How do the Yankees get to 95 wins?
February, 13, 2014
By Mark Simon | ESPNNewYork.com
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesSpring is almost here (believe it or not). Do you think the Yanks are a 95-win team?Neither David Schoenfield nor Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections are bullish on the New York Yankees being an upper-echelon team in 2014.
But what if the Yankees win in 2014 like they’ve spent this past offseason -- at a high volume?
Let’s crank the projected win total for the Yankees up to 95 games, which feels like a good number for a best-case scenario.
Roughly speaking, that would mean that the players on their roster combined for about 47 Wins Above Replacement (the reasoning on that can be found here).
How do the Yankees get there?
We roughed out a projection of WAR values for Yankees players and noted it in the chart below. Fair warning: You’re going to read this and say, "Wow, that’s asking a lot."
But winning 95 games isn’t easy. Here are some of the highlights.
Welcome to the Bronx
For the Yankees to be really good in 2014, they need their high-impact signings to live up to expectations.
We gave the combination of Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka and Brian McCann 15 WAR between them, with Ellsbury basically at what was nearly a 6-WAR output in 2013, Tanaka pitching to All-Star level at 5 WAR and McCann reaching the 4-WAR mark for the first time since 2008. We also gave Carlos Beltran 2.5 WAR, a near-duplicate of his 2013 number (2.4) with the St. Louis Cardinals.
It may not seem smart to presume a decent level of health and production from Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson, but remember that this exercise is to look at the season from a best-case perspective. We’ll plug in 3-WAR for the two of them.
Many happy returns (from injury)
There are going to be plenty of doubters as to whether Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Michael Pineda can return from their injury setbacks at anything close to the level at which they previously performed. In the case of Teixeira and especially Jeter, age would seem to be an issue.
For the Yankees to get to 95 wins, those two are going to need to turn back the clock. In such a scenario, Teixeira returns to what he was in 2011 (when he was a 2.9 WAR player) and Jeter gets back to something resembling his 2.2 WAR season of 2012.
As for Pineda, if we peg him to be two-thirds the pitcher he was when he impressed as a rookie with the Seattle Mariners in 2011, you’re looking at 1.5 WAR. We’d think the Yankees would be pretty happy with that.
Repeat after me
To win 95 games, you need a degree of consistency. The players you count on need to come through at their expected levels of production. A couple of cases in point.
Brett Gardner has been a 4-WAR player in three of the past four seasons (yes, he was 3.9 in one of those, but the point's the same). Gardner will be a free agent after next season. If you want 95 wins, you need a nice salary drive from him.
Alfonso Soriano has been worth at least 2-WAR in three of the past four seasons. That’s going to come to an end eventually. But if you’re going to win 95 games, it needs to continue for another season.
Ivan Nova has been worth at least 3-WAR in two of the past three seasons. He’ll be 27 in 2014 and just entering his prime. Asking for another 3-WAR campaign seems reasonable in this scenario.
If you’re worried about the way 2013 ended for CC Sabathia (a 5.20 ERA in his last seven starts) and Hiroki Kuroda (a 6.56 ERA in his last eight starts), you should be.
But if we’re creating a world of best cases for the Yankees, it’s one in which both of these pitchers bounce back. Split up the numbers any way you like, but we’re giving them 7-WAR between them.
If you want to think of it in simpler terms, picture a season like Sabathia’s 2012, in which he was worth 3.5 WAR after pitching to a 3.38 ERA in 200 innings.
The Yankees don’t need David Robertson to be Mariano Rivera to be a 95-win team.
So long as Robertson is something in between what he was in 2012 and 2013 (when he averaged 2.1 WAR), the Yankees should be all right.
Perhaps more important is the change in who regularly pitches the eighth inning (with Robertson transitioning to closer) and who are the lefty and righty specialists (the departure of Boone Logan is the hole here).
What the Yankees most need is for these not to be headaches. We’ve plugged in numbers for the likes of Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton and Adam Warren, and you can tinker with them however you wish. The key is that they’re contributing (and not costing) half a win here, half a win there.
What are the chances? You tell us
One of the great things about spring training is the optimism that comes with the belief that this could be a great year.
The Yankees have spent the money. Now we’ll see if they reap the benefits.
There are other ways the Yankees can get to 95 wins, and you can play with the numbers, adding here and subtracting there to come up with your own win total.
Do you buy into our best-case scenario? Share your thoughts in the comments.