2005 Team Preview: New York Yankees

by Keith Glab

2004 Record: 101-61 (1st Place)
2004 Runs Scored: 897
2004 Runs Allowed: 808
Expected 2004 Record: 89-73

Few people realize just how lucky the New York Yankees were to win 101 games last year. Their record eclipsed their run differential-derived record by an unbelievable 12 games. They did well with runners in scoring position, (.272 to .268 overall), but that doesn’t explain 12 wins. They had one of the best 1-2 punches in the bullpen last year in Gordon and Rivera, but that doesn’t quite do it either. EQA predicted their runs perfectly last year, so that’s not the issue. We’re dealing with a team who relied greatly on luck.

And now, they need to rely on it even more. Outside of Randy Johnson, all of their starting pitchers will be allowing the ball to be put in play in front of an awful defensive team. Aging players (Martinez, Williams, Sierra) are being counted on not to decline further, injury-prone players (Giambi, Sheffield, Brown) are being counted on to remain healthy, and fluke players (Womack, Pavano, Wright) are being counted on to repeat the miracle.

Here is a position-by-position update of The Evil Empire:

Catcher

2004 Starter: Jorge Posada

Projected 2005 Starter: Posada

While Jason Varitek has suddenly become Mr. Red Sock, Posada has been largely unappreciated for being the most consistent, potent, and durable catcher in baseball over the last five years. While he is below average defensively, it’s still hard to believe that there’s still the occasional Yankee that winds up as underrated as the Ben Chapmans, Tommy Henrichs, and Charlie Kellers of Yankee annals.

First Base

2004 Starters: Jason Giambi, Tony Clark

Projected 2005 Starters: Tino Martinez, Giambi

It’s the question that no one can answer: How productive will Jason Giambi be? Giambi at full strength might mean as much as five wins over the disastrous performance that he gave last season. Tino is no better than solid offensively, and his defense is a liability—I still can’t believe that he didn’t take more criticism for being completely unprepared every time Chuck Knoblauch launched an errant throw towards first.

Second Base

2004 Starters: Miguel Cairo, Enrique Wilson

Projected 2005 Starters: Tony Womack, Rey Sanchez

Even if Womack really is as good as his numbers last year indicate (which is doubtful, since his best BA before ’04 was .282), the best the Yankees can hope for is a push at this position. This is due to Miguel Cairo’s surprising effectiveness and Sanchez’ guaranteed low-6 OPS. Could be an utter disaster.

Third Base

2004 Starter: Alex Rodriguez

Projected 2005 Starter: A-Rod

The only hitter besides Giambi who Bronx fans can realistically expect to improve upon his 2004 performance, A-Rod hit slightly worse at home than on the road last year. We shall see just how much playing in hitter’s parks his entire career really benefited Alex.

Shortstop

2004 Starter: Derek Jeter

Projected 2005 Starter: Jeter

Joe Torre has finally figured out that Jeter is at his best out of the leadoff spot, and that’s where he will begin the season. Unfortunately, he has failed to realize that Derek Jeter is one of the worst defensive shortstops of all time, and refuses to replace him with A-Rod, who is excellent at shortstop but struggled in his first year at the hot corner.

Outfield

2004 Starters: Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Kenny Lofton

Projected 2005 Starters: Matsui, Sheffield, Williams, Bubba Crosby

This team even has a worse outfield defense than the Giants do. Matsui, supposedly the best of the bunch, made 7 errors last year. Bernie Williams can’t throw the ball more than 30 feet, and Sheffield can’t possibly play in 100 games this year with a bum shoulder. Bubba Crosby is easily the worst 4th outfielder in the league (.438 career OPS), and may get close to 500 at bats, unless Joe Torre wants to get creative and use Ruben Sierra in the outfield regularly. That’ll help the defense…

Designated Hitter

2004 Starter: Ruben Sierra

Projected 2005 Starters: Giambi, Sierra

Not since 2001 has Ruben Sierra been a good enough hitter to use at DH. Martinez will essentially replace him offensively, which isn’t much of an upgrade. Here again, we see a subpar contingency plan should Giambi not return to his MVP form.

Pitching

2004 Front Three Starters: Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber, Mike Mussina

Projected 2005 Front Three: Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Mussina

Most people shrug off the Yankees having lost their slated 5th starter to free agency. But in terms of effectiveness, consistency, and durability, Jon Lieber was the staff ace. Yes, Randy Johnson is his superior, and a good fit for a team with an atrocious defense, but the upgrade here is easily overstated. What’s understated is how useful (if improbable) a full healthy season from Kevin Brown might be.

Other 2004 Starters: Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez

Other Possible 2005 Starters: Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Tanyon Sturtze

Hmm… two pitchers coming off career years who don’t strike out a lot of batters move from teams with excellent fielders to a team with a ridiculous defense and unfavorable conditions for right-handed pitchers. And yet, many Yankees fans are way more excited about the signing of Pavano and Wright than they were about the acquisitions of Brown, Vazquez, and Lieber last year. Not to worry… they have Tanyon Sturtze and his 5.47 career ERA as reliable insurance should someone fail to meet expectations or stay healthy. Sheesh.

2004 Top Relievers: Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Felix Heredia

Projected 2005 Top Relievers: Rivera, Gordon, Felix Rodriguez, Steve Karsay, Mike Stanton

If you erase September 4th from Rivera’s stats, his ERA drops from 1.94 to 1.49, and Tom Gordon had a WHIP of .88! As great as Rivera and Gordon were last season, they had absolutely no help behind them (or should I say in front of them?). Now, with a healthy Karsay, prodigal Stanton, and new Rodriguez, the Yankees have the deepest bullpen in baseball, particularly from the right side.

Final Word:

At best, this is a team coming off of a 90-win caliber year that treaded water in the offseason. At worst, it’s an antediluvian disaster waiting to happen, much like we saw in Seattle and Arizona last year. But even though this looks like a .500 team on paper, these are the Yankees. They don’t really need depth… they’ll spend millions to replace whomever is ineffective as soon as George Steinbrenner sees the team struggle. Once they add to their $300 million team payroll, we can expect the Yanks to contend in the Wild Card race, perhaps to see them in the postseason for the eighth consecutive year.