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Feb 102011

With the troubles that the Yankees have at the back of their rotation, A.J. Burnett has become a key figure in the Yankees’ pitching plans. He is currently slated to be the #3 starter, meaning that another season like the one he had in 2010 (186.2 IP, 5.26 ERA, 4.83 FIP) would make it difficult for the Yankees to mount a playoff charge. It is important to note that 2010 was his worst season, and that all of the projection systems currently available have him bouncing back to some degree in 2010:

CAIRO: 187 IP, 4.77 ERA, 4.50 FIP
Bill James: 191 IP, 4.01 ERA, 4.05 FIP
Marcel: 174 IP, 4.53 ERA, 4.30 FIP
Fans: 181 IP, 4.46 ERA, 4.33 FIP
PECOTA: 186.2 IP, 4.56 ERA

These projections take age and natural decline into account, and the rebound that you see in these statistics blend the fact that 2010 was an anomaly for Burnett with the fact that he is aging and cannot be expected to return entirely to pre-2010 levels. The projections range from 174 to 191 innings pitched, and from an ERA of 4.01 to 4.77. Regarding the ERA, Bill James tends to be optimistic, and I think the generally accepted projection would fit somewhere in the 4.50 range.

These statistics would be a nice improvement over 2010, but I am certain that the Yankees are hoping for more from their #3 starter. The question is whether this hope is reasonable. Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, and Burnett himself have all insinuated that he had some issues last season that were effecting his mindset, and have suggested that he is once again mentally prepared to pitch effectively. I am uncertain about what to do with this information due to its vague nature, and I leave it up to you to decide whether you are willing to put any stock in it. I do not think it would be realistic to expect much more than the projected numbers listed above, which would certainly be an improvement but may not be enough to convince Brian Cashman that he does not need to acquire another top/middle of the rotation starter.

Feb 032011

Yesterday, I projected the potential starting rotation by WAR so I’ll do the same thing with the bullpen today. However, it’s near impossible to tell just how many guys will be pitching in the bullpen and at what times. In fact, it’s possible that some of the guys I projected in the rotation will get significant innings in the bullpen rather than in the rotation. To avoid guess work, I’ll just be calculating the WAR of guys we KNOW will be in the bullpen and comparing their personal marks to those of last year. The guys we KNOW will be in the bullpen:

Mariano Rivera
Rafael Soriano
David Robertson
Joba Chamberlain
Pedro Feliciano
Boone Logan

I’m leaving out the long man because I have no idea who that’s going to be. I put the pitchers in that order because that’s how I think they’ll be used in terms of leverage, and that’s how the spreadsheet is formatted. To clarify, we’re assuming Mariano Rivera is going to be used in the highest leverage situations while Boone Logan will be used in the lowest leverage situations. Obviously, this is flexible and not exact, but we’ll roll with it for now. On to the projections!

Mariano Rivera: 2.99 FIP in 68 IP, 2.7 WAR
Rafael Soriano: 3.48 FIP in 66 IP, 1.3 WAR
David Robertson: 3.68 FIP in 67 IP, 0.8 WAR
Joba Chamberlain: 2.98 FIP in 72 IP, 1.4WAR*
Pedro Feliciano: 3.89 FIP in 65 IP, 0.5 WAR
Boone Logan: 4.24 FIP in 48 IP, 0.2 WAR

*Joba’s CAIRO projection included nine starts, which affected his originally projected IP (85) and FIP (3.94). So, I used his 2010 season as a guide and rounded up to 72 innings, while keeping his FIP tally the same. Joba showed in 2010 that he was pretty good at the FIP skill set and his career as a reliever (2.55 FIP) mirrors that.

So how do the 2011 projections compare the 2010 results? We see Joba staying the same at 1.4 WAR while we see Mo gaining an entire win from his 2010 season. D-Rob gains a tenth of a win; Logan loses two tenths of a win. Soriano drops three tenths of a win, and that’s probably due to the FIP correction CAIRO sees for Rafael. As for Feliciano, he’d also be dropping three tenths of a win but I may be underestimating his leverage.

In terms of confidence, I feel a good deal of it int he FIP projections (though Soriano’s may be a touch high) but not necessarily so in terms of the exact leverage numbers. Logan and Feliciano may end up in higher leverage situations than I anticipated due to different matchups and it’s possible that Joba and Robertson switch places in terms of who gets how many higher leverage innings. No matter what, though, I’m confident that the Yankee bullpen will be more than solid in 2011.

Feb 022011

Without a hint of hesitation, I would say that the starting rotation is the biggest hole the 2011 Yankees will have. It consists of one bonafide ace/workhorse/gamer/whatever buzzword there is for pitchers in CC Sabathia. After that, there’s no shortage of question marks. Let’s rewind to last year for a second.

The Yankees had eight men take the hill to start a game in 2010: Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley, and Javier Vazquez. Sparing the long reminiscence, we could call 2010 a mixed bag in terms of success for the Yankee starters. CC Sabathia had a typical CC Sabathia season. Andy Pettitte was great, but was injured and threw under 130 innings. Mitre enjoyed a small sample of (probably unsustainable) success; Moseley was replacement level as expected; Nova showed some potential. Phil Hughes looked like he was starting to realize his considerable upside, though he did slide a bit after an impressive first month. Vazquez and Burnett? Looking at their collective performance in 2010 is like looking at the light that came from the Ark of the Covenant, only it wasn’t the power of God but of unmatched suckitude.

All told, the 2010 starters for the Yankees tossed 973 innings and racked up 10.60 fWAR. Can the 2011 rotation match or beat that? A lot of our gut reactions might say “no” considering how poorly we’ve been “conditioned” to view the forthcoming rotation. So I plugged some Yankee projections into the pitching WAR spreadsheet from Beyond the Box Score (glove slap Mike Axisa) to see what would come out the other end.

I intended this post to only be about Ivan Nova, but I thought why not expand it to the whole rotation? After all, I like to think I live by the “go big or go home” motto that a high school friend spouted perpetually. I used nine starters, the nine I think are most likely to make starts for the 2011 Yankees. I took their CAIRO projected innings pitched and FIPs and plugged them into the above spreadsheet and here’s what I got:

CC Sabathia: 210 IP w/3.68 FIP = 4.7 WAR
Phil Hughes: 172 IP w/4.17 FIP = 2.8 WAR
A.J. Burnett: 187 IP w/4.50 FIP = 2.3 WAR
Ivan Nova: 116 IP w/5.04 FIP = 0.8 WAR
Sergio Mitre: 72 IP w/4.69 FIP = 0.7 WAR
Freddy Garcia: 31 IP w/4.90 FIP = 0.2 WAR
Andrew Brackman: 63 IP w/5.26 FIP = 0.3 WAR
David Phelps: 94 IP w/5.05 FIP = 0.6 WAR
Hector Noesi: 80 IP w/4.91 FIP = 0.6 WAR

Before we get to tabulating the results, I want to review my methodology a bit here. I kept each pitcher’s leverage at 1.0 to make things even. I didn’t change the CAIRO innings projections at all, even though some of them might be unrealistic. I don’t think Phelps (or Noesi or maybe even Brackman) will get that many innings and I don’t think Garcia will get that few. I’m also assuming in this that every inning pitched by these guys is as a starting pitcher, which may not be likely for the “prospect trio” and Sergio Mitre. That said, some of this stuff isn’t THAT far out of the realm of possibility, so let’s get to the results.

These projections give us 1025 innings pitched by Yankee starters, in which they rack up 12.9 WAR. Both of those numbers beat the 2010 version of Yankee starting pitching. We must note that the 2011 projection includes one more pitcher than the 2010 “rotation” did so I adjusted this with a rough WAR/IP calculation. The 2010 starters were worth 0.0109 WAR/IP and the 2011 rotation projects to be worth 0.0126 WAR/IP.

The rotation was 11th in the American League in fWAR by starters in 2010 and if we plug the projected 2011 rotation into that list, it would have the 9th best SP fWAR in the AL. That’s still below the league median, but, again, better than what the team had in 2010.

We’ve been very doom-and-gloom about the possible rotation for 2011, but these numbers (that, yes, we should take with a grain of salt because they’re projections), should help allay our fears just a little bit. While it seems the 2011 rotation might not quite be league average as a whole, it could still be a two win improvement from 2010. With the added bullpen strength and the still strong lineup, the Yankees look like they’ll have a formidable team in 2011.

SG over at RLYW has posted his initial CAIRO projected standings for the 2011 season, with the caveat that it is really, really early to be drawing significant conclusions from the data. Regardless, they should provide a decent guide for where teams stand relative to one another at this point, so click through to view the standings and then come back here for some takeaways:

1) The AL East should be a dogfight again, although the Red Sox (98 wins) are clearly ahead of the Yankees (89) and Rays (87) at this point. However, it is important to note that the Yankees and Rays are not finished products, while the Red Sox look largely complete. Adding Andy Pettitte, a bullpen arm, and a bench bat would likely put the Yankees in the 93 win range and in the conversation for a division title if they got a few breaks. Even without adding anybody, they should be good enough to compete for a wild card spot, which allows Brian Cashman some cushion before he needs to address the starting rotation.

2) The Blue Jays project to win 74 games, and I would not be surprised to see the Orioles pass them in the standings this season. The Jays are just mediocre all over the field, and losses in both the rotation and the bullpen will hurt them mightily.

3) The Twins, Tigers, and White Sox all project between 86 and 84 wins, and I could see that division going down to the wire, with the Twins the slight favorite to come out on top. However, an argument could be made that all 3 AL East teams are superior to any of the Central teams, and I think it likely that the Wild Card once again goes to an AL East team.

4) The Rangers project as being 7 wins better than the improved Athletics and a whopping 12 wins ahead of the still unfinished Angels. Adrian Beltre and Rafael Soriano would help close that gap, and move the Angels to within striking distance in the division. I do not see another logical suitor for either player, and expect both to land in Los Angeles.

5) Other than the Phillies, the NL is a morass of decent-to-mediocre clubs that should make for some fascinating races. The Cards, Brewers, Reds, Rockies, Giants, and Dodgers should all contend for their respective division titles, while the losers in those divisions will likely compete with the Braves for the Wild Card. The NL seems to have achieved some measure of parity, and I would not be at all surprised to see 3 new playoff teams come out of the league.

To say Brett Gardner had a surprising 2010 would be an understatement. Behind a fantastic walk rate of 13.9%, Gardner ended up with a .383 OBP and a .358 wOBA. All of that led to a 123 wRC+. Combine that with a 21.9 UZR, and you get a fantastic 5.4 fWAR.

There are people that doubt Gardner can do that again. I’m going to cautiously agree. To expect a guy with as little a track record as Gardner to put up a 5.4 fWAR season again is expecting a lot. But, then again, a .358 wOBA is definitely do-able for Gardner, especially if he can keep walking like Nick Johnson. What do Bill James and CAIRO say for Brett?

James projects a .349 wOBA and CAIRO projects a .329 wOBA. To save time, let’s take the rough average of those two for our projection. That comes out to .339 for the average. We’ll use that going forward, using the same process as in my A-Rod post.

I’ll run this three ways: with Gardner playing CF full time, with Gardner playing LF full time, and with a hybrid approach. For they hybrid approach, I’ll use the same positional adjustment as this year: -4.4. We’ll also assume +10 defense for LF, +7 for CF, and +8.5 for the hybrid (average of the two). I realize those are aggressive numbers, but I’m comfortable going that high for Gardner. Assume 10 runs per win.

CF: 3.56 fWAR
LF: 2.86 fWAR
LF/CF: 3.02 fWAR

Those numbers look pretty okay to me. The 2.86 fWAR might look crappy compared to last year’s, but let’s remember that 2010 was likely Gardner’s absolute ceiling and that considering how little he’s paid, he’ll likely still be a valuable asset at 2.86 WAR.

We’ve also got to remember that the 3.02 fWAR scenario is most likely, especially if Gardner continues his performance against lefties while Curtis Granderson continues to struggle a bit (unless he really is #cured), and a platoon guy like Scott Hairston is signed to hit against LHP.

.339 is also a bit low on the projection, considering he just wOBA’d .358. I don’t think he’ll get as high as .358, but I don’t think he’ll go as low as .339. In projecting, though, it’s probably better to be conservative.

Before I get into Jorge, I just want to note that I apparently made a mistake the other day (thanks to Moshe for pointing it out on Twitter) when I calculated Derek Jeter’s projected WAR. I shorted him about .58 WAR. If I had done the calculations correctly (going by this post and this article), it would’ve come out like this:

.344 projected wOBA-.327 LGwOBA = 0.170
0.170/1.15 = 0.0148
0.0148 x 703 projected PAs = 10.3922 runs above average
10.3922 + 7.5 positional adjustment for SS = 17.8922
17.8922 – 5 runs defensively = 12.8922
12.8922/10.5 runs per win = 1.2278 wins above average
1.2278 + 2 (adjusting for replacement level) = 3.2278 projected 2010 WAR for Derek Jeter

So, that’s still about a bit off his career averages in terms of WAR, but it’s still not bad for a 37 year old shortstop.

Let’s jump into the WAR-projection pool with Alex Rodriguez. I reviewed Alex’s seasons in terms of his 2010 ZiPS Projection, and Alex fell just a bit short of that for a few reasons that I touched on. Just based on his talent, along with his numbers from this year, I’m very comfortable in predicting a rebound year for Mr. Rodriguez. Bill Hames is, too.

He projects–very optimistically–a .393 wOBA for A-Rod in 621 PAs. What would that transfer into in terms of WAR? Using the same process as above, and assuming -2.9 fielding (A-Rod’s 3B UZR/150), 5.3562 WAR. That would be one hell of a rebound! When I looked at that, I thought…no way. That’s way too high, even with a projected .393 wOBA. So to check it, I went to the FG wOBA leader-board and looked for any comparisons to A-Rod to see if my projection was really so awful.

I found Adrian Beltre. He wOBA’d “only” .390 in 2010, but his fielding was much better than -2.9. With a .390 wOBA and a +11.8 UZR, Beltre racked up 7.1 WAR. So, in that light, my projection doesn’t seem to be that far off.

However, there are still some factors we need to address.

1. It’s very possible that A-Rod is worse than -2.9 runs on defense.
2. It’s very possible that A-Rod will get some PAs at DH, negatively affecting his positional adjustment.
3. It’s very possible that A-Rod won’t get to a .393 wOBA. That may not be likely, but it’s still possible.
4. This has to do with #3, but James’ projections are notoriously positive. We’ll definitely check back on this projection when the ZiPS and CHONE projections come out.

Nov 292010

While there is always the small possibility that Jeter doesn’t return in 2011, I think we can all agree it’s on the unlikely side. How unlikely I’m sure we’ll disagree on, but we can probably find common ground in the unlikelihood of a Jeter-less 2011 in the Bronx. How Jeter performs in 2011, though, is obviously a mystery.

In 2008, it looked like the beginning of the end was coming. Aside from his cup of coffee in 1995, 2008 saw Jeter with his worst ever wOBA to that point (.343), second lowest walk rate (7.8%), and lowest IsoP (.107). It was later revealed that Jeter was playing through a hand injury and that was what sapped him of his power. Still, though, we wondered if decline was coming. 2009, though, seemed to erase those doubts.

During that campaign, Jeter put up his fourth highest (.390) wOBA and his .131 IsoP was more in line with hsi career averages. Maybe Derek would be able to keep defying time at the shortstop position.

2010, however, gave us a bit of a reality check. Everything important–AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS/wOBA/wRC+/IsoP–was a career worst for Jeter. We’ve heard no news of an injury, so this seems to be all on Jeter. The only thing Jeter “had” this year was “mid-to-late-thirties-shortstop-itis”. Guys with that tend not to have good seasons.

With a down-up-down swing like that, how can we even come close to predicting what he’s going to do in 2011, which will be his age 37 season?

First, let’s look at his comparable players through age 36 on B-R and see where they were at age 37. Let’s use wOBA as our baseline here.

Roberto Alomar: No age 37 season.
Craig Biggio (2003): .337 in 717 PAs
Frankie Frisch (1936): .325 in 348 PAs
Ted Simmons (1987): .319 in 200 PAs
Robin Yount (1993): .316 in 514 PAs
Charlie Gehringer (1940): .409 in 629 PAs
Johnny Damon: No age 37 season yet.
Cal Ripken (1998): .320 in 659 PAs
Alan Trammell (1995): .312 in 255 PAs
Pete Rose (1978): .351 in 729 PAs

There’s a pretty wide range of values there, but most fall in the .315-.330 range. So, if we go on the comparable players, we can expect Jeter to again be right around league average, or maybe a little worse in 2011. This isn’t a perfectly scientific comparison, though, since these guys all weren’t playing shortstop and some of them were apparently injured during those seasons. Taking a more scientific approach, let’s look at the Bill James projection for Jeter, which is up on FanGraphs.

Long story short, James–whose projections are usually on the optimistic side–peg Jeter at .295/.340/.370 in 703 PAs. That averages out to a .344 wOBA and a 115 wRC+, both of which are pretty much in line with his 2008 season. As un-Jeterian as that seems, I’d sign up for that line in a cocaine heartbeat. Doing some rough calculations…assuming a .327 league wOBA and -5 defense from Jeter (roughly his average UZR/150), that makes Jeter a 2.65 fWAR player in 2011.

That’s not all that great, considering he’s averaged higher than that in his career. However, I’d take that from a 37 year old short stop any day.

Like James, I see a relatively modest offensive rebound for Jeter. If he can do what James said–or even duplicate 2008–I’ll be happy with Jeter in 2011. If, like in 2009, he can rebound from a down year and have a near career year again, well that would just be gravy. We should, however, temper our expectations for Jeter. After all, not many 37 year old shortstops hit an upswing a the plate.

Mar 172010

On Monday, Moshe mused on Nick Swisher, his excellent 2009 season, and whether or not Swish is a candidate for regression in 2010. While there was some number crunching in Moshe’s post, I’m gonna take it a step further like I have for a few different players and project, based on other projections, what we might reasonably expect Swisher to do in 2010.

Before starting, I’ll say what I always say about Nick Swisher and players like him: if you’re looking for a guy to hit for a high batting average and make a lot of contact, Nick isn’t you’re man. He strikes out quite a bit and is not a good contact hitter. However, he does other things that offset those negatives. He’s got a great eye and when he does make contact, he hits for very good power. The same thing true here is true of Adam Dunn, but that’s really neither her nor there. Anyway, onto the forecasts.

Combining the CHONE, Bill James, Marcels, and Fans projections for Swisher, I came up with a line of .247/.357/.464/.821 for Swisher in 2010. Those numbers represent a bit of a drop off from Nick’s 2009, but they’re still right up there with his career numbers (.245/.357/.460/.818). The projections see Nick hitting 26 homers, rather than the 29 he hit in 2009, but that drop off isn’t really anything significant.

Basically, I have a lot of faith in Swisher to put up at least this projection. He’s a good hitter and I think he’s proved that 2008 was the exception whereas 2009 (and ’05-’07) was more of the rule.

And though I should’ve started with this, I’ll end with it: I’m an unabashed Swisher lover. Over at River Ave. Blues last year, I declared myself president of the Nick Swisher Fan Club. Nick’s a solid player who fits the Yankees in more than one way. Not only is he a great presence in the clubhouse and a good guy for the fans, he’s also a guy whose skill set is perfect for the Yankees. Nick is patient and powerful and can hold his own on defense. The trade for him was an absolute steal and his contract is not too pricey. I’m very glad that Nick Swisher is a New York Yankee.

Nick Swisher, by all measures, had an excellent 2009. After a terrible 2008 in Chicago that lead to him being traded for practically nothing, Swisher bounced back in a big way and helped the Yankees to their 27th championship. The question now is whether he can repeat his performance. On the surface, his numbers suggest that he is not due for a major regression:

Year R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2004 11 15 4 0 2 8 8 11 .250 .352 .417 .769 101
2005 66 109 32 1 21 74 55 110 .236 .322 .446 .768 101
2006 106 141 24 2 35 95 97 152 .254 .372 .493 .864 125
2007 84 141 36 1 22 78 100 131 .262 .381 .455 .836 126
2008 86 109 21 1 24 69 82 135 .219 .332 .410 .743 92
2009 84 124 35 1 29 82 97 126 .249 .371 .498 .869 129
6 Seasons 437 639 152 6 133 406 439 665 .245 .357 .460 .818 115
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/15/2010.

Swisher’s numbers in 2009 are similar to those from 2006 and 2007, and a look at his Fangraphs page shows that most of his other indicators (such as batted ball data) have remained consistent and steady as well. However, two recent articles suggest that if you dig deeper, you might find some reasons to believe that Swish is due for at least a bit of a regression regarding both his walk rate and his power. First, Jeff Zimmerman of Beyond The Boxscore used swing data to compute plate discipline, and then extrapolated an expected walk rate for each player. Swisher’s estimated walk rate was 12.5%, while his actual walk rate was 16%. This suggests that he is likely due for a correction in his walk rate in 2010.

Another important element of Swisher’s game, his power, may also be facing a bit of a downturn. Mike Axisa explains:

“Just Enough” homers are those that cleared the fence by less than ten feet vertically or that landed past the wall by less than the fence height (so if it’s an eight foot wall, it landed no more than eight feet deep)…..
As you can imagine, Just Enough homers are the most volatile year-to-year because they’re so close to the fence. As Rybarczyk chronicled at ESPN’s TMI blog, players who’ve hit 30 total homers in a season with at least 40% of them qualifying as Just Enoughs have seen their homer totals fall 23% on average the next season. That’s a problem for Swisher and the Yankees, because he led the American League with 14 Just Enough homers, 48.3% of his total big flies.
This isn’t the first time Swisher has been in the Just Enough danger zone either. His 14 Just Enoughs were second in the league back in 2006, exactly 40% of the career-high 35 homers he hit for the A’s. What happened in 2007? Swish regressed back to just six Just Enoughs and 22 total homers, a 37.1% drop. This isn’t to say Swisher is guaranteed to see a drop off in his homerun – and thus overall offensive – production in 2010, but it’s not looking good.

Basically, Swisher’s knack for sneaking balls over the wall last year may have overinflated his home run totals to an unsustainable level. As such, it would not be surprising to see him back around 20-25 home runs, rather than increasing past 30 as he enters his prime.

Now, stating that Swisher will lose production in the walk and home run categories sounds like pretty bad news for a three true outcomes (HR, BB, K) type player. That said, neither study sees Swish losing enough in either category to sap him of his effectiveness, and you could make the argument that a player at his age is likely to improve. Furthermore, Swisher was terrible at home last year, which is something that is uncharacteristic for players in general and Swisher in particular. While he is unlikely to repeat his road performance, the room for improvement at home should overcompensate for any loss of effectiveness on the road. In all, I expect Swisher to be very similar in 2010 to what he was in 2009, but would not be surprised to see a modicum of regression in terms of walks and power.

From baseballprojection.com, courtesy of RLYW:

Normally, projections do not forecast the same range of wins and losses as will happen in real life. We expect that a few teams will win 95+ games, but are not sure exactly which ones, and if you pick any one team (Yankees excepted) the odds are they won’t win that many games.

But yet I’m projecting 99 wins for the defending world champions. I think this is the highest projection I’ve ever had, for any team. I had them at 97 last year and they beat it by 6. I like the moves they have made in the last year. Curtis Granderson is a tremendous player who helps on offense and defense (at least against righties). Javier Vazquez was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year, and Nick Johnson is OBP Jesus. The Yankees are insanely talented, even more so than usual. The breaks of the season could mean that Boston wins the East, or even Tampa Bay, but the talent spread is so huge in this division that Baltimore and Toronto have basically no chance.

Wow. CHONE, for those who do not know, is one of the handful of widely respected projection systems, and a “highest ever” ranking for the 2010 iteration of the Yankees is pretty amazing. As a stated last week, projections are simply estimates based upon expected performance, and the amount of variance typical to a Major League season makes them more suited for use as a broad guide than for precise evaluations. That said, this simply confirms my belief that on paper, the 2010 Yankees project to be about as good, if not better, than the 2009 version.

This brings me to a question for debate. Do you think that Brian Cashman’s moves this offseason made the Yankees better or worse than they were when the 2009 season ended?

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