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2006 Team Previews: New York Yankees, Positional Players

I would have had this finished yesterday, but I'm not going to lie: I watched 4 games of the World Baseball Classic yesterday, and I'm in the middle of trying to do that again today. This is how I treat my days off from work when I haven't watched baseball since October, and I'm enjoying it greatly. If you haven't caught any WBC action yet, make sure to do so.

The New York Yankees have a stacked lineup. Their pitching is questionable, and injuries could certainly ruin their chances at October, but that lineup is a thing of beauty. The Yankees were relatively quiet this offseason comnpared to most years, but they still made a few moves:

  • Acquired
  • Kelly Stinnett
  • Miguel Cairo
  • Johnny Damon
  • Gone elsewhere
  • Mark Bellhorn
  • Tony Womack
  • John Flaherty
  • Matt Lawton
  • Tino Martinez
  • Rey Sanchez
  • Ruben Sierra
Most of the players lost were role players on a weak NY bench. There have been some improvements to the bench, mostly by adding Andy Phillips to it, and having the option of Bernie Williams off the bench on days he doesn't DH, but it is still a weak spot. The important acquisition is Johnny Damon for centerfield. In 2008 and beyond the Yankees may regret it, but in 2006 they will surely enjoy his presence.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

2005: Jorge Posada .262/.352/.430; +9.44 pNRAA; +13.40 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jorge Posada .266/.372/.448; +23.54 pNRAA; +26.83 pNRAA/GP

For some reason, PECOTA expects a huge rebound from Jorge Posada offensively in 2006. His walk rate slipping was the most glaring problem from his 2005 line:

  • BB/PA
  • 2003: .158
  • 2004: .161
  • 2005: .121
  • 2006: .138
As you can see, a full bounceback to his excellent walk rates of yesteryear are not expected, but a boost from his disapointing 2005 totals is. I can see Posada returning to form, but I have a sneaking suspicion he'll play like he did in 2005 once again. Of course, he is still an above average player in that role.

First Base
2005: Tino Martinez .241/.328/.439; -14.10 pNRAA; -18.47 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jason Giambi .271/.440/.535; +9.52 pNRAA; +13.23 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jason Giambi .251/.395/.492; +11.61 pNRAA; 14.63 pNRAA/GP

Giambi's low value comes almost entirely from his poor defensive abilities. He is expected to have a Rate2 of 93, which takes away 7 runs of value every 100 games. He would be much more valuable as the Yankees DH, certainly. Andy Phillips has more pNRAA value as a first basemen than Bernie Williams does as a DH, and when you take into account the runs saved by taking Giambi's glove out of the mix, the current setup becomes almost injustifiable. You know, besides the Yankees not using pNRAA to evaluate their roster moves. If Giambi is playing first because he enjoys himself more there, then Phillips could take over at DH. Either way, William's is not the best option on the bench to take the DH spot, and I'll echo that louder in games where Bubba Crosby has the position.

One more note, Giambi's projection is also somewhat down due to his poor 2004 showing; I expect him to be closer to his 2005 numbers than those from two years past. His splits are ridiculous from last year:

  • Giambi Season Splits
  • APR-JUN 30: .257/.409/.374
  • JUL 1-OCT 1: .282/.463/.655

That .619 Isolated Power figure from July is accurate, which frightens me.

Second Base
2005: Tony Womack .249/.276/.280; -2.10; -0.51 pNRAA/GP
2005: Robinson Cano .297/.320/.458; -3.52 pNRAA; -4.64 pNRAA/GP

2006: Robinson Cano .283/.316/.425; +1.01 pNRAA; +1.40 pNRAA/GP

Womack's pNRAA figures are solely from his 24 games at second base last year. Interestingly enough, he was 17 runs above average defensively (per 100 games of course) at second base, but his offensive line was awful. In his first 24 games, he hit .270/.316/.315, but played excellent defensively as previously mentioned. For the year, Womack was much worse, with a -9.77 pNRAA/GP.

Cano is expected to do basically as well as he did in 2005, except with better defense. I mentioned in my TB review that I would take Jorge Cantu over Robinson Cano, media bias aside. After working on Cano's projection, I still feel that way.

Third Base
2005: Alex Rodriguez .321/.421/.610; +33.60 pNRAA; +54.43 pNRAA/GP

2006: Alex Rodriguez .298/.391/.576; +37.94 pNRAA; +61.46 pNRAA/GP

What can you say about the reigning (deserving) Most Valuable Player from the American League? He was awful defensively at third base according to different metrics around midseason; he ended up playing amazing defense down the stretch and brought himself almost all the way back to respectability on the season in that regard. Noting that, PECOTA projects him to be league average defensively at third in 2006. I expect it to be somewhat higher, considering he went from the mid-to-high 80's range all the way to a 95 Rate2 in a matter of two months of games. Want a lock for a pNRAA of 40? Rodriguez is your man.

2005: Derek Jeter .309/.389/.450; +22.97 pNRAA; +36.52 pNRAA/GP

2006: Derek Jeter .298/.365/.431; +15.43 pNRAA; +25.00 pNRAA/GP

Jeter's defense seems to have improved greatly since Alex Rodriguez took over at third base. Is he deserving of his last two Gold Gloves? Of course not, but he is no longer a serious problem defensively, putting up league average numbers the past two years. His offense is expected to regress back to 2004 levels, which were disapointing for Jeter in comparison to the ones surrounding it. I'm not sure what to make of this Jeter projection, mostly because he is one of those players that you can always depend on to succeed at a certain level (2004), but on occasion he gives you that little extra (2005). I still think the Yankees would have been better off moving Jeter to center rather than signing Damon, but he is at the least, no longer a terrible shortstop.

Left Field
2005: Hideki Matsui .305/.367/.496; +11.88 pNRAA; +19.24 pNRAA/GP

2006: Hideki Matsui .289/.361/.464; +10.59 pNRAA; +15.89 pNRAA/GP

The line looks about right to me, although he may have a tad more slugging. It really depends on which Matsui shows up: the 2004 version was the more consistent one, while the 2005 version bounced back and forth between his two MLB seasons. I'm of the mind that the outfield defense is going to be especially ugly in another season or two. 2006 shouldn't present any problems though.

There have been some complaints about the dollar amounts in Matsui's new contract, but considering the marketing money he brings to the table in New York, no question that you sign him for that amount of cash. Four years may be a little much, but as long as they don't fill up the rest of the outfield with overly long, overly expensive...oh, wait.

Center Field
2005: Bernie Williams .249/.321/.367; -8.93 pNRAA; -12.59 pNRAA/GP
2005: Bubba Crosby .276/.304/.327; +5.08 pNRAA; +3.86 pNRAA/GP

2006: Johnny Damon .290/.352/.423; +11.54 pNRAA; +17.30 pNRAA/GP

I'm not sure I have as much faith in Damon's defense as Rate does for 2006. The projection is hard to argue though; just know that in another year or two, if his arm continues to suffer and he loses some of the range that makes him as good of a centerfielder as he has been, that the Yankees will start to wonder whether or not Bernie Williams is still on the team. In the meantime, Damon makes the Yankees much more dangerous, considering the poor production out of this position in 2005.

Right Field
2005: Gary Sheffield .291/.379/.512; +14.79 pNRAA; +22.78 pNRAA/GP

2006: Gary Sheffield .306/.392/.548; +18.27 pNRAA; +28.31 pNRAA/GP

Sheffield is expected to be better than last year, which is most likely the result of improved health. Age may play a factor in his decline starting as soon as this year, but there have been no signs of a collapse from Sheff. He is a future Hall of Famer, continuing to play at the sort of level that brought him that sort of respect in the first place. The projection may be a tad high, considering it expects him to outperform the past two years, but I would not be surprised if he matched it. He just as easily could end up hitting significantly worse, but I don't see that in the cards for some reason.

Designated Hitter
2005: Ruben Sierra .229/.265/.371; -23.48 pNRAA; -14.32 pNRAA/GP
2005: Jason Giambi .271/.440/.535; +17.68 pNRAA; +24.57 pNRAA/GP

2006: Bernie Williams .261/.336/.384; -11.24 pNRAA; -9.98 pNRAA/GP

I understand George Steinbrenner and the Yankees wanted to keep Bernie Williams around. He's been one of the faces of one of the most successful era's in Yankees history (which is saying something) and he has always been a class act, like many of the late 90's Yanks. The problem is, like Tino Martinez in 2005, he just does not compare to other options on the roster. Andy Phillips, as previously mentioned, should be taking over at either first or DH. I understand this is difficult considering the loyalty to Bernie Williams, but the organization may be a tad too loyal in this regard. They may pay for it in one of the strong divisions in baseball, especially if the pitching falters.

Overall, the Yankees lineup is very strong. Let's take a look at it using David Pinto's Lineup Analysis tool.

  1. Giambi
  2. Rodriguez
  3. Matsui
  4. Sheffield
  5. Posada
  6. Damon
  7. Jeter
  8. Cano
  9. Williams
That lineup is expected to score 5.843 runs per game; or 950 runs on the season. A ridiculous offense that looks much like the Red Sox from 2003-2004, only lacking the pitching strength of those teams. Everything rests on the pitching staff. If a position players go down, they do not really have the bench depth to survive, but the fact that the lineup is stacked so well to begin with gives hope that they would get through a majory injury. The rotation on the other hand...well, the less Jaret Wright the Yanks have to see, the better.