MLB March Report: New York Yankees

The next stop on TheSportsNotebook’s spring training tour is the Evil Empire itself, as we take a look at the New York Yankees. They won the AL East last year, pulling away from collapsing Boston, before losing to Detroit in the American League Division Series. That’s two straight years without a World Series title and for the fan base of the Yankees, this constitutes a major crisis. TheSportsNotebook takes a look at the 2012 Pinstripes, through the prism of their ability to get on base, hit for power, starting pitching and relief pitching.

ABILITY TO GET ON BASE: Grinding up starting pitchers and getting them out of games early has been a hallmark of the New York lineup for several years now, but there do have to be some concerns here. Brett Gardner, the leftfielder who can create anxiety on the basepaths, saw his on-base percentage drop 40 points last year to .345. Still a good number, but not in the league’s elite. Derek Jeter has to show his strong second half of last season means he still has gas left in the tank. Russell Martin has to show his strong first two months of last season can be replicated over a full year, at least in terms of getting base hits and drawing walks, even if he doesn’t hit for power. The positive side for the Yanks is that the power hitters, whom we’ll get to in a moment, also have high on-base percentages, and rightfielder Nick Swisher is an underrated part of this aspect of the game. Because he only hits .250-.260, he can be overlooked, but his extraordinary plate discipline regularly tacks on over a hundred extra points to his OBP.

POWER: It isn’t Murderer’s Row anymore, but there are more than enough players who can take you deep. Mark Teixeira’s hit over 30 home runs for eight straight years. Robinson Cano has found his niche as a middle-of-the-order man with good home run power and is fantastic slashing the ball to the alleys. Alex Rodriguez has seen his slugging numbers drop each year since his 2007 monster MVP season, but if his hips are healthy, he can at least slug around .500, which would be considered solid for any other player. Even if Curtis Granderson doesn’t hit 41 home runs again, his track record and the short rightfield porch in the Bronx suggest Granderson will still slug around over .500. Designated hitter is where the question mark is. The Yanks brought in Raul Ibanez, off a terrible year in Philadelphia, and are hoping the 39-year-old lefty hitter can be rejuvenated by some cheap home runs to the short porch in right. Andruw Jones seems to have found his late-career niche, playing DH against lefties and working as a fourth outfielder. He delivered a .356 OBP and .495 slugging in part-time duty.

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STARTING PITCHING: C.C. Sabathia annoys me on many levels. One might say that as a Yankee-hater (something that’s only marginally due to my passion for the Red Sox) I just don’t like a Yankee ace who came over for big money. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I really like Sabathia as a pitcher and from everything I see, as a human being. He just seems like a good, fun-loving guy who would be a great teammate. He has that in common with Granderson and it annoys me to no end to have to root against players like this constantly. Rooting against C.C. is usually fruitless. He’s had five straight years of 200-plus IP and won 95 games since his breakout Cy Young year with Cleveland in 2007. The rotation behind C.C. has individual question marks, but enough depth that it should be okay. Hiroki Kuroda is 37, and even though he had a 3.07 ERA last year, a move from the NL West to the AL East is about as dramatic as it gets for a pitcher, one who was likely due for at least a bit of a decline anyway. Michael Pineda and Ian Nova are good young pitchers, although Joe Girardi has made insane noises that one of them might open the season in the minors. Phil Hughes is also just 25, but had a tired arm last year, and has not been consistent since the first half of the 2010 season. Then there’s the vets—Freddy Garcia has a career rejuvenation, posting a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts his best year since being a part of the 2005 World Series winner with the Chicago White Sox. And Andy Pettite has decided to try and comeback. I’m not sure what to make of this, but I say good for him. There’s only so many years of being an athlete that one has in their body, and the last we saw of Pettite he was still pitching effectively. Stay until the body tells you there’s nothing left.

RELIEF PITCHING: Will Mariano Rivera’s body ever tell him there’s nothing left? I’m starting to agree with’s Bill Simmons, a Red Sox fan, who’s speculating that the 42-year-old Rivera is really a zombie and will pitch forever. His ERAs have been under 2 in eight of the last nine years. Enough said. I used to try and guess when Rivera would finally have a down year. I’m done guessing. His career will be over when he tells us. In front of Mariano, Girardi has a strong group with David Robertson and Boone Logan, a nice righty-lefty tandem, with Robertson having a dominant year in 2011. Cory Wade is a nice middle-inning option, and if 32-year-old Rafael Soriano gets healthy, there will be no beating the Yanks after six innings.

LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN TOTAL: 93.5—I refuse on principle to ever place a positive wager on the New York Yankees, and I refuse out of self-preservation to ever place a negative one, simply because I’m usually trying to will them to defeat from my living room chair (I’ll let you know when that works—it will be a breakthrough for sports fans everywhere). I do have to say that if a Yankee fan told me they bet on their team to win 94 games, I’d find it hard to tell such a fan they were crazy. That’s the best I can muster.