Monday, February 4, 2013
Countdown: 8 days to spring training
By Mark Simon
Mitch Stringer/Icon SMIThe Yankees fan is not used to being in a state of worry.
Brett Gardner can be counted on to play good defense in 2013.
But given the team’s relative inaction this offseason, worry seems to be the way of the day as spring training nears, at least from what I’ve seen on social media and garnered in talking to friends who are Yankees fans.
The next two days, we’ll deal with the subject of worry. Let’s start by looking at what you shouldn’t have to worry about.
1. The lineup will find ways to score
The Yankees' lineup may be aging in some areas, but it is still one that is well-equipped to wear opponents down.
The lineup loses Nick Swisher, but gains Kevin Youkilis and Brett Gardner, who rank third and fourth among active players in pitches seen per plate appearance.
This group should be a little less reliant on the home run and should be able to create runs by other means. The Yankees finished last season with 93 steals, their fewest in a season since they had 84 in 2005. Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki should get close to that total by themselves.
2. A Cano carryover
Robinson Cano’s 3-for-40 postseason was probably the most improbable playoff struggle in Yankees history. But there’s no reason to think that was anything more than a fluke.
Cano has averaged 6.3 WAR per season over the past four years and, having just turned 30, is not yet into the decline phase in his career.
Cano will have plenty of incentive heading into this season, with the possibility of cashing in big in free agency this offseason.
3. The catchers
Yes, the Yankees are going into 2013 with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart as their catchers, with Austin Romine waiting for a potential call.
This sounds worse than it is. Russell Martin posted a 1.5 WAR for the Yankees last season, with a .211/.311/.403 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage line.
You really don’t think this current catcher combo can put up something close to that?
Cervelli has a career WAR of 1.8 over 562 plate appearances. Stewart has been worth 1.7 WAR over 394 career plate appearances (almost entirely because of his defense). They should be able to offset the loss of Martin’s value, which was based predominantly on his power hitting.
4. The bullpen
Yes, the Yankees lost Rafael Soriano to free agency, and we don’t know what Mariano Rivera’s return will be like.
But the Yankees are still well-set at the back end of games.
David Robertson wasn’t the 2011 Robertson, but he was still really good, comparatively speaking, and is entering the prime of his career. Unnoticed from his statistical spike was that he trimmed his unintentional walks per nine innings from 3.9 to 2.8.
The Yankees also should get full seasons from former Mariners closer David Aardsma and Joba Chamberlain, one of whom will likely inherit the seventh-inning role.
Chamberlain, too, is entering his prime. And remember that he closed the 2012 regular season with 10¾ scoreless innings.
For what it’s worth, Soriano might have been in position to decline a bit if he’d stuck around. He did have a 2.26 ERA in 2012, but his peripheral numbers (strikeouts, walks and homers allowed) were a match for a pitcher with an ERA in the mid-threes.
5. Fly balls to left
The return of Gardner should have some comfort value for the Yankees' pitchers, with the knowledge that he’ll be there to catch anything hit his way.
In theory, if Gardner performs at the level we’ve come to expect, this should be worth an extra couple of wins to the Yankees. Yankees left fielders combined for minus-two Defensive Runs Saved last season.
Gardner’s defense in left field was valued at 44 runs combined over 2010 and 2011.
Yankees fans: What are you comfortable with heading into 2013? Share your thoughts in the comments.