The Yankees are projected to win the East again, but they're also supposed to be too old to complete. What gives?
Over at the Wall Street Journal, Tim Marchman took a look at the New York Yankees' dry-aged lineup, and he concluded there isn't as much risk with the over-30 set as you might think.
Vintage players tend to be good, because of a selection effect: If you use a cane and still have a job in the major leagues, it's usually because you can play. Age can be a problem if you're trying to get the most value for the dollar, because veterans make a lot of money, but age really isn't a problem on the field.
And in the comments section, we find the following rebuttal:
Is this writer a clone of John Sterling? … No way is this team as constructed now makes the playoffs.
Oooooh, Sterling-related burn. "Theeeeese … are your orders to march, man!"
With those two viewpoints, though, you get something of a spectrum of Yankee hopes. I know what the projections are, the ZiPS and the PECOTAs, and they maintain the Yankees will be fine. But there's a nagging voice in the back of my head that's doubting how potent the over-30 hitters will be, especially considering how many of them are coming off down seasons.
The two sides tussle often in my own head. I think I'm bullish on the Yankees. But I have moments when I realize that Ichiro is 50, Kevin Youkilis hasn't been good since the first half of 2011, and there's no way the Yankees are going to hit this year. The debate has led to this completely unscientific tallying:
The Yankees have one nah and five iffys. The latter category isn't anything that you can quantify. Iffy means that you're not sure the players can live up to their established levels of success. Teixeira has been sliding for a couple years now, dipping to career-lows in home runs and slugging percentage, and having his worst offensive season since he was a rookie. Derek Jeter will be 39 next season, and he's recovering from a broken ankle. And, yes, Ichiro is 50, and Youkilis hasn't been a plus hitter since July, 2011. Could they all be good again? Hey, sure. But I wouldn't want to guarantee it.
I'm giving the Yankees credit for Robinson Cano (a 30-year-old second baseman), Curtis Granderson (31-year-old with a career-low average and OBP), and Brett Gardner (missed most of last season), so I don't think I'm being too unfair. Two-thirds of the Yankees' lineup makes me wary.
Is that unfair, though? Every lineup has question marks, guys who might not live up to expectations. So the only thing to do is look at the five other teams projected by PECOTA to win their division, and count up their iffy lineup spots.
Well, it's not the only thing to do, but I'm making a point, here. The completely subjective list of iffys and bads:
Iffy: Andy Dirks, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante
Iffy: Peter Bourjos, Chris Iannetta, Alberto Callaspo
Iffy: Kurt Suzuki/Wilson Ramos, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa
Iffy: Ryan Ludwick
Nah: Zack Cozart
Iffy: Luis Cruz, Mark Ellis, Carl Crawford
Your mileage may vary, of course. Some of those Nationals players are a stretch as iffies, and maybe you're not quite as much of an Erick Aybar or Alex Avila fan. But here's the point: When you look at the other teams around the league that are supposed to contend, you don't wonder about the efficacy of two-thirds of their lineup.
Now, that's not an especially scientific way to look at lineups. Teixeira's down season is probably better than Omar Infante's good season, for example, so it's not as if you can tally these up and get an exact measure of an offense.
As an explanation of why you might not be especially optimistic about the Yankees' lineup, though, this will do just fine. They have a ton of question marks, and they're one of the few contending teams to punt offense completely from one of their lineup spots. The projection systems say those concerns are overblown. When you look at the lineup, though, and start unconsciously assigning "good", "bad", and "risky" to the names, the Yankees come up worse than the average contender.
That's almost certainly because hitters like Teixeira and Youkilis have a heckuva lot further to fall than the typical hitter. But the question isn't, "Why are the Yankees going to be so bad?" The question is, "Why do I feel like this about the Yankees?" Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn't. All I know is that I'm sticking to my prediction that the Yankees are just fine.
But I'm not putting any money down in Vegas on them. So it goes for the paradoxical Yankees, who should be fine, unless they aren't.