Going to WAR with the 2014 Yankees

If you’re like me, your name is Andrew, you’re a fan of chicken parm, and you’ve loved the Yankees your entire life.But even if you’re not like me, and regardless of your stance on poultry dishes, one thing is certain when you take a look at the 2014 Yankees roster: they are old.

But Andrew, you say, the Yankees have been old for the past decade. They signed a 42-year-old Roger Clemens to a $5 million per month contract in 2007. They just love grabbing big-name players who have forgotten how to play baseball. This is the team that has, over the course of the last ten years, trotted out the following: Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Old Andy Pettitte, Iván Rodriguez, Richie Sexson, Lance Berkman, Bartolo Colón, Andruw Jones, Raúl Ibañez, Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner, and Kevin Youkilis, all good-to-legendary players who were not quite as good-to-legendary when they joined the team.

This year, though, has a special place in my heart. This season, New York’s starting lineup looks to be filled with ZERO players under the age of 30. ZERO! For comparison, the Yankees’ youngest positional starter is three years older than the oldest positional starter on the Astros.

I’m not here to debate whether the Yankees will succeed despite their advanced age. Over at SB Nation, Grant Bisbee already discussed that, concluding, “who knows? We’ll see when we see.”

No, I’m here to celebrate what have already been some wonderful careers on the current Yankees squad. Obviously, you won’t stick around for many years in the MLB if you haven’t played well, and for proof you needn’t look any further than this glorious team of geezers. There are three deserving Hall of Famers in the field (Derek Jeter, Ichiro, Carlos Beltrán), and one if you include the elephant not in the room (a certain Mr. A-Rod). Besides those guys, there are six players who have achieved greater than 5 WAR* in a season (I could list them all, but it’s easier to say everybody excluding Kelly Johnson, who was close in 2010).

*For those of you who are unfamiliar with WAR, it is essentially a combinative statistic that figures a player’s baserunning, fielding, and hitting into an equation. The resulting number is how many wins that player offers you, compared to a player the team could sign off the scrap heap for minimal cost. If you want a more elaborate explanation, check out this page at Baseball-Reference. 

All of this leads me to this fun little exercise. This is an excellent, well-put-together team… if this were 2007. But it got me thinking: how good would this team be if everybody in the starting lineup were in their peak form? Here is what the lineup would look like, with each player’s basic statistics from their best season*:

*Each player is listed with the year of their peak performance, the team they played for that year, their basic slash stats (BA/OBP/SLG), and various other offensive stats that happen to stand out. It’s not too intensive–after all, this is just a silly little exercise.

Ichiro Suzuki (2004, SEA): .372/.414/.455, 262 H, 36 SB
Derek Jeter (1999, NYY): .349/.438/.552, 219 H, 37 2B
Carlos Beltrán (2006, NYM): .275/.388/.594, 41 HR, 95 BB
Mark Teixeira (2005, TEX): .301/.379/.575, 41 2B, 43 HR
Brian McCann (2008, ATL): .301/.373/.523, 42 2B, 23 HR
Jacoby Ellsbury (2011, BOS): .321/.376/.552, 32 HR, 39 SB
Brian Roberts (2005, BAL): .314/.387/.515, 42 2B, 27 SB
Kelly Johnson (2010, ARI): .284/.370/.496, 26 HR, 79 BB
Brett Gardner (2010, NYY): .277/.383/.379, 47 SB, 79 BB

And coming off the bench would be:

 Alfonso Soriano (2006, WAS): .277/.351/.560, 46 HR, 41 SB

Keep in mind all of this is ignoring somebody who has enjoyed the greatest career of any active player:

  Alex Rodriguez (2000, SEA): .316/.420/.606, 41 HR, 100 BB

A few notes on that list:
  • Six of the starting nine players (Ichiro, Jeter, Beltrán, Teixeira, McCann, & Roberts) had their best season at least six years ago. The most recent (Ellsbury) was three years ago.
  • Only two of the players had their best season with the Yankees (Jeter, Gardner). Only one of the two (Gardner) accomplished that in this decade.
  • This starting lineup would be worth a collective 63.2 WAR. According to this article by the great Joe Posnanski, a team that sports 50 WAR is bound to win a hundred games and decimate their opponents. This ideal Yankees team kills that number, without even factoring in pitching! Like I said, this is a team full of great players, who at certain points in their career could really help a team win. Which brings me to the depressing reality of the 2014 New York Yankees…
Let’s take a look at the projected starting lineup, with the players’ stats from 2013*:
*For Jeter and Teixeira, I took their 2012 stats, since they missed so much of last year. Another great sign…

Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS): .298/.355/.426, 172 H, 52 SB
Derek Jeter (NYY): .316/.362/.429, 216 H, 32 2B
Carlos Beltrán (STL): .296/.339/.491, 24 HR, 30 2B
Mark Teixeira (NYY): .251/.332/.475, 24 HR, 27 2B
Brian McCann (ATL): .256/.336/.461, 20 HR, 13 2B
Alfonso Soriano (CHC/NYY): .255/.302/.489, 34 HR, 18 SB
Brett Gardner (NYY): .273/.344/.416, 33 2B, 24 SB
Kelly Johnson (TB): .235/.305/.410, 16 HR, 7 SB
Brian Roberts (BAL) .249/.312/.392, 8 HR, 26 BB

Okay, so that lineup’s not quite as good. And keep in mind they just lost this guy:

Robinson Canó (NYY): .314/.383/.516, 190 H, 41 2B

A few more notes:
  • Last year, Canó had more than twice the WAR (7.6) than the entire projected Yankees infield for this coming year (3.2). THAT IS NOT GOOD, PEOPLE.
  • This is a far cry from the slugging juggernauts of yesteryear. Not a single player on this team slugged above .500 last year, whereas six accomplished that during their best year.
  • Keep in mind this is only looking at the starting lineup. We haven’t even touched on the Ace who just had his worst season (CC Sabathia), the 39-year-old who forgot how to pitch after the All-Star Break (Hiroki Kuroda), the $155 Million Man who Brian Cashman projects to be a third or fourth starter (Masahiro Tanaka), the former prospect who blew out his shoulder, had surgery, and hasn’t lasted a full year (Michael Pineda), the bullpen that just lost the greatest closer in history (Mariano Rivera), and a bench that has… who exactly? Brendan Ryan? Ichiro’s ghost?
  • By the way, in 2013 this group of players overall achieved 18 WAR, which is a bit lower than the 63.2 WAR from the previous exercise. Oy gevalt.
Anyway, what we’ve learned today is just further proof that the Yankees are old, overpaid, and clinging onto big names who will undoubtedly fail to deliver on the hype generated by the rest of their careers. In other words, the same things that are true every year. Welcome to Baseball Season, friends. May 2014 be another year where the Yankees succeed despite laughably bad personnel decisions.