2007 Sabermetric Year In Review: New York Yankees

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:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
MVN Blog:
The Bronx Block
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Contract Status
Trade Rumors
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 thatthe 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’ssee 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 highand thosenever 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 willcontinue to be the most-hated team in baseball.


8 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year In Review: New York Yankees

  1. RollingWave says:

    hah nice write up , love the Jeter part 😉 it’s really interesting that Wang manage to do what he does though with the immortal captian at short.
    For Shelley Duncan, well, he’s a pretty big big man, and he has a REALLY big swing. seeing his HR’s last yaer it’s pretty clear that he he real power, what’s perhaps a little more surprising is that he actually managed to make solid contact in the bigs with that wild swing.
    He’s never going to be anything awsome, but a potential right side of a platoon isn’t exactly a far fetched idea. he’s essentially a varient of Russell Branyan. swing hard in case you hit it!
    For the Santana trade, it make sense on paper, but so did the Vazquez trade… somehow these trades just don’t work in Yankee land it seems. there’s just something that doesn’t feel right about it. it makes all the sense in the world on paper. but still…
    Interestingly Robinson Cano has quietly had a awsome start of a career, his start stacks up favorablly with other HOF 2B of the modern era.
    The Yankee farm system is fast improving . considering it’s state just 2 to 3 years ago it’s a pretty amazing turnaround, they have a few pretty legit OF prospect in Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata, and a few more interesting guys that might pan out in some way like Juan Miranda, Brett Gardner , Francisco Cervelli, Jesus Montero etc.. plus a armada of pitchers that look like they could be something.
    I wonder if Kei Igawa would be more successful if he was pitching in a more friendly NL park. we’ll have to wait till he’s traded to find out though. he had some major problem locating his stuff for strikes last year though.
    The best result for the Yankee would be to try and stall this Santana trade till it just screws up and he reaches FA. the team have a ridiculas amoung of money comming off the books after 08 (Giambi ,Abreu , Pavano , Farnsworth , Pettitte , Mussina combine for close to 80M!) they could make a HUGE splash in the upcomming offseason landing Tiexira / Dunn / Santana . that would probably be the best possible outcome.

  2. I hope you mean the Vazquez trade that sent him to the DBacks for Randy Johnson and not how they got him from the Expos – when they got him from the Expos they had him for one season and did not allow for him to get himself adjusted to the AL. I never liked how they gave up on him so easily…. he would have been much better for the team than Randy Johnson.

  3. Dan Foster says:

    Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong Yankees fan (and a Jets fan, so don’t hate me yet).
    I’ll assume that all the Derek Jeter venom in the sabermetrics world is supposed to be remedial–you know, overblowing his defensive downside so that the hyperbole in the other direction (I’m looking at you, Tim McCarver) is offset.
    But Jeter only had a few downright BAD years RAA-wise. And, if I remember correctly, 05 and 06 were actually above average. Let’s also remember that just because he is a slightly to moderately below average shortstop doesn’t mean he’s a moderately below average INFIELDER. Here you need to combine scouting with the numbers. As a guy who sees him play 162 games a year, I will agree Jeter has trouble (especially early in his career and then again in 07) going to the second base side, and can be slow on release.
    But he also has a plus arm, good double play skills, and is one of the better infielders at backpeddling (something especially clear when you watch him and A-Rod both going for popups). And, of course, he makes flashy, max effort plays. Sportswriters (and fans like me) love that. The Dive, the Flip, every jump-turn throw. That stuff can offset more pedestrian shortcomings in the flesh even if they don’t in the final analysis.

  4. Pizza Cutter says:

    Dan, usually when Sabermetricians poke fun at Jeter’s “Gold Glove” defense, it’s more of a slap at the Gold Glove process than anything. Jeter won a defensive award primarily because of his offensive capabilities (huh?). Jeter’s certainly not Ryan Braun with the glove, but he’s not exactly Adam Everett either.
    If you want to appreciate the flash and jumping and diving, that’s fine. Just please don’t confuse it with something that’s going to help the Yankees win games.

  5. dan says:

    I am a die hard Yankees fan and still bash Jeter’s defensive abilities if only to make other fans realize that not all Yankees are perfect.I’ve never seen a meaningful defensive stat say that Jeter is a good defender (even the Fan’s Scouting Report says he’s about average, and that’s coming from the eyes of Yankee fans who watch him play).
    If so many systems (RZR, UZR, PMR, FRAA, +/-, etc.) all come to similar conclusions, how can we not believe them?
    At one point in time we believed that everything revolved around the earth, and we were wrong. At one point in time we believed that batting average was extremely important, and we were wrong. Now, we (some of us, at least) believe that Jeter isn’t all he’s cracked up to be defensively, and have yet to be disproved. When someone shows me how BP, MGL, Pinto, Dewan, and their counterparts are wrong, I’ll gladly accept Jeter as a good shortstop. Until then, I stand by what I just stated.

  6. Dan, I totally agree. I call it “The Sportscenter Effect.” We see that Jeter has made amazing plays and think the forest consists of only those trees, so to speak, not the entire multitude of trees.
    Gold Gloves are a joke – I am a diehard Phillies fan and loved Bobby Abreu, but he was not one of the three best defensive outfielders in 2005. Maybe not even top 12. He has a great arm and rarely makes errors, but a Gold Glove needs to go to the best defensive players – Silver Sluggers are for offense.

  7. Pizza Cutter says:

    Eric, in my line of work (psychology), it’s actually known as the “availability hueristic.” (Which are there more of: words beginning with the letter K or words with the letter K as their third letter? Answer: the latter… although we’re not trained to think of what the third letter of a word is so we have a much easier time coming up with words starting with K.) But, “SportsCenter Effect” works well enough. Maybe I’ll work that into my intro lecture.

  8. Dan Foster says:

    Just to clarify, guys. My comment included the predicate “is a…below average shortstop” attached to the subject “Derek Jeter”. Also, I don’t think anybody serious enough about baseball analysis to read this blog would think the Gold Glove is an objective measure of defensive proficiency (I think Greg Maddux is slated to get his every year until he dies).
    So, as opposed to defending Jeter’s gold gloves or claiming he is a plus defender, all I meant to do was gesture at reasons why he might not be as BAD a defender as the jokes suggest. And to make the admittedly minor secondary point that “bad shortstop” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad defender,” as the mean and replacement levels are so high at 6.
    In any event, for things like WARP it only matters that he is better than replacement level (he’s been good for +2 to +4 defensive WARP for a few years now). Though, of course, one could make a very strong case that guys like Adam Everett and John McDonald should be considered Replacement Level, which would make Jeter look a lot worse.

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