Monday, April 18, 2005

Yep, I'm writing about the Yankees

The Yankees slow start is splattered all over the mainstream sports media--not too surprising I guess, because most of the major media outlets picked the Yankees to win their division. George Steinbrenner revealed the real reason behind all the hubbub--the ridiculous amount of money the Boss shelled out for this squad. Two weeks is a small sample size to be sure, but looking at the sabermetric RAP, which essentially compares a player's performance to the league average by position, can show us that some of the Yankees highest paid position players aren't earning their money. The following list has the Yankee starting lineup, with 2005 salary and their 2005 RAP (note, this is RAP through the first 2 weeks of the season, not their projected RAP).

C Jorge Posada, $11.0 m, -1.5
1B Tino Martinez, $2.75 m, -0.9
2B Tony Womack, $2.00 m, -2.7
SS Derek Jeter, $19.6 m, 5.11
3B Alex Rodriguez, $25.7 m, -2.5
LF Hideki Matsui, $8.00 m, 3.6
CF Bernie Williams, $12.4 m, -0.7
RF Gary Sheffield, $11.5 m, 4.0
DH Jason Giambi, $13.4 m, 0.1

When you consider that the average salary in 2005 is $2.60 m, it's easy to see that the Boss has not been getting his money's worth so far. It's far too early to start calculating "dollars spent per run above average," but you can see which players need to start picking up the pace: A-Rod and Posada. I single out these two players mostly because I still consider them capable of picking up the pace. All indications are that Williams and Giambi are in the decline phases of their career and that league average performances are the most one can expect. That would be fine if they were getting Tino Martinez or Tony Womack money, but that kind of production for a 7 figure salary just doesn't cut it. The Yankees are (over)paying for their loyalty and reverence to players from championships past.

At such an early stage, it is impossible to properly analyze pitching performance, but when you look at the Yankee rotation's salary and projected VORP for 2005, you can see a similar story. Keep in mind that VORP calculates value over replacement, ie a AAA player called up to the majors, not value over the average major leaguer. The median VORP for pitchers was about 5.5 last year. But starters are worth more to teams than relievers, because starters pitch more innings. The bare minimum VORP you'd want from a starter is 15.0, while the average starter is more in the neighborhood of 20.0.

Randy Johnson, $15.4 m, 61.8
Mike Mussina, $19.0 m, 36.9
Carl Pavano, $9.00 m, 23.2
Jaret Wright, $5.67 m, 18.8
Kevin Brown, $15.7 m, 27.4

Don't get me wrong, that's a solid starting staff. You can see that Yanks got Johnson at a bargain rate comparing what they're paying to the rest of their pitchers. Mussina and Brown stand out in particular as high risks to produce not a lot of bang for their buck. The Pavano and Wright signings aren't horrible as long as they don't expect them to be anything more than slightly above average pitchers. They overpaid for them both, but that's more a reflection of the market than anything else. Pavano and Wright are pitchers that any team would want at the back of their rotation. But in a year or two, Pavano and Wright could be the only two pitchers left. The future of the Yankees will depend on how they deal with pitching in the next couple of offseasons. Last year, maybe they could have said "we're just waiting for Ben Sheets or Johan Santana." But the trend appears to be that smaller-market teams are going to lock up their young pitching talent long term, and if they don't, will expect a buttload of talent in return. The Yanks farm system is almost devoid of pitching talent.

The Boss has a right to be concerned about his team's form, but considering he signed the paychecks, he shouldn't complain about the money. It is the fault of his scouting departments if he expected anything more than slightly above-average performances from guys like Pavano and Wright. Could George's venting be born of desperation? Does he know how abysmal the future looks for the Yankees? I think Steinbrenner knows that this and possibly next season is the last chance for the Yankees before they collapse under the weight of age and bloated salaries. No wonder he's so worried.

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