April is upon us and that means the return of Major League Baseball. To preview the new season, Billboard.com spoke to a panel of baseball fans from around the music world for a team-by-team preview of their favorite squads.
The musician: The musician: Benny Horowitz has been drumming for Jersey rock ‘n roll stalwarts the Gaslight Anthem since they formed in New Brunswick, NJ in 2005. While the band was in Nashville recording its fifth studio album, he hopped on the phone to discuss the team he’s been following since his days growing up in the Central jersey town of Summerville. He’s also more knowledgable about sabermetrics, “Moneyball” and fantasy baseball than arguably any drummer out there. Except for perhaps Thrice’s Riley Breckenridge.
The team: The Yankees rarely miss the playoffs, but when they do, drastic measures are taken to make sure baseball’s most decorated franchise doesn’t falter again. After missing out on the postseason for just the second time in 19 years (and watching the arch rival Red Sox win the World Series) last year, they spent big money on free agent signings Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carols Beltran and Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka. After adding such star power to what was an aging and injury-plagued team, expectations are high. It’s also the final season for longtime captain Derek Jeter, so his farewell tour could add extra inspiration to the Yankees’ playoff push.
How did you become a Yankees fan?
Benny Horowitz: Around the area I grew up in central Jersey, in like, ’86 when the Mets were really good, in my elementary school there was this line in the sand that got created where everyone was choosing Yankees or Mets. I was drawn to the Yankees because they had a couple of players at the time I was attracted to — how do you not love Rickey Henderson from that time and Don Mattingly? I loved Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti. Around the age of six I started watching them on TV and really got into them.
Previously in this series:
Dropkick Murphys Talk Boston Red Sox
Hold Steady & Baseball Project Talk Minnesota Twins
Jimmy Eat World Talk Arizona Diamondbacks
Yo La Tengo & So So Glos Talk New York Mets
New Found Glory Talks Miami Marlins
Asher Roth Talks Philadelphia Phillies
Asher Roth and the Baseball Project Talk San Francisco Giants
Joan Jett Talks Baltimore Orioles
Pete Wentz & The Mountain Goats Talk Chicago Cubs
R.E.M.’s Mike Mills Talks Atlanta Braves
David Nail Talks St. Louis Cardinals
City and Colour Talks Toronto Blue Jays
The Get Up Kids Talk Kansas City Royals
Thrice Talks Los Angeles Angels
Switchfoot Talks San Diego Padres
How do you think Derek Jeter will do in his farewell season?
BH: I don’t think we’re going to get vintage Jeter; that’s not even a real expectation coming off that kind of injury at his age. I’d be thrilled with 500 at bats. There’s no reason to think that Jeter can’t hit .300. I’d be surprised if we got more than like 12, 15 home runs and I expect a little less. Some years they have really needed Jeter to try and yank the bomb and get some power when they didn’t have enough. But this year I don’t think power is going to be the problem at all and they’re really going to need people to get on base and I see him having a pretty normal Jeter year. If I had to throw a flashlight out there, I would give him an even .300 hundred average with, let’s say, eight homers, 55 RBI, maybe like 80 runs scored. I’d be pretty happy with that.
Do you think C.C. Sabathia can rebound from a very disappointing 2013 season?
BH: I am worried about the velocity. Towards the end of last year and this year, it’s obvious he’s not going to be the pure power pitcher he was. I’d be really afraid that he’s got nothing left and we’re going to get killed on this deal. But I do think he can manage to become a guy who throws 200 innings and who is going to have way less strike outs but be productive, more of an Andy Pettitte-type pitcher. He’s really got to learn to control and place the ball and really learn how to pitch a little bit better, which I think he is working his way to. The thing I’m really worried about, though, is the back end of that contract. It’s so loaded where we’re going to be paying premium money for someone who probably isn’t a number one pitcher anymore.
What are your expectations for Masahiro Tanaka this year?
BH: I think it’s hard not to have them high. You look at those numbers he had in Japan last year and those are like 1904, Cy Young numbers. But I watched him pitch in the spring and I’m going to manage my expectations at about what Kuroda gave me the last two years, for now. I don’t think he’s going to be a huge strikeout guy but I really like his splitter. As long as we have a decent infield behind him — because I think they’re going to get a lot of work when he pitches — he should have a strong year.
And they had so many big offseason signings. What did you think of those?
BH: I really liked the Brian McCann signing. It’s such an undervalued position and if you have a catcher who can call games and be a leader and potentially knock in 25, 30 home runs, I think you have to spend to go get him.
I’ve always liked Carlos Beltran; he’s a personal favorite. I liked what they did with the depth at outfield, because they really needed it. Jacoby Ellsbury, the deal’s too long. Everybody knows it. But I guess as far as the market goes, you have to go that long to get them.
With Robinson Cano, I watched Seattle on TV last night and it broke my heart seeing him get set up the way that he always does. I’m very accustomed to seeing him do it in a Yankees uniform, so it’s hard to watch him go away. But at the same token, I’m beginning to be very against these 10-year deals.
I think that the only thing they could have done was backed off a little on the extra money and really focused on another lefty specialist in the bullpen, or maybe two more arms. Especially going in not being sure about David Robertson as a closer, he could have dropped back into an eighth inning role.
How far do you think the Yankees will go this year?
BH: With a healthy team I don’t see them not competing again for the for the A.L. East. I think Tampa’s real strong again and I think Boston is really strong again and you know they’re going to be right there in the mix at the end. I’m a Yankees fan. I gotta go for it — of course they could win the World Series this year. Why not?
Check back on Billboard.com tomorrow when Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. preview the Detroit Tigers’ 2014 season