While WraithPK did an excellent job of handing out rewards for outstanding play thus far in the 2011 season, I decided to delve into the areas for improvement on the team. This is not an exercise in bashing players, just an honest assessment of performance. These assessments will be accompanied by my personal opinion about what I would do if I were Cashman or Girardi (and such opinions are limited to what is publicly known about available options, i.e. replacement or upgrade players). The fun begins after the jump!
Source for WAR statistics: Baseball Reference.
The Yankees rank 3rd in Team Pitching WAR (BR), behind the Oakland and Seattle. This is primarily due to the even or negative pitching WAR of the following players:
0 WAR Pitchers:
-0.1 or greater WAR Pitchers
~ Injured and exception (WAR calculated based on stats accumulated in only 3 starts)
The Yankees rank 2rd in Team Offensive WAR (BR), behind the Red Sox. This is primarily due to the even or negative WAR of the following players:
0 WAR position players
-0.1 WAR or greater position players:
- Derek Jeter (-0.1)
- Jorge Posada (-0.1)
- Francisco Cervelli (-0.2)
- Andruw Jones (-0.3)
- Ramiro Pena (-0.3)
It's no surprise where the pitching problems are (hint: it's not in the current rotation, with Colon posting a 2.2 WAR [2nd only to Sabathia] and Garcia following him with a 2.0 WAR). This might also be an indication of why Nova was sent to AAA and Garcia was kept in the rotation.
With the glut of cheap pitching acquired for the bullpen, only a few have provided replacement level or positive value for the team. Surprisingly: Corey Wade, Lance Pendleton, Brian Gordon, and Jeff Marquez). However, losing Phil Hughes (despite his ridiculously small sample size induced WAR) means that one of Colon or Garcia or even Nova was not in the bullpen to provide that quality (as evidenced by Colon's performances before entering the rotation). Hughes going on the DL, in my opinion, began the cascade of replacement bullpen arms resulting in the names of Sergio Mitre, Buddy Carlyle, Kevin Whelan, and Amauri Sanit gracing the box scores.
On the offensive side, three players providing replacement or negative WAR are over the age of 30 (Jones, Jeter, Posada). It's no surprise to anyone here that Jones has negative value (and sadly, he's often played instead of Gardner, he of 2.7 WAR). It is, I think, more of a surprise that the two aging veterans are performing so poorly. Jeter hasn't had a negative WAR since 1995 when he only had 51 plate appearances. Posada hasn't had a negative WAR season since 1996 when he only had 15 plate appearances.
Fortunately, in Posada's case, the solution that is currently being implemented is probably the best: don't have him play every day and platoon him at DH. The downside is that, currently it seems the Binder would put Jones in there at DH. I'll address this shortly (in the Solutions section).
For Jeter, it's a mixed bag. Neither of his replacements (Nunez and Pena) have unequivocally proven they can replace him defensively or offensively). Nunez has been the better of the two options (especially offensively) thus far.
This is where the rubber meets the road. My solutions (again, given the information to which I currently have access) are:
Stop with the mop-up men acquired via free agency or waivers or trades. Hector Noesi is a perfect example of a cheap internal option that actually provides value (he's got a 0.3 WAR, better than all the pitchers mentioned above). I would tap the conditioned arms on the AAA team, whether it be Warren, Phelps, Kontos, etc. Anyone that can contribute could be called up and at worst provide the same production as those scrap heap selections; at best, they can produce like Noesi or better. The best thing is, depending on their contracts, they can be called up and sent down as needed (as far as I know) until their options are used up or the roster expands in September.
It will help to have Hughes back, with the expectation that he'll be better than he was in Spring Training and his three starts in April. I'm disappointed that instead of releasing a member of the mop up brigade, they sent Nova down and there's been no improvement in the bullpen (I would consider Nova, Garcia, or Colon a colossal improvement to the bullpen when Hughes returns).
Oh, and for the PSA faithful: DROP Mitre like a bad habit!
Finding positive value improvement in the offensive category is a political nightmare but still possible. Based on what we know of Jesus Montero's production (regardless of his defensive capabilities), his batting skills alone would make him a good alternative to both DHing Posada and having Posada play 1B. He also would provide the added benefit of giving Russell Martin a day off behind the plate. This is not to say that Posada would never be in the line-up, but it would reduce his playing time (sorry, Jorge!). Martin would likely welcome the respite from the daily grind of being behind the plate. Bringing Montero up as the backup catcher/DH/sometime 1B would also mean Cervelli returns to the minors, taking his -0.2 WAR with him.
Nunez would be a good alternative to Jeter (if only because he's exactly replacement level), but Jeter's contract and history precludes the possibility that he'll have his playing time reduced (unless he voluntarily goes to Girardi after hitting #3000 and asks to be played less, for the good of the team). It's hard to tell how Nunez would perform for a full season at shortstop, but he's shown that he can be an offensive threat.
Ramiro Pena can join Cervelli and Gustavo Molina in the minors, removing his -0.3 WAR as well. I know Molina isn't on the Yankees roster so I'm not looking at replacing him. I'm not sure Pena even needs replacing (depending on when Chavez returns) as long as Nunez stays on the roster.
All things considered, the Yankees are not in bad shape. Yes, they have room for improvement in a few areas, but the team being 2nd in offensive WAR and only 3rd in pitching WAR (ahead of the highly touted Red Sox) is a good place to be halfway through the season. If nothing changes other than Hughes coming back and Chavez off the DL (and maybe Soriano comes back), this is still a highly productive team, which I would expect could return to the playoffs. Beyond that, the playoffs are a crap shoot, but they do have the talent to go far.
I know I didn't get into real depth with the players' stats, but I thought WAR would be a good assessment tool at this point in the season.
All feedback, suggestions, and criticism is welcome!