Wednesday, March 21, 2007

3,448 Damn Yankees

Well, it's been a while since I had a good barney with my arch-nemesis Neil M from 3,049 Miles... so I've done a bit of subcontracting and here comes our view of the Yankees prospects for the season.

Pete J starts : We'll start with something I doubt we can argue about and that is the fact that the Yankees will field an awesome offence this year and with more luck than last year (its amazing how many injuries they absorbed last term) they should score more runs than any other team and might even approach some records.

Johnny Damon is so over-rated as a table setter but he's solid enough and has enough speed (he's not really a threat to lead the league in steals) to kickstart the big bombs behind him and give Torre some options. It also helps when you have Jeter (.417), Giambi (.413) and Alex Rodriguez (.392) all in the top 10 in OBP in the AL and Bobby Abreu posting a .424 mark between the AL and NL.

It's not just power, it's the ability to keep the runs ticking over by working guys on base and dragging them around and they also have enough depth that they can have Mientkiewicz at first and likely batting way down the order and rotate the likes of Cairo and Cabrera into the roster, giving the elder statesmen time off, and still look intimidating. The only thing they might worry about is can they get Posada and his battered body enough time off?

Neil M says : Johnny Damon might be over-rated but he fits into what the Yankees need at the moment. His skills are scrappy but his energy and happy nature are incredibly important to an up-tight Yankees clubhouse. After Damon you have the best #2 hitter in the game in Derek Jeter, two OBP machines will bat at #3 and #5 in Abreu and Giambi, with the latter having genuine power. Then you throw in A-Rod and Matsui, Posada and Cano and then at #9 Donnie Mattingly and the Yankees are looking like a scary prospect (what do you mean Doug "1 for 22 in ST" is the main 1B man?)

Offensively the Yankees on paper could score 100 runs more than anyone else but the games aren't played on paper. Injuries are a legit concern and the drop-off from Posada to Wil Nieves would be considerable. The only offensive position the Yankees could absorb a long-term problem with noticeable drop-off is in CF with Melky, beyond that a long-term injury would seriously harm that offensive juggernaut.

Pete J retorts : It's an interesting idea to have Mattingly come out of retirement to bat ninth. At least if they have Mientkiewicz at first they have one plus defender on the infield.

How can you undercut that offence by saying that an injury to anyone other than Damon would seriously harm them? They could lose two guys and still score a tonne of runs...obviously depending on who the two are. If they lost Jeter and A-Rod they'd be a bit buggered.

They showed last year that they can go without Matsui or a consistent right fielder. Injuries only change this offence from being an awesome one to maybe just a very, very good one. Either way they score runs, its just a question of how many they'll need to put up.

Neil M witters : Mientkiewicz has not been a plus defender for several years and is playing off that legacy. I'd like to see Josh Phelps win out the 1B RH Platoon job for two reasons, firstly he can hit, secondly he would be a genuine bat off the bench, something the Yankees haven't had in quite a while.

If the Yankees lost Jeter then Miguel Cairo wins a F/T job and no matter how well he plays, the whole dynamic of the line-up changes. If another player goes down the same applies, the Yankees don't have any IF talent at AAA who can step up whereas they have a couple of legit OF options who could do a job for a month or two.

The Yankees success or failure this year is all about the arms, not the bats.

Pete J responds : I think it's now that we need to mention that we're judging the Yankees on their ability to win a World Series rather than the standards we might set for other teams as that's all the Yanks are really about.

Pitching has been a huge part of why the Yankees haven't had as much success as they would have expected in recent years (that coupled with bouts of one dimensional offence) and I'm still not convinced by this group. The back end of the rotation of Pavano and Igawa don't say World Series winner to me.

Its hard to really say much about Igawa because we simply haven't seen him in the Bigs but Pavano has had one good year in his entire career and has only pitched 200 innings twice. If you take away 2004, his career ERA is 4.61 which isn't great especially if you throw in his lack of durability.

Pettitte was a good pick up. He may be on the wain to some degree, but he always knew how to pitch at Yankee Stadium and never had a real problem taking the ball in a big game.

Mussina just knows how to pitch. Even if his stuff is in serious decline, he still has great location and savvy and fits well in the middle of that staff. My only minor quibble with him is that he hasn't thrown 200 innings since 2003.

Wang reminds me a lot of Brandon Webb. A sinker-baller putting up good but not great numbers but always with the promise that he could make the step to being a Cy winner one day. Does that mean I think Wang will win a Cy this year? Not likely. Why? Webb made the jump when the club got him Orlando Hudson to back him up and field all those ground balls that a plus sinker can give you and all Wang has is one of the most average defensive infields in baseball. They may have good hands (even Cano who did improve last year) but range is a serious issue.

Neil M prattles : Pitching - this is the time where I bring up my favourite subject - The Rocket. Whilst Igawa and Pavano aren't exciting you, the Rocket will in most likelihood launch again in the Bronx in July and he would slot into the front of our rotation. This would mean in essence Mussina would be our #4 pitcher and when you have that front four then you'd be quite excited.

I know you won't of seen Igawa pitch despite now having - I've watched him twice and he needs to trust his stuff. 13 k's in 9 innings is good and his off-speed pitches are certainly plus but he doesn't trust his speed as yet and keeps walking guys. Pavano needs to pitch well so we can trade him, he's pitching tonight after Pettitte (should go 4 innings after Andy's 5) so on the next update no doubt I'll be able to comment on his stuff (I'm watching)

Pettitte's just got Howard out swinging.

Wang was second in Cy Young voting last year and their is a good reason behind that, his sinker is evil. Yes the IF D isn't awesome but it's not as bad as everyone makes out, they'll be three players with Gold Gloves around the diamond (I think Doug M has one?)

On paper the rotation could be good but again, that's on paper...

Pete J continues : Well, we'll settle the infield thing quickly. Firstly we know that A-Rod hasn't exactly excelled at third and he was never that rangey at short. Jeter basically wins GG's now because, for the most part, AL shortstops aren't very good. You've already said you don't rate Mientkiewicz (honestly who would want a first baseman with soft hands and quick feet?) so where does that leave you? I agree they aren't as bad as some people want to make them out to be but they are the most average bunch I've seen in a very long time and they aren't good enough for the club to make the most of Wang's ability.

Then there's The Rocket. I don't deal in fantasy and delusion. He may sign later but I still doubt he'll leave the state of Texas but for now he's not a Yankee and thats all there is to say.

Only a fool would take on Pavano for anything worthwhile (did I mention how aside from one year he's been excedingly ordinary?) so putting any stock in a positive Pavano scenario is almost grasping at straws. If he pitches like he did in '04 then they'll want to keep him otherwise no one will give up much to get him.

All I'll say about Igawa is don't put too much stock in spring training numbers but the jury is still out on him.

I'm surprised you haven't brought up the Yankeedom saviour (or so we would be lead to believe) Phillip Hughes. I suppose, like me, you think he'll be best served by spending more time in AAA and get a call up in September in view to him maintaining rookie status for '08.

Neil M quacks : Well to say the Rocket is 'fantasy and delusion' is wide of the mark. He has already stated that he'd of never come out of retirement had Andy never of signed in Houston and had Andy signed with the Yankees last year he'd of returned to the Bronx. The bond between those two seems pretty watertight.

How many pitches have you ever seen Igawa throw? Do you even know what pitches he throws?

As for Pavano, if guys like Gil Meche are getting $11m per year then Pavano's contract isn't terrible.

I think Phil Hughes will be a great Yankee but he needs maturing time in Triple-A. The Yankees have a decent enough top three and they have a couple of league average guys at the back of the rotation, and league average with the Yankees offense gives them a chance.

Pete J say : I do know what repertoire Igawa has but all I know of him is from reading scouting reports which is why I haven't passed any judgement on him whatsoever. Much like Clemens apparent return to New York, I'll believe it when I see it.

As for Pavano's contract and comparing it to Meche's, the contract Meche got was straight out of bizarre-o land so I guess Pavano's contract isn't so crazy considering the present market so I retract my previous statement...he's still a very average pitcher with a bad history of breaking down.

I suppose in a way the rotation is a lot like the bullpen with one stud, and the rest is sort of bend but don't break. Obviously Mo Rivera, although maybe not the best any more, is still a top tier guy who is practically automatic closing out games and I've always liked Mike Myers but guys like Farnsworth, Vizcaino and Proctor might be solid citizens but would you bet your house on them? We'll also wait to see what direction Jeff Karstens takes in the long term.

I have no doubt there is more than enough pitching in Yankeedom to win the East and probably post the best record in the AL and maybe all of baseball but I just feel that when it comes to the playoffs they might not have quite enough to get them past the top teams. That's when you can't rely on just bludgeoning teams and your depth and quality is really tested.

Neil M laughs off the digs : The Yankees pen is the best in my years as a baseball fan. The greatest sitting at the back end of the pen, the man who has thrown a change-up in ST which has just frozen hitters. I'd still want Mo above any other closer in the game to close a game out.

Elsewhere you have a bunch of live arms, Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizciano are pencilled in for late inning setup duties but elsewhere you'll see the likes of Mike Myers, Ron Villone, Jeff Karstens and Brian Bruney. The last name had an 0.87 ERA late in the 2006 season for the Yankees whilst just rearing back and throwing, he is battling for the last spot in the pen and a guy with his stuff would've been a clear setup guy two years ago, it shows how deeper our relief options have come.

Pete J says : The pen is deeper than it has been in New York since they were winning World Series but does not have as many true impact guys as they had in those days. Live arms are all well and good but we can all shoot off a huge list of guys with great arms and stuff who never made the most of those tools (Farnsworth is probably on most peoples list). And as for Bruney, he recorded that ERA in 20 2/3 innings of mop up duty which isn't much to go on even if the 15 walks he gave up in those 20 innings doesn't bode well for the future.

Just because it's better, doesn't mean its necessarily great. Sure there's promise but aside from Mo, none of them has a sustained history of great success and if Mo gets hurt there really isn't anyone who stands out as an obvious fix.

Neil M says : How many teams have 'an obvious fix' should their closer go down? Boston might go into the season with Joel Pineiro as closer, if BJ Ryan goes down is their someone ready to step up to dominate? The only team in the AL with a real option in LAA with Scot Shields, beyond him and that ball club there isn't a great guy in the pen beyond a closer.

As we've already stated, whilst its better than it was it still might not be awesome but when you consider the Yankees have won the AL East every year since 1998 and this is the best pen for several years, you have to believe the future is pretty bright.

It might not be the greatest 25-man roster ever put together but it is the best roster the Yankees will of put out for a few years and that is the most important thing.

Pete J's denoument : All I'm saying is some teams are better equipped than others to deal with such an eventuality (Texas was the more obvious example but anyway).

So, do you think this is the team to win a World Series? As if I need to ask. Personally I see it as same old, same old with the team romping home in the division and then falling in the playoffs.

Neil M concludes : This is the best Yankee team I have seen so obviously I'll pick them for the Big Dance. However as we know the playoffs can be a strange place where guys like Jeff Weaver can be great.

On paper they are the rightful favourites - however we don't play the game on paper.

Pete J summarises : Well obviously we were never going to agree on much but it's hard not to see this machine of a team plough through the regular season like a tractor through butter. I do feel that Neil's slightly inflated view of this teams chances comes from having something of a short memory when it comes to great Yankee teams. My standards for them will always be set by the great sides between 1996 and 2000 which were real big game teams built to win however it needed and I just don't see that in this team.

Neil is right that this is the best team the Yankees have had in a good while and there is the potential, with a handful of wild cards on the roster that could blossom and fill the holes that I see in the team and make this a post-season juggernaut too. I wait to be convinced.

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