Evaluating Yankee Christmas Presents
The Yankees are being hailed as the big winners in this year’s free agent market, and with good reason. They landed three of the most coveted players available. What I’d like to know is how much better the Yankees have made themselves by adding these players. More importantly, how many games can the Yankees expect to win in 2009?
In order to answer that question, some simplifying assumptions need to be made. First, last year’s version of Jason Giambi will be replaced by last year’s version of Mark Teixeira. Similarly, last year’s version of Mike Mussina will be replaced with last year’s version of CC Sabathia for the 200 innings that Moose pitched. Finally, Darrell Rasner’s 113 innings and Sidney Ponson’s 80 innings will be replaced by AJ Burnett. Andy Pettite will eventually get a contract he and his agents can live with and will perform exactly as he did in 2008 or he will be replaced by someone who will have the same ERA over the same number of innings. Everybody else will be assumed to perform exactly as they did in 2008, with two exceptions – Jorge Posada will play the entire season (keep your fingers crossed!), and Hideki Matsui will play the entire season canceling out the loss of Bobby Abreu while Matsui’s production from last year for the 93 games he played will be offset by having Xavier Nady for a full season..
I realize all these things may not happen, but it would be impossible to accurately predict how each player on the team will perform next year. I also believe that most of these assumptions are conservative since 1) Teixeira had an average season for him in terms of runs scored and RBIs and he should benefit from having the majority of his home at bats come as a lefty in Yankee Stadium, 2) Sabathia will more than likely pitch more than 200 innings and will therefore take innings away from other pitchers who had a higher ERA than Moose did last year, 3) Burnett’s ERA last year was actually higher than his career average, 4) I didn’t account for Chien-Ming Wang pitching a full season or Joba spending the entire season as a starter, 5) if you project Nady’s run production from his 59 games with the Yankees over the 93 games that Matsui played, Nady actually produced more runs, and 6) I expect Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez to have better seasons in 2009 than they did in 2008. I also believe that Melky will establish himself as the starter in center and will have a better year than he did in 2008.
I know some people may be thinking that there is no way that Sabathia can post the same ERA this year while pitchjing in the AL for the entire season. I was tempted to make an adjustment for the change in leagues, but I found that the AL league ERA was 4.36 last year while the NL league ERA was 4.30. Since Sabathia is a lefty who will be pitching half his games in Yankee Stadium, I decided that there should be no adjustment (he’s getting paid a lot of money, let’s expect him to come through).
Starting with the offense, Mark Teixeira scored 34 more runs and had 25 more RBIs than Giambi, so I’m going to assume that adding him to the lineup will result in 59 more runs scored for the year. There was a dropoff of 60 RBIs at the catcher position for the Yankees last year and about 40 runs scored. Since there is no way to know how Jorge will come back and Jorge had one of his best seasons in 2007, I’m going to ignore the runs scored and conservatively assume that getting Jorge back for the entire season will add 60 runs.
With the pitchers I will divide the numbers of innings pitched by by the pitcher who is being replaced 9 and multiply the result by the difference in ERA between the pitchers to get the difference in runs allowed over the course of the season. Replacing Moose’s 200 innings at a 3.68 ERA with Sabathia’s 2.70 ERA will give the Yankees 22 less runs allowed over the season. Replacing Rasner’s 113 innings at 5.40 with Burnett’s 4.07 will result in 17 less runs allowed while replacing Ponson’s 80 innings at 5.85 will result in an additional 16 less runs allowed.
In 2008 the Yankees scored 789 runs while allowing 727. Adding the 60 additional runs for Posada and 59 additional runs for Teixeira will give the Yankees 908 runs scored. Subtracting 22 runs for Sabathia and 33 runs for Burnett will give the Yankees 672 runs allowed. Using the pythagorean won-loss formula, the Yankees would have an expected winning percentage of .646 which means a record of 105-57.
Given the fact that teams with great closers generally outperform the pythagorean formula (the Yankees were two games better than ther expected won-loss record in 2008), and that there are many other players who could conceivably have significantly better seasons, the Yankees could be looking at another 1998. Of course, if they suffer a couple of injuries or if Sabathia turns into Kenny Rogers, they could be looking at another 2008.