Right now, the baseball season is all about expectations. Within a few months there will be pleasant surprises and harsh realities, but right now it’s all about what might be or what could be.
I’ve been asked the past few days what I expect from this year’s Yankees, and I’m never quite sure how to answer. It’s a lot more complicated than saying this is an 85-win team or a 95-win team. With this team in particular — I’m sure it’s true every year, but it seems especially true this year — the season really hinges on a nearly endless series of uncertain expectations.
Think of these as over-under questions. What are you expecting this season?
35 home runs?At this point, it seems foolish to expect Teixeira to hit .300 and be the kind of player he was in 2009. Even Teixeira has essentially acknowledged as much. But he can still be a viable run producer if he’s able to hit the ball out of the ballpark with that surgically repaired right wrist. Seems safe to assume Teixeira will take his walks, but are you expecting him to return to being one of the game’s very best home run hitters?
.290 batting average?
Defensive expectations are harder to define with a single number. Instead, for now we’ll focus on Jeter’s offense. Aside from last year and his first partial year, Jeter has hit below .290 only once in his career (which is pretty amazing). If Jeter has 600 at-bats this season, a .290 batting average means 174 hits. At 650 at-bats, it’s 189 hits. Last time Jeter was healthy, in 2012, he hit .316. Even in his uneven 2011 he hit .297.
Do you realize McCann’s never had a 100-RBI season? Reaching that milestone this year would mean keeping McCann healthy and keeping the top of the lineup productive, so that the cleanup hitter has plenty of RBI opportunities. Think about the Yankees recent middle-of-the-order hitters. Robinson Cano reached 100 RBI in three of his last four seasons. Teixeira had 100 RBI in each of his last three healthy seasons. Curtis Granderson had 100 in both 2011 and 2012. Alex Rodriguez has gotten there every season that he’s played more than 122 games. This number wouldn’t be all about McCann, but it could be telling for the Yankees.
140 games played?
One minor injury wouldn’t be crushing. Surely the Yankees are expecting 150-plus out of their next center fielder, but if he falls just short of that, it’s more disappointing than destructive. The problem is the potential for Ellsbury to have an injury that costs him a month or more. His biggest injuries have been kind of flukey — collisions sent him to the DL twice — but that spring training calf issue was a reminder that little things could pop up here and there, and it’s hard to ignore Ellsbury’s track record. When he’s been on the field, he’s consistently been a good player.
90 games played?
Kind of a weird one, but here’s my thinking… The Yankees picked two unknowns with zero big league experience ahead of Nunez this spring. Whether I like him as a player, whether you like him as a player, whether he has the potential to go elsewhere and be an everyday guy doesn’t matter. What seems clear is that the Yankees would rather not use him. However, their infield situation is full of so many unreliable parts and such unproven depth that a few dominoes falling the wrong way could put Nunez in the lineup fairly regularly.
This number wasn’t pulled at random. It’s Hiroki Kuroda’s ERA the past two seasons. It’s also a full 1.47 better than Sabathia’s ERA last season. With Sabathia trying to be effective without his old fastball velocity, I’m not sure it’s worth focusing on his strikeouts, it’s all about simply getting the job done. And Kuroda has gotten the job done his past two years. There might be hope that Sabathia can get closer to the 3.00 he was in 2011, but for right now, wouldn’t a 3.31 be a good theoretical place to start?
Kind of like McCann with the RBI, this isn’t necessarily a measure of Tanaka alone. In my mind, as long as Tanaka’s winning games — even if the Yankees offense is having to pick him up from time to time — his rookie season will be a solid success. Doesn’t have to be dominant in his rookie year, just needs to pitch well enough to help the Yankees win games. And look back to that championship 2009 season: Sabathia was the only Yankees starter to win more than 14. If Tanaka can pitch pretty well, and the lineup can hit pretty well, shouldn’t 14 wins be solid benchmark?
The Yankees won’t give an exact innings limit on Pineda. They’ve said he won’t be limited early in the season, but they’ve also acknowledged that he won’t be allowed to reach 200 innings. That leaves quite a bit of wiggle room. What we know for certain is that Pineda pitched 171 innings in 2011, so that seems like a high-end of what he would be allowed to pitch this season. Simply reaching 160 would require a good amount of health and enough production that he stays in the rotation most of the season. Hard to imagine Pineda reaching 160 big league innings with an ERA over 5.00.
Might seem like a low number considering Mariano Rivera had 44 last year, but consider the fact that in 2012, only six closers reached 35 saves. In 2011, there were only four. In 2010, there were five. Certainly the best-case scenario involves more than 35 saves for Robertson, but I wonder if 35 is an attainable benchmark that indicates Robertson has stayed healthy and pitched well enough to stay in the closer role all year.
10 major-league starts?Two ways this could happen. Either Banuelos pitches so well in Triple-A that the Yankees have little choice but to find a way to get him into their big league rotation, either as a way to rest one of their current starters or as a straight replacement. Banuelos could also make 10 or more big league starts if the Yankees rotation simply stumbles so badly that they have to find someone to help, and Banuelos is both in the upper levels and on the 40-man roster. Getting 10 starts out of Banuelos could be a great thing. Or it could be a sign that things have gone wrong.
Associated Press photos