Rare is the case when one factor will set the tone for a player’s success in a given season. He may do one thing greatly, and that may help define his season or even his skill set, but we’re seldom so shallow that we let that trick us into thinking he necessarily had a good year. For example, Mark Teixeira clubbed a bunch of homers in 2011. Those homers were certainly welcomed, but when looked at more closely, we realize that Tex’s season wasn’t what we wanted from him. He popped up too much. His approach was iffy at times. You get the point; we’ve been over Tex’s 2011 ad nauseum. This is a roundabout way of saying there is more than one contributing factor to the success or failure of a player. In a vein similar to Brad’s Three R’s game, I’ve identified three important factors for a handful of players this season: Health, repetition, and development. Obviously, some players will fit into more than one category.
Certain players simply need to repeat what they did in 2011 to provide value to the team. Chief among them is Freddy Garcia. While it looks unlikely that he’ll get the fifth starter’s spot, it’s a near lock that Garcia will get starts for the Bombers. All he has to do is what he did last year when he pitches: keep the Yankees in the game. Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez will form the Yankees’ platoon DH team. If Jones does what he does against lefties and Ibanez does what he does against righties, both they and the Yankees will be just fine.
For development, we’ll start with the aforementioned Teixeira. As a veteran, we can be sure that any major changes are unlikely. Still, there is some tweaking that could be done, mostly in the swing or pitch recognition department. But overall, I’m not overly concerned with Tex. Staying in the infield, there’s Eduardo Nunez. As the left side of the infield ages, Nunez is going to be playing more of a role for the Yankees. If you’ve been reading my work for a while, then you know I’m not the biggest fan of his play. Still, I think he’s got use and room to improve. His fielding is what needs the most work. As a backup infielder, Nunez needs to be a solid fielder. Right now, he’s not that. His arm is strong but inaccurate and despite ample time at short, he seems to have raw hands. At the plate, Nunez needs to improve his loopy swing and develop some sort of an approach to be more than he is now with the bat. But the two people for whom development is most important are Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova.
Pineda was dominant as a rookie last year, striking out better than a batter per nine, even just as a two pitch pitcher. Adding and developing a working changeup is key to maintaining that dominance. Nova’s success last season definitely exceeded expectations and his slider usage in the second half was a pleasant surprise. Improvement and consistent usage of his slider will help Nova take the next step forward and heighten his ceiling. That’d be good news for everybody.
Phil Hughes is partially in the development category as well. We’re still waiting on a non fastball/cutter pitch from Hughes to be consistently useful, but he may be approaching the “he is what he is” stage of his career. Considering his age, he’s still got a small amount of development left. But, considering his experience, I wouldn’t bet much on much more coming out of Hughes. It’s also worth noting that considering what happened to him in 2011, health is more important to Hughes than development.
It’s easy for us to look back and blame Hughes’ health for his poor 2011. Arm issues led to a lack of velocity, which led to a lack of effectiveness. A healthy Hughes changes all of that and gives us reason to be hopeful for him. This applies to other pitchers as well. Bullpen mates Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain had injuries in 2011 that sapped them of good chunks of pitching time. The latter, of course, had Tommy John Surgery and isn’t expected back until June at the earliest. Anything he can give them is practically a bonus, but whether he’s fully recovered and healthy or not will dictate if he can give them even the tiniest of contributions. As evidenced by his track record, a healthy Rafael Soriano is a damn well dominant Rafael Soriano. He may never live up to the dollar value of his contract, but the healthier he is, the more he’ll pitch; and the more he pitches, the closer he’ll come to living up to that Randy Levine Special.
for older role players like Ibanez and Eric Chavez, health is increasingly important. While Ibanez has been healthy the last few years, that possibility is less and less likely as he ages. Eric Chavez, well, he’s Eric Chavez. Chances are, he’s going to get hurt at some point during the season. He’ll again be part of the A-Rod Caddie Squad, but how effective of a caddie can he be if he’s constantly hurt?
Without so much as a shadow of a doubt, health is the most important thing for Alex Rodriguez in 2012. Performance is not a question for Rodriguez, but his health obviously is. We’re never going to see 2007 level production from Alex again, but if he’s as healthy during the season as he says he is now, it’s not a stretch to think he could return to an .850-.900 OPS level we’re used to from him.
At least one of these things is going to be the necessary driving force behind the seasons of every player on the Yankee roster. I picked out the ones I did because I think they’re relatively special cases. For most, it’s just a case of repetition. Guys like David Robertson, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano just need to keep on keeping on. Derek Jeter is probably somewhere between the health and repetition categories (repeating the second half would be best, Derek). We might be able to argue that Hiroki Kuroda is in the “development” category as he may need to tweak things since he’s moving to the AL East from the NL West. There are no guarantees in baseball, of course, so the best we can do is hope for the best for each player in each category.
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