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May 5, 2005

Reality Check
by SG

At this point, it's pretty obvious that the Yankees are not as good as Yankee fans had hoped. We are well aware of the litany of questionable moves they made this past offseason. With very little in the way of tradeable players on the major or minor league level, I don't see the personnel on this team changing in any signifcant way. So the question of the day is, can this team recover?

I wondered if the Yankees have been unlucky so decided to look at Baseball Prospectus's adjusted standings.

Yankees 11 17 147 161 12.7 15.3 148 163 12.6 15.4 135 142 13.4 14.7 -1.7 -1.6 -2.4

W, L : Actual team wins and losses.

RS, RA: Actual team runs scored and runs allowed.

W1, L1 ("First-order wins"): Pythagenport expected wins and losses, based on
RS and RA.

EQR, EQRA: Equivalent runs scored and equivalent runs allowed (equivalent
runs, generated from the opponent's batting line)

W2, L2 ("Second-order wins"): Pythagenport wins and losses, based on EQR and

AEQR, AEQRA: EQR and EQRA, adjusted for strength of schedule: the
quality of their opponent's pitching and hitting. If AEQR is higher than EQR,
the team has faced better than average pitching; if AEQRA is higher than EQRA, the team has faced worse than average


W3, L3 ("Third-order wins"): Pythagenport wins and losses, based on AEQR and

D1, D2, D3: Deltas between actual wins and W1, W2, and W3. Positive numbers mean the team has won more games than expected from their statistics.

So, according to third order wins, the Yankees are closer to 13-15, which still stinks. This begs a follow up question, can the current Yankees improve?

At 11-17, the Yankees would need to go 79-55 to get to 90 wins, a 59% winning percentage going forward. This not unreasonable, although it'd be no guarantee of a playoff spot.

There are a ton of problems on the team, but which ones are likely to get better?

Despite some low scoring games, overall the offense has been ok. They are third in the league in EQA at .275, although they have not done a good job of consistently scoring. In theory, this should balance out over the course of the season. There is also room for improvement here.

Unlike many, I think it is too soon to give up on Jason Giambi. He hasn't hit particularly well, but his current VORP of 3.8 projects to a total of 22 over the course of the year which would be two wins over a replacement DH(hello Ruben Sierra). I don't know whether or not he will ever hit again, but the Yankees don't have any better options at this point so they need to keep running him out there in my opinion.

Jorge Posada is a player whom I'd expect to start hitting better. Granted, he is at a scary age for a catcher, but his lighter workload earlier in his career would seem to have been a positive. He's looked pretty bad at the plate so far, and it's certainly possible that he's not going to hit as well as he has in the past, but I can't imagine he'll continue to hit at this poor of a level all year.

After a scorching start followed by a bad slump, Hideki Matsui should improve. Right now he's not even hitting as well as he did in his rookie season. At this point it is unlikely he will match last year's performance but he should get better.

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield have all been good so far. I'd expect some regression from Jeter, there's no way that he can maintain a .453 OBP, but he shouldn't be a problem, and he may start hitting for more power. Rodriguez leads AL 3B in VORP with a 12.0, and I see no reason he can't continue to hit well all year.

Sheffield is old, but he sure doesn't look it. His bat speed appears to be fine, and he also leads the AL at his position in VORP, with a 13.9.

Tony Womack is what he is, a light hitting speedster. I don't expect him to hit much better, but I don't think he'll be much worse either. Tino Martinez shouldn't be a huge problem if he can hit for around an .800 OPS(currently .764).

We won't know about Robinson Cano for a while. His plate discipline will likely be a concern, but he has the potential to hit for a decent average and with some power. To expect much out of him at this stage would be risky though, as he will surely go through some growing pains.

The bench is not very good, even with Bernie Williams on it. I'm not sure if Bernie's elbow problem has affected his hitting, although it certainly seems to be the case. Andy Phillips will hopefully contribute with some right-handed pop off the bench and some spot starts, as long as Joe Torre stops making him bunt. Sierra's return could lead to him seeing some time in the OF spotting Womack, he won't get on base but can at least hit a bad pitch out every once in a while and he does have some propensity for clutch hits. Sanchez and Flaherty will not do much but I don't think they'll get that much playing time anyway.

Possibly the biggest problem on the team. The team's defensive efficiency is .6515, which means they convert hits on balls in play into outs at a rate of 65%. In other words, hitters are hitting .350 off Yankee pitchers on balls in play, by far the worst rate in baseball. The AL average is .6966. Looking at Baseball Prospectus's fielding runs above average for the team so far:

Tino -1
Giambi -2
Womack(2B) 4
Jeter 2
Rodriguez -4
Matsui(LF) 0
Bernie -2
Sheffield -2

According to these numbers, this combination of players has cost the Yankees 5 runs this year. That seems low to me. I always take fielding statistics with a grain of salt, and BPro's numbers have been sketchy in the past, but eyeballing this, Womack has been very good on defense at 2B so far, and Rodriguez has been horrid at 3B. I was slightly surprised to see Womack rate so high, not that he's been bad, just that I haven't noticed him being particularly outstanding. Womack did rate as an above average RF when he last played there, and he seems to have the speed to play LF. Rodriguez has been very disappointing in year two at 3B. I'm not sure why, he was quite good there last year. I guess I could see improvement by Tino and Rodriguez, and hope for continued good play from Jeter. I don't know how Cano will do at 2B, scouts are mixed on his defense but he seems like a good athlete with decent range, although he's been a bit shaky so far. Matsui in CF will likely be an improvement over Bernie. Sheffield is not a good outfielder, despite a strong arm so I don't expect much improvement from him.

Overall, I don't see much defensive improvement, but maybe the moving of some players around will help.

A large part of the defensive efficiency rating has to do with the pitching staff. Courtesy of The Hardball Times, the Yankees have a line drive % allowed of .192, which is high, but not as high as Boston or Oakland. Maybe hits are just falling in and this will even out. The starters and relievers are all culpable in this.

The Yankees' FIP(fielding independent pitching) ERA is 4.30, much better than their RA(runs allowed) of 5.91 and ERA of 5.18. This tells me defense has been a big part part of the problem.

Randy Johnson has been fine, assuming his groin issue doesn't linger, I don't expect any problems from him. Until Mike Mussina shows me more fastball, I will not be comfortable that he will be anything more than average. Pavano has been good for the most part, but will have his bad outings as a guy who doesn't miss bats. Kevin Brown is absolutely killing this team right now, and I really think he needs to go. His peripheral stats are actually not bad, but just watching him, he has been horrendous. Jaret Wright is gone and not exactly missed, and there are rumblings he may miss most of the season. We saw the successful debut of Tiger Wang, but as a young pitcher I expect inconsistency from him. Sean Henn was not good yesterday, and was clearly rushed in a spot start for Johnson, so I doubt he will contribute much this season.

The bullpen is a mess right now. Mo appears to have recovered his form, but until the team can use him it's meaningless. Flash Gordon is not good right now, but Torre keeps running him out there. When Sturtze comes back, I wouldn't be shocked to see him take Gordon's innings, but with Sturze unavailable right now, Gordon is still the 8th inning guy. Buddy Groom has been impressive in his Yankee stint, and may supplant Mike Stanton as the lone Yankee lefty if they decide to streamline the bullpen some more. Steve Karsay is gone, likely for nothing. Paul Quantrill will likely pitch in a mopup role for the rest of the year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him gone soon. The same with Felix Rodriguez, who has been horrendous so far despite a mid-90s fastball. I don't see much room for improvement here. If Sturtze comes back strong, then I am confident that he and Mo will be fine at the top, but I have no faith in any of the other people here improving or pitching better.

Management,Coaching and the front office
Joe Torre is beginning to show the flaws in his managerial style that were masked by tremendous roster depth and talent that were put in place by the front office from 1996-2004. His bullpen management in particular has been atrocious so far this season. He doesn't trust most of his relievers, he's been leaving his starters in for far too long at times, and I feel that some of the pitchers in the pen are suffering from a lack of use. His postgame interviews are indicative of a man who has no idea what to do. Torre is a fine manager when he doesn't have to think and can execute a particular plan. It worked in 1996 when he asked his starters to pitch six innings, then Rivera for two and Wetteland for one. It worked from 1997-2000 when he could do the same when Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton could set up Rivera. It worked in 2001 when he had Stanton and Mendoza to get to Rivera, and in 2002 when he had Karsay and Stanton to get to Rivera. He didn't have much to get to Mariano in 2003, but his starters made it easier by pitching longer. In 2004 it was Gordon=8th, Rivera=9th.

Now, he needs to be more flexible and he doesn't appear to have that ability. If a team is sending up a bunch of lefties in the 8th, maybe he shouldn't automatically go to Gordon. Instead, he is trying to force what worked into the past into the situation, rather than adapting. I don't see this getting any better.

Luis Sojo has been a terrible 3B coach, with several bad sends of runners that have resulted in momentum-changing outs at the plate. It's tough to get a read on Don Mattingly as a hitting coach. I don't think you can blame him for the struggles of a lot of people, although I wish he'd work with Giambi on hitting to the opposite field. Mel Stottlemyre's flaws as a pitching coach are often mentioned, although rarely quantified, but it's a rare pitcher that has improved under his tutelage, and many have regressed.

The front office put this team in place with a plan, but it was a lousy plan. They expected players who had career years to repeat them, and they expected the ravages of age and injury to stay away. They did not fill their biggest hole on defense with a marquee player who was just entering his prime. Will they be held accountable for this? Not likely.

Can this team still make the playoffs? Sure. Will they? I am pretty sure they will not at this point. If they are not around .500 by the end of May, I think they need to face the reality of the situation. I'm not sure what roster moves they can make, and they don't really have the youth to start a youth movement, but I just hope they don't do what they've foolishly done in the past and trade their few prospects for veterans with large contracts. If you couldn't sign Beltran in the offseason, why would you add salary now and give up prospects to do it?

How would this team look if they still had Ted Lilly, Yhency Brazhoban, Wily Mo Pena, D'Angelo Jimenez, Juan Rivera, or Marcus Thames, among others? Probably a hell of a lot better.