TAMPA — Had you just awoken from a year-long nap, you’d overlook the sparse crowd at Steinbrenner Field on Monday, and the fact that a pitching machine occupied the mound, and you’d revel in the possibilities. In the optimism.
Even with future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran on the bench, the Yankees divvied up nine established major-leaguers between the Gator (managed by Ron Guidry) and the Goose (managed by Rich Gossage), and only young shortstop Didi Gregorius lacked a solid back of the baseball card.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they, too, took a year-long nap, or at least it often seemed that way. So now they’re left with this scenario: When it comes to their offense’s revitalization, they need the optimistic math to trump the common-sense concerns. Actually, they need the optimistic math to wind up as pessimistic.
“To win, you don’t need everyone to have career years,” Joe Girardi said, following the Goose’s 14-4 thumping of the Gator. “Sometimes you have nine or 10 guys that have really good years. Sometimes you have three or four guys that have career years and do a lot.
“Whatever the combination needs to be, we need to find it.”
The website FanGraphs features a pair of projections systems, Steamer and ZiPS, which have spit out their anticipated 2015 statistics. Collectively, they have the Yankees finishing 82-80 by scoring 669 runs and allowing 664.
The 2014 Yankees permitted exactly 664 runs. For this group to produce the same pitching effort, it must overcome the departures of Shane Greene, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy and David Robertson, all of whom pitched very effectively last year. As The Post’s Joel Sherman wrote on Sunday, the Yankees’ bullpen will need to step up its already impressive effort of recent years. It also should help on the defensive side to have Gregorius and Stephen Drew occupying the middle of the infield for an entire season, assuming Drew rebounds offensively.
Stephen DrewPhoto: Charles Wenzelberg
Let’s talk offensive rebounds. The 2014 Yankees scored 633 runs, so 669 runs would represent a 5.2 percent increase. The projection systems assert that Drew, Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira will hit better than they did, relative to the rest of the American League, in 2014. The numbers point south for Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez (working off his 2013 stats, since he missed all of last year due to suspension).
You don’t need a doctorate in math to see the origin of these estimations. For instance, you’d expect Beltran’s production to dwindle with age, and he’s turning 38 in April. However, his plummet from 2013 with St. Louis (.830 OPS) to 2014 with the Yankees (.703) was so precipitous that you’d forecast a jump back toward his career norms.
The same goes for Drew’s horrid experience last year with both the Red Sox and Yankees, McCann’s rough initial Yankees voyage and Teixeira’s injury-plagued season.
“I think they’re raring to go,” new Yankees hitting coach Jeff Pentland said of his charges. “It’s like trying to hold the reins back on a horse. They really want to prove themselves. A lot of it has to do with injuries, this and that, but that’s part of the game. They’re excited.”
Of course, it’ll take more than excitement to meet or exceed the projected run-production increase, and the concerns are obvious: What if Beltran, Drew and Teixeira are just done? What if McCann’s efforts to beat the shift prove fruitless? What if Jones suffers from Curtis Granderson syndrome and tries to pull everything into Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch?
Pentland talked of “Playing small ball when we need to. Not just relying on the three-run homer,” although I’m not sure that ranked as a primary problem last year beyond the suggestions that McCann and Teixeira challenge the shifts by dropping a bunt. In a desire to work the margins of their run differential, moreover, Girardi said that work on the team’s base running ranked as a top priority in the intrasquad contest.
Sunday, at home against Washington, could be the Yankees’ first official rollout of their lineup, in front of a real crowd and against live pitching. Girardi said he hopes to get Beltran, taking it slow after undergoing right elbow surgery, in a game Friday.
So you can watch Sunday on YES and fantasize about what could be. About what was supposed to be when the Yankees acquired these guys.
You have to root for reality to exceed the math by quite a lot in order for these Yankees to end their playoff drought. Knowing, all the while, that reality could make the math look like the rosiest scenario of all.
March 3, 2015 | 1:03am