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American League Two-a-Days: New York Yankees

LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: New York Yankees

2013 record: 85-77
2013 runs scored: 650
2013 runs against: 671
2013 pythag. record: 79-83

The hard truth is that the Yankees are one of the five worst teams in the AL.  They were last year, and they are going to be again this year.  It’s the Astros, White Sox, Orioles, Twins, and Yankees at the bottom of the league.

The Yankees separated themselves this year by spending a lot of money.  They have Masahiro Tanaka on the mound, Jacoby Ellsbury patrolling center, Carlos Beltran in right, and Brian McCann behind the plate.  Those may well be the four best players on the team, and none was here last year.

But none of it matters, because they were unable to retain one of the best players in the AL, Robinson Cano.  He’s replaced with Brian Roberts and the Yankees just aren’t much better than last year.

Who is having a good spring?

McCann and Francisco Cervelli, back from suspension and injury, give the Yankees the top 1-2 catching punch in the AL.  They have almost identical numbers this spring, combining for 2 HRs and 20 total bases.  3B Kelly Johnson was the team’s value signing, and he adds another 10 total bases this spring.  Tanaka has been as advertised, and Hiroki Kuroda, who faded badly at the end of last season, is off to a nice start.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Yankees

The Yankees do not get enough credit for their superb advanced scouting and analytic approach, perhaps as good as any in the game.  If you watch the Yankee defensive positioning over a long time, it’s clear they are more prepared to play than a lot of other teams.  This seems to be a fairly repeatable skill for them, and helped the Yankees into the top four in the AL in terms of run prevention last season.

The Yankees should be above average at preventing runs again this year.  This rotation is stronger than it was a year ago, and they have enough live arms to replace Mariano Rivera in the bullpen.  Replacing a legend isn’t going to be the easiest part of David Robertson’s career, but he’s going to get a lot of help from starters going deep into games.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Yankees

The offense was terrible last season, and even with all the shiny new pieces the Yankees have added this year, there are out-makers throughout the lineup.  The players with above average OBP projections in the lineup are: McCann, Ellsbury, Gardner, Teixiera, Beltran, and whatever PAs you can get from Derek Jeter this year.  Not one player in the lineup is projected to do better than .340 in on-base percentage.  By comparison, the Kansas City Royals have four players with projected OBP above .340.  Having Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro, and Roberts rotating between DH and the bench isn’t going to help matters.

It’s not like this Yankee lineup is power-heavy either.  You take the list above, subtract Jeter but add Soriano, and that’s all the above average power in the Yankee lineup.

This lineup should be more productive than last season, but it’s not much support for the pitching staff.

The Projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Yankees is 39.7, 5th in the American League.  Their 20.9 Batters WAR projection is 11th in the AL. Their 18.8 Pitchers WAR projection is 3rd in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 Yankees to win 83 games, a 2 win decline over last season.  Masahiro Tanaka is the Yankee with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 4.7.  Jacoby Ellsbury is the position player with the best average projection at 4.3 WAR.

The Yankees vs the rest of the AL East

The AL East is baseball’s strongest division in 2014.  The Rays and Red Sox are top seven teams, in the elite class of baseball teams, and the Yankees and Blue Jays are anticipated to be top-half teams.  The Orioles are probably the best team expected to finish in fifth this season.  The Blue Jays are a longshot contender, but the Red Sox and the Rays are the class of the AL East this year.

LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 New York Yankees

I see almost no way the Yankees can avoid going backwards in terms of win total in 2014.  This is a better team than last year.  But the more you dug into last year’s Yankees team, the worse they looked.  Frankly, on the offensive end alone, there’s about 50 runs floating around there that came by way of non-repeatable offensive skill.  Ellsbury, Teixiera, McCann, Beltran, and Jeter are good, but I don’t know if there’ s 50 offensive runs there total.  And that’s BEFORE you remember Cano isn’t in this lineup.

Offensively, that runs scored number could slide back from 650.  And that runs prevented number also has a good chance to slide backwards (although this team is stronger defensively).  And so the prediction here is that the Yankees will miss the 80 win plateau for the first (and last) time in the Jeter era, going 76-86.  Tanaka will not be a unanimous rookie of the year.  And the 2014 season will be a struggle in the way the 2013 season wasn’t, because there will be no easy answers.

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