Joba psychology, revisited

Siwsher-3-16-250.jpgIn case you didn’t check out today’s action, Joba Chamberlain pitched three shutout innings. Can we stop panicking now? There’s something truly weird about the Psychology of Joba, by which I mean not what goes on in his head, but what seems to go on in ours when he pitches. It seems like a sizable percentage of the population might feel more at ease if he was simply sealed in plastic and never allowed to pitch again. If you don’t use him, he can’t get hurt. There is a kind of denial at work here. Injury risk can be mitigated, but short of a perfect prescience, they cannot be prevented.

In other news from the game, Nick Swisher went 3-for-4 and Xavier Nady went 2-for-4. Swisher’s spring on-base percentage is now .389, Nady’s .267. I don’t expect anyone around the Yankees to care, because consistency at hitting usually trumps consistency at getting on base, even though better to start with the latter and hope for the former than the other way around. There’s still some time, though, for Swisher to show enough for the Yankees to make the right decision.

Finally, Brett Gardner knocked a triple today, took a walk, and scored two runs. Spring Training statistics are meaningless for the most part, especially this year when camps have been decimated by the WBC, but if consistency of hitting is part of what Gardner had to show, he’s done that so far, and he’s also demonstrated far more thump than before with six extra-base hits–the guy continues to lead the Yankees in home runs this spring. Again, that’s not something to get too excited about, as Angel Berroa is tied for second with two, and also leads the club with a .429 average. Heck, the Ransom of A-Rod is batting .400. It doesn’t promise much of anything, but it’s all good to see.

Another one from the comments
And from a frequent commenter, letsgoyankees, this one on this morning’s entry regarding the dynasty teams:

I agree with almost every point you made except pitching and defense. These (today’s) Yankees have great pitching and a very good defesne! Weren’t we lin the top three last year in errors (correct me if I’m wrong!)? Think about it…A-Rod, Tex, and Jeet all have gold gloves (that’s right, I said I think Jeet is still a good shortstop.I’ve argued it in the past and I’m not changing my stance now.) and Cano is pretty good. Yes, he makes a lot of errors, but only because he has great range. He’ll fix the error porblem. At cathcer we’re suspect with Posada but with Molina we have perhaps the best defensive catcher in the league! Our centerfielder, be it Gardner or Melky, will be an excellent defender. And Damon (minus the chicken arm) and Nady aren’t terrible. And our pitching staff speaks for itself. Our defense is pretty darn good!

Letsgo, you’ve got to let go of errors. Not making errors is part of having a good defense, but a bigger part is simply how many balls in play a team turns into outs. If the pitcher doesn’t strike out the batter or give up a home run, and the batter puts the ball between the lines, what happens next? For most of this century, the Yankees have not been very good at collecting those pesky grounders and flies. Commonly referred to as defensive efficiency (DEF), this is the most basic aspect of defense and also the one that, if improved, can yield the most dramatic results: in 2007, the Rays ranked dead last in the majors in turning balls in play into outs. They shuffled some players around and jumped to first in the majors–you know what happened next. In 2008, the Yankees were 25th in the majors; in 2007 they ranked 13th; in 2006 it was 8th; in 2005 it was 22nd; in 2004 it was 20th; in 2003 they ranked 28th; in 2002, 23rd; in 2001, 25th; in 2000 they ranked 13th.

And that leaves me with these questions: if the Yankees defense has been so good, why are so many balls finding holes? If Derek Jeter is such a great shortstop, why don’t the balls he gets to show up in the numbers? It can’t be all balls over Bobby Abreu’s head–the responsibility has to be shared out, to varying extents, around the diamond.

11 Comments

If Cash is even an attenuated version of the stathead that Torre alleges in his screed (btw, I found that comment heartening), Swisher starts.

Rich-

Unfortunately, Cashman doesn’t make the lineup. I expect Girardi to put out a strict platoon whether it works or not… Nady vs LHP and Swisher vs RHP.

Steve,
This stat, DEF, was also affected by lacklustre pitching. Balls in play turning into hits is not only an effect of bad defense, it’s an effect of bad hitting. Remember the Yankees had a patchy rotation made up of people like Rasner and Ponson, who if I recall even if they weren’t allowing runs they had to get out of jams often. Anyway, my arguement wasn’t so much about last yr. as much as this yr. This yr. we have Tex at first-an awesome defender. Our starting pitching will allow less hits anyway, it’s awesome and we have two strikeout machines in A.J. and Joba. And admit it: If, when Molina is in at least, Derek Jeter is your WORST infielder, something pretty special must be going on. As for the OF, Gardner/Melky (I’m thinking Gardner) will be a good defensive standout in CF. Like I said, minus the chicken arm Damon’s not bad, and since when was Nady bad? And again, we make few errors. The Yankees, I think, have an upper tier defense.

Steve,
Hope you realize all this is friendly debate. Not trying to make an enemy of you by any means.

letsgoyankees,
I think I might have to side with Mr. Goldman on this one. I don’t know if you watched the WBC last night, but in the 9th inning there was a guy on 2nd and a ball was hit to Jeter’s left. For most average SSs that would have been a slightly tougher than routine play, but for Jeter it was impossible. All he had to do was knock the ball down and prevent the runner from 2nd from scoring. Instead he tipped it into the outfield and sure enough, that run scored.

I think the thing that makes it hard for a lot of people to believe that Jeter is a below average fielder is the fact that when he gets to a ball he gobbles it up (for the most part). It reminds me so much of Bernie in his last years. Every ball he got to he caught. No problem. The problem was the fact that he was letting balls go over his head that Tony Womack would catch in his sleep. It was that way for years and it took a stretch where he finally started dropping balls for Torre to recognize it. Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen to the Yankees and Jeter can recognize it for himself and do the team some good down the line.

elfmanlives-Saw the game in question. It was a nearly impossible play. Can’t blame Jeet for that one.

I love Derek Jeter and all he has done for the Yankees over the years. With that said, he simply does not have any range. I think the play noted by elfmanlives is a reasonable example of a somewhat difficult play that he simply does not make. When I am at Yankee Stadium and focus on Jeter’s positioning, I consistently notice Jeter placing himself much shallower at shortstop than almost all of the opposing shortstops. I am not sure why he does that, but this makes it more difficult to get to balls before they scoot by him.

All prev. commenters-My point was about the Yankee defense in general, not just Jeter. I could argue about Jeter all day-and have in the past-but I’m not in the mood to defend my position. My point is that the Yankees’ defense is one of the best in the league. Agree or disagree on this if you want, but I’d rather not focus solely on Jeter. And my point was that Jeter, if you think he’s that good or not, will be REMEMBERED as a really good defender. He’s our WORST defender. Isn’t it fairly significant that our worst defender is a two time gold glover? I like Cano’s defense, a debatable point, but the skills of Tex, A-Rod, and Molina aren’t debatable. They’re awesome. And we all know Gardner/Melky (go Gardner!) are really good. True?

I also mentioned this DEF stat was affected as much by bad pitching as ad hitting. Steve used the Rays as an example of the stat’s worth-and notice the Ray’s pitching got much better. True?

I can understand your point about the defense overall. It actually has the potential to be pretty good. However, there are still a bunch of question marks.
Catcher – is Posada back defensively? Molina’s great defensively, but we don’t want him playing too much.
1B – Teixeira’s about as good as it gets. End of story.
2B – Cano is a HUGE question mark. I’ve seen him make plays that few others could so he’s got the skills. We just have to see how he puts it together.
SS – Jeter is again, a true liability. He did have some good years especially when it came to making unbelievably plays (see 2001 playoffs), but he’s still a negative mark defensively on the team. letsgoyankees, you correctly note that he’s the weakest link, but I think it means more than you make of it because he’s ****. That’s one of the most important defensive positions on the field. That’s why so many teams can put up with a light hitting slick fielder at that position.
3B – Arod is pretty good at third. He seems to go up and down (his 2nd year with the Yanks he was gold glove quality and the next year he dropped a bit) so you can argue there’s at least a small question with him. He’s fine though.
LF – Damon seems to have taken a liking out there and has done a good job. He’s still got wheels and his arm is less of a problem out there. The only problem with him is health. So again, a slight question mark.
CF – It looks like it’ll be Gardner, but either way defense will be quite good there. Melky’s gun is great and he gets to plenty of balls. Gardner’s arm is weak, but he will get to pretty much EVERY ball. This is one position that is NO question mark defensively.
RF – Either Nady or Swisher will be better than Abreu so I think Yankee fans will be satisfied either way. Swisher is definitely the better fielder so if he’s the starter than the outfield is in great shape. If Nady gets the nod the defense will go down a bit, but he’s serviceable.
So 1B and CF are locks. No questions there. 3B, LF, and RF are smaller question marks, but overall I’m satisfied. However, Catcher and 2B are HUGE questions marks (they could go the positive way, but we just don’t know yet) and we’ll just have to wait and see.

elfmanlives-I get your point on Cano. I agree, but he has the potential to be a spectacular fielder, which I think he will be. As for Posada/Molina-if we play a fast sort of team, like the Phillies (who we do play) Molina will be in when it’s important. Posada’s bat is worth it vs. teams that don’t have great speed. And I still don’t agree on Jeter. With the game on the line and a shot toward the hole, Jeter over Rollins any day. He plays CLUTCH defense. I know, I know-the WBC play, But it wasn’t even reg. season, and anyway, like I said earlier, I thought it was a good job by Jeter just to TOUCH the ball, let alone stop it.

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