2007 Sabermetric Year In Review: New York Yankees
December 28, 2007 8 Comments
Because it’s Christmas-time, I’ll refrain from referring to the Yankees as “evil.” Our next two stops (#12 and #13) are in New York for a look at the Mets (coming soon) and today, the Yankees. It’s also the longest I’ve ever stayed in New York.
Record: 94-68, 2nd in AL East (Wild Card, lost ALDS 3-1 to the Indians…. awww yeah! Sorry… momentary lapse…)
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 98.34 wins (968 runs scored, 777 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
The Bronx Block
More Yankees Resources:
Overview: The Yankees scored the most runs in the American League, had the most hits, and led the league in OBP, SLG, and home runs. They made the playoffs for the 12th straight year, despite the fact that this looked like the year that they would finally fall apart. It seems that way every year. After all, aren’t a lot of their key guys about 38?
What went right: Well, A-Rod. He did win the MVP award with no competition. (Oh that’s right, the two guys from Detroit voted for Magglio Ordonez…) It grates on my ears when I hear people complain about A-Rod. No one else puts up the goods like that. True, he’s a specific type of player. He puts the ball in the air and it goes far far away. He doesn’t hit a lot of singles and he strikes out in 20% of his plate appearances. It would be great if he hit more line drives, struck out less, walked a little bit more, etc. But, as a clinical psychologist, I have a saying: Don’t argue with success. If you want to poke holes in his game, they’re there, but perhaps you might try sitting back and relaxing and enjoying one of the best hitters ever to play the game. Yeah, I said it.
Chien-Ming Wang won 19 games. Simple recipe: put the ball on the ground and let gold glove fielders like Derek Jet… I almost got through that one without laughing… let your infield do the rest. You don’t give up many HR that way (Wang was third in the majors in not giving up HR). Occasionally, you get singled to death, but you have to put together three singles in a row to score a run, while you just need one home run. During the playoffs, there was a lot of talk about how the Yankees hadn’t signed Wang to be an “ace”, I suppose with the assumption that an ace must be someone who has blinging strikeout numbers. Another way that fantasy baseball has blinded folks. No, Wang is not a strikeout machine, but there’s more than one way to pitch successfully.
What went wrong: That Roger Clemens thing didn’t work, but it did make for one of the best baseball-related commercials of the year. The fastball is registering at 91 mph, the change at 86. The strikeouts are starting to go and the walks are starting to climb. And this whole “Will he or won’t he?” un-retire at the beginning of each year is getting old. Roger, please, for the good of the game (and I won’t even touch the steroid thing), retire. Go home. Become a roving instructor for someone. We’ll see you in five years in Cooperstown.
Then there was Kei Igawa. I have to imagine it was awful to see the Red Sox’s Japanese import work out just nicely, when Igawa just seemed to fall apart. Igawa ended up having some good outings in AAA, why couldn’t he do it in the majors? First off, take a look at his pitch profile. He’s got a 90 mph fastball with some amazing sink. Sure enough, in AAA, his strikeout rate was about the same as in the majors, but his walk rate was much lower in the minors. In AAA, more guys will chase that pitch. In the majors, guys will lay off that sort of pitch. Plus, Igawa gives up a lot of flyballs, and that probably had something to do with his 2 HR per 9 innings. The Yankees just bought a Japanese lemon.
Finally, there was Jason Giambi. Part of his problem was that he was hurt. But what suffered? Well, there was no notable drop in pitches per PA (4.38 to 4.30), but there was a small jump in his strikes/pitches ratio. His batted ball profile was almost an exact replica of his 2006 profile. Almost exact. The biggest drop was in Giambi’s HR/FB (and ISO). Could very well be the signs of a power outage, which at 37 isn’t likely to return.
Yeah, that about sums it up: I’ve gone on the record as saying that managers really don’t matter all that much, but will someone tell me what Joe Torre did last year in actually managing the game that Joe Girardi, Buck Showalter, or my brother-in-law would have done differently? Don’t kid yourself. Torre’s firing had absolutely nothing to do with his decisions in the dugout. Sure, it’s tempting to say “Well, he shouldn’t have started Wang on three days rest,” although the assumption is always that had he started Mussina, the Yankees would have won Game 4. The extended fantasy version of that line of logic is that they would have won Game 5 as well. Then, the ALCS. Then the World Series. Sure, if Torre had gone with Mussina (or reverse any of his decisions that you didn’t like, this is just the most obvious), the Yankees might have won. They might also have still lost that game. Sometimes you do everything right and it doesn’t work.
A manager not only runs the game strategy, but he’s also the chief psychologist in charge of player morale, the head media liaison, and in case of emergency, he’s the paperweight that management can throw overboard to make people believe that the ship isn’t sinking. The real reason that Joe Torre got fired was that the Yankees went into the ALDS with a two-man bullpen (Joba and Mariano). The Yankees had a pretty good team, but they ran into a better one. Where’s the shame in that? But, when your organization views anything other than complete world domination as shameful, it’s time to publicly throw a paperweight over the side. That’s life in the Big Apple.
How horrible was A-Rod’s post-season?: I know, I know. He’s so un-clutch. He was banished to the 8-spot in the line up in the 2006 playoffs. He doesn’t hit in the playoffs, right? Let’s see what the numbers say. A-Rod had an on-base percentage of .422 during the year. Let’s say that’s his true talent level going into the playoffs. The nice thing about A-Rod is that it’s a measure of the most important skill in the game, avoiding making an out. A-Rod came to bat 17 times, had four hits and walked twice. In 17 random PA, with a guy who has a “true” .422 OBP, how often would he only get on 6 times (or worse?) About 37% of the time. So, if he had it to do over again, A-Rod would probably be just as bad or worse 37% of the time and better 63% of the time. A-Rod had a slightly sub-par (for him) post-season this year.
Should I be excited about Shelley Duncan?: Of course you should. It’s the off-season. Seeing as there’s not that much really going on, now’s the time of year to get excited about guys like Shelley Duncan. It’s cold outside, and it will warm your heart to think about how Shelly Duncan is going to lead the Yankees to the World Series. Then again, you probably got excited and had all sorts of dreams about another Shelley Duncan (maybe it was Kelly Gruber) in junior high and those never happened either. Duncan will be 28 on Opening Day and just made his debut last year? Why? Because he was a middling outfield prospect who put up an OPS around .750-.800 or so in the minors at AA. Not bad. Not great. Then in 2007, he put up an OPS of .957 at AAA and got called up where in 83 plate appearances, he hit 7 home runs. And one double. Keep that in mind.
The good news is that Duncan does hit a lot of line drives. Line drives generally make good things happen. He also strikes out 27% of the time. That’s forgivable if he’s hitting for power to go with it. And he has shown some pop in the minors. But let me show you how a little illusion can be made with a little luck. Duncan’s amazing OPS in AAA was driven mostly by his OBP, which just happened to be well-above what he had done in the past. It also corresponded to a jump in his BABIP, which was well-above his career average. When he got to the majors, his BABIP dropped, and so did his OBP, but his OPS stayed high thanks to a rather high slugging percentage. Duncan had always been a home run hitter, but in his at-bats in the majors, 31.8% of his fly balls went for home runs (which would make him more prolific in that category than guys like A-Rod.) Methinks he caught a few good gusts of wind that pushed what would have been a double into the stands where it became a home run. The fact that he only had one double (and no triples) indicates that he wasn’t exactly an extra-base hit machine. Suppose that a few of those balls had landed for doubles rather than home runs. His SLG would have gone down. When his BABIP levels off and the small sample size issue is solved, Duncan will probably be discovered to be a true .750-.800 OPS guy. Not bad. Not outstanding.
Outlook: Let’s talk about a man named Johan. The Yankees want Santana, and they look ready and willing to trade some pretty high test prospects to get him. (At last check, they’re trying to talk the Twins down from both Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, plus Melky Cabrera!) Trading away the Melk man (he’s only 22?) would leave the Yankees with one regular under the age of 30 (Robinson Cano), but then again, this is Yankee-land where problems can be solved by signing another over-priced, aging veteran. Hughes and Kennedy are both real. (Joba is even real-er…) It looks like the Yankees will end up with some combination of three of Santana, Hughes, Kennedy, and Joba around which to build a rather nice starting rotation. There are plenty of over-priced outfielders out there who will put up good numbers, and there isn’t a lot position-wise in the Yankees minor-league cupboard. The Yankees are built to have an ever-escalating payroll with which they will buy free agents and thus they will continue to be the most-hated team in baseball.