Ah, spring
training! The spin? The Yanks are enraptured with Tanaka’s poise
and polish, CC’s transformation, and the muchballyhooed collective 2.80 ERA of
their top eight starting pitcher candidates.
Jeter and Tex
are back, free from injuries, McCann has taken charge, and Beltran is an RBI
machine. And Ellsbury’s calf woes will
be gone by Opening Day. Ah, shades of 2009! A retooled Yankee team, and hopes springs eternal for Championship #28.
All perhaps
true enough, but if you are going to view spring training stats as credible,
you have to take equal note of the collective .231 batting average of the nine
starting hitters, all of whom are either new or returning from serious injuries
(with the solitary exception of Brett Gardner).
Not exactly proving the case for optimism.
Better to ignore most of spring training and take a look at what the facts indicate...or at least what my model indicates.
THE
MODEL
For those
of you new to this, back in 1992 I developed a regression model to predict
Yankee wins, based on such statistics on “OPS” (On Base Plus Slugging
Percentage) that are all the rage now but were only known to a few stat freaks
that were ahead of their time. Trouble
is, as visionary as the model was, it’s, um, not that terrific.
For the
past three years I have put the model up against what I thought was a reasonable
test. I asked a bunch of my baseball
friends to forecast wins for all 30 major league teams off the top of their
heads, pitted against my regression model, in a competition I called “Man
Versus Machine.” They have made a
collective 54 guesses in that time, and have been off by an average of 7.5 wins
per team. The Machine’s record? Off 6.9 wins per team, or 8% better. That is to say, the Machine, for all its
fancy statistics, is not much better than a good “guesstimate” by a baseball
fan.
And I’m not
sure I can make the model much better.
Over the 22 years doing the Yanks, my average miss has been 6.4
wins. In the last 13 years it’s been
better, at 5.7. But that’s simply not
good enough to push some big chips to the middle of the table in Vegas. Not yet.
Year

Prediction

Actual

+/

2013

90

85

5

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

2013
YANKEES (in review)
I predicted the Yanks would win 90 games last year and
they won 85. That sounds pretty good,
considering the injuries that decimated the squad, which are the bane of any
such prediction method.
But truth be told, the Yanks actually achieved an OPS of
.693 and an ERA of 3.94, and that should have translated to only 74
wins. In other words, if I had known IN
ADVANCE – perfect information  that the Yankees were going to have a
.693/3.94, I would have predicted they would win 74 games. No other team was off by 11 games. When I put in their actual final stats, the
29 teams were only off by only 3 wins on average. The Yankees were a true outlier.
Why? Well, the
basic fact is that the Yankees tended to win games by small margins (and thus
have relatively poor stats when they won relative to other teams) and lose by
larger margins (and thus have even worse stats than a losing team might). Some theories on this? Excellent bullpen work (which they had)
probably resulted in winning more close games than other teams. And perhaps other factors, such as great
managing, clutch hitting and just plain luck came into play. For whatever reason, they certainly played
above their level, and ended up being in the hunt until virtually the end of
the season.
Going into the season, I had thought Teixeira, Jeter and
Granderson would be out for only a month, and A. Rod to be back by
midseason. I could not know that
Cervelli would go down quickly, as would ARod’s replacement, Kevin
Youkilis. And that Tex , Jeter and Granderson would all be hurt
again. The Yankee starting lineup (using
Youkilis at third) ended up with only 45% of the total team plate appearances;
the American League average for starters was about 70%.
And…the substitutes were simply terrible. The third basemen, collectively, including
ARod and Yuke (and David Adams, Chris Nelson, et al), had an OPS of .633, with
52 RBI. The shortstops (do I hear Reid
Brignac? Luis Cruz?) were even worse,
.598 with 46 RBI. But even more amazing
was the performance of the DH’s, who exist only to hit. They had a combined OPS of .583 – even worse
than the shortstops! Ben Francisco was
the DH on Opening Day, an omen if there ever was one.
My highlight was the pitching. I forecast the Yanks would have a 3.86 ERA
and they came in at 3.94. But the
hitting (.683 versus .757) more than did me in.
But I actually did better than I deserved in being off
only 5 wins.
2014 YANKEES
The Yanks will have a good year this year:
Wins

OPS

ERA

89

0.747

3.85

What, only 89 wins?
For a team that won 85 with a bunch of nonames in the lineup? After signing all those great players and getting
several more back from injuries?
Yes, only 89.
Remember, the 85 wins last year was a fluke. They should have won only 74. And whatever explained that aberration –
great relief pitching (goodbye, Mariano!), great managing, clutch hitting,
luck…what are the odds of all that happening again?
Last year I asked the question, is 2013 going to be 1965
all over again, the year the aging Yanks fell apart and finished sixth? Turns out my answer – “no” – was basically
right. It was a tough year, but they
found a way to prevent an utter collapse.
This year I ask the question, is 2014 going to be 2009 all
over again, when the Yanks “retooled” after missing the playoffs for the first
time since 1993 (’94 was a strike year), signing Teixiera, Sabathia, Burnett
and trading for Swisher? And my answer
is, again, ‘No.”
The 2009 team was an incredible hitting juggernaut: the lowest
OPS among the starting 9 hitters was Johnny Damon’s .854. Not one Yankee starter this year achieved
that level in 2013, and only one, Carlos Beltran did it even once in the past
three year. This is simply not the same
team. A better team than 2012, for sure,
but not a great hitting team at all.
I’m calling Beltran at .830; Tex , McCann, Ellsbury and Soriano all at
.800; Gardner at .770; with Jeter (.725), Kelly Johnson (.715) and Brian Roberts
(.700) filling out the infield.
The starting pitching could be a real plus. I have CC coming back to a 4.00 ERA, Pineda
in at 4.00 also, and Tanaka, Kuroda and Nova all at 3.50. The bullpen is a bit suspect, particularly
until Robertson establishes himself as the closer and an 8^{th} inning
guy emerges.
Everyone assumes that the key to that 2009 team was the
four new guys, and they sure played a huge role. But what people forget is that each of
Posada, Cano, Jeter and Matsui had relative offyears in 2008 and rebounded
resoundingly in 2009. When 40% of your
offense improves its OPS by .120 points, that translates to 10 more wins. The Yanks improved by 14 wins that year and
the team ERA did not change. So give a
few wins to Tex
and Swisher as offensive upgrades, but most of the improvement related to
returns to form by those four guys.

2008

2009


OPS

OPS

Posada

0.775

0.885

Cano

0.715

0.871

Jeter

0.771

0.871

Matsui

0.795

0.876


0.757

0.875

The 2014 Yanks will need more of the same. Tex ,
Jeter and CC are three huge question marks, and this team will go only as far
as the comebacks of those three take them, even if McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran
and Tanaka deliver as advertised.
One other thing about the 2014 Yankees…there is no big
lefthanded bat off the bench. Every
Yankee era has featured such a stick,
from Johnny Mize to Johnny Blanchard to Jim Spencer to Daryl Strawberry to
David Justice to Raul Ibanez (except for the Ruth/Gehrig years and 2009 team,
neither of which needed one). This team
needs one and does not have one.
So…the Yanks will win 89, which will put them in the thick
of the AL East title as well as the wild card.
There is no dominant AL East team this year, but all of them are good
(though the Jays are not up with the rest.)
Here are my individual player predictions, which sum, via the wonder of
weighted averages, up to the total team.
Pos

HITTERS

OPS

P.A.


PITCHERS

ERA

IP

C

McCann

0.800

550


Sabathia

4.00

200

1B

Teixeira

0.800

650


Tanaka

3.50

200

2B

Roberts

0.700

450


Nova

3.50

180

3B

K. Johnson

0.710

500


Kuroda

3.50

180

SS

Jeter

0.725

600


Pineda

4.00

120

OF

Ellsbury

0.800

650


Other

4.50

140

OF


0.770

625


Robertson

2.20

60

DH

Soriano

0.800

600


Phelps

4.50

70

OF

Beltran

0.830

650



3.50

60

C

Cervelli

0.750

250


Kelley

4.20

60

IF

Ryan

0.550

100


Claiborne

4.50

60

OF

Suzuki

0.640

200



3.50

50

IF

Solarte

0.700

100


Other

3.75

70

IF

Anna

0.730

100


TOTAL

3.78

1450


Other

0.700

200


Sub/Injury Adjustment

0.07


P

Pitchers

0.200

25


TOTAL

3.85



TOTAL

0.759

6250






Sub/Injury Adjustment

0.012







TOTAL

0.747






MORE ON THE MODEL (for those who care)
As I said,
the model has two variables, one for hitting, one for pitching. The hitting variable is OPS, possibly the one true, best measure of overall batting prowess. 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 many 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
Brett Gardner had an OPS of .759 in 2013.
It is reasonable to conclude he will do about the same this year. And I expect him to have about 625 plate
appearances this year, which is exactly 10.0% of the Yankees 6,250 expected
team plate appearances. I multiply the
.759 times 10.0% to get .076, and then do the same thing for the other Yankees
hitter, and add them all up to get the team OPS. That process typically yields a team OPS
number between .630 (say, for Miami )
and .780 (say, for the Tigers). A brute
force method, for sure.
And
I do the same thing to predict team ERA….CC could have a modest rebound and
achieve a 4.00 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.
This
year I made a refinement, to try to improve the impact of injuries and
replacements. This involved adjusting
all plate appearance so that starters achieved roughly 70% of the plate
appearances in the American League and 60% in the National League, and similar
adjustments for starting pitchers and opening day relievers. Hopefully this will help!
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