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Can the Yankees approach their 1998 performance?

Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees

Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees greets his teammates during player introductions against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the Yankees home opener. (April 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

I've been pretty consistent since the Curtis Granderson trade that, in my decreasingly humble opinion, the Yankees were producing a superb winter. Better even than the previous offseason, when they simply threw money at CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira and took an enormous long-term risk in the process.

The Yankees' strong start, against quality competition, only reaffirms my belief that this is an excellent team that could very well repeat as World Series champions.

So when a Tweep named rex139 asked me, during yesterday's home opener, "Does this team have the heart and talent to do the same?" as the 1998 Yankees, I thought it was worth pondering.

Heart? That's an impossible calculation. I certainly think the '98 Yankees displayed an impressive determination, and I think these '10 Yankee have the personalities to run a strong clubhouse, as they did in '09 - albeit with a lighter overall vibe than the '98 group.

Talent? Let's try it, position by position, using WARP. The 2010 totals are obviously projections by Baseball Prospectus, which came up with this metric. The '98 players are listed first.

Catcher: Joe Girardi (1.4) and Jorge Posada (4.2) vs. Francisco Cervelli (.5) and Posada (1.6). Edge: '98

First base: Tino Martinez (3.4) vs. Mark Teixeira (5.0). Edge: '10

Second base: Chuck Knoblauch (6.0) vs. Robinson Cano (3.4). Edge: '98

Shortstsop: Derek Jeter (6.8) vs. Jeter (1.6). Edge: '98

Third base: Scott Brosius (6.8) vs. Alex Rodriguez (4.4). Edge: '98.

Leftfield: Chad Curtis (3.5), Tim Raines (1.4) and Ricky Ledee (.4) vs. Brett Gardner (1.5), Marcus Thames (.2) and Randy Winn (1.2). Edge: '98.

Centerfield: Bernie Williams (6.7) vs. Curtis Granderson (4.4). Edge: '98.

Rightfield: Paul O'Neill (6.3) vs. Nick Swisher (2.7). Edge: '98

DH: Chili Davis (.3) and Darryl Strawberry (1.5) vs. Nick Johnson (2.3). Edge: '10

Comparing the pitchers gets a little dicey, as players' historical pages have only WARP, whereas the projections in BP's 2010 book have only VORP for pitchers. So we'll utilize BP's calculation that 10 point of VORP equals one win, and do the math.

Game 1 starting pitcher: David Wells (2.7 WARP) vs. CC Sabathia (41.8 VORP). Edge: '10.

Game 2 starting pitcher: Andy Pettitte (1.1 WARP) vs. A.J. Burnett (18.1 VORP). Edge: '10.

Game 3 starting pitcher: David Cone (2.7 WARP) vs. Pettitte (12.7 VORP). Edge: '98.

Game 4 starting pitcher: Orlando Hernandez (2.5 WARP) vs. Javier Vazquez (35.0 VORP). Edge: '10.

Closer: Mariano Rivera (4.0 WARP) vs. Rivera (12.2 VORP). Edge: '98.

I confess, some of the valuations took me by surprise, particularly second base and third base. But remember, the '10 number are just projections. Scott Brosius, for example, undoubtedly clobbered his '98 projection. Stuff happens.

Anyway, the tally is 9-5, in favor of the '98 team. And I think the even greater argument why the '10 Yankees won't even sniff 114 regular-season victories is this: The competition is much better now.

Simply eyeballing it, let's compare the Yankees' current competition to that of 1998. In the American League:

Baltimore: Better now.

Boston: Better now.

White Sox: Better now.

Cleveland: Better then.

Detroit: Better now.

Kansas City: Yeesh. Better now, I guess. But not by much.

Angels: Better now.

Minnesota: Better now.

Oakland: Better now.

Seattle: Tough call. I'll say slightly better then.

Tampa Bay: Better now.

Texas: Better then.

Toronto: Better then.

That's nine improved teams, and four worse teams. And in the National League, the Yankees played the entire NL East in '98. This year, they play Arizona, Houston, the Dodgers, the Mets (six games) and Philadelphia. That's a tougher schedule now.

So...the '10 Yankees might give the '98 Yankees a game, head-to-head. Given the seasons' different contexts, though, I don't see this Yankees team winning 114. I'd say more like 97.

--For my column, I wrote about the emotions of yetserday, compared to the lack thereof during the Yankees' winter. These Yankees will hit a slump at some point, yet their impressive start should give them some sort of cushion of confidence.

--It was indeed a special day for Hideki Matsui, his 0-for-5 performance notwithstanding.

--The Yankees were still choked up after the game about the appearance of Gene Monahan, who told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian O'Connor that he has neck and throat cancer.

--Jeter and Joe Girardi discussed what it was like giving George Steinbrenner his ring.

--Pettitte pitched well, and Jeter, Poada and Rivera all had good days, too. Are these guys ever gonna look their ages?

--The new Yankees want rings, too. Jerry Hairston Jr. went through considerable effort to pick up his ring in person.

--A couple of Angels players witnessed an apparent suicide close to their Manhattan hotel. Awful.

--As for the Mets...well, that wasn't a good start to the road trip. The John Maine dilemma - might as well throw him in the bullpen at this point - once again emphasizes the Mets' inability to evaluate themselves.

Look, maybe Maine will rebound and put up a solid season. That's not looking too good, though. The Mets, who behaved somewhat this winter as if they were strapped for cash, committed $3.3 million to Maine.

Why not trade Maine last December for some organizational depth? Milwaukee was reportedly interested, which made sense given Rick Peterson's success with Maine. Short of that, why not simply non-tender Maine, and spend that $3.3 million on a more reliable free-agent starting pitcher? 

(Of course, now that I'm looking, I see that Doug Davis and Jon Garland - two of the "reliable" starting pitchers I had in mind - aren't pitching much better than Maine so far. Still, they have superior track records to Maine's).

Really, if the Mets sleepwalk through the rest of this road trip, will there be any reason not to fire Jerry Manuel? I don't think the Mets want Manuel to sweat out a myriad of speculation over his situation like Willie Randolph did, partly because the powers that be like Manuel a lot more than they liked Randolph.

--It's only a matter of time before Jose Reyes moves to third in the Mets' lineup, David Lennon writes. I'd disagree with such a maneuver, although not as strongly as I would with, say, playing Mike Jacobs over Ike Davis. Or utilizing Jenrry Mejia a an afterthought reliever.

--Looks like Jimmy Rollins is headed to the disabled list for the Phillies.

--A belated shout-out to the Mets for holding their third annual Jack Lang Day last Saturday. Lang covered the Mets for the first 25 years of their existence and won the Spink Award. The Mets help Lang's family raise funds for the Epilepsy Foundation of Long Island, as the disorder affects Lang's grandson.

--For you golfers out there, Callaway will send a full set of its new Diablo Edge clubs to any big-league player who hits a home run that travels a distance of at least 470 feet. Braves rookie Jason Heyward won a pair with his first major-league swing, which sent a ball 476 feet. So for your own free clubs, just become a major-league player and then hit a ball really far.

 

 

 

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