2008 New York Yankees
Built for Playoff Success?

BaseballEvolution.com 2008 Spring Preview
by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
February 26, 2008

Another year, another early postseason exit. Another year, another mountain of articles claiming how bad A-Rod is, despite his winning his second MVP Award in three years. Being a Yankee fan has actually been quite boring in those years. The Yankees have lost in the first round in the past three postseasons because of very poor starting pitching. In two of those three years, the Yankees got off to terrible starts, with A-Rod saving their season both times without getting credit for doing so. In the past three seasons, age has been a concern, especially when talking about their pitching staff. This year, people are wondering whether the baby bombers will be able to get the Yankees to the Promised Land.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
LaTroy Hawkins RHP
Morgan Ensberg 3B/1B
Jason Lane OF
Chris Woodward IF
Heath Phillips LHP
Departed Pos.
Roger Clemens RHP
Luis Vizcaino RHP
Doug Mientkiewicz 1B
Ron Villone LHP
Matt DeSalvo RHP
T.J. Beam RHP
Bronson Sardinha LF
2007 Starter    Jorge Posada
Projected 2008 Starter   Jorge Posada

I love Jorge. He is one of the few underrated and unappreciated Yankees. There is no way he will repeat what he did last year, however. I wrote that same thing in my 2007 preview, but I’m pretty confident that Posada won’t post an OPS of .969. Nevertheless, I still believe Posada will remain one of the premier offense catchers in 2008, but won’t be surprised if he declines in the second half of the season, as he will turn 37 this upcoming August.

First Base
2007 Starters   Doug Mientkiewicz,
   Andy Phillips
Projected 2008 Starter   Jason Giambi

If Giambi is heal… wait, let me stop. Saying that Giambi will play in 150 games next year would be a bolder prediction than saying he will tear his Achilles tendon while taking a nap in a hammock. He hasn’t recorded 500 AB since 2003, and at age 37, there is no reason to believe he will do so this year.

When Giambi dislocates his elbow while rounding the bases in a few months, the options at first base are Shelley Duncan and Morgan Ensberg. Ensberg does have a great eye, but he cannot stay healthy, either, and has hit in the .230s in the past two seasons. If you think Shelley Duncan will be able to succeed as a full-time player, you got another thing coming, bub.

Second Base
2007 Starter   Robinson Cano
Projected 2008 Starter   Robinson Cano

Contrary to the popular belief, great minds do not think alike (at least, not all the time). For quite some time now, Keith and I have shared different opinions on this 24-year old Dominican. Keith has pointed to his poor range (that has improved) and his inability to draw walks, while I have pointed out the fact that his BB% has gone nowhere but up, as well as his high ceiling. Not to sound like a pompous fool, but I think I have been right so far. With that being said, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a lot of Cano’s doubles will turn into 25-30 HR, and that he will draw 60+ walks.

Robinson Cano
Special Cano Prediction- .317/.377/.520 26HR

Third Base
2007 Starter   Alex Rodriguez
Projected 2008 Starter   Alex Rodriguez

In four seasons as a Yankee, A-Rod has posted a line of .303/.406/.573, yet because his team’s starting pitching has had an ERA of 7.16(!) in the post-season since Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, A-Rod sucks (at least, according to Mike Lupica and all New York’s sports columnists alike). Well, A-Rod doesn’t suck, and if it weren’t for his mammoth 2007, the Yankees would have been watching the Red Sox slap around the Mariners.

Looking ahead: A-Rod probably won’t have a year like he did last season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. There were certainly no warning signs a collapse (i.e. home/road splits or an unusually high BABIP). Even of A-Rod does have another MVP-caliber year, that won’t matter unless he hits a walk-off, upper deck (lower decks are for wussies) homer of Billy Wagner in the bottom of the 18th inning in Game 7 of the World Series.

2007 Starter   Derek Jeter
Projected 2008 Starter   Derek Jeter
Comeback Candidate
Mike Mussina
Kingman Candidate
Shelley Duncan

Jeter has been the epitome of consistency for his career. He has hit .300 nine out of twelve full seasons and has gotten on base at a 37% clip ten times. So I think it is safe to say that Jeter will hit .300+ and get on base 37-38% of the time next season while playing shortstop like a paraplegic.

In two, maybe three years, however, Jeter is probably going to hit a wall offensively, which means his value at SS will be diminished. The Yankees have to realize this, but judging by the commentary of Gene Michael, who doesn’t even know what kind of a pitching staff his team has, they probably won’t, which will translate into losses.

2007 Starters   Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera
Projected 2008 Starters   Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera

The Yankees have the best offensive infield in the league, and quite possibly in all of baseball, but their outfield is a different story. Abreu had the worst season of his career last year, failing to slug .450, and not reaching base 39% of the time for the first in his career. If Damon gets injured this year, he needs to swallow his damn pride and go on the DL. He failed to slug .400 and hit .270, the lowest his batting average has fallen since 2000. Matsui was bothered by knee problems last year, but had a great second half, especially in July, when he hit 13 of his 25 homers and had an OPS of 1.145. Damon and Matsui will probably split time between LF and DH in 2008, which could save their legs and possibly result in better offensive numbers.

This leaves us with Melky Cabrera. Melky is a solid defensive player with a plus arm, which is something the Yankees haven’t had in a LONG time in centerfield. Cabrera does not have great plate discipline, however, and his swing is the ugliest thing I have seen in a while. With such a swing, I really can’t ever see him hitting as many as 15 homers.

The Yankees are going to have to hope Abreu has a bounce-back season and that the Matsui/Damon LF/DH platoon works out if they want to have any notable offensive output from the outfielders.

Yankees Fun Fact
If 3 of the 5 projected starters start at least 8 games, it will be the first time since 1960 in which 3 Yankees starters below the age of 25 have done so
Designated Hitter
2007 Starters Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui
Projected 2008 Starters Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi

See above.

2007 Crew Wilson Betemit, Jose Molina, Miguel Cairo
Projected 2008 Bench Shelley Duncan, Jose Molina, Morgan Ensberg, Jason Lane

The Yankees got some pop out of Betemit and Duncan off the bench last year, as they combined to hit 11 dingers. Betemit, A-Rod, and Jeter both play 155+ games every year, so Betemit’s playing time will be scarce. 2008 will be the year for Shelley Duncan to prove he isn’t the second coming of Shane Spencer.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Phil Hughes, Roger Clemens, Kei Igawa, Matt Desalvo, Tyler Clippard, Darrell Rasner
Projected 2008 Starters Wang, Pettitte, Hughes, Mussina, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain

Joba Chamberlain
Right off the bat, the Yankees’ staff will improve with addition by subtraction. Last year the Yankees endured 30 starts made by Darell Rasner, Kei Igawa, Matt Desalvo, and Tyler Clippard. The team went 17-13 in those games, and the four pitchers combined to have an ERA of 5.87. I don’t think that Kennedy, Hughes and Chamberlain are all going to be lights out this year, but 400 IP between the three of them with an ERA of 4.00-4.25 shouldn’t be too much to ask for. 400 IP with an ERA hovering around 4 from your last three starters is nothing to sneeze at, and it will certainly better than what last year’s goons did.

Wang and Pettitte will be the top two starters entering the 2008 season, and both pitchers are a good bet to reach the 200 IP plateau. However, they will probably be the only two pitchers to throw more than 185 IP. Mussina recently turned 39 and has pitched 185+ innings just once in the past four seasons. As much as I would love to see Hughes, Kennedy, and Chamberlain start 30+ games and pitch 200 innings, such a thing isn’t conceivable, and we need to think with our brains, not with our hearts. Hughes has not pitched more than 146 innings in his career, Kennedy’s career high is 146.3, which came last year, and Chamberlain’s career high is 132.3, which came last year as well. A majority of those innings came in the minor leagues, where the hitters are obviously not on par with those in the majors, so the innings that these three throw will come with a lot more tension and stress.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Mariano Rivera, Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain, Brian Bruney, Scott Proctor, Mike Myers, Ron Villone, Sean Henn
Projected 2008 Relievers Mariano Rivera, LaTroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain, Brian Bruney, Sean Henn, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens

The Yankees Achilles’ heel is clearly their bullpen. They will have Rivera and Chamberlain for the first half of the season, which will be great. However, if Chamberlain does as is expected, which is move to the rotation in the second half, the Yankees are going to be neck deep in you-know-what. Farnsworth has been terrible in his stint with the Yankees, and if the front office believes that Hawkins will pitch like he did last year, they’re off their rockers. The Yankees are going to have trouble getting the ball to Rivera, especially when Chamberlain departs the bullpen.

That leaves Yankees with no bridge to Rivera, and three starting pitchers that will be on a strict innings watch - such a lovely combo.

Outlook for the Season

Even with Abreu and Damon having their worst years in quite some time, the Yankees still mustered 968 runs across the board. I have a hard time believe that those two key players will manage to play worse than they did last year, so scoring runs certainly won’t be an issue. I really think the season will fall squarely on the shoulders of Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain. While typing this up, I have begun favoring leaving Chamberlain in the bullpen for the entire season. As I stated earlier, the Yankee bullpen without him is as bad as it gets, and with these young starters on pitch counts, they’re going to need quality pitchers in the 6th and 7th innings, and this is an asset that the Yankees aren’t fortunate enough to have.


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