By Father Gabe Costa
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Mr. Brian Guetti, a former a sabermetrics student, is a budding writer. He is our guest blogger for this installment of By The Numbers and will also write for us next time. By the way, Brian has a unique style, and doesn’t pull any punches.

Brian Guetti: Baseball writers across America often ask their readers to put their “imagine hats” on and imagine player-X in the middle of that line-up, or about a rotation that could win a seven-game series. So I ask you, imagine a ground-ball hit to the left side of the infield directly between two New York Yankees, namely Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, and ask yourself how that scenario will play out.

The ball is a slight stretch for an everyday shortstop, but it is a ball that a shortstop should be able to get to and make the throw. Let’s also factor in that your shortstop is nearly 38 years old and while he still has makes his leap-and-throws to first base a good deal of the time, his feet only hover above the ground, the arm that follows not as strong as it used to be. Are either players, the shortstop who could and probably should get to the ball, or the third-baseman, on the chance of covering or leaping to the ball, going to get there?

The answer to this question simply, is no.

Ladies and Gentlemen (as baseball writers like to say), your 2012 New York Yankees.

It’s been two disappointing seasons since the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, losing to the better team in 2010 (the Rangers) and creating their own problems in 2011 against the Tigers. The latter was highlighted by a Joe Girardi over-managing performance, which exposed the Yankees for not having the starting pitching quality they needed when it mattered.

Brian Cashman has been associated with CJ Wilson and Roy Oswalt, and surely with other starting pitching candidates (Mark Buehrle), that would definitely help bring stability to a rotation that performed satisfactorily, but was generally full of unknowns. The Yankees will not want to repeat the position they were in last August, when they placed their hopes on Bartolo Colon, even if he was genetically-modified a second time and was indeed, better, faster, and stronger.

The offense, if we’re being honest, was disappointing last year. Granderson was a huge surprise, with Cano and Teixeira consistently performed to their respective potentials, but the fact is Jeter and Rodriguez missed significant time. With Jesus Montero taking over for the vacant C/DH/1B position, long time Yankee Jorge Posada is most likely not return. The Yankees are putting a lot of faith in the 21-year-old, but it is the right move to make.

The Yankees, in their advancing age and declining defensive abilities (even Teixeira posted a dWAR of -0.1), need to be “smart” with how they use their designated-hitter, which will most likely be floated between their older players (Jeter, A-Rod), their catching core (Martin, Montero, not-so-much Cervelli), and first-baseman (Teixeira). The Yankees can assume that they will still be potent offensively in 2012 with Swisher, Gardner, and Martin also chipping in.

If they can influence a top starter to come to the Bronx, then they will be fine pitchingwise, considering that the Soriano-Robertson-Rivera combination will help them in the later innings. Where the Yankees sorely need to improve, if they can, is with regard to infield defense on the left side, where their stars have been struggling and where they are handcuffed.

Jeter’s range is something we all can see as being the main offender as to why he probably shouldn’t be the starting shortstop anymore. But, as we all know, for now there is no place for him to move and the Yankees claim too much loyalty to their captain to change things. It was only two years ago that Jeter posted a dWAR of 0.3 in an MVP-caliber season, but his numbers since then (-0.9 in 2010, -1.3 in an injury-shortened 2011) indicate what we all see. His defense cost the Yankees 13 runs last year and was the worst out of every position player that took the field last season.

What helps Derek is the fact that he can still make the plays, if he can get to the ball; yet, the obvious issue is that there are a number of plays he doesn’t make… something that will most likely get worse as he approaches 40.

So the Yankees need to look at their options. It should be clear that Ramiro Pena is not the answer as a back-up infielder; Pena made five errors in 115.1 innings (at 2B, 3B, and SS).  Eduardo Nunez, who played 671.2 innings (at 3B and SS), committed 20 errors at those positions, yet showed some ability with the bat. He will undoubtedly get playing time next season, with the old legs at SS and 3B.

The Bombers have a decision to make and maybe it’s that they need a better back-up infielder who can still hit at a decent clip. The wrong solution would be to try to smother their defensive capabilities by going out and getting a Prince Fielder to play DH, which would certainly give them more offensive power, but create a selection problem for Girardi, who needs the spot to remain open.

There has been a lot of talk this winter about how the Yankees can improve upon last season and survive in the playoffs, but what is often ignored is the reality of baseball in October. The “sum of small events” culminates into a game, a game that is either a check in one box or the other. There were plenty of reasons why the Yankees couldn’t win one game and many of them deal with not performing when it was time to come through. Brian Cashman is correct in his pursuit for a number two starter. Whether it’s a back-up infielder, a solid number two pitcher, the height of Derek Jeter’s leap, or the pinstripes added to CC’s uniform over the course of the season, there are plenty of things that the Yankees can address this winter, and conditioning plays a large part in it.

If the Yankees can hit the field with some new players and be in better shape than last season, they will be in good position by October, barring a chicken-and-beer fiasco, as long as they focus on what they can change and work around their faults.

What do you think the Yankees should do to improve in 2012? Sound off in the comments below…

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