Does Melky deserve another shot in center?

nady_250_010609.jpgTHEY MIGHT BE TRADING
The ice keeping the outfielder/designated hitter free agent market is beginning to break up, and that can only be good news for the Yankees as they look to ease their outfielder logjam. There really isn’t much reason for a team to trade anything of value for an Xavier Nady when better players can be had for mere dollars. However, as those players fall out of the market, the losing bidders will be looking for consolation prizes, and that’s where Nady comes in.

Parenthetically,’s Ken Rosenthal reports today that it’s not just Nady on the market, but that the Yankees are also floating Nick Swisher. This is so depressing a possibility that I refuse to acknowledge it. Should Swisher rebound, the Yankees will have a right fielder with a .260 average, 25 home runs and 90 walks. Should Nady return, the Yankees will have a right fielder with a .270 average, 20 home runs, and 35 walks. The difference, when you add in Swisher’s superior defensive capabilities, is between four and five wins, which is a huge number. Now, if trading Swisher nets the Yankees Tris Speaker to play center field and trading Nady does not, you could make the argument that Nady + Speaker is greater than Swisher + Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera. Fortunately, it’s doubtful that a Tris Speaker is available, let alone that one will be made available for either player, so Nady should almost certainly be the man with the one-way airline ticket out of town.

I realize I often drop Tris Speaker’s name when talking about possible center fielders. For those that didn’t take the prerequisite course, Pinstriped Bible Background 101, Speaker, also known as the Grey Eagle, played from 1907 to 1928 and for decades was known as the quality standard for center field defense. He also banged out 3,500 hits, about 800 doubles, and averaged .345/.428/.500. Thus, if the professor says that the Yankees have a chance to get a Tris Speaker, he is referring to the idea of an impact-level, two-way center fielder. He is not referring to Mike Cameron. He is definitely not referring to Melky Cabrera. Sadly, he’s not referring to Brett Gardner either, though Gardner is almost certainly the best of the preceding three names.

Speaking of Gardner, I got a good bit of mail on the subject of he and Melky from reader Jeremy:

In your recent Pinstriped Bible column, you mention that Melky Cabrera doesn’t
deserve to keep his roster spot because: “His Major League batting averages are, in order,.280, .273, and .249. Wake me when the movie’s over.”
With all due respect, I think this deserves more analysis than you give it. Batting
averages aren’t considered to be the defining statistic in baseball anymore. I’m not
pretending to be Bill James or anything, but in 2006 and 2007 Melky posted OPS+s of
95 and 89 respectively. In 2008 he did post an OPS+ of 68, but he had the least ABs
and GP’d since his 20-game stint in 2005. His -4.0 VORP is inexcusable, but for
goodness sake his BABIP was .271! He’s a 24 year old who plays good defense and if
last April showed us anything (.291/.359/.505,6 HR,17 RBI) might have some

All I’m really saying here is that Melky deserves a much more in-depth look than
batting average can give us. I realize that April is an EXTREMELY small sample size;
but combined with his other statistics, I think that it is worth giving Melky some
growth time. After all, compare the first few seasons of Sammy Sosa with the first few seasons of Melky. I’m not saying that they will even end up being comparable, BUT early career batting averages aren’t the best way to gauge a player’s potential (just ask the Rangers if they would have traded Sosa if they had known he would put up a 201 OPS+ in 2001).
In summation, Melky hasn’t been as great as the Yankees expected him to be so far,
but his early stats show that he has some potential. He’s still only 24 and his
flash of brilliance last year shows that, from time to time, he can mash with the
best of them. Thanks for reading, Jeremy P.

Thank you, Jeremy. Good one. I wasn’t simply evaluating Melky on batting average, though he might prefer it if we stick to that because so far it’s the only offensive skill he’s shown in the Major Leagues. I’ve been through the Melky arguments enough times that I figured it was safe to give you the shorthand version. Let’s run through your points. He had the fewest at-bats of his career for a reason, namely that he was abusing the ones he was given. His batting average on balls in play was indeed low, but so was his line drive rate, and line drives are where batting averages come from. Melky spent much of the season hitting weak fly balls and grounders. It wasn’t bad luck, as we might normally infer from a low BABIP, or defenders making a fluke chain of great plays against him, he just didn’t swing with much authority. That said, even if we grant that his low BABIP could have been caused by bad luck, nothing much changes. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and tip him 30 points of batting average, to get him back up to the league average in the BABIP category. At best, you’d have his 2006 production … except you wouldn’t have that either, because his walk rate has also dramatically declined since then, dropping from nearly 11 percent of PAs in 2006 to just 6.5 percent this year.

There’s another problem here, which is that Cabrera is also a fraud as a switch-hitter. He is completely shut down by left-handed pitchers, with career rates of .251/.319/.329. Basically, we’re looking at a batting-average oriented platoon player who has yet to hit for an impressive average over a sustained period of playing time anywhere in his career, who doesn’t and probably will not hit for power and is not particularly selective.

That brings us to your Sosa comparison, which, respectfully, is wildly off base. First, you should recognize that Sosa is an outlier. Most players do not explode the way he did, which is just one reason why observers sometimes look at that explosion with skepticism. I’m not saying they’re correct about that, by the way, merely that the rareness of the development is one reason why. Second, the statistical similarities aren’t really there. Sosa was in the Majors at 21, still clearly learning on the job and swinging at every off-speed pitch he was offered, but still knocking extra-base hits all over the place. This correlated with what scouts were saying at the time: this guy has immense physical tools. When he hits the ball, it travels for whole galaxies. The only problem is that he doesn’t hit it often enough, but if he ever learns how to make better contact, look out. This was something you could see at the time — I have a dim recollection of him simply crushing a ball off of Dave LaPoint into the center field bleachers at Yankee Stadium in 1990.

No one has ever seen those kinds of physical tools in Cabrera. No one is predicting that kind of explosion for him, and I would argue that his approach at the plate largely precludes that kind of development. Now, I’m not prescient, and it’s certainly possible that Cabrera could change that approach, or put on 50 pounds of muscle (in a wholesome way, I mean) and start crushing the ball, or all the bad luck that you think he had in 2008 reverses, he hits .350 on balls in play this year, bats .300 on the season, thereby elevating all of his weak peripherals. Maybe, but I doubt it. I’m not much of a gambling man, but if we’re going to roll the dice that way I’d rather bet on Gardner adding a few singles and a few walks than on Cabrera changing his entire being. One is entirely within the realm of possibility. The oth
er is an almost impossible long shot.

I’ll be back in the Bunker on the YES Hot Stove show again this Thursday evening, so get your comments in and I’ll bug Bob and the newsprint boys about ’em. No doubt we’ll be talking about Mark Teixeira, the center field issue, and the ongoing Andy Pettitte saga. Me, I hope it keeps on going — the Yankees can and should reserve a spot in the rotation for youth.


  1. javamanny

    I don’t get it. You LOVE Nick Swisher and HATE Xavier Nady even though their career numbers are entirely comparable rendering them as solid but unspectacular C+/B- players who get hot from time to time.

    Career Stats
    NADY .280/.335/.458
    SWISHER .244/.344/.451

    Neither one excites me or depresses me.

  2. richinnj

    You’re missing ISO D disparity:

    Nady: .055
    Swisher: .110 (his career OBP is actually .354)

    As for Melky, in 2007, from May 1 thought August 31, he put up these stats:

    .314 /.369/.473

    Granted, there was a disparity between his righty and lefty splits and his plate discipline was suboptimal, but I think those stats rebut Steve’s assertion that Melky: “has yet to hit for an impressive average over a sustained period of playing time anywhere in his career.”

    Apart from that AVG., a CFer who showed the ability to put up an .842 OPS over 2/3 of a ML season at 23 may have value going forward.

  3. lilnyygirl

    If the Yankees do intend to unload one of their outfielders, I’d think they’d wait until spring training or during the season, since the market is still bloated with corner OF/DH types. This could both add value to a player or hurt it, as there is every possibility they could get off to a cold start and diminish it…but I think it would be the safer move for the Yanks in case someone gets hurt. Never hurts to have insurance. If the market clears up and they’re able to sell high on someone like Nady, by all means, do it.

  4. javamanny

    Rich: ISO? Quite the obscure stat to cherrypick. How about this

    2008 BAA/OBP/SLUG
    Nady .305/.357/.510
    Swisher .219/.332/.410
    You’ve got to count recent history for something. Even Giambi’s crappy ’08 blows away Swisher’s. Also note Swisher’s awful .208 career postseason BA (although he still draws walks – as does Giambi… so what).

    I’m not saying you and Steve aren’t entitled to play your hunches, but there is certainly nothing on paper that indicates that Swisher is vastly superior to Nady. You like Swisher better for XYZ, fine. But stop with the Swisher the Savior vs. Nady the Nadir stuff. It’s not supported by facts.

  5. richinnj


    I’m not sure whether or not ISO D is obscure, but it is readily accessible, easy to calculate, and perhaps most importantly, it identifies an important real baseball world trait: plate discipline.

    Using one season to measure a player’s worth is a dangerous exercise, particularly when Nady’s 2008 stats were so disparate in Pitt v. NY:


    NY.: .268/ .320 /.474 /.794
    Pitt: .330 /.383 /.535 /.918

    Nady’s career best OPS+ apart from his out of context 2008 partial season with Pitt is 107. Swisher has put up two seasons with an OPS+ of 125 or greater.

    Factor in plate discipline (which is why I used ISO D) and defense, and Swisher is clearly the better player.


    Steve: You wrote “I got a good bit of mail on the subject of he and Melky…”

    You meant ” I got a good bit of mail on the subject of him and Melky …”

    I assume you expect the players to know the basic rules of their game; so should you.

  7. yu hsing

    java, here’s what your missing.

    a. Nick Swisher is 2 years younger than Nady, Swisher was decent in age 24, then pretty good in age 25 and 26, generally, when someone show this pattern they’re probably a good regular. meanwhile , Xavier Nady has been basically a average hitter in a corner position until this year, when he was pretty good (around the same as Swisher’s 06-07 season) usually when we see a guy suddenly having a best season at age 29, we call it a peak season , a career year, your much more likely to have a career year in your late 20s early 30s then say… your early/mid 20s like like Swisher.

    b. in terms of OPS+ (adjusted for league and park context) Swisher is better, though not by a lot. but this is dispite being 2 years younger, and comming off his worset season while Nady comming off his best.

    c. the context of their season, Nick Swisher this year’s worest problem was that he didn’t hit for any average. he’s never a high average hitter, but he’s particularly unlucky on balls in play this year. he has a career BABIP of .277, and before this year it was like .285, but in 08 he inexplicablly had a .255 average on balls in play, which either means that he was hitting weak **** all the time, or that he kept hitting screaming rockets right at guys and/or the opposing team keep making awsome plays against him. given that his line drive rate in 08 was 20.9%, the best of his career and his homerun power appeared similar, it seems like that later was far more likely than the former.

    In another words, the main reason why almost all the statistically inclined blogs around like Swisher more than Nady is simpe, we think Nady peaked this year, he’s unlikely going to match this year’s production going foward. maybe he will for a year or two, maybe he’ll go right back to the barely above average bat he’s always been outside of this season’s first half. while we think that Swisher this year was simply extremely unlucky, that his true talent level is his 06-07 showing, and at his age, he might even have another level in him (ala a peak season like Nady, only better.)

  8. yu hsing

    As for Melky, Steve, I think while I generally is souring on him, your not bringing a completely fair counterpoint, because the cases of other players who were around melky bad at similar level that turned out good were a lot more than just Sammy Sosa. I could spill out a few more easily like Johnny Damon, Roberto Clemente (obviously the best case), Carlos Beltran. his top BR comp right now is Curt Flood, who wasn’t a mega star but still had a 1800 hit career of league average rate, this second highest comp is Bobby Tolan, who had 3 pretty good season right after this.

    Obviously, if we have some really good alternatives. then Melky at this point shouldn’t stand in the way of that, but we don’t, our alternatives are something along the lines of putting oldies like Camerons there, or a utter defensive liability like Nick Swisher, or a little bit of both in Damon.

    Or Brett Gardner, while I can see the point of his walk ability, my main problem with that logic is his completely non-existent Juan Pierre/ Joey Gathright / Willy Taveras / Jason Tynerian power level.

    I guess the later 3 is the better example of my problem, as Pierre while bad, has at least been decent ifor awhile during his career. the problem is that all the other 3 had pretty solid, even better than Gardner’s minor league track record. but all 3 bombed in the majors, the reason is simple, they basically got the stick knocked out of their hands, and major league defense tend to be better. that they were completely unable to carry their minor league average / obp to the bigs.

    Gardner admittly have mildly more power than those 3, although he still makes Melky Cabrera looks like Willy Mays in terms of power and he also isn’t as good with contact as those guys. my problem is that guys like Gardner are guilty until proven innocent.

    Despite being around almost 3 full season, Cabrera’s still a year younger than Gardner. obviously, everything has been heading in the wrong direction to the point where it’s hard to have any faith left in the Melkman, but still, there’s some chance, while there’s a good chance that Gardner gets completely overmatched in the bigs.

    either way, as the way we’re set up now, they should either gamble on Damon for one last year in CF, or just have Gardner and Cabrera compete against each other.


    I don’t know what games you were all watching the last couple of years but Melky and Gardner cannot play in the majors. He had a couple of walk offs 2 years ago had some outstanding defensive plays and you all fell in love with Melky but get real, look at his numbers, in all likelyhood hes not going to get any better. Same goes for Garder he had a couple of walkoff hits, some exciting SB and catches but look at the numbers hes not going to make either.
    the yankes need to keep Damon in Left, put swisher in Right
    and trade nady, melky and some prospects and hope we can get a CF, Mclouth maybe? Dejesus? How about Ankeil can he play Center?

  10. yu hsing

    watching the game is a terrible analogy. because quiet often, some players who were really bad young, turned out really awsome later on.

    if we use some of the names I spilled out earlier. Damon’s first 3 year were indentical in age, and he threw up a 97 ops+, then a 73 , then a 88. that was almost equally bad as Cabrera. and he turned out quiet well. Carlos Beltran at the same age hit 247 /.309 /.366 , Roberto Clemente hit .253 /.288 /.348 at age 22.

    That’s not to say I think Melky have that sort of upside, but there’s a fairly sizable chance that he’s at least better than what he’s shown so far.

    McClouth is a miscasted CF that should be playing a corner, DeJesus’s never been really healthy, Ankiel is both poor in CF and have a serious strikeout problem. while they would be upgrades, it’s probably not really in perportion to what we would give up and what your hoping for.


    Most players who were bad young and turned out awesome later is becase they were good in the minors and peole had high expectations for them at one point, so they are given the chance to break out in the majors. Melky and Gardner were never thought of like that. They were decent players given a chance to get to the majors. theres no reason to keep giving them chances. Gardner maybe deserves another couple of months but chances are niether of them are the anwser for us.

  12. dachshund4

    Hey Steve,
    I agree with you that Damon has at least 1 year left in him. He should be the starting LF & leadoff man. He can run & hit. He never could throw. With that being said I believe that the job is Gardners to lose. His second stint proved that & is the closest thing to a leadoff hitter we have other that Damon. This could light a fire under Melky. He still has to prove it. Austin Jackson is a work in progress but he hasn’t progressed in the minors or the fall league the way the team had expected. He is at least, unless he has a huge awakening, at least 2 years away. Gardner was a star in the minors as was Kennedy. Neither could hack it in the show. Personally, I don’t believe Kannedy will ever make it. His comment after getting lit up by the Angels on his call up start that ” I’m not worried about it.” was the last straw. If it was the first time I could see it. problem he was lit up all year. He isn’t Yankee quality. Give Gardner the job and tell him that it is his until he proves Girardi wrong.
    David M. Fiedler


    I dont think that the yankees should give melky another chance. Now i like melky, but he reminded me last year, of a spoiled child who’s dad was a cop. What i mean is that he like cano, walked around last year, with the personality of a person who was untouchable. And yes, he may have changed since joe sent him to the minors last year, but it would only last so long before he would return to normal, because the bottom line would be that the yanks kept him, now if you tell him, “hey look, we saw you as a big player on this team, but you allowed your attitude to change your play on the field, so we are letting you go.” That has a better chance to change the player. As for what the yankees can do right now, i look at it like this, the yankees are waiting for austin jackson, so gardner isnt even being looked at as a serious consideration, so he can be a big late inning runner, and a backup outfielder. My idea is to stay with swisher for the time being. he doesnt have the best batting average, you would want, but he has more power than any of the other optuions, and he will most likely bat 9th in the line-up. If swisher works out, he will allow the yanks to wait on austin jackson, and make sure he is a sure thing, instead of rushing him to early, and make him another melky.

  14. college7

    I had said before, I’m more content with letting Melky or Gardner fight out the position now that we have signed Teixiera. That doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with either one. The right deal has to strike me in order for me to pull the trigger on a trade. A considerable upgrade would have to be made, whether or not Cashman can do that remains to be seen but going out and getting a guy like Cameron or Edmonds, just wouldn’t make sense to me. I rather stick with my younger guys and see if they show any promise if it’s between that or a guy like Cameron.


    I’ve followed baseball since I first heard “Joe Joe DiMaggio We Want You On Our Side (circa 1941). But in all those years, I’ve never heard of OPS, BABIP, PA or VORP. Can you give me proper translations, and are there other alpha-combos that I should know?

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