April 2, 2009

2009 Outlook

The Steinbrenners spent nearly half a billion dollars this past offseason to secure three big-name free agents for the first era of the new Yankee Stadium.  I feel like I say this every year, but there's no doubt in my mind that this is the best team the Yankees have opened up with in at least five years.  For the first time since the late '90s, pitching, not hitting, is the best asset of the team.  Here's my outlook on the Yankees' 2009 season.

Strengths:

Starting rotation:
The Yankees have geared up their starting staff for 2009 and are looking to do some damage.  Featuring two huge offseason additions in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees' rotation is unmatched amongst the rest of the majors.  Retaining Andy Pettitte worked out beautifully, and he will be a steady No. 4 starter.  Chien-Ming Wang's bizarre injury last season was just a blip on a blossoming career.  

I expect nothing short of 18 wins and groundballs galore from him.  Plus, people don't talk about how his strikeout numbers were increasing before he got hurt.  His breaking pitch has developed into a strikeout pitch, and is a very nice addition to his tumbling sinker.  

Last but not least, the emergence of Joba Chamberlain over the past two seasons is something the Yankees have been searching for for a very long time.  There is nothing better than a homegrown starting pitcher.  I mean that.

Bullpen:
The Yankees' bullpen was a major concern a few years ago.  Now, the team has an overflow of arms and young talent.  Mariano Rivera still has a couple seasons left in the tank, and will continue to be the leader of the pen for as long as he wants.  Although the Yanks don't have a pure setup man, I believe having a lefty and a righty pitcher splitting the job is actually better than just one guy.  

Not only does it allow for better matchups, but it also gives the pen more depth.  Brian Bruney's put up better numbers in pinstripes than Damaso Marte has, but Marte's stuff is plain nasty.  The rest of the pen is made up of hard-throwing strikeout pitchers: Jonathan Albaladejo, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez and Phil Coke.  This spring, the four combined for 43 2/3 innings.  They only gave up six runs and struck out 45 batters.

Hitting for average:
In the last four seasons, the Yankees' team batting average has been ranked in the top four of the American League each year.  Last season, Johnny Damon lead the team in batting with a respectable .303 average.  More importantly, the Yankees had four other everyday players batting above .294.  With Jorge Posada healthy and Robinson Cano in shape, I expect four to six Yankees to bat at least .290 in 2009.

Weaknesses:

Run producing:
Going into last season, experts were projecting the Yankees to total 1,000 runs.  They ended up with 789.  The sad thing is, the Yankees could have reached the 1,000 plateau if they had came through in the clutch a little more.  The Yanks batted just .261 with runners in scoring position last year.  

If you listened to John Sterling's radio broadcasts last year for the games, you already know how many times the Yankees failed to score a runner from third with less than two outs.  The Yankees need to play small ball in tight games, and play unselfish baseball.  The addition of Mark Teixeira should help the team in this category, but unfortunately he is known for his slow starts.

Speed:
Besides Brett Gardner, the Yankees have hardly any speed in their lineup.  Players that were once speedsters are now getting older and older.  I can't count on Damon and Derek Jeter for 20 steals any more.  Hideki Matsui, Cano, Posada, Xavier Nady and Cody Ransom combined for three stolen bases last season.  Gardner has a chance at 50 steals this season, but he needs to get on base in order to utilize his weapon.

Defense:
Overall, the Yankees' defense is not bad, it is just sub-par.  Jeter has a tough time ranging for balls up the middle, and Damon's arm is one of the worst in all of baseball.  And don't count on Posada to hold runners on very well this season coming off shoulder surgery.  The only bright spots are Gardner's coverage in center, and the newly added glove of Teixeira's at first base.  Tex can also turn the 3-6-1 double play, unlike Giambi.

Competition:

Red Sox:
The Red Sox added a plethora of veteran free agents this offseason, including: Rocco Baldelli, Brad Wilkerson, Brad Penny, John Smoltz and Takashi Saito.  However, Baldelli and Wilkerson are both backups, and Penny and Smoltz are at the back end of the rotation - if at all.  

The Red Sox still have a good team because they have brought back all of their key players.  The Yankees barely have the edge in the rotation and bullpen, but the Red Sox probably have the better lineup (at least until A-Rod gets back).  It will be a tight battle all the way through.  But in the end, the Yankees' pitching depth will win them the race.

Rays:
The defending AL champs are not as strong as they were last season.  Firstly, they will not be taken for granted by any team.  Last season, those players came together and looked like they were going to win it all.  But when they got to the World Series, their bats were silenced by good pitching.  

The Rays' rotation is not as good as it was last season, and their lineup is essentially the same.  The only major move they made was replacing Cliff Floyd with Pat Burrell.  Bottom line, the Yankees and Red Sox carry too much pitching to be slowed down by the Rays.  My only worry is Evan Longoria.  He is the real deal, and is an MVP candidate already in my books.

Final prediction:
The Yankees will have a good start for once, as the players will thrive in the new stadium.  Sabathia will lead them past both AL East rivals, and back into the World Series.  If they can avoid the Dodgers in the World Series, they should be in good shape.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gee I'm ready to buy my World Series tickets! Here's how I see the two major uncertainties (1) The New Guard - will Sabathia, Burnett, Texeira play up to their potential or will they wilt under the NY spotlight, and (2) The Old Guard - How much do Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, Jeter have left in the tank? And I might as well throw in another one - A-Rod. All in all, I can't wait till Monday!

Lenny Neslin said...

I can't wait until tonight! Lou Pinella and the Cubs. YES Network 7 p.m.

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