Series Preview #5: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. New York Yankees

Jim McIsaac

In a way, I'm glad we're done with the Dodgers for a few weeks. All that spending on popular players makes for exciting headlines, but it just feels a bit...gauche, don't you think? I mean, buying players to make your team better and win the attention of your fan base? So New Money. Wouldn't you agree, old sport?

But the Yankees, now there's a team that spent money this offseason with the class and sophistication befitting a franchise that has won 27 World Series. They're a team that knows that a big splash in the free agent market can so often reek of desperation.

When their starting catcher left in free agency, a lesser franchise might have splurged on a successor. But the Yankees utilized their aristocratic wisdom to realize that less would be more in this case, and did the only thing that made sense for a team with their means: they stitched together a "catcher" "platoon" using Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli.

Because the Yankees are wise enough to realize that their money should be used for the finer things in life, like Vernon Wells' contract and making sure that their injured and rapidly declining Third Baseman will still be making $20 million per year when he's 41. Old money, indeed.

But the worst part? For all of my heavy-handed irony, the Yankees still might have the last laugh. Even with millions of dollars in 2012 salary sitting on the disabled list this season, the Yankees are over .500. They've won 5 of their past six. Vernon Wells has an OPS over 1.000, as does half of that catcher platoon I just made fun of. And those players who have languished on the DL so far this year are on their way back, and they were the backbone of the best offense in baseball last year.

It's obviously still early, but I wouldn't bet against the Yankees making the opening to this article (as well as dozens of other smug, self-congratulatory articles predicting the Yankees demise) look really dumb.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(8-4)
New York
(6-5)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 96 114
New York
Pitching (FIP-):
91 93
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
-5.5 -13.5

Arizona

All numbers (other than record) represent 2012 and 2013 stats.

Again, even though so many of the Yankees' regulars are out with injuries, the offense hasn't really suffered. Currently, the team is hitting .275/.345/.469. That SLG% of .469 is second in baseball, behind only the Rockies, and I shouldn't have to tell you at this point not to trust raw power numbers that come out of Coors Field.

The Yankees' pitching staff occasionally gets mocked for being top-heavy, but the overall results are as strong as the Yankees have been since 2012, the top can be as heavy as it wants. Feel free to read that last clause as a CC Sabathia joke.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. A.J. Pollock, CF
2. Gerardo Parra, RF
3. Martin Prado, 3B
4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
5. Miguel Montero, C
6. Eric Chavez, DH
7. Cody Ross, LF
8. Cliff Pennington, SS
9. Josh Wilson, 2B

New York Yankees

1. Brett Gardner, CF
2. Robinson Cano, 2B
3. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
4. Travis Hafner, DH
5. Vernon Wells, LF
6. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
7. Eduardo Nunez, SS
8. Lyle Overbay, 1B
9. Francisco Cervelli, C

It's not often that anyone other than Michael Kay gets to call a Yankee player "underrated," but Brett Gardner pretty much fits the bill. While everyone was talking about Jeter, Rodriguez, and Texiera, all Brett Gardner did was put up 11 fWAR during 2010 and 2011.

He was injured for most of 2012, but he's back now. He plays amazing defense pretty much no matter where you put him in the outfield, and has quietly made himself an average left-handed hitter to boot. Think Gerardo Parra, but also a lock to steal 40 bases a year. If that doesn't sound appealing, then you're weird and we should never watch baseball together.

Once upon a time, there was a struggling 20-year-old middle infielder without a natural position who put up an OBP of .322 between A-Ball and Double-A. But with some hard work and more than a bit of luck, that middle infielder found a natural home at Second Base, incorporated enough plate discipline so as not to sabotage his career, and is now the best Second Baseman in the game. If I were someone like Chris Owings, I would read the story of Robinson Cano every night before I went to bed.

I didn't understand how the Yankees had had such bad luck with injuries, until I realized that they were counting on Travis Hafner to be their primary DH. Expecting Travis Hafner to do anything for an entire season means instantly overdrawing your injury karma. Brian Cashman stole about 150 days on the DL from the Red God by signing Hafner, and a man must pay his debts.

As mentioned above, the Yankees have made it through those injuries with improbable production from a few unexpected hitters. Francisco Cervelli is a career backup who happens to be hitting .360/.500/.520 so far in 2013. He isn't going to keep that up, but if his new-found plate discipline holds up, he may end up being this year's A.J. Ellis.

Vernon Wells has been grossly overpaid since 2005, but it didn't become a mainstream punchline until about 2011, when his production cratered. Since then, he's gotten paid $47 million to put up an OBP of .258. As such, I'm not terribly optimistic about him maintaining his current .324/.405/.649 pace, but it would be hysterically, tragically Yankees if he did.

Pitching Matchups:

Tuesday: Brandon McCarthy (0-1, 7.71) vs. Ivan Nova (0-1, 7.71)

Insightful Commentary: I'm going to go out on a limb and say that McCarthy's BABIP probably isn't going to stay .388 for the whole season. Nor will his strand rate remain 45% (league average: 70%). And when those things come back into alignment, the ERA will fall accordingly. But one thing to keep an eye on is McCarthy's strikeouts. He's never been a strikeout pitcher, but five through two games is simply not going to cut it. His velocity seems fine, so it's probably just a fluke, but obviously a complete absence of strikeouts makes everything much harder for McCarthy.

Nova's a bit of an odd bird. He had success early in his career despite lackluster peripherals, to the point where people had the audacity to compare Nova to Joe Saunders, which isn't the nicest thing to say about a 24-year-old starter with pretty good stuff. His strikeouts jumped up in 2012, which, again, tends to be a good thing for pitchers. But even though hitters were making less contact with his pitches across the board, when they did make contact, as his LD% went up and his HR/FB rate almost doubled. Along the way, he posted an ERA over 5. Some of that should regress a bit, but he remains an enigma.

Wednesday: Wade Miley (2-0, 2.13) vs. CC Sabathia (2-1, 2.25)

Insightful Commentary: Wade Miley Home Run Regression Watch: only one through his first two starts. This was what I was worried about to start the season, and I'm happy to be wrong about it so far. I'll be significantly more convinced if he succeeds Wednesday against a good lineup in a home run happy park, however.

In one of the more impressive feats of durability in an era of pitch counts and bullpen specialization, CC Sabathia has pitched at least 200 innings every year since 2007, and he has never posted an ERA over 3.5 during that time. Pitchers are temperamental creatures, prone to flights of whimsy in the form of injury and velocity loss and who even knows. Sabathia doesn't do any of that, he just gives you 200 good innings every years. Also, he totally looks like Shrek. I can't be the only who sees this, can I?

Thursday: Patrick Corbin (2-0, 1.50) vs. Phil Hughes (0-2, 10.29)

Insightful Commentary: Nick pointed out that Mud Cat's* velocity his risen noticeably through his first two starts. It might just be an early season mirage, and it hasn't contributed to any rise in strikeouts so far, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

Phil Hughes' main bugaboo since becoming a full-time, we're-not-kidding-this-time starter in 2010 or so has been the home run. A rate of around 1.5 counts as a red flag, and Hughes has been in that territory in his couple of full seasons as a starter. He may never have the success that he was pegged for during his prospect days, but he's a solid, mid-rotation starter who is good for about 2.5 WAR per season.

*Pat Corbin's nickname is now Mud Cat. Get on the bandwagon or be left behind.

Five Pressing (?) Questions:

What's that Derek Jeter fellow up to these days? Still on the DL after getting surgery on his ankle. Before his ankle injury however, Jeter apparently reminded scouts of an old Didi Gregorius.

What even is this? I call it "Return to Normalcy in the Key of NL East." But as for what the Orioles are doing, I have no earthly idea.

What do the two C's in "CC Sabathia" stand for? Carsten Charles, apparently. It's probably a good thing he decided to go by CC, actually. "Carsten Sabathia" would be the name of a mediocre middle reliever on the Padres.

How much money do the Yankees have invested for 2012 in players that are currently on the DL? Right around $85 million, by my count. If you're interested, that's more than the entire payroll for Houston, Miami, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Oakland, San Diego, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Seattle. And it's a Heath Bell away from being more than the Diamondbacks are paying.

Can you write a lazy question as a cheap justification to post 2001 World Series Porn? You bet I can!

Yankees Blog of Record: Pinstriped Bible.

(All Stats via Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs)

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