Already without Alex Rodriguez for an extended period of time, the Yankees have been given a double-whammy of unfortunate injury news still early in camp. Curtis Granderson got one of his bones broken, and he will be missing for several weeks. Now Mark Teixeira‘s got one of his tendons bothered, and he will be missing for several weeks. For at least a little more than a month, the Yankees are going to have a lot of money and a lot of star power sitting helplessly on the disabled list. The Yankees still stand to contend in the American League East and the wild card race. Despite everything, now isn’t the time to abandon all hope. Nor is now the time to abandon all baseball hope as it pertains to the New York Yankees.
It would be easy to dismiss this as an argument that the Yankees are going to be okay because they’re the Yankees. Given how often the Yankees have wound up in the postseason, I understand the sentiment, but that isn’t the main point, here. The Yankees won’t be okay because they’re the Yankees — the Yankees look like they’ll be okay because they still have quality players, and neither Granderson nor Teixeira should be out all season long.
If we wanted, we could give this the Granderson treatment. Let’s begin with the premise that the Yankees were a potential playoff team. Relative to replacement, Teixeira is, what, a 3-win player? A 3.5-win player? Knock Teixeira out for a quarter of the season and replace him with some mediocre nobody worth nothing (relative to replacement). On average, that might cost the Yankees a win. Maybe less. A win doesn’t change the entire picture, as far as probability is concerned. Losing Teixeira hurts the Yankees, but it doesn’t devastate the Yankees.
That’s a perfectly adequate, concise analysis. You don’t really have to go more in depth, but I figured in this instance it couldn’t hurt. I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to review the particulars of the Yankees’ situation. Right now, the Yankees’ lineup projects to look something like:
C: Chris Stewart
1B: Dan Johnson
2B: Robinson Cano
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Kevin Youkilis
LF: Juan Rivera
CF: Brett Gardner
RF: Ichiro Suzuki
DH: Travis Hafner
That shouldn’t be the Yankees’ full-season lineup, but let’s treat it as if it were to be the Yankees’ full-season lineup. How would that project, in terms of WAR? Please check your issues with WAR at the door; I’m just doing this for simplicity’s sake. WAR is good enough for our purposes, and here’s some quick and dirty estimation:
Stewart, Johnson, Rivera — they’re just guys, and little more. While different players might end up at those positions, the math probably won’t change, barring a meaningful trade. Cano is the superstar of the bunch, but the Yankees will be pleased by Gardner’s return. You can quibble with all of the numbers if you want, but ultimately as a group this probably isn’t far off. The unit projects for a combined 16.5 WAR.
Let’s turn to the pitching staff, which remains largely unchanged from a year ago. There’s no more Freddy Garcia and there’s no more Rafael Soriano, but there is more Andy Pettitte and a lot more Mariano Rivera. Last season, the Yankees’ staff ranked tied for fourth in the AL in ERA-, fourth in FIP-, and tied for second in xFIP-. Another simple table:
CC Sabathia, again, is the ace, and Hiroki Kuroda is quite good. Pettitte’s fine, Phil Hughes is mostly fine, and Ivan Nova‘s 2012 numbers simultaneously discourage and encourage. The bullpen looks to be one of the league’s better bullpens, and, again, while you can quibble with the individual numbers, the group projection is 19 WAR. That should be more or less accurate.
Now put it all together. Over a full season, these Yankees would project for about 35.5 WAR, and last year the replacement level was set a little north of 43 wins. That would leave these Yankees projected for about a 79-83 record — not terrible, but certainly not up to Yankees standards. This version of the Yankees could end up in a battle to stay out of last.
But of course, these shouldn’t be the full-season Yankees. Go back to that first table and account for the eventual returns of Granderson, Teixeira, and Rodriguez. Over a full year, maybe Teixeira’s worth 3.5 wins. Over a full year, maybe Granderson’s worth 3.5 or 4 wins. Throw in a win or so for Rodriguez, since he isn’t a pile of crap. All of a sudden, that version of the full-season Yankees projects for about an 87-75 record. Much better, and good enough to contend.
Granderson and Teixeira should miss about a quarter of the season, based on current timetables. Some easy math: (79 * 0.25) + (87 * 0.75) = 85. Given injury woes, we should expect this year’s Yankees to end up somewhere around 85-77. Which, as you know, comes with enormous error bars, meaning the Yankees could conceivably finish last in the division or first in the league. But the average projection is that of a team that has plenty of hope of reaching October. That despite all the talent on the DL.
The Yankees have a strong pitching staff, a star at second base, a FanGraphs star in center field, and a popular star at shortstop. Even without the injured guys, they aren’t dreadful, and they just have to tread water until the injured guys come back. No team in the AL East projects to be dominant, so the Yankees shouldn’t drift too far out of the race. Their odds are the lowest they’ve been in some time, sure, but their odds remain reasonable, legitimate. They’re not that much worse than the Blue Jays, and the Jays are considered by many the favorites.
Granderson should have no problems returning from his injury at or around 100%. Teixeira’s a bigger concern. This is where there is room for skepticism, because Teixeira is a slugger with a wrist injury, and though the Yankees say no surgery ought to be needed, Jose Bautista had surgery last year for a similar problem. Sam Fuld had surgery for a similar problem. Here’s Stephania Bell writing about the injury when Bautista had it. We can’t automatically assume that Teixeira will come back and look like himself, so maybe this is worse than the numbers above suggest.
But Teixeira could also come back fine. And the Yankees could also look to make a trade, adding present WAR at the expense of future value. It’s not likely the Yankees could find real value right now on the waiver wire, but if they were willing to move a prospect or two, they could strengthen the current roster to make up for some of the conspicuous absences. That would, in turn, improve the Yankees’ projection, and that would, in turn, reduce the impact of these injuries.
The bottom line: the 2013 Yankees aren’t toast. They can’t withstand many more blows, and it’s only March 7, but even still, as things stand, they should be somewhere in the hunt. Baseball teams are about more than one or two or three players, and the Yankees still have enough talent to remain afloat while the injured talent heals.