2014 Statistical New Year's Resolutions for Individual New York Yankees
Lose 10 pounds. Do more volunteer work. Pay off credit card debt. Hit 30 home runs?
Baseball players probably have different New Year's resolutions than the rest of us common citizens. But the basic idea of setting an attainable goal for a new year still applies to the stars of America's pastime. Plus, since baseball is the only sport of the Big Four with a season contained entirely within a calendar year, New Year's resolutions seem all the more appropriate.
With all that in mind, here are some statistical goals for some key members of the New York Yankees as we move into 2014. They are meant to be reasonable in scope—no one's asking Alfonso Soriano to launch 50 round-trippers—but also challenging and integral for the continued development of each individual's career.
Jacoby Ellsbury: 145 Games
There's little question that Jacoby Ellsbury can perform when he's on the field, and favorable dimensions in his new home ballpark complemented by a bolstered lineup should help him continue being an offensive menace.
But the major concern for the Yankees' expensive new center fielder is that he'll continue his trend of spending significant time on the disabled list.
Ellsbury averaged only 96 games per season in his last four years with the Red Sox. He needs to shed his injury-prone label to avoid becoming the Carl Pavano of the Yankees lineup.
Hoping that he will play 160 games in 2014 is perhaps a stretch, but 145 should be within reach if Ellsbury can steer clear of a major injury. The goal allows for a single 15-day DL trip or a few minor scrapes but not much more.
If Ellsbury can achieve such a target, his natural ability will take care of the high expectations for the Yankees' likely new leadoff hitter.
CC Sabathia: ERA Under 4.00
CC Sabathia's days of being a top-level starter may be over permanently. His ERA ballooned to 4.78 last season—more than a run-and-a-half higher than that of his other cumulative years with the Yankees—and he led the American League in earned runs allowed with 112.
CC can still find a positive middle ground between his ace past and his terrible 2013, though.
If he can keep his ERA in the 3s, a feat for any starter in the potent American League East, he'll prove to himself and his teammates that his decline is less steep than his recent failures might have indicated.
Sabathia has already somewhat justified his monster contract by delivering a World Series to the Yankees in 2009. But with that title already four years old, Sabathia needs to reclaim his reputation as an above-average starter and provide some stability among a highly volatile rotation.
David Robertson: 85 Percent Save Percentage
It's hard enough having the stressful job of closing games for a highly scrutinized, low-tolerance franchise like the New York Yankees.
Mix in the added pressure of trying to replace the best closer in the history of the MLB and a living legend in Mariano Rivera, and you can understand why David Robertson might be a little tightly wound heading into 2014.
Although Robertson has been indispensable as a setup man in recent years, assuming he'll slide seamlessly from the eighth inning into the ninth would be a mistake.
Baseball history has seen many capable relievers wilt under the responsibility of getting the final three outs. Robertson himself was supposed to close for the Yankees after Mariano tore his ACL in May of 2012, but after several shaky performances and an injury, the job was handed to Rafael Soriano.
How many games Robertson can save isn't terribly relevant—Rivera himself saved as few as 28 and as many as 53 in a season. His overall reliability and ability to nail down seven or eight saves for every one he blows will be the real measure of his skill and composure.
Therefore, keeping his save percentage above 85, a figure Rivera never fell below, should be his goal for 2014.
Brett Gardner: 35 Stolen Bases
After logging nearly 100 swipes from 2010 to 2011, Gardner saw a decline in his ability to steal bases. Injuries almost entirely erased his 2012 season, but despite playing 145 games in 2013 he finished with only 24 steals.
Re-establishing himself as an elite base stealer is a key development for the Yankees, who need Gardner to partner with Ellsbury to create a devastating duo on base in front of sluggers like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
Even though 35 steals is notably less than his peak of 49 in 2011, the benchmark would still serve as a major increase in his thieving production. It's unfair to ask Gardner, who will turn 31 during the 2014 season, to retain the absolute speed of his mid-20s. But the best baserunners replace pure athleticism with craft and guile, which Gardner must rely on to swipe bags at a higher rate in the new year.
Ichiro Suzuki: 250 Plate Appearances
The Yankees outfield got a lot more crowded this past month. Star signees Ellbury and Carlos Beltran join the speedy Gardner and the powerful Soriano as players simply too good not to play everyday, leaving Ichiro as the likely odd man out.
Ichiro will have to grow accustomed to his responsibility as a pinch-hitter or an injury replacement, reduced roles that the 13-year MLB veteran has never had to cope with. His quest for 3,000 hits (he needs only 258 more), once thought probable by the end of 2015, will be slowed or even entirely compromised.
Then again, there might be some playing time to be salvaged for Ichiro.
Injuries are a distinct possibility, as Ellsbury has spent a lot of time on the shelf in recent years and Beltran and Soriano are both pushing 40. Trade rumors still swirl around Gardner, and Ichiro will take the lion's share of pinch-hit opportunities if he can prove himself capable of the job. Thus, shooting for a limited but still appreciable role, such as 250 plate appearances, is a realistic objective for Ichiro.
Eduardo Nunez: .965 Fielding Percentage
Fielding percentage is rarely used anymore to quantify defensive ability since it doesn't factor in range or difficult plays.
It is, however, a fitting statistic for Eduardo Nunez, since it measures proficiency on the routine plays that he so often finds a way to bungle.
Nunez has a strong arm and great speed, although his quick feet have not translated into good range. He has maddened Yankee fans by the high frequency with which he tosses easy throws into the stands or mishandles a grounder heading right at him.
Nunez is at a critical juncture in his career. Once considered the heir to the Jeter throne at shortstop, he has shown remarkable inconsistency that puts his future in pinstripes in jeopardy.
Yet the Yankees, whose infield depth chart looks more like a 2005 All-Star ballot than anything from this decade, still need Nunez to be a serviceable backup or platoon player. If he can demonstrate even mediocre capability with the glove, such as by posting a .965 fielding percentage, he may find himself pencilled into the lineup more often.
Mark Teixeira: .800 OPS
Mark Teixeira's OPS in 2007, split between the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers, was an impressive .963. It has dropped every year since then, reaching a career low of .807 in 2012 before injuries derailed his 2013 season.
Yankees fans are growing frustrated with Tex's diminishing output. But it would be unreasonable to expect the first baseman, who will turn 34 in April, to completely recapture his ability to get on base and hit for power.
On the other hand, asking him to curtail his consistently shrinking OPS and even setting a floor of .800 is more realistic and would go a long way in lengthening the Yankees lineup. Teixeira's contract will be off the books after 2016, at which point the Yankees will probably shift McCann from behind the plate to first base.
Until then, squeezing as much value out of the $70 million owed to him is imperative, an endeavor that should be reflected by a quest to keep Teixeira's OPS in a respectable range.
Michael Pineda: 150 Innings
After being swapped for Jesus Montero in a trade once thought to be a blockbuster movement of young assets, Michael Pineda has still yet to to pitch an inning for the Yankees two years later.
The big righty demonstrated great potential for the Mariners in 2011 when he struck out 173 batters in 28 starts as a 22-year-old.
A torn labrum has kept him from the big league team for two full seasons, though, and the Yankees must be wondering if they'll ever get anything significant out of Pineda. He showed promise last season as he rehabbed, striking out 41 batters in 40.1 innings spread over stints for three different minor league clubs, including the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
It's never prudent to bet on a pitcher to complete a full season after coming off a major arm injury. As much as the Yankees would love to see Pineda step in at the top of the rotation and give them close to 35 starts, the more sensible expectation is about 150 innings. That figure gives Pineda room to skip starts, pitch on increased rest, spend more time in the minors, and even shut down for several weeks if he feels pain in that shoulder.