We start our yearly look at the top five questions facing each team with my beloved New York Yankees.
5. How will Brett Gardner do on his return? Gardner missed much of the year due to injury, and on an aging Yankees’ squad with little speed he must be an important cog in the lineup. If he stays healthy he is a lock for 50 SB. The big question is whether he hits .260 or .290. He makes worse contact than most speedsters, and that is the one issue that may hold him back. If it is close to the 84% he had in 2009 he can easily hit .290.
4. How will Derek Jeter do on his return? This is a pattern with the Yankees, and Jeter is one player that fantasy pundits have been predicting to fall off for the last few years. Jeter has laughed in our collective faces, at least superficially. But in 2012 he had a 16% FB rate, which is a joke, and his BB/K ratio was a career low. You can guarantee he isn’t hitting 15 home runs again, and if he does not get double-digit steals (last year he had 9) then he is a $10 player at best.
3. How will Mariano Rivera do on his return? Ok, so kill me with the inability to think of a better question, but after a year off we are in unprecedented territory. No 43-year-old who came back after a year off from injury came to mind when writing this, but if anyone can do it, Mariano can. He had no skills erosion at all leading into 2012, so it is not acceptable to predict any regression on the numbers. If you want a handcuff, take a look at Joba Chamberlain, not David Robertson.
2. Is Eduardo Nunez the best fantasy 3B on the team? We say yes. The Yankees have Youkilis and now Travis Hafner, so it is not hard to envision Nunez getting shuffled down. Nunez has a skill set that is eerily similar to Brett Gardner’s, trading better contact for fewer walks, but with a similar K/BB ratio and speed. The difference is that Nunez will cost you peanuts, and even in 250 AB he can get 20 SB. Count on a steal for every ten plate appearances, and then hope he gets 600.
1. Can Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova become number twos? The Yankees’ rotation looks to be the strongest part of the team, and it will have to be if the offensive struggles are as real as they look right now.
Phil Hughes is only a few home runs away from being an ace. In 2012 he had a career high 12% HR/FB rate, which is not that bad, but for the fact that 45% of his batted balls are hit in the air. We are counting on that HR/FB dropping a bit, and his 3.6 K/BB rate makes him a solid bet for a low-threes ERA with a bit of luck.
But, more than anyone, we are looking at Ivan Nova to take a huge step forward. Michael Pineda won’t be back until June, and may not have a spot in the rotation when he does, as long as Nova doesn’t get beset by bad luck. His expected ERA is almost two runs lower than his actual ERA, and he made big strikeout gains in his second go-round in the rotation, gaining 3 K/9 without any decrease in his control. Pitchers that make big strikeout gains in their second year in the rotation often develop into top-quality starters, and Nova, unlike Hughes, gets 50% of his batted balls on the ground. There is nothing not to like, and when you get him in the late rounds, and he finishes in the top ten of the AL Cy Young, you can thank us by signing up for a subscription.