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What's the best-case scenario for Yankees?

3/27/2013

We’ve been fiddling with team WAR totals since a researcher named Glenn DuPaul (a student at Lehigh) did a study that showed that adding the sum of a team’s Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference) added to 52, gives you a reasonable chance of projecting that team’s win total.

What is WAR?

With that in mind, we figured we'd see what it would take to get the Yankees to 90 wins, since it would stand to reason that that would put them in strong contention for the postseason.

Let’s hit on five key points from what we’re figuring:

Robinson Cano plays like Robinson Cano

In the last three seasons, Robinson Cano has averaged a value of 7 Wins Above Replacement. Let’s say he reaches that total again. It doesn’t seem that unrealistic.

The starting rotation lives up to expectations

I worked off the idea that the Yankees rotation would have a 5-4-3-2-1 value. In other words, 5 WAR for CC Sabathia, 4 for Hiroki Kuroda, 3 for Andy Pettitte, 2 for Ivan Nova and 1 for David Phelps.

Each of those pitchers, other than Pettitte, has reached that value within the last two seasons (a 3 WAR for Pettitte would equate roughly to what he did in 2009).

Sabathia was a 7-WAR pitcher in 2011 and a 3-WAR in 2012, so we split the difference to get his number. Kuroda was worth 5.2 last season. We may even be a little low on Ivan Nova (a 3-WAR in 2011) and Phelps (a 2-WAR last season).

The injured guys amount to something

Trying to project numbers for Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Pineda, and Phil Hughes is really hard because you don’t know how significantly each injury is going to impact performance.

Projected Wins Above Replacement
Yankees Best-Case Scenario

Since we’re trying to give a best-case scenario, let’s assign that quintet 8 Wins Above Replacement.

Maybe that amounts to 3-WAR for Teixeira, 2 for Granderson, and an average of 1 apiece for the other four.

Returns to Form

In 2011, even as his decline was beginning, Kevin Youkilis posted a 3.7 WAR. In 2012, he plummeted to a 1.4.

If Youkilis can make up half the difference between 2011 and 2012, that gets him to 2.5 WAR. That would be better than the 2-WAR that Rodriguez posted in 2012.

Brett Gardner was a 7-WAR player in 2010 and there were many skeptics that he was that valuable. He posted a 3.7 WAR in 2011 and what’s to say he couldn’t have a similar season. For the purposes of this project, we put him at 3-WAR.

Some may have scoffed at the Ichiro Suzuki signing, declaring that a lot of money for a 38-year-old. Let’s put him down for 1-WAR in 2013 … essentially the average of his WAR totals the last two seasons.

Mariano Rivera has looked like the old Mariano Rivera in his limited work this spring. The old Rivera has been worth at least 2.4 WAR every season from 2008 to 2011. Rafael Soriano was worth 2.6 WAR last season. Let's assign Rivera 2.5 WAR.

They’re not as bad as you might think now

If we’re going to project this season to go well, you have to think that someone in the Travis Hafner, Juan Rivera, Vernon Wells and Brennan Boesch mix is going to be a decent player.

In 2011, Hafner hit at a .280/.361/.449 rate and was worth 1.3 WAR without playing a day in the field. It seems reasonable to think that someone could do that, right?

Let’s say that two guys from this list do. And that the other two are more along the lines of Raul Ibanez, 2012 -- .240/.308/.453 with negative defensive value. That season was worth about 0.3 WAR.

Add it all together and we give these four a 3-WAR total.

The catchers don’t hurt them

Those who feel that the Yankees are punting their catcher position should consider this: Russell Martin was worth 1.5 Wins Above Replacement last season.

The challenge will be in squeezing 162 games out of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Both have performed respectably in backup roles, particularly Stewart, whose defense elevated him to 1.4 WAR with the Giants in 2011.

Since we’re being optimistic, let's give them Martin's value from last season.

There are going to be some rough patches

The Yankees have not had a lot of bad players over the last three seasons. When we say bad, we’re talking about those who bring negative WAR value to a team. In 2010, the Yankees had -4.8 WAR worth of bad players, in 2011 -4.4 and 2012, -2.4.

We didn’t mention Dan Johnson, Eduardo Nunez or David Aardsma in this piece. They may turn out fine. But they also struck us as the most likely to be worth 0.0 WAR or less. In the beginning of the season, those guys will see time and likely weed themselves out as players return from injuries.

We figured it would be a little worse for the Yankees, even thinking optimistically, than the last few seasons. So we assigned a group of players -6.0 WAR to account for that.

In sum

Our goal was to show a scenario by which the Yankees could get to 38 WAR. We’ve more than done that. The roster at right totaled 42.3 WAR.

What does that equate to in wins? Let’s consider the history:

From 2003 to 2012, there have been 25 teams whose player WAR summed to between 41 and 45. Their win totals ranged from 86 to 105. They averaged 94.7 wins.

Is that a realistic best-case for the Yankees? Let us know what you think in the comments.