Swing State Pres

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Yankees at the One-Quarter Mark: Hanging In, But The Next 40 Are The Real Key (May 16, 2014)

The Yankees season is slowly blowing up, a bomb going often roughly every other day.  Three starting pitchers are down, one for the season and the other two more or less indefinitely.  And now Carlos Beltran, who, on paper, became the Yankees best hitter the day he signed, which was the day after Robbie Cano signed with Seattle, is gone for a while as well.

But, through the wonders of parity and the Tommy John-surgery epidemic, the Yankees remain in the hunt.  Whether they can stay there depends a great deal on how they fare over the next 40 games, limping along with Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and Chase Whitley as three-fifths of their rotation.

How have they managed?  Largely because of two players that even the most die-hard of Yankee fans had not even heard of one year ago, Masahiro Tanaka and Yangervas Solarte.  They have easily been the team’s best pitcher and hitter, respectively, and have dragged the club to two games over .500 at the 40-game mark.

Let’s break it down, referencing my pre-season predictions here as a base: http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2014/04/yankees-2014-preview-is-it-2009-again-i.html

At that time I cautioned that while the Yanks had a treasure trove of new stars, this was not 2009 all over again, and I projected 89 wins based on my model.  I said they would have a Team OPS of .747 and it is at .738 after 40 games.  Not bad.  I thought they would have a 3.85 Team ERA and it is somewhat worse at 4.18.  All in all, pretty close, and they are 21-19 when I thought they would be 22-18. 

BATTERS

The batters, as I said, have been on target overall.  It may seem like they are not hitting much, but the fact is, I never thought they would be true Bronx Bombers to begin with.  I pointed out that on the 2009 champions, Johnny Damon had the lowest OPS of any starter, at .854, which was higher than the highest OPS recorded by a Yankee last year (Carlos Beltran’s .830 as a Cardinal).  So I thought the Yanks were simply an “OK” hitting team, and indeed, that’s what they’ve been.


Plan
40 Game

2014 OPS
2014 OPS
 McCann
0.800
0.621
 Beltran
0.830
0.715
 Roberts
0.700
0.663
 Johnson
0.710
0.770
 Ellsbury
0.800
0.771
 Teixeira
0.800
0.934
 Jeter
0.725
0.639
 Gardner
0.770
0.732
 Soriano
0.800
0.691
 Solarte
0.700
0.907
 Subs
0.688
0.836
 Pitchers
0.200
0.308
 TOTAL
0.747
0.738

They’ve gotten there in a bit of an odd way.  All that great talent they brought in – McCann, Beltran, Ellsbury, Roberts and Johnson, have been pretty disappointing, with only Kelly Johnson exceeding my OPS expectations (even while losing his starting job to Solarte).  The returnees – Teixeira, Jeter, Gardner and Soriano – have been mixed but collectively off.  (Tex has actually been superb.)  What has kept them on track has been the subs, most notably Solarte but throw in Ichiro and John Ryan (“Don’t Call Me J.R.”) Murphy, who have all excelled.  Looked at the batters broken down this way:


Plan
40 Game

2014 OPS
2014 OPS
Newcomers
0.775
0.707
Returnees
0.774
0.735
Subs
0.688
0.836
Pitchers
0.200
0.308
Total
0.747
0.738


Pretty amazing!  This should all level out a bit over the season – the Yankees badly need those “newcomers” to perform to expectation.  They have 44% of team plate appearances thus far, as expected, so they represent nearly half the offense.  It will be fascinating to see if Solarte is the real deal.  (And if he is, all the more reason to buy out ARod and end his days in pinstripes.)

PITCHERS

It is no secret the starting pitching has been disastrous, but the relief pitching has been nothing short of spectacular.  And for a bullpen that lost Mariano, as well as Boone Logan, a strong bullpen was hardly pre-ordained.  Dellin Betances has been lights out, better than Joba in 2007, and Adam Warren has stepped into the 8th inning role seamlessly.  Not to mention David Robertson, who has not pitched that much, but compiled Mo-like stats in his 10 outings.


Plan
40 Game

2014 ERA
2014 ERA
 Sabathia
4.00
5.28
 Tanaka
3.50
2.17
 Nova
3.50
8.27
 Kuroda
3.50
4.62
 Pineda
4.00
1.83
 Nuno

6.43
 Phelps
4.50
4.09
 Robertson
2.20
1.74
 Warren
3.50
1.54
 Kelley
4.20
3.52
 Claiborne
4.50
2.31
 Thornton
3.50
5.40
 Betances

1.61
 Other
3.85
8.33

But the season rests on the starting pitching.  Ivan Nova is gone for the year, Michael Pineda is out for another month, and C.C. Sabathia is on the shelf with no return date set.  The Yanks thought they had depth – they had four pitchers competing for the fifth spot in spring training, which Pineda won.  But of the three who lost out in that competition, Adam Warren is entrenched in the bullpen, Vidal Nuno has by and large been a disaster, and only David Phelps has been adequate.  Chase Whitley had a nice, albeit brief, debut against the Mets, but he is hardly a given going forward.  Do I smell Cliff Lee on the horizon?  But for what trade bait?  The Yanks have little to offer from their minor league system.

Breaking it down further (in the chart below) summarizes this quite nicely.  The starters have underperformed (aside from Tanaka), and their substitutes have been worse.  The relievers have been amazing, though the replacement relievers (Aceves, Daley, LeRoux, Cabral, Billings et al) have been simply dreadful in their 22 1/3 innings.  They resemble Dean Anna, the former backup infielder who gave up 2 runs in one inning of mop up work in a blowout.


Plan
40 Game

2014 ERA
2014 ERA
Starters
3.68
4.15
Sub Starters
4.50
4.94
Relievers
3.58
2.31
Sub relievers
3.75
10.08
TOTAL
3.85
4.18

So the Yankees have held up after 40 games.  Presumably by midseason they will have a stronger rotation, with either the return of Pineda and an (injury-free) Sabathia (though he was pretty terrible in the early going) or some replacement(s) from the major league trade deadline group.  But if they are 10 games out, it may be too late by then.  Unless parity continues to reign!

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