The Baseball Prospectus annual guide to the 2014 season was recently released and it's on Amazon for only $17.25 paperback and $9.99 for the Kindle edition. BP guides are well worth the investment for all the information provided on damn near everything baseball, with team reviews and player comments written by highly knowledgeable baseball sources, from Deadspin founder Will Leitch to BP editor-in-chief Ben Lindbergh and SBN's own Marc Normandin and Adam J. Morris. Contrary to what you might think, I was not asked to advertise the book--I'm just highly recommending it. Go buy it.
The Yankees essay was superbly written by sadly-former beat writer Andy McCullough with player comments made by the BP staff, and it of course included some great tidbits on pretty much every player on their roster with the exception of Masahiro Tanaka, who was not a Yankee at press time. The section is worth the cost alone, and I don't want to diminish BP's hard work by releasing all the research contained in those pages. They deserve their payments. However, I will offer a sneak peak with some information.
Some thoughts on the Yankees' three big offensive additions and a few other players:
- Skeptics can quibble about what exactly Jacoby Ellsbury will be able to do with his bat in pinstripes, but there is absolutely no denying that he is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. BP noted that in his earlier years, Ellsbury got away with some mistakes in center thanks to his blazing speed alone, but now that he's spent even more time there, his routes and first steps just keep improving with time. Only Carlos Gomez and Denard Span had a better center field defensive rating from FanGraphs last year than Ellsbury. While Brett Gardner was solid in center all year in 2013, we should have even better defense waiting in 2014 from Ellsbury.
- Projections can be finicky demons, but rarely have I ever seen a projection as identical to the previous season as BP is predicting for Brian McCann in 2013: .256/.336/.449 compared to .256/.336/.461 last year. Bold.
- BP admitted some concerns about Carlos Beltran, like his five-year decline against lefthanded pitching and the erosion of his outfield range. However, they still like his bat and think that he will both benefit from extra DH time and come to love the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. I was crazy enough to predict 30 dingers from Beltran in 2014, so let's hope so.
- Ivan Nova's curveball is really, really good. How good? Nova had the second-highest curveball whiff rate in all of baseball, behind only Rangers ace Yu Darvish. With GIFs like the one below (h/t Jeff Sullivan), is it really such a surprise? Nova's mastery of the sharp curve and willingness to use it more often contributed to his renaissance in 2013:
- Based on BP projections, Francisco Cervelli should win the backup catcher job since he would likely put up the best numbers in that role. Since his bat has been roughly average for a catcher during his career (93 wRC+), and his defense has reportedly rebounded from a slip in 2011 in 2012 through the time of his injury last year, it's hard to argue with that logic. It still creates a logjam at catcher in Scranton with Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy though. Of course, catchers being catchers, one will probably get hurt at some point and resolve the issue.
- You might recall that it took outfielder Zoilo Almonte much longer than initially thought to recover from the ankle sprain he suffered on July 19th. Why was that? He had to get his wisdom teeth removed right when he was starting to get healthy again and that delayed him a little while longer. Not really the most captivating of information, but it was something I didn't hear about in 2013.
To finish off the preview, here are a few quick hits on some prospects:
- BP is fan of 24-year-old righty Jose Ramirez, who they ranked as the second-best prospect in the Yankees' system. They said Ramirez has a "plus-plus fastball and change" with a "solid-average slider." It just seems like Ramirez needs to figure out how to stay healthy to make it. Hopefully, he can take a step forward in 2014.
- Since BP ranked Gary Sanchez only 85th among baseball's top 101 prospects, it shouldn't be a stunner that reviews on him were mixed from BP. The comments mentioned that the reports on his defense "sound like they are from Jesus Montero's report," and that he occasionally struggled to catch pitches down the middle. Promising...
- BP liked the Yankees' top picks in the 2013 draft, noting that Ian Clarkin has "good command and an advanced feel for pitching" thanks to a "low-90s fastball that can touch higher and a curve with plus potential." Meanwhile, Eric Jagielo reportedly has a solid offensive approach and "a good arm and hands at third." I'm assuming this means he has rummaged through cadavers and built a wall of hands to block grounders. Way to go, Eric!
- Mason Williams had a hellish year in 2013, and though he's good at making contact BP doesn't think his bat will get any better until he makes a change in his hitting approach. Considering his pedestrian 95 wRC+ in Tampa and 84 wRC+ in the Arizona Fall League in 2013... yeah, Mason might want to consider some tweaks.
- You will get only one full line from BP on a prospect here and like it. Fortunately for you, that prospect is Greg Bird:
"Lefty slugger Gregory Bird had one of the 10 best offensive seasons in the minors. As a first baseman with below-average range, he can't afford to lose much offensively, but the raw is real."
Greg Bird Greg Bird Greg Bird.
If you thought even a little of all the information above was interesting, want to learn a ton more about the other 29 teams, and enjoy 2013 Yankees-related allusions to the "Warm Body Award," "Franklin Pierce Adams' saddest of possible words," and "Performance Eradicating Drugs," then you need to go ahead and buy the 2014 BP annual. You should probably just do it anyway; as previously said, it is well worth the investment.
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