If Nate Silver is correct, both the Democratic Party and the New York Yankees might be headed for tough times this fall. The ace political pollster/baseball analyst projects the numbers for 1,600 major league ballplayers in the current Baseball Prospectus 2010, and things don’t look good for the Yankees’ “Core Four.” Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera average out at 38 years of age, and no team in the major leagues is anywhere near as dependent on four aging players as the Yankees are.
Based on the study of hundreds of players in their declining years, Silver projects these slides for the Yanks’ elders in 2010:
Jeter from a 2009 batting average of .334 to .286 this year, a drop in home runs from 18 to 11, and in stolen bases from 30 to 10. Posada from a .285 BA to .263, home runs from 22 to 12. Pettitte from 14-8 and an ERA of 4.06 to 10-11 and 4.70. Scariest of all, Rivera from 44 saves to 22, and and ERA the moves from 1.76 to 3.53.
If Silver is right, the 2010 Yankees are sunk. Worse yet, Steinbrenner and Cashman seem to have no plans for how to replace the Core Four. Last year we suggested that the Yankees were going to be in trouble if Jeter played at the level of a typical 35-year old shortstop. He made us look foolish by playing way above it. But what happens if age catches up to him this season? Where will the Yankees move him to, and who is ready to step in at shortstop? The problem hasn’t gone away, it’s just gotten a year older.
Just as serious is the future of the Yankees at catcher without Jorge Posada. Francisco Cervelli, at age 24, looks competent but doesn’t seem as if he will ever be the hitter Posada was (Silver projects him to bat .250 with three home runs this year). Pettitte dodged a lot of bullets last season, giving up 233 hits in just 204 innings, but he could easily go from a potential problem to a serious liability if he breaks down.
We suspect that if Silver is wrong about one of the four, it’s Rivera, who stays in splendid shape and has just one kind of pitch to throw and one job to do. But as we go to press, the Yankees have yet to determine who is going to be the set-up guy, and that guy will eventually inherit Mariano’s spot. If Jeter, Posada, and Pettitte decline as sharply as players their age have in the past, Mo’s role will be less important — he’ll have fewer games to save.