After a flurry of moves this past December left the Yankees rotation in much better shape than it was found, the roster on paper heading into 2012 is perhaps the strongest in many years. With one of the best lineups in baseball returned from a 97-win club, one of baseball’s best bullpens, and a revamped rotation, things are looking pretty good in Yankee-land. The sky is truly the limit.
But how does the 2012 team compare to the 2009 club, a Yankees team that brought home its first World Series trophy in nearly a decade? The question is two sided. How does this club compare to the Yankees team we entered 2009 with? And how likely does this team seem to bring the same sort of overperformance?
Offensively, there’s likely no competition between the two rosters. The 2009 Yankees were a historically great lineup, hitting .283 with a .362 OBP and .478 SLG. To put this in perspective, the 1927 Yankees slugged .488. That team was special and given the ages of some of the players involved (Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, and Hideki Matsui particularly) it’s no surprise that the offensive production coming out of New York has fallen off just a bit over the past two years. Last season, the Yankees team OPS was .787, among the best in baseball but 53 points below that of their World Series winning cousins. This is a result of some across the board loses. Not only are Damon, Posada, and Matsui now gone, but the Yankees three best position players as of 2009 ranked fourth, fifth, and eighth in WAR last season, due to age, underperformance, or decline.
It’s important to remember that the 2009 Yankees weren’t supposed to be that kind offensive juggernaut. It just sort of happened. Sure, a roster filled with future Hall of Famers, former All-Stars, and a recently-acquired MVP candidate is bound to hit the cover off the baseball. But no one quite expected the consolidation of production that occurred. Derek Jeter was coming off the worst season of his career outside his rookie year, as were Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Nick Swisher, who entered the season without a starting job. Johnny Damon was among the Yankees brightest lights in 2008, but even his continued success was far from assured at 35. Center field was manned by Melky, a fan favorite and also one of the worst players in baseball, subsidized sporadically by a little known rookie, a non-prospect with some speed and defensive prowess. Alex Rodriguez was still Alex Rodriguez, something we all wish we could say today, but 2008 had seen cracks begin to form in the MVP facade. Perhaps the only player who’s performance was projected with boundless optimism was newly acquired first baseman.
In fact, when put that way, it’s not hard to feel better about the 2012 lineup than one could about the 2009 group heading into that season. Russel Martin is young, durable, and defensively a major upgrade over Posada. Robinson Cano heading into 2009, and even the player that emerged that season, has nothing on the guy hitting in the middle of our lineup today. We added an MVP-candidate in center field, Curtis Granderson. Swisher hit, and hit, and hit some more (and pitched). Brett Gardner emerged as one hell of a player. The decline of ARod and Jeter has been hard to watch at times, but both are still capable players. In the case of ARod I have hope for much more. Mark Teixeira‘s batting average has tumbled, but otherwise he’s been entirely dependable. On paper, this group looks as good if not better than the group we entered 2009 with. While I wouldn’t count on so many bounce back seasons, career years, and age-defying performances, there’s no reason to believe the lineup we put on the field next season can’t be at least as good as the one we fielded last year or the year before. With some luck, it could be better. And we may not need a repeat of 2009 offensively to bring number 28 to the Bronx.
I think the pitching we enter this season with is far better than that of 2009. Let’s not overrate that 2009 rotation. Despite in an impressive playoff performance, the 2009 staff was ultimately top heavy and weak. CC Sabathia anchored both staffs, but otherwise they look drastically different. AJ Burnett circa-2009 was still a quality starting pitcher. The end was beginning, but his meltdown had not entirely set in yet. Andy Pettitte in his final season had one of the best years of his career. After this group stelar group, though, there was nothing but disappointment. Joba Chamberlain followed up a masterful starting debut in 2008 with a 4.75 ERA in 2009. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy had varying degrees of success in the minor leagues and Hughes was actually a valuable asset at the back of the bullpen by late-season but neither could give the rotation a shot in the arm. Chien-Ming Wang, former staff leader coming back from a season ending baserunning injury, gave up an incredible 45 runs in 42 innings. Meanwhile half the bullpen imploded, Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez in particular, and by
We enter 2012 in a much stronger position. Sabathia is still an ace, as his 2011 performance definitively showed. After Sabathia we have a pair of second starters in Hiroki Kuroda and the young Michael Pineda. But it’s the level of the depth that truly distinguishes this club from the 2009 version. That team sent Sergio Mitre to the mound several times as a starting pitcher. But with half a dozen starting pitchers waiting in the wings, and as many already at the big league level, no such problem is likely to occur this season. And with two, maybe even three setup men, a bullpen implosion of massive proportions would be necessary to force a move.
The 2009 team was special in so many ways. The comeback victories. The all-time great offense propelled by a litany of career years and age-defying performances. As fun as it was to watch that team do it’s thing, I think we as Yankees fans also learned a lot. I think Brian Cashman learned a lot to and it shows in the composition of this roster. Cashman took a risk on that 2009 lineup and it paid off big time. Never one to rest on his laurels, he’s spent the past couple of seasons getting younger to counteract the decline of ARod and Jeter. Cashman has also paid particularly close attention to depth after the disaster that was 2009′s starting rotation. He’s also drastically improved the bullpen, and we’re no longer depending on the Edwar Ramirezs of tomorrow.
How does this team stack up? On paper, pretty darn well. While we can’t expect a repeat of the offensive miracle that was the 2009 Yankees, the flukey comeback wins, or the playoff heroism of one AJ Burnett, we also shouldn’t expect the same kind of pitching woes, depth issues, and age. This team is younger, stronger, and ultimately in a great position to do in 2012 what their counterparts did in 2009.
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TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees