Friday, March 5, 2010

Half Empty Or Half Full?

Good morning, Fackers. Do you want the good news or the bad news first? This is always a tough conundrum. Do you want to hear the good stuff, only to have it tainted by the expectation of the bad? Or do you want to get the bad out of the way first and hang your hopes on the good news being able to save the day? Since neither of these items are of great import, let's start out will the positive.

Over at FanGraphs, R.J. Anderson took a look at what Phil Hughes was able to do out of the bullpen in 2009. To some extent, I think Hughes' contributions to the team were overlooked last season. Since he began the year as a starter with marginal success, his overall numbers were solid but not eye-popping (3.03 ERA, 86 IP, 1.116 WHIP, 3.43 K/BB).

However, if you look solely at his performance as a reliever, it was highly impressive. He struck out over 12 batters per 9 innings, had an ERA of 1.40 and a FIP of 1.83 in 51.1 IP. The FIP was particularly impressive considering that only 32 relievers have had a sub-2.00 FIP (minimum 40 IP) since 1990. Perhaps most surprisingly, not one of those belongs to Mariano Rivera. As Anderson acknowledges, FIP probably underrates Rivera because it can't measure his ability to induce weak contact, but Hughes' '09 campaign was impressive nonetheless.

Perhaps Hughes' ultimate destination will be the starting rotation, but there is reason to hope that he can be a real weapon out of the 'pen if that's where he ends up.

And now for the negative. As many analysts have felt the need to point out during this offseason, Dayn Perry at FOX Sports would like to remind everyone that just because Yankees won 103 games and the World Series last season, doesn't mean that they are a lock to do it again. Not exactly a bold statement, but let's take a look at Perry's points.
1. The lower baseline
2. Age
3. A brutal division
4. The vagaries of the postseason
The only one of those that needs explaining is the first. Perry cites the fact that the Yanks' Pythagorean record predicted that they would win only 95 games last year instead of 103. Of course, that still would have comfortably earned them a playoff berth. Which leads us to his final point.

If the 2001-2009 era taught you nothing else as a Yankee fan, you should be keenly aware that it's really, really hard to win a championship. The postseason isn't a total crapshoot, but the best team clearly doesn't always win. It's not to say that the Yanks were the the most worthy squad in all of those seasons, but there were probably three, four or five times that they entered October as the odds-on favorite, only to get bounced before claiming #27. Thanks to our generous sponsors at Bodog, we know that you can take the Yankees at 11/4 to win the World Series right now. But, that of course factors in things that not relevant on the field of play like betting volume. The real world odds are probably significantly higher.

If this was pre-2004, you might have had to remind some Yankees fans that it's far from a given that the team will repeat in 2010. Before 2008, you might have had to remind them that a postseason appearance is not a birthright. But I think anyone who is reading this blog knows better than to make those kind of assumptions in March.