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Adjusting expectations for the Yankees lineup in a pitching-dominated era

This Yankee team is constructed for depth, rather than featuring any true superstars. That is part of a bigger trend.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

There are plenty of fans looking over the Yankees lineup and missing the glory days. Which glory days tend to depend on the fan, but I think we can all agree that this lineup is inferior to the one the Yankees rolled out in 2009 or 2003 or 1998.

But that misses a bigger point: the landscape of Major League Baseball has changed since each of those pennant winners. Roster construction is different, the talent available is different, and the resources available to each team are different.

In 1998, 28 players posted wRC+ of 140 or better, 59 posted wRC+ 120 or better.

In 2003, 20 players posted wRC+ of 140 or better. 55 at 120 or better.

In 2009, 18 players posted wRC+ 140 or better. 58 at 120 or better.

In 2014, 16 players posted wRC+ 140 or better. 49 posted at 120 or better.

So, obviously, elite offensive performances are down, and while above average-average performances are also down in 2014, they're steadier overall.

So what does this tell you about the Yankees current lineup construction? Jeff Sullivan did a quick and dirty attempt at lineup depth evaluation the other day, and his analysis finds the Yankees to be one of the deepest teams in the league. Is it possible that what the Yankees lack in top end talent, they're prepared to make up for in flexibility and depth?

That's the mantra that Brian Cashman has repeated to the press all offseason. Let's not dodge the fact that none of the Yankees' current roster projects to reach even the 120 mark. I'd be a lot more comfortable with "flexibility" if it meant a few guys projected to be 25% above average.

But, clearly, my comfort level is part of the problem with this Yankee offseason. I want there to be a player on every team capable of a .297/.359/.555 line, like there was in 1998 when Jeff Kent was the 30th most productive batter in the league. Maybe you're wishing for 2003 Carlos Beltran (.307/.389/.522) or 2009 Todd Helton (.325/.416/.489).

Part of what's hard to appreciate about how transformative the last two years have been for Major League Baseball is coming terms with the fact that just five years after Helton posted an OBP over 400, only three players in all of baseball managed that feat in 2014. The 30th most productive batter in 2014 was Carlos Santana (.231/.365/.427).

This is particularly jarring for me, because unlike batting average, on base percentage was supposed to offer a talent assessment that was more stable. And suddenly I'm trying to understand baseball all over again. I do think that future generations will look back at this as a golden era for defenses, both for individual performances and for top down strategy. But it makes it pretty nerve racking to look at this Yankee lineup, when I can still picture Paul O'Neill or Gary Sheffield waiting for a pitch.

But, if you have nothing else good to say about this Yankee lineup, there's always the hope that if they are terrible, at least they have the pieces to try to import more talent at midseason.