All teams have questions at the beginning of each season that will determine how their season ends. The better the team answers those questions, the more successful the season will be.
In the case of the New York Yankees, the 2010 season was a "failure." Yes, they made the American League Championship Series, but that's not good enough for the team or its fans. For the Yankees, it's a World Series title or bust.
For the 2011 season, there are 10 questions that will determine whether it's a successful season or a failure for the Yankees. Let's see what these questions are and how I think they'll answer them.
The first question is about the ace of the Yankees pitching staff, CC Sabathia.
Will CC be able to continue to pitch as well as he has in the past and can he keep pace with the other Cy Young candidates in the American League; David Price, Jon Lester and Felix Hernandez?
In the offseason, CC had knee surgery to fix a problem that plagued him at the end of the season and he lost some weight. Both of these should really help his pitching in 2011.
Being the ace of the Yankees staff is a huge responsibility. With the questions surrounding the rest of the Yankees pitching staff, CC will be looked upon even more to carry the staff. Last season, he pitched well enough to earn Cy Young votes (finishing third), and in order for the 2011 season to be a success for the Yankees, CC will have to put up similar numbers.
My prediction for 2011: 20 wins, ERA below 3.15, WHIP below 1.180, 240 innings pitched and over 200 strikeouts and will finish second in the Cy Young voting.
In 2010, Mark Teixeira got off to his typical slow start, but unlike previous seasons, he never really turned it around. He finished with his worst offensive season of his career - batting average of .256, .365 OBP, .481 slugging percentage , 36 HRs and 108 RBIs.
Was 2010 just a fluke or was a sign of things to come?
In 2011, Tex needs to start off fast and stay hot all season long. As the Yankees No. 3 hitter, much more will be expected out of him than what he produced in 2010. He needs to have a batting average closer to .300, an OBP closer to .400 and a slugging percentage closer to .500 for the Yankees offense to keep up with the new and improved offense in Boston.
My prediction for 2011: .290 batting average, .390 OBP, .490 slugging percentage, 41 HRs and 116 RBIs along with his typical Gold Glove caliber defense at first base.
2010 was Robinson Cano's greatest overall season. He achieved career highs in OBP, slugging percentage, HRs, RBIs, Walks, finished third in the MVP voting and won his first Gold Glove. He also put himself into the discussion for best second baseman in the game.
Can he continue to improve?
What does Cano have to do in 2011? He simply has to continue doing what he did last year. The knock on Cano in previous years was he was "lazy," but last season I believe he erased that thought from people's minds by finally putting together great seasons back-to-back.
My prediction for 2011: .328 batting average, .396 OBP, .540 slugging percentage, 32 HRs, 120 RBIs, another Gold Glove and his first MVP award.
2010 was not a good year for Derek Jeter. He had the worst offensive season in his career and the offseason was filled with a very public discussion of his next contract and his future with the Yankees.
Was 2010 just a fluke or is his career winding down?
As Derek goes, the Yankees go. If the Yankees will succeed in 2011, they will need Derek to be close to his career averages, not far below them. In 2010, he started to turn it around in August after working more with Kevin Long, and this offseason he has spent even more time with Long. Derek's biggest problem in 2010 was he stopped hitting line drives and started hitting more ground balls and that's what his offseason focus has been on - elevating the ball.
In order to remain a top-of-the-lineup hitter, Derek will have to show that 2010 was just a fluke, otherwise he'll find himself batting somewhere near the bottom of the lineup instead.
My prediction for 2011: .290 batting average, .375 OBP, .400 slugging percentage, 12 HRs, 95 runs scored and he will be the first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits (which he'll do before the Yankees 65th game).
In 2010, ARod had one of his worst offensive seasons after recovering from hip surgery. He had career lows in seasons in which he played over 135 games in batting average, HRs and OBP. He also hasn't played in over 140 games since 2007.
Can ARod get back to where he was or is he destined to be a DH in a season or two?
In 2011, ARod will have to show that the decline he has shown the last three seasons was simply due to injury and not due to his age or anything else (and of course, by anything else, I mean stopping PED usage). If he doesn't, he may find himself batting fifth instead cleanup and seeing Cano move up to his spot in the lineup.
My prediction for 2011: .288 batting average, .360 OBP, .490 slugging percentage, 32 HRs, 118 RBIs
In 2010, Jorge had his worst offensive season in which he played 120 games or more - career lows in every single offensive category and it appeared age had finally caught up with him.
Will Jorge adjust to not catching every day?
In 2011, Jorge will be the Yankees full-time DH and shouldn't see any time as a catcher unless injury/severe under-performance by Martin/Montero. Not every player adjusts well to being the DH when they're used to being on the field (some like David Ortiz take to it like a fish to water). Even though Jorge's not happy about it, the less wear and tear on his body should help him improve offensively.
My prediction for 2011: .276 batting average, .360 OBP, .480 slugging percentage, 24 HRs and 87 RBIs
In 2010, the Yankees outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher was a bit of a surprise. Swisher had his best offensive season ever after spending time working with Kevin Long. Brett Gardner showed what he could do offensively and defensively if given the chance. Curtis Granderson, while he didn't equal his great seasons of 2007/2008 he showed he was still more than serviceable.
Will the outfield trio at least equal their production in 2011?
In 2011, Nick Swisher will have to show his improvement at the plate wasn't just a one-year fluke. Curtis Granderson will have to improve offensively (especially since the player the Yankees traded for him, Austin Jackson, was in discussion for Rookie of the Year in 2010). Brett Gardner will have to continue to improve and further show that he is the Yankees leadoff hitter of the future.
My prediction for 2011:
Gardner: .290 batting average, .400 OBP, .410 slugging percentage, eight HRs, 55 RBIs and his first Gold Glove
Granderson: .255 batting average, .340 OBP, .470 slugging percentage, 26 HRs, 73 RBIs
Swisher: .290 batting average, .372 OBP, .520 slugging percentage, 35 HRs, 95 RBIs
In 2010, the pitching staff saw a Cy Young worthy season from CC, a great first half by Andy Pettitte, a great first half by Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera did his typical thing.
What will the pitching staff do in 2011?
We've already talked about what Sabathia needs to do in 2011 so now we'll talk about everyone else. The rest of the starting pitching needs to improve from 2010. Hughes needs to pitch for a whole season at the level he started 2010 at, AJ Burnett needs to be consistent from start to start, someone needs to step up and be the No. 4 and No. 5 starters (whether it's a veteran like Garcia or one of the young pitchers like Nova).
As for the bullpen, the Yankees simply need to get to Mariano Rivera with the lead intact, plain and simple. Last year, the bullpen was inconsistent; you just never knew what you were going to get. In 2011, Joba Chamberlain and Dave Robertson need to prove they can lock down the sixth and seventh innings. Rafael Soriano needs to take his closer's mentality and become the best set-up man in baseball and show that even though he's overpaid to pitch just the eighth inning, it is money well spent and that the Yankees may have finally found Rivera's replacement.
What does Mariano have to do? Just the same as he's done year in and year out since he became the full-time closer in 1997 - break bats and get saves.
My prediction for 2011: I'm not going to predict stats for the rest of the starters. Instead I'll just say it will be a wild ride. Hughes/Burnett will continue to drive Yankee fans nuts and there will be several different players used as the No. 4/5 starters. The bullpen will be the Yankees strength and will be the best in baseball.
In 2010, the Yankees had many role players step up when needed - Francisco Cervelli catching, Marcus Thames coming off the bench or Eduardo Nunez providing much needed to rest to the starters.
What will the Yankees reserves do?
In 2011, the Yankees will need Russell Martin to hold down the fort as the starting catcher until Jesus Montero is ready. They need Montero to improve defensively behind the plate so they can take advantage of his bat more often without resorting to have him DH.
They need Andruw Jones to step up when needed either defensively in the outfield and with the bat. They need the young pitchers/position players to show they deserve to be a New York Yankee. The Yankees as a team are getting older and older teams rely more on their reserves either because of injury or much needed rest.
My prediction for 2011: The Yankee bench isn't anything too special, but then again it doesn't have to be. I do believe Montero will be the starting catcher by June; they just can't afford to leave his bat on the bench all the time. Also, I think Andruw Jones will function well in late-inning pinch hitting situations.
In 2010, the Yankees tried to get Cliff Lee by the trade deadline and failed.
Can/will the Yankees make any similar moves in 2011?
In 2011, the Yankees will be constantly trying to find a fourth and fifth starting pitcher. Will any be available? That is a tough question. Will Felix Hernandez be available if the Mariners are out of it by July? What about someone like Chris Carpenter?
The bigger question is actually who will the Yankees be willingly to part with? I'm sure any deal will involve Montero or Romine being included along with several young pitchers.
My prediction for 2011: While I'd love to see someone like King Felix or Carpenter become available, I don't think they will and I don't see the Yankees giving away players like Montero or Romine, at least not this year. The Yankees will make some moves, but none will be considered huge.
So, my final predictions for the Yankees' 2011 season are:
- MVP in Robinson Cano
- Cy Young candidate in CC Sabathia
- Best bullpen in baseball
- Several Gold Glove winners (Gardner, Tex and Cano)
I predict 92 wins for this Yankee team and the Wild Card berth for the American League. However, unless the starting pitching undergoes a drastic improvement, I just can't see them winning in October. They might win the first round of playoffs (depending on the team they face), but I just can't see anyone beating the Red Sox in the American League to get to the World Series (barring any injuries on the Sox of course).
So, what do you think? Are there more questions the Yankees need answers to? Please comment below.