Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Latest ZiPS Projections Not Kind To The Yankee Offense

Not to belabor the point, but the Yankee offense has taken a beating these last 4+ months.  Through players lost, lesser players added, players getting injured, and players recovering from injuries, the starting lineup on Opening Day could look drastically different than in recent years and drastically weaker as well.  Dan Szymborski of ESPN, master of the ZiPS projection system, attempted to project just how much weaker the lineup could be after the Curtis Granderson injury by running the latest projected lineup through a simulator.

It's an Insider Only piece, but there are only a few key things you need to know to get the point of this exercise.  One is that Szymborski left Derek Jeter out of this lineup projection, not an entirely unfair move with Jeter's Opening Day status still in the air.  The other is that the projected lineup looked like this: 1) Gardner, 2) Ichiro, 3) Cano, 4) Teix, 5) Youkilis, 6) Hafner, 7) Rivera, 8) Stewart, 9) Nunez.  You don't have to be a sabermetric genius to figure out that that lineup ain't much.  But just how bad does it project to be?  I'm glad you asked.

4.29.  4.29 runs per game.  That's all.  To put that in perspective, Szymborski points out that the Yankee offense hasn't scored that few runs per game since 1991.  Last year the Yankees averaged 4.96 runs per game, so this projection represents a huge drop-off from that level and also puts the team below the league average for runs per game (4.60).  Over the course of a 162-game season, that average would put the Yankees well below .500 with league average pitching and barely above .500 with a repeat of last year's team pitching performance.

As always, this post comes with the reminder that projections are merely that and not mortal lock predictions for what is actually going to happen.  Bounce back years for Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira, a staving off of age-related regression for Ichiro and Youkilis, and the inclusion of Jeter and the actual offensive output should exceed 4.29 runs per game.  And C-Grand will return to the lineup at some point in May, as will Alex Rodriguez in the summer.  But if you needed another representation of just how much this team has lost offensively, there it is.

A couple more points on this projection exercise.  One, the drop-off of over half a run per game from last year shows just how much more valuable power is offensively than anything else.  People can continue to talk about the Yankees adding speed back to their game with Gardner and Ichiro in the lineup, and there will be some value derived from that, but at the end of the day nothing beats putting a run/multiple runs on the board with one swing of the bat.  The loss of Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, and now Granderson for the next 10 weeks, and the combined power output that came from those guys, is going to be felt throughout the season.  I think it's safe to say we won't have to worry about the "too many home runs" meme creeping up in the MSM coverage of this year's team.

Two, this projection value is another reminder of how important the pitching is going to be this season and how smart the Yankees were about focusing the bulk of their offseason spending on reloading the pitching staff.  It may have just been on all their own free agents, but it's not like Kuroda, Pettitte, and Mo are replacement-level BP fodder out there.  Pitching is the strength of this team, and even if Jeter is in the lineup on Opening Day it's going to be the pitching staff that has to shoulder the load and help carry the lineup until Granderson gets back.  4.29 runs a game isn't a lot, but it can be enough to win games and enough tot tread water if the pitching is good.

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