years of historical data) and voila, a forecast for Team Wins. 

The difficult part is to actually come up with the forecast for OPS and ERA for each team.  Here it gets a bit “granular”:  I make a prediction for OPS (or ERA) for each player on the team roster, and then also predict their number of plate appearances (or innings pitched).  Then I multiply the OPS (or ERA) by that player’s percentage of the team’s total plate appearances (or innings pitched), and then add up all the players to get to the total team.  Ah, the wonders of weighted averages!

So let’s say Robinson Cano had an OPS of .929, and he has been between ..871 and .929 for the last 4 years.  It is reasonable to conclude he will do about the same this year.  And I expect him to have about 700 plate appearances this year (he’s averaged 687 of late), which is about 10.4% out of the Yankees total (of about 6,250 expected team plate appearances).  I multiply the .929 times 10.4% to get .097, and then do the same thing for the other Yankees players, and add them all up to get the team OPS.  That process typically yields a team OPS number between .700 (say, for the Twins) and .800 (say, for the Red Sox).  Brute force, but it works pretty well!

And I do the same thing to predict team ERA….CC will have a 3.40 ERA in 200 innings, and I do the same math for pitchers.  I end up with a Team OPS and a Team ERA which I plug into my equation and out pops Team Predicted Wins.

2012 YANKEES (in review)

Let’s go back to last year.  It was a typical season for me in many ways:  I predicted 102 wins and they came in with 95.  Off by 7 wins, and my miss was on the optimistic side.

I was right on with my hitting prediction:  their actual Team OPS of .790 was barely off my predicted .787.  The “starters” were right on:  .804 predicted, .804 actual.  The subs, led by Chavez, were better than expected, .725 versus .680.

The pitching let me down.  The Team ERA was 3.86 versus my 3.56.  Both starters and relievers were a bit off.  The Yanks got a ton of unexpected strong performances, from Pettitte, Kuroda, Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada and David Phelps, but Super Nova and Freddie Garcia were terrible, and Joba Chamberlain and Cory Wade were below expectations as well.  The net was a miss.

2013 YANKEES

Wins:  90   OPS:   .757   ERA:  3.86

So how does a Yankee team that most everyone has written off achieve 90 wins, only 5 less than last year?  Easy: with above average hitting and very good pitching.  And, given the flurry of Cashman activity over the past three weeks, solid depth.  Even with the injuries and age-adjusted expectations, these Yanks are indeed only 5 games worse than last year.

Let’s take the straight substitutions of Yankees who are now gone for good.

Catcher:  doesn’t anyone remember that Russell Martin had an atrocious hitting year last year?  Sure he had 21 homers, but his OPS was only .713.  StewVelli (a la the Watergate era “WoodStein”) will do only a few points worse that than…it’s hardly a tragedy.  In fact, if Cervelli hits at a .700 OPS, it’s basically a wash.

Left field:  Brett Gardner for Ibanez is actually a plus.  Gardner’s OPS in 2011 was .762, a point better than Ibanez’s .761.  And Gardner is the best outfielder in baseball and of course has speed, neither of which are captured in OPS.  Ibanez hit four home runs I will never, ever forget….but Gardner is an upgrade.

Right field:  Ichiro for Swisher is a downgrade…I’ve never been a huge Ichiro fan – a singles hitter who doesn’t walk.  His career OPS of .784 is only 13% better than the league average for his career.  But he’s still a better outfielder than Swish, runs better, and he will certainly hit better in the playoffs (Swish in playoffs lifetime:  .589 OPS for 46 games).  But still a major downgrade, worth -3.2 wins.

And as for replacing the injured Yanks…

First base:  Lyle Overbay is a perfect smart pickup to replace Tex for several months.  He’s a good fielder and will love the short porch, and if he responds like Ibanez, he could have a better April than Tex, a notoriously slow starter, might have had.  The two months cost the Yanks -0.6 wins.

Third Base:  Kevin Youkilis has had a torrid spring (6 homers, 13 extra base hits, 1.139 OPS).  If he’s all the way back, he’ll be an upgrade over Alex.  And even if not…Alex had only a .783 OPS last year.  Yuke’s was .745.  Again, hardly a disaster, another -0.6 wins.

DH:  Travis Hafner replaces Eric Chavez as the primary DH, and while Chavez had a very strong year (.845),   Hafner is an .775 OPS guy, with upside, who will do very well with the porch.  Another -0.8 wins.

Centerfield:  Vernon Wells is no Grandyman…but this is likely only for a month.

Shortstop:  Same with Nunez for Jeter….it may be for only a few weeks.  The bigger question is what kind of year Jeter will have….I’m basically expecting the 2011 Jeter, and won’t even dream about him duplicating 2012.  But another -0.8.

So the hitters net to about that 5-6 range in losses versus last year.  That’s all.

As for the pitching:

The Yankees have six reasonably good (or better) starters and Michael Pineda may actually return in June.  As long as CC is CC, this is the strongest starting staff the Yanks have had in years.  No Freddie, no Colon, no desperation here.  And depth…few teams have a staff this deep.

The old guys – Pettitte, Kuroda and Mariano – have all looked great in spring training, allowing 9 runs in 40 innings collectively.  The bullpen is, quite simply, among the best in baseball – if Mo is Mo.  

Overall, it adds up to the same 3.86 ERA they achieved last year.

So I see the Yankees as follows.  They are incredibly dependent on a bunch of aging stars, and the wear-and-tear shows.  Jeter, ARod, Mo, Tex, Granderson, Gardner, CC and Pineda are all coming off surgery or serious injuries – wow.  Jeter, ARod, Ichiro, Mo, Pettitte and Kuroda are all 35+, most well over.

But while they are aging, they are still either performing as well as ever (Pettitte, Mo?), or are still solid players.  I expect they will deliver on the relatively modest expectations I have for them.

Oh, one more thing:  it would really help if Robinson Cano was the AL MVP!  He was 4th last year and will certainly challenge.  The spotlight is really on him now, and the burden, and if he delivers the whole line-up will benefit.

And as for 1965?  Those Yanks fell from 99 wins in 1964 to 77, and you can lay most of those 22 fewer wins on three guys:  Mantle, Maris and Howard.  (That and a switch from being 27-24 in one run games to 24-29.) Consider these stats:


1964
1964
1965
1965

OPS
P.A
OPS
P.A
Mantle/Maris/Howard
0.887
1,758
0.741
1,039
All Other
0.635
4,601
0.646
5,042

You can see the other players hit slightly better in 1965 than 1964.  I can also tell you the pitching was virtually the same (1964 ERA: 3.15, 1965: 3.28).  If Mantle, Maris and Howard had the same OPS and plate appearances in 1965, that would have been worth 13 more wins, getting them to 90.  The modest decline in pitching and the one-run game differential explain the rest.

So that’s why I don’t see “1965” in the 2013 Yankee prognosis.  The current Yanks are not nearly as dependent on any three guys as those 1965 Yanks, and their one big guy, Robby Cano, is in his prime.  I can’t seem him falling off dramatically, and the Yanks have only two other .800+ OPS guys, Tex and Granderson.  They have a lineup full of guys who will hit in the .750 OPS range, and the idea of all them suddenly plunging does not have a high probability.  (Though it did happen to the Red Sox last year.)

Here is the data:  I’ve reflected age-appropriate declines for Jeter, ARod, Kuroda, Pettitte, Mo and Ichiro, and, of course, cut back on expected plate appearances due to the injuries.  I’m not asking anyone to outperform their recent norms, at the plate and on the mound.  It all adds up to 90 wins…you heard it here first!










.

Pos
 HITTERS
2012 Act. OPS
2013 Proj. OPS
2013 Plan Plate App

 PITCHERS
2012 Act.  ERA
2013 Proj. ERA
2013 Plan IP
C
 Cervelli
0.719*
0.700
400

 Sabathia
3.38
3.40
200
1B
 Texeira
0.807
0.800
400

 Hughes
4.23
4.25
180
2B
 Cano
0.929
0.930
700

 Pineda
3.74*
4.00
100
3B
 Rodriguez
0.783
0.780
250

 Nova
5.02
4.75
120
3B
 Youkilis
0.745
0.750
550

 Kuroda
3.32
3.50
190
SS
 Jeter
0.791
0.750
600

 Pettitte
2.87
3.50
150
OF
 Granderson
0.811
0.810
500

 Rivera
2.16
2.30
60
OF
 Gardner
0.713*
0.760
625

 Robertson
2.67
2.60
60
OF
 Suzuki
0.696
0.680
625

 Logan
3.74
3.75
50
DH
 Hafner
0.784
0.775
400

 Eppley
3.33
3.50
50
C
 Stewart
0.611
0.600
200

 Phelps
3.34
3.70
80
C
 Romine

0.600
50

 Kelley
3.25
3.70
50
1B
 Overbay
0.728
0.725
200

 Chamberlain
4.35
3.50
50
IF
 Nix
0.690
0.690
100

 Rapada
2.82
3.00
30
IF
 Nunez
0.723
0.725
225

 Other

7.00
80
OF
 Wells
0.682
0.680
100

 TOTAL

3.84
1450
OF
 Francisco
0.691
0.680
100





OF
 Boesch
0.659
0.700
100






 Other

0.700
100





P
 Pitchers

0.200
25






 TOTAL

0.757
6250






* in 2011; did not play enough in 2012





  

I’ll be back soon with the write-up of my predictions for all 30 teams….suffice to say, the AL East will be an utter dogfight!