April 2nd, 2009

Breaking Down The Bombers: Interview With Pinstripe Alley

By Robert Ferringo

I come from a family of Yankees fans so, even though my fandom is faithfully with the Mets, I will always have an active interest in what is going on with the other team in New York. (And yeah, it’s great being a Mets fan and referring to the Yankees as the “other” team. Just one of 1,000,000 ways to annoy them. Bring up Steve Trout and Andy Hawkins next time a Bombers fan mocks a Mets pitcher!)

The Yankees are THE public team in Major League Baseball betting. And of all of the teams in the MLB they are the ones that I play on or against the least. In my mind, the value is very, very rarely going to warrant a play on them because their lines are so ridiculously inflated. But on the same token it’s tough to bet against them because, you know, they’re the Yankees. You really want to be holding that ticket on the Orioles when the Yankees are trotting out Jeter, Matsui, Posada, A-Rod, etc.? And the reality is that the better the Yankees are the worse of a bet, value-wise, they become. And the “worse” that they are, as in last year, they actually become a better team to play on because their demise is often exaggerated, the Haters all start betting their opponents hard, and the lines actually come down a bit. Trick is, when they are better they win more – inflated lines be damned – and while you have better line value on a weaker Yankees team, the bottom line is that they are a weaker Yankees team and line value don’t mean squat if you lose.

The above sentiment really sums up the paradox that is betting the post-dynasty Yankees. It’s been tricky. On the one hand, it’s been painfully obvious over the last couple of seasons that this team wasn’t nearly as good as the preseason hype. Of course, their “good” is relative. And 88-92 wins is a fantastic year for most clubs, but anything less than Domination is an afterthought in the Bronx.

On the other hand, they are right back in the spotlight after an offseason that saw them spend nearly a half-billion dollars ($423.5 million, to be exact) on three players. (Seriously, no one in this country can figure out how our economy capsized? Really? Nobody has a clue? Weird.) Their lineup is looking good. Their rotation is looking better. And they have once again tried to buy a division title by simply outspending the competition. Is it going to work? It certainly hasn’t the past five years, as they have ended up flaming out against teams with better cohesion, better karma, and better cohesion.

So I can’t be quite sure what to make of this year’s version. I do know that their lines are going to be through the roof (my O/U on the number of -300 lines we see with C.C. Sabathia this year is five) but on the other hand I can see another flameout. I could see C.C. and A.J. Burnett getting hurt, I could see A-Rod’s injury and off-field issues lingering, I could see the fans turning on Mark “Get Me Out Of The Spotlight” Teixeira and his notoriously slow starts, and I could see Joe Girardi cracking under the pressure. I could see all of that.

Now, I know that going to a Yankees fan for insight on how their team is going to do this year isn’t exactly the most unbiased avenue we could take. But I took a shot with my homeboys over at Pinstripe Alley to get the lowdown on what is fact and what is fiction about how good/overrated this year’s Yankees will be. And my homeboys didn’t disappoint:

ROBERT FERRINGO: All that money thrown at C.C. and A.J. However, those two were No. 1 and No. 2 in total pitches thrown last year. I think the Brewers threw C.C. 11 games in a row at one point last year and I think that A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano are distant cousins. Why should be believe that one, or both, of these two guys aren’t going to get hurt. If I put the over/under of wins for C.C. at 14 and for A.J. at 13 are you going ‘over’ or ‘under’? (And they both ain’t goin’ ‘over’!)

TRAVIS GOLDMAN: It seems that Sabathia is one of those special guys that can throw pitch after pitch after pitch. They’re rare but they do exist. I read a report on Baseball Prospectus that measured the stress of every pitch thrown last year, and Sabathia never went into the ‘danger zone.’ Burnett I’m certainly less confident in, but there’ve been reports that he ‘learned’ how to stay healthy during his time in Toronto. Apparently, Johnny Damon saw a completely different guy in 2008 than he had seen previously - he wasn’t trying to throw the ball through a wall anymore.

If they ain’t both going over, then CC is the over, though 14 seems rather low.

RF: One of the things that bettors run into with the Yankees is the fact that they are THE public team in MLB. That means that, from the odds, they are always grossly overrated and you have to pay an arm-and-a-leg just to bet them for a game. Are they going to be as good as the Hype suggests this year, or can they never REALLY live up to their own expectations?

TG: I’ll have to again quote Baseball Prospectus, which projected the Yankees (using their advanced PECOTA system) to lead the ML in wins with 100.

It is very tough to realize those expectations, but they have at least as good a chance as anyone.

RF: One of the things that just killed this team last year is that the lineup was old, fat, and slow. They didn’t have many first-to-third guys and they got caught waiting for a 3-run homer too often. Over the long run I felt like that really caught them. Does this lineup really look any different to you?

TG: Well, fat has rarely been a problem in baseball, which has seen the like of David Wells, David Ortiz, Rod Beck, and others enjoy much success.

They actually weren’t that slow, finishing 4th in the AL in stolen bases.
The biggest problem was merely health. Matsui played just 93 games, and Posada only 51. The absence of Giambi might help that. Teixeira will bring batting average and defense to go along with OBP and SLG. Nady/Swisher might not hit as much as Abreu, but their defense should make up for it.

RF: The Yankees have been a terrible team in April recently. Over the last five years they are just 56-64 in the first month of the year and have only posted a winning record twice in that span. Why will/won’t this happen this year? I know they have talent, but they always have talent heading into the season. So why would this year be any different?

TG: I’ll say it won’t. Not that they’ll get off to a scorching start, but it should be decent. And it’ll be due to the pitching. It hasn’t been this good since 2003, when they went to the Series.

RF: A-Rod is on the mend and in the tabloids. What impact do you feel his negative karma will have on this team?

TG: Now that he’s gone, it’s incredibly peaceful. The arguments we’re having now are who should play RF, CF and be the final reliever. The absence of A-Rod has been a breath of fresh air, but the Yankees are still a better team with a Hall of Famer rather than a replacement player (Cody Ransom).

RF: Talk to me about Teixeira. He is a tremendous upgrade at that key position and the best thing they’ve had on the corner since Tino left. But he is also a guy who has floundered in the spotlight (at least he did playing in his hometown, Atlanta) and he’s a guy notorious for slow starts. What are your expectations for him and how do you think that the fans will respond to a slow start?

TG: Unfortunately, our fanbase has shown fickleness toward under-performing players, and with A-Rod’s absense, the pressure will fall on Tex. From what we’ve seen from Tex this spring, Tex quietly goes about his business (unlike our injured third-baseman). He’s no prima donna. He may have had a slightly down half-season in Atlanta, but was phenomenal against Boston in his first playoff appearance.

RF: For as “bad” as the Yankee bullpen was last year, they were actually seventh in the Majors in bullpen ERA and they had the fewest blown saves in the league. Do you expect this crop of relievers to match that performance or can a slight drop-off be expected?

TG: Good question. The Yanks had their best bullpen in years. They led MLB in reliever Ks. One would naturally think Mo Rivera would fall off one of these years, but it won’t be this year. At the age of 38, 2008 was the best year of his career. His velocity will drop, but his fastball movement and command will allow him to continue to be effective for years.

Bullpens are so volatile, who’s to say? It’s basically the same guys as last year, so we can reasonably expect a similar performance. If anything, they might be better because of the inevitable addition of Triple-A closer Mark Melancon.

RF: It’s pretty tough for a Yankee to be “under the radar”, but who are some guys to watch for this year? I know Xavier Nady is a guy that I am really high on. But who are some other “sleepers” that will need to contribute to this team.

TG: Most of the fans I know feel Girardi is making a mistake starting Nady over Swisher. Swish is a better defender, and has a higher OBP and SLG. Nady is coming off a career year (so he’s likely to regress), while Swisher’s coming off a down year (he’s likely to bounce-back).

Brett Gardner was just named the centerfielder (as he should have been), but it’s possible he turns into nothing more than a replacement player. His exceptional speed and defense should at least earn him a spot as a LIDR/PR for years. If he can get on base at a decent clip, his speed will produce runs, but he’ll have to hit his way on. Pitchers just aren’t scared of grooving pitches to him (though he does lead the Yankees in spring homers with three).

Melky and Cano. What’s the deal?

TG: We were excited 11 months ago when Melky had a torrid April (.299/.370/.494). ‘This was the Melky we were waiting for,’ we all thought. It turned out not to be the case, as he sucked from then on (.235/.281/.300), prompting his replacement by Brett Gardner. While he brings solid defense, he just hasn’t done enough to warrant starting.

All signs point to Cano having a bounce-back year. He had unusually bad luck in 2008: the lowest BABIP of his career despite maintaining a healthy line drive rate. He had a season completely opposed to Melky’s: an absolutely awful start (.151/.211/.236) followed by a solid five months (.297/.326/.448). Then after he got benched and changed his batting stance, he finished the year on fire: .413/.431/.587. I’m expecting a full season around .300/.330/.470 for Cano.

Posted at 9:13 am | Comments (0)

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