Comparing records in December

It’s been awhile since I went through a bad piece of sports writing.  Thank you Dayn Perry of Fox Sports.

The premise here is that the Yankees haven’t “passed” the Sox or Rays in the AL East (yes, I know it’s December 22nd, but whatever).

It hasn’t been enough.

The New York Yankees — flush, as always, with resources and resolve — have been this winter’s most active team. But it hasn’t been enough. They’ve coughed up almost $250 million in an effort to revamp the rotation, and they still might bring back Andy Pettitte. Even then, though, the Yankees will remain a third-place team in baseball’s toughest division. To be sure, the additions of CC Sabathia and (if healthy) A.J. Burnett make the Yankees a better club, but they still haven’t caught up to the Rays and Red Sox. More must be done, at least if the Yankees are serious about making the post-season.

Have the Red Sox and Rays gotten better this offseason? You admit the Yankees have and believe it or not the Yankees were still right with those two teams all year but had some rough luck with injuries. So clearly the Yankees must have a shot?

As presently constructed, the Yanks have neither the offense nor the team defense to hang with Tampa and Boston. On the offensive side, last season the Yankees ranked seventh in the 14-team AL in runs scored.

Better than the Rays. Seriously, Yanks: 4.9 runs per game, Rays 4.8.

Worse for the mediocre New York attack is the fact that they had the oldest lineup in all of baseball in 2008 (average age of 31.3), and they haven’t gotten measurably younger.

They got rid if Giambi (37) and Abreu (35) and added Swisher(27). That’s pretty measurable. You could also argue that Gardner (24) stands to get more playing time.

Jason Giambi, one of their most productive hitters last season, is no more, and he’s being replaced by Nick Swisher, who hit .219 in 2008.

First, batting average is meaningless. Swisher did have a down year, but he still got on base and slugged at a decent clip (.332/.410) but is due for a bounce back year. Also, he has two big advantages over Giambi: he’s YOUNG (and I know you think that’s important) and he plays good defense (which I have a feeling you’re going to talk about soon).

They must hope that Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Swisher all have bounceback seasons. Everyone else is on the wrong side of 30 and not likely to improve. Given age-related decline up and down the lineup, the Yanks might find themselves in the bottom quartile of AL offenses.

Yes, they are hoping for bounce back years from those guys, like I said. But aren’t the odds pretty good that that happens? All three of those players certainly couldn’t be worse than last year, considering their respective skill sets and projections.

No one else likely to improve? Posada and Matsui won’t have better years? They will if they just show up. Jeter won’t have a better year with a healthy hand? A-Rod won’t do his odd-year MVP routine? If you really think that the Yankees will have an offense that ranks in the bottom quarter of the league, you are completely delusional. That didn’t happen last year when the Yanks had a historically unlucky season.

The defense, meanwhile, is similarly hopeless. Take a look at how Yankees stacked up in the AL in 2008, according to a trio of advanced defensive measures:

# Defensive Efficiency: 12th
# Ultimate Zone Rating: 14th
# Plus-Minus System: 10th

All these the metrics, unlike, say, fielding percentage, evaluate a team’s ability to make routine plays and demonstrate range. In other words, they provide much more information than does merely eyeballing error totals. They’re also in agreement: The Yankees can’t play defense. As with the offense, the Yankees’ advancing age and lack of turnover among position players means that the defense is likely to be even worse in 2009.

The Yankees are a poor defensive team. But worse in 2009? They’re better right now – an outfield of Damon in left, Gardner in center, and Nady in right, is better than Nady, Damon, and Abreu. Also, they’ve replaced a poor defender in Giambi, with a good defender in Swisher. No they won’t be the best defensive team in the league all of a sudden, but calling them “hopeless” is a bit much.

The state of the middle infield is particularly troubling. Derek Jeter at short and Cano at second are both sub-optimal defenders, and in Jeter’s case he can expect further decline with the glove.

Sub-optimal? Really? Couldn’t you be the 2nd best defender in the league and be sub-optimal? Anyways, Jeter actually improved defensively last season by most metrics, though yes, he’s still a poor defender. Cano was ranked the best defensive second baseman in 2007 but one of the worst last year. The truth likely lies somewhere in between.

Since Sabathia and Burnett, the Yankees’ two marquee additions, both show above-average groundball tendencies, that should be a concern.

Yeah, they have groundball tendencies I guess, but primarily they have strikeout tendencies. Both pitchers were in the top 6 in terms of swings and misses by opposing batters last year. So I think Cashman is accounting for mediocre defense. Wang has looked pretty good the past few seasons with a worse infield and he is MUCH more of a groundball pitcher than Sabathia or Burnett.

Now consider Burnett’s remarkably unremarkable season in 2008. In the AL last season, the run-scoring levels were at their lowest since 1992. Despite the environment, Burnett posted a rather middling ERA of 4.07.

The AL East is still an incredibly difficult place to pitch. Josh Beckett’s ERA last year? 4.03. Not to mention Burnett led the league in strikeouts.

The heartening news for Yankee fans is that the organization seems to be aware of these weaknesses. According to some reports, they’re in the mix for Mark Teixeira, and given their needs that makes tremendous sense. Teixeira would give the Yanks a high-OBP, high-power hitter in the middle of the lineup, and he’d also improve that harped-upon infield defense. It’s going to cost a shiek’s ransom to bring him to the Bronx, but the Yanks have the dough and are already “pot committed” for 2009 and beyond. Now’s not the time for belated penny-pinching. In fact, no team in all of baseball needs Teixeira more than the Yankees do.

You’re right. No other team needs Tex like the Yanks do. Certainly not the Nationals. They’ve got plenty of talent. Matter of fact, they wouldn’t even have a place to play him. He’d have to sit the bench. Same for the Royals and Pirates.

With Swisher on board to play first, Tex is no longer that much of a defensive upgrade. And the Yankees are going to score runs. They don’t need to hand out another $200 million contract. Sure, Tex would be a nice addition – as he would be to any team – but they certainly don’t need him.

The other big “elephant in the room” when it comes to this article is that it doesn’t even touch upon the Rays or Sox. The Rays were extremely lucky with keeping their starters healthy last season which helped them excel despite a relatively mediocre offense. What happens if they have a few injuries this year? The Red Sox have declining players in Ortiz and Lowell. Will they be able to produce? Is Lester for real (I think yes, but still)? What about Dice-K, who just had an insanely lucky season, judging by his walks allowed?

Bottom line is all three teams will be good. To say that any one team has no chance, in DECEMBER, is insane.

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