Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Yankees players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will return Monday with the Tampa Bay Rays.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The New York Yankees began their season expecting a World Series, as they always do, but fell short when they were defeated by the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS. It was no doubt a case of a short series claiming a very good team, which will be of little comfort to Yankees fans, but sometimes very good teams do things like strand 11 base runners in a decisive game at home. It happens.
In a typical year, the Yankees would deal with their disappointment by spending the next couple of months signing every top-tier free agent available on the market. Instead, GM Brian Cashman was forced to address the rotation, New York's most glaring need, without significantly straining the payroll. Cashman proved that he can work with a limited budget just like everybody else, swinging a trade for Michael Pineda, signing Hiroki Kuroda, and actually moved A.J. Burnett and part of his $33 million contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bronx Bombers now enter the 2012 season with a roster that is noticeably better than the one that won 97 games the previous year. The question once again is not whether or not they will make the playoffs. If they don't, it will be a failure worse than Boston's 2011 season. Rather, the main hurdle the Yankees must cross is health and fatigue. The pitching staff is quite a bit younger and should be fine, but there are only 3 players under 30 projected to start in Joe Girardi's lineup, and the youngest is 28 year-old Brett Gardner. Girardi will need to be proactive about resting his players so that they will be fresh once they start playing short series again, or disappointment may reign again in the Bronx.
New Yankee Stadium is a hitter's park all the way. The short porch in right field, coupled with the wind that usually whips through in that direction, can turn the most routine of fly balls into a home run, meaning lefthanders like Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano can tee off all day long. Hitters are also helped by a sparse foul territory. In 2011, the ballpark ranked 4th in home run park factor, but it was actually 1st when using HR/OFFB to do the calculations. Most visiting pitchers will suffer in the Bronx (it doesn't help that they have to face one of the best lineups in the majors, either), but think very hard before starting an RHP or anybody that doesn't have a good GB/FB ratio.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Joe Girardi is the sort of manager that bloggers like Murray Chass who earnestly defend the purity of the game from numbers that they don't approve of love to hate. Girardi understands statistics, and he has a rather infamous binder that he keeps all kinds of stats in, which helps him makes decisions in the dugout. The problem is, he's prone to using extremely small sample size (Opposing Batter X is 4 for 5 against Yankees Pitcher Y; better intentionally walk him!), and he's exceptionally rigid. Last season, Girardi famously defended his use of Rafael Soriano in the set-up, despite his recent struggles, by incredulously asking where else he was supposed to use his 8th Inning Guy, as if it were a title bestowed upon him by the Commissioner's Office. The good thing about all of this for fantasy players is that he's incredibly predictable. Once a player earns a role, you can bet that he'll be performing that role come hell or high water in July.
Expected Position Battles
Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes are expected to go head-to-head over the fifth spot in the rotation. According to Joe Girardi, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova are expected to earn their spots as well, but it's very hard to imagine any scenario where those two don't make the team. It's funny, because as Rob Neyer points out, Nova and Garcia had amazingly identical seasons, with the major difference being win-loss record. Garcia, it should be noted, had an impressive for the fantasy world 12-0 record, so their seasons were even more similar than that. Still, Nova is 10 years younger and has a live arm, so going forward, one should expect Nova to outperform Garcia. In order to beat out Garcia for the job, Phil Hughes will have to prove that his health problems are behind him and that he still knows how to miss bats. Whoever wins the job will be fantasy relevant, but Garcia is a safer play, as long as you don't mind a low strikeout total.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Derek Jeter - SS
Curtis Granderson - CF
Mark Teixeira - 1B
Alex Rodriguez - 3B
Robinson Cano - 2B
Nick Swisher - RF
Raul Ibanez - DH
Russell Martin - C
Brett Gardner - LF
Derek Jeter is not a lead-off hitter in the traditional sense, nor does his OBP dictate that he should be placed there in a world where no egos have to be placated. That doesn't mean he's moving out of the spot, because he's the gritty captain and how can you expect him to make jump throws if he's not comfortable, etc etc
CC Sabathia | Hiroki Kuroda | Michael Pineda | Ivan Nova | Freddy Garcia/Phil Hughes
Anybody in this group who fails to post 12 wins for your fake team should be considered a disappointment.
Mariano Rivera is a steady as they come, and as long he's upright, he'll post great numbers in 4 categories. I had hoped to highlight David Robertson in this space, but this morning it came out that he fell down a flight of stairs and will be out for most of the spring with a "mild foot sprain." As long as there's actually nothing to this, I like Robertson as one of the better set-up men in the league. His strikeout numbers are insane, as are his rate stats, and on any other team, he'd be a no-brainer to close. Every year it seems like this is the year Mariano hangs up his cleats, and every year he comes back and provides another elite season. Even so, Robertson looks every bit the heir apparent to Rivera's throne. Assuming this foot thing is just a blip, he's a great late-round pick in keeper leagues. He'll contribute to 3 categories, and someday soon, he'll add a 4th, just like his mentor.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
Though he won't play there much in 2012, Raul Ibanez is eligible as an outfielder and should be a cheap source of power late in drafts. Many see the move from Citizens Bank Park to Yankee Stadium as a lateral move, but as I showed when previewing the Phillies, the Bank's reputation as a bandbox is a little unfair. Ibanez is a left-handed pull hitter (133 of his 252 career home runs have been to straight-away right field), so he could be in for a big power year. His .245 average last year, which is way lower than his career average, might have something to do with his age (he'll turn 40 midseason), but it's more likely that his .268 BABIP (xBABIP = .290) is the major culprit. Ibanez is currently being drafted 75th among outfielders and 273rd overall, so you won't have to pay very much at all for that power, and the average probably won't hurt you.
Spring Storylines to Watch
As I mentioned above, Girardi will have to be judicious about giving his regulars some rest. It's not a bad idea, then, to keep tabs on infield backups Eric Chavez, Ramiro Pena, and Eduardo Nunez, any of whom could be a useful piece on your fantasy team if you have bench spots.
Follow the Team
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.