Predicting the Full 2012 Postseason Roster for the New York Yankees
The New York Yankees haven't clinched anything yet, but the only thing that could keep them from going to the postseason for the 17th time in the last 18 seasons is some sort of unforeseen natural disaster.
Presently, the Bronx Bombers have a 1.5-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the AL East. In the event that they fail to capture the division title, they have the wild card to fall back on as a safety net.
Judging from the way they've been playing lately, however, the Yankees are determined not to fall back on anything. They've won eight of their last 10 games, and they have a 14-8 record thus far in September.
With October baseball a virtual lock for the Yankees, the more interesting question in The Bronx these days is how the team's postseason roster is going to look. Because the Bombers have used a wider array of players this season than they usually do, very few things are set in stone.
If I was in Joe Girardi's shoes, here's who I would pick.
Note: Stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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CC Sabathia (13-6, 184 IP, 3.47 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)
Hiroki Kuroda (14-11, 207.1 IP, 3.34 ERA, 1.13 WHIP)
Andy Pettitte (5-3, 69.2 IP, 2.71 ERA, 1.12 WHIP)
Phil Hughes (16-12, 180 IP, 4.05 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)
If you're at all familiar with my work, you'll know that I've championed Hiroki Kuroda as the right man to start Game 1 for the Yankees in the past. For awhile there, he looked like the obvious choice.
I hereby take it back. Kuroda is going to finish the season with excellent numbers, but he hasn't been so excellent lately. In his last six starts, Kuroda has compiled an ERA of 4.91 and has been knocked around to the tune of a .454 slugging percentage.
CC Sabathia has also had some struggles lately, but he looked much more like himself in his last start against the Oakland A's. He allowed only three hits and a pair of walks in eight innings, and he reached double-digit strikeouts for the first time in well over a month. Per FanGraphs, his fastball velocity reached new heights against the A's, which should put to rest any concerns anybody has about the health of Sabathia's elbow.
If Girardi does choose to start Sabathia in Game 1, Kuroda will be a lock to start Game 2. He's certainly New York's second-best starter, if he's not its best starter, and slotting him behind Sabathia will allow Girardi to have a classic lefty-righty combo at the top of his postseason rotation.
After Kuroda should come another lefty in the person of Andy Pettitte. His body of work this season may only consist of 11 starts, but it's an impressive body of work all the same. In 11 starts, he has a 2.71 ERA and has held opponents to a .233 batting average despite a lack of dominant stuff. He has yet to allow an earned run in two starts since being activated off the disabled list.
Phil Hughes will be the Yankees' fourth starter if they need one. If they don't, he can be used out of the bullpen without any issues. Coming out of the pen would be nothing new for him.
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Rafael Soriano (2-1, 42 SV, 64.1 IP, 2.10 ERA, 1.12 WHIP)
David Robertson (2-7, 2 SV, 57 IP, 2.84 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)
Boone Logan (6-2, 1 SV, 53.2 IP, 3.69 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)
Clay Rapada (3-0, 0 SV, 37.2 IP, 2.87 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)
David Phelps (4-4, 0 SV, 92.2 IP, 3.21 ERA, 1.21 WHIP)
Freddy Garcia (7-6, 0 SV, 105.1 IP, 5.30 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)
Ivan Nova (12-7, 0 SV, 165.2 IP, 4.94 ERA, 1.46 WHIP)
Derek Lowe (0-1, 1 SV, 17 IP, 3.71 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)*
Cody Eppley (1-2, 0 SV, 43.1 IP, 3.53 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)
Joba Chamberlain (1-0, 0 SV, 18.1 IP, 4.91 ERA, 1.64 WHIP)
Girardi has tended to stick to conventions when it comes to his postseason rosters, choosing to carry 11 pitchers and 14 position players. I expect him to stay the course this season.
The locks pretty much speak for themselves. Rafael Soriano is the team's closer, and David Robertson is still Girardi's primary eighth-inning setup man even if he has indeed been a little more human than usual this year.
In Boone Logan and Clay Rapada, Girardi will have two solid lefties to go to. Logan can be used in pretty much any situation, and Rapada is a perfect fit for lefty-on-lefty matchups. He's held lefty hitters to a .528 OPS this season.
David Phelps may seem like an odd choice for a lock at first glance, but he makes the cut because he can pitch in pretty much any situation. He can be used to get a couple outs, and he can also go three or four innings if the situation calls for it.
Where things get tricky is determining who's the best fit to be the club's primary long man in the postseason: Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova or Derek Lowe?
Garcia scares me because his smoke-and-mirrors act can blow up at any time. That's been happening quite a bit lately, as he has an 8.49 ERA in September with an opponents' OPS of 1.044.
Nova hasn't been much better lately. In fact, he has a 6.99 ERA since the All-Star break, and the hits he's given up have tended to be clobbered. To boot, the fact that he only has three career relief appearances further complicates his prospects to make the postseason roster.
Lowe is the safest choice to be the team's primary long man. He's far from perfect, but he's been solid ever since joining the Yankees, and he's holding hitters to a .120 slugging percentage in his September outings.
Between Joba Chamberlain and Cody Eppley, Chamberlain is the hotter pitcher of the two. He hasn't allowed a run in his last eight innings pitched, striking out nine and walking one. Eppley, meanwhile, has an ERA over 5.00 in his last 23 outings, in which hitters have knocked him around to the tune of a .300 batting average.
If I'm Girardi, I go with the hot hand.
Prediction: Lowe and Chamberlain
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SS Derek Jeter (.322/.368/.439, 15 HR, 57 RBI, 9 SB)
LF Ichiro Suzuki (.328/.352/.478, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 12 SB)*
3B Alex Rodriguez (.274/.350/.440, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 13 SB)
2B Robinson Cano (.293/.362/.519, 30 HR, 80 RBI, 3 SB)
1B Mark Teixeira (.255/.336/.478, 23 HR, 81 RBI, 2 SB)
RF Nick Swisher (.262/.351/.464, 23 HR, 87 RBI, 2 SB)
CF Curtis Granderson (.231/.321/.487, 40 HR, 95 RBI, 9 SB)
C Russell Martin (.203/.307/.381, 18 HR, 48 RBI, 6 SB)
DH Raul Ibanez (.234/.304/.451, 18 HR, 58 RBI, 3 SB)
No real surprises here. The Yankees are pretty well set across the board when it comes to their everyday lineup.
However, this projection is obviously contingent on Mark Teixeira getting a clean bill of health before the playoffs arrive. Right now, that's iffy. The Yankees' official website claims Teixeira could be back by the end of the month, but it goes without saying that they're not going to push his wounded calf any further than they have to.
The other big question mark is how Girardi is going to use his DH spot in the postseason. I'll have more on that discussion in just a bit, but I'll say for now that Raul Ibanez deserves to be penciled in as the team's default DH. His power has returned to him in September, and he has an .839 OPS when he DHs this season.
Concerning the order, look for Girardi to stick with the top-of-the-lineup tandem he's discovered recently that has Jeter batting leadoff and Ichiro hitting second. It's working pretty well, and Ichiro is simply too hot to be hiding at the bottom of the lineup.
Assuming Teixeira is healthy enough to play, he should go right back to protecting Robinson Cano in the order. That opens up a chance for Nick Swisher to bat in the No. 6 hole, in turn opening up a chance for Curtis Granderson to hit seventh. That's a lot lower than you expect a guy with 40-homer power to be hitting, but the Yankees may as well keep riding the 1.016 OPS Granderson has this season when he hits seventh.
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Eric Chavez (.285/.341/.487, 14 HR, 34 RBI, 0 SB)
Chris Stewart (.243/.286/.324, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 2 SB)
Brett Gardner (.321/.424/.393, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB)
Jayson Nix (.247/.312/.394, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 6 SB)
Andruw Jones (.197/.294/.397, 13 HR, 33 RBI, 0 SB)
Eduardo Nunez (.263/.311/.363, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 11 SB)
Casey McGehee (.151/.220/.264, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 0 SB)*
Steve Pearce (.160/.300/.280, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB)*
Chris Dickerson (.250/.400/.625, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 SB)
The locks I've picked out for the Yankees bench in the postseason are a mixed bag.
Eric Chavez and Chris Stewart are going to be chosen without any second thoughts, as Chavez is a solid lefty hitter who can fill in at both third base and first base and Stewart is Russell Martin's primary backup. Jayson Nix is a solid choice because he can play second base, shortstop and third base, and he can also play the outfield if need be.
The one I'm admittedly on the fence about is Brett Gardner, who has yet to be activated off the disabled list. If and when he is activated, Girardi hinted pretty strongly to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com last week that Gardner will only be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Thus, he'll have a small role to play in the postseason if he does get a roster spot.
But as I wrote yesterday, I like the idea of Gardner as the Yankees' very own Dave Roberts clone. If he's healthy, the Yankees should carry him.
The last bench spot is totally up for grabs, but the last thing the Yankees should do is give it to Andruw Jones, who basically can't do anything at this point. He's hitting .141 since the break with just a pair of home runs, and left-handed pitching is killing him.
Eduardo Nunez has talent, but he's erratic in the field, and his value as a potential pinch runner would be rendered moot if the Yankees tab Gardner to be on their postseason roster.
Steve Pearce and Casey McGehee are both in pinstripes to provide power from the right side of the plate, but the difference between the two of them is that McGehee has played both first and third base this season.
Chris Dickerson has value because he can play all three outfield positions and because he's got a little speed. If the Yankees go with Gardner, they could choose to carry Dickerson as well in the event that Gardner needs to be taken out of a game because he can't hit. Dickerson could step in and play for him.
There's no easy choice here, but my pick would be McGehee because he could fill the role of both a right-handed pinch hitter and a defensive replacement at first and third. Given the health of A-Rod and Teixeira, the Yankees need as much depth at those two positions as possible.
Prediction: McGehee gets the nod as a pinch hitter/defensive replacement
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The Yankees have had revolving doors at several positions this season, but on paper, the only position that's truly uncertain from day to day is the DH spot.
To date, Girardi has used 15 different players at the DH spot this season. Alex Rodriguez has DH'd more than any other Yankees player this season, but Derek Jeter has been seeing a lot of time at DH recently thanks to his wounded ankle.
Girardi may have no choice but to stay the course with Jeter, as the bone bruise in his ankle is a little bit more than a simple nagging injury. Playing Jeter in the field day after day isn't going to help it heal, and it doesn't help that Jeter's ankle has sapped some of his range, which was already limited to begin with.
So expect Jeter to keep DH'ing in the playoffs, with Jayson Nix taking over at shortstop and A-Rod starting at third base. Girardi will shake things up by using A-Rod as the DH and Eric Chavez at third, and he'll also use both A-Rod and Jeter in the field with either Chavez or Raul Ibanez DH'ing depending on the matchup.
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Joba Chamberlain (R)
Phil Hughes (R)
Hiroki Kuroda (R)
Boone Logan (L)
Derek Lowe (R)
Andy Pettitte (L)
David Phelps (R)
Clay Rapada (L)
David Robertson (R)
CC Sabathia (L)
Rafael Soriano (R)
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