CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes but the post season had a different outcome. This led me to ask the question: What changed in 2010? What did the team do better, and by how much, in 2009 that allowed it to win the World Series, and a bunch more games in the regular season? My hope is that the answer will shed some light on areas where the Yankees must improve next year, and also demonstrate that the team can be successful, even if it makes no further additions to its roster, advisable though they may be.
This analysis uses the core rosters from the 2009 and 2010 Yankees, according to Baseball Reference, and OPS+ and ERA+. I'm using Baseball Reference because it easily suggests who the core players from each team were, and provides team level aggregates for both OPS+ and ERA+ that are easy to find. Here's what the site says:
Javier Vazquez, A.J. Burnett) the 2009 team was so understaffed that Baseball Reference only lists four starters for the team. As a result, the pitching on the 2009 team was only marginally better than the pitching on the 2010 team, less, in fact, than the difference between what the team got from CC Sabathia in 2009 versus 2010.
Despite having the best offense in baseball in 2010, the Yankee hitters couldn't muster the same potency they displayed in 2009. What is surprising, though, is how similar the offenses were as well. The team wide drop off from 114 to 109 is about the same as the difference in production between Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon in 2009. Sure, there was a difference, but that difference wasn't tremendous.
There are two conclusions to be drawn from this. The first is that the 2010 team was very good. While the 2009 version was better on both sides of the ball, it wasn't that much better. Given that the Yankees stand to return the entire offense, provided either Andy Pettitte or A.J. Burnett steps up the way the team needs the 2011 squad doesn't require much tinkering to be competitive for at least the Wild Card, if not more.
The second conclusion is that playoff success really is a function of getting hot at the right time. The talent differential between the 2009 and 2010 seasons was so small that it was probably imperceptible. The difference in their regular season win totals had more to do with Andy Pettitte's injury and increased competition from the Rays than anything else. However, once October rolled around the 2009 Yankees had Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Johnny Damon all contributing big for most of the postseason, with some timely hitting from Mark Teixeira as well. The 2010 Yankees had Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and not much else. As a result, one team won the World Series and the other fell short of making it there.
All this means that the Yankees have many of the pieces they'll need for success in 2011 already. Surprisingly, the biggest x-factor for the 2011 Yankees is not the pitching, but the hitting. The 2009 Yankees were, as Larry has pointed out before, the best offensive club of their decade. If the 2011 Yankees see some key pieces return to career form then the Yankees figure to get improved performance without making a trade. If Andy Pettitte realizes that he still has quite a bit left in the tank then the team will be as strong as any other in the American League. My new year's resolution, therefore, is to worry less about the potential performance of the 2011 team, at least until the first week of April.