Last year, right around this time, I posted my Yankee 2009 season forecast. In that piece, I said the New York Yankees would win it all due to the fact that their pitching was much improved. In that season preview, I stressed “pitching wins championships”. Well, we all know what happened in 2009, as the arms of CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett delivered the Yankees their 27th world title. The World Series victory was sweet, as the Yankees christened their new ball park in grand fashion. Soon after all the celebrations ended, General Manager, Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankee brain trust started focusing on building a team that could successfully defend their title. By sticking to the theory that “pitching wins championships”, I feel Cashman has succeeded in building the 2010 Yankees as the going away favorites to win yet another world championship.
In my opinion, the key acquisition of the off-season was the Yankees adding Javier Vazquez to their starting rotation. “Javey” (15-10, 2.87 ERA) joins CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37), Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA) and A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) to arguably form one of baseball’s best starting four. In Vazquez, the Yankees are getting an “innings eater”, as he consistently logs over 200 innings pitched year-after-year. The defending world champions are also getting a pitcher who makes hitters swing and miss. Javier has struck out over 200 hitters in each of his last three seasons in the majors. While the Yankees list him as their “Number 4”, I have Vazquez as my Number 2 in this stacked rotation. Phil Hughes will be the Yankees fifth starter in 2010. With four quality arms in front of him, Hughes can now grow into his role as a starter with very little pressure.
Cashman has complimented his starting five by building a very formidable bullpen. As we all saw during the playoffs last year, every closer had a meltdown except one. And that one, will once again anchor the Yankee bullpen in 2010. Look, I don’t care how old he is, how many years he has been doing this, or if he gets off to a slow start, Mariano Rivera is STILL the best closer in baseball. He looks to be in great shape again this year and boy, is going to have a lot of help in that pen.
Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, David Robertson, Chan Ho Park, Sergio Mitre and Afredo Aceves will be very important cogs in the Yankee pen. I’m looking for Chamberlain to regain his job as bridge man to “Mo”. A guy to watch from this bunch is Robertson. Last year, David struck out 63 hitters in 43-2/3 innings pitched. When you make hitters swing and miss that much, it means you have great stuff and the Yankees may just have another dominating arm in this pen. Everyone, keep an eye on Mr. Robertson.
While Cashman was putting together such a solid starting rotation and bullpen, the GM also improved on an offense that scored 915 runs last year. Despite losing Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to free agency, the Yankee offense will be better this year thanks to the acquisitions of DH, Nick Johnson and centerfielder, Curtis Granderson.
In Johnson, the Yankees are getting an “on base machine” to bat behind Derek Jeter and ahead of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Last season, Nick had a .426 on base percentage. His career OBP is .402, and when you insert him in the second spot of the Yankee order, you have your first two guys (Jeter 2009 OBP .406) getting on base over 40% of the time. With those two hitters being followed by Teixeira (39-HR, 122-RBI, .383 OBP) and “A-Rod” (30-HR, 100-RBI, .402 OBP) that strong Yankee pitching staff is going to get a lot of run support.
Playing 81 regular season games in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium should help Johnson increase his homer total. If he stays healthy, and everyone knows that’s a big “if” with Nick, I feel he can hit 20 homers for the Yanks in 2010.
Granderson, playing in the shadow of the likes of Jeter, Teixeira, and A-Rod, has a chance to blossom into a superstar with the Yankees. Curtis hit 30 homers last year, despite playing 81 games in spacious Comerica Park. Playing all his home games at Yankee Stadium will certainly increase his homer total. All spring long, Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long has worked with Granderson in trying to improve his anemic numbers against lefties. If Long’s coaching works, it could truly be a “grand” year for Curtis.
A very important spot in the Yankee lineup is going to be that of the number five hitter, which is going to be Robinson Cano. In 2009, “Robby” finally lived up to his billing and became a true star. Cano hit .320 (OBP .352), clubbed 25 homers, and drove in 85 runs while playing an outstanding second base. This year, Cano is going to be called upon to “protect” A-Rod in the batting order. When three of your first four hitters get on base 40% of the time and the other (Teixeira .383 OBP) close to it, your number five hitter is going to have lots of opportunities to drive in very important runs. Cano is going to be asked to step up and do this job. It will be interesting to see how he responds.
Jorge Posada (.285, 22-HR, 81-RBI .363 OBP) will probably bat behind Cano in the Yankee order. Granderson will follow Jorge, and Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner or Randy Winn will round out this explosive lineup.
To summarize, this is how the Yankee lineup will look most of the time.
This lineup has it all. Guys who get on base, power hitters, speed, and experienced hitters who know how to make pitchers work. Imagine batting a guy who hit 30 homers last year seventh in this Yankee lineup.
Over the long season, a team —even the best team–is going to need a good bench. The Yankees are also stacked in that department. Randy Winn, Marcus Thames, Ramiro Pena, and Francisco Cervelli are at the ready to help out when called upon. If Gardner gets off to a slow start, Winn may get more playing time than most expect. Thames torches left-handed pitching and my get some time spelling Granderson or Johnson when a tough lefty is on the mound.
While only 25 guys go North with the team, it sometimes takes a 40 man roster to navigate through the year. Here are some of the names that you may be hearing during the course of the year, whether it be a player filling in, or being discussed in a July deadline trade. Boone Logan, Mark Melancon, Ivan Nova, Juan Miranda, Jesus Montero, and Austin Romine.
It’s all pretty impressive. The defending world champions are a better team than they were last year. I see this team having no problem winning the East and capturing their 28th world title in 2010.
Eastern Division Projected Order Of Finish
1. New York