What, this movie again?

melky_250_032009.jpgIn today’s New York Daily News, Mark Feinsand writes:

[Melky] Cabrera, who looked to be fighting for a roster spot more than a starting job, stayed the course and tried to let his play speak for itself. Apparently, his strategy worked.

“In this game, things aren’t always going to go the way you want that day or the next day — or maybe for a week — but Melky didn’t panic,” Joe Girardi said. “He just kept doing his thing, which is a sign of maturity.”


“I’m happy with the way Melky is playing; he’s really started to swing the bat,” Girardi said. “They’ve both played at a very high level. Gardy started a little quicker, but to me, they’re both playing at a very high level right now. It’s been a fun competition to watch.”

As Einstein said, and every man of woman born has since repeated, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Cabrera has been a regular player for three years now, and the Yankees have received three years of below average, declining results. He does not hit for a high average, and since he has little power and no particular love of taking ball four, he produces almost nothing at the plate.

The counter argument here is that Cabrera, now 24, was a young big leaguer and still has room to develop. Perhaps, but (1) at 24 he likely has sailed past the point that a breakout can reasonably be expected and (2) if there is a breakout, where is it to come? Should we expect a player who has never hit more than eight home runs in a season to whack 25 of them this year? Should we expect a fake switch-hitter who cannot bat right-handed (.251/.319/.329 career) to become a reliable .310 hitter? Should the Yankees project that a player who has averaged 50 walks per 162 games played to add another 25 of them to the back of his baseball card?

Now, these things could happen. Cabrera hit for power last April before quitting completely, and maybe whatever alchemy allowed him to be a slugger for one month could reconstitute itself over six months. Not likely, but it could happen. He could hit .300 just on luck. That happens too — every year some player sees an abnormally high (or, in the case of Nick Swisher last season, low) percentage of the balls he hits fall in. He could take more walks based on the understanding that if he doesn’t make every effort not to throw away his at-bats, he will forfeit millions in future salary.

If these things happen, swell — the universe is a capricious place. It giveth and taketh away and sometimes gives us cash bonuses we don’t deserve after we’ve helped cause a global financial meltdown. Such unpredictability is what makes life here so exciting. Betting on such events, however, is never a wise policy, especially when one requires offense to win a pennant, and particularly when one’s MVP just had his hip operated on and your team will require every iota of additional offense to support its gold-plated pitching staff.

It is hoped, and perhaps it is even probable, that Joe Girardi is not entirely serious in what he is saying, and he is merely trying to keep both players pumped or to stoke Cabrera’s trade value by exaggerating his performance this spring. We know that Girardi isn’t stupid and that he can be disingenuous. In this case, he may be letting the latter quality do some of Brian Cashman’s work for him. If that is true, then he’d better hope that potential partners don’t look too closely, as this spring Cabrera has batted .250/.341/.361. It’s more of the same-old, same-old, a movie we’ve seen before.

Post-script: today’s game in Fort Myers, Fla., wrapped up as I tossed these words onto the page. Brett Gardner went 1-for-3 with a stolen base. Cabrera did not play.

Austin Jackson. He hit his second home run of the spring and is now batting .303. Jackson has played consistently well this exhibition season, but I’ve been reluctant to say anything about it because generally he’s been coming into games late and doing his damage against roster fodder. That said, something is better than nothing, and you would have to think that he’s positioned himself to get an early jump on a Major League career should any injuries befall the Major League outfield cadre. That’s a fantastic development for the Yankees as — here’s one cliché that is completely true — you can never have too much depth.

I don’t like to single out other writers in this space so I’m going to be oblique here, but there was a piece published today that praised Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins for accepting a change in batting order position from leadoff to third, while castigating Jose Reyes of the Mets for reacting with less enthusiasm to a similar proposal from his manager. There’s a very simple problem with this line of thinking: Ramirez isn’t necessarily right and Reyes is definitely not wrong. The difference between the most optimal, second-most optimal, and eight-most optimal batting order in terms of generating offense is very, very small. To conceive of batting orders in this way is an act of ignorance and naivety. The batting order is more accurately viewed as a mechanism through which the manager distributes playing time. The leadoff hitter will play (come to bat) more than any other player on the team. The No. 2 hitter will have approximately 20 fewer turns than the leadoff hitter. The No. 3 hitter will have 20 fewer turns than the No. 2 hitter, and so on down the order.

Take last year’s Yankees team as an example. The leadoff spot came to the plate 762 times. The second place in the order batted 14 fewer times. The third spot batted 32 fewer times. If we drop down to number nine, we see a gap of 140 plate appearances from first in the order to last. Jerry Manuel of the Mets was proposing that one of his worst hitters, Luis Castillo, bat 40 or so more times this year than Reyes, one of his best hitters. Fredi Gonzalez is proposing a similar reduction in Ramirez’s playing time. Whatever the small effect of batting order changes, there is no way to justify voluntarily giving up the equivalent of eight to ten games worth of times at bat for one of your best hitters.

These days it is rare that a piece by a fellow toiler in these fields seems so wrongheaded that I am obliged to write about it, but this one got to me, being an excuse to take a cheap shot at Jose Reyes over an idiotic suggestion by his manager.

None too soon for my somewhat fragile constitution, the book tour comes to a close next week with two appearances. First, Jay Jaffe and I will be in Philadelphia on Tuesday the 24th at 5 p.m., at the Penn Bookstore at the University of Pennsylvania (3601 Walnut Street, Philadelphia). Second, Jay, Cliff Corcoran, and I will be at the Rutgers University bookstore (Ferren Mall, One Penn Plaza, New Brunswick, N.J.) on Thursday the 26th beginning at 6 p.m. On both occasions we’ll be talking baseball in any of its multifarious forms. I am very much looking forward to seeing you. 


  1. jmccuva@gmail.com

    I’m not entirely sure what to say about the Reyes thing. It may be that Reyes proposed that precise argument to his manager, in which case, perhaps he was right. More likely, he was being petulant because he likes hitting leadoff, not because Castillo would get 40 more ABs. That’s his prerogative, but being critical of a player’s whining hardly seems like an egregious sin for a writer.

    Moreover, though I agree that batting order don’t matter much, it makes some difference. When the Yanks had out-and-home-run-machine Soriano batting 1st instead of 5th or 6th, it drove me nuts. I tend to agree that Reyes is better suited to leadoff, but there are plausible scenarios in which he would be better at #3 (say, if you had a high-OBP guy with less power who could lead off). So although the specific suggestion might leave Reyes in the “right,” I think his reaction was reflexive, and would have been the same even if someone came along who had a comparative advantage in the leadoff spot. Criticism of his sulkiness might therefore be justified, though it depends on the specifics there, too.

  2. yankee7777

    Melky is still a very young player. Not every player is very good right away. Most players take awhile to reach their peak. He is still at an age when some players do not even reach the big leagues.

    Melky I think is as good as any centerfielder in the league. One does not have to do belly flops and make catches look harder than they are?like Boston?s Ellsbury to be a good fielder. Just a note Paul Blair never did belly flops. Neither did Joe DiMaggio for that matter.

    And Melkys arm puts him in a class by himself. He stops any stretching of the extra base by the other team. Unlike the non arm of Damon.
    Damons pop fly throws back to the infield are embarrassing.

    And I believe Melky will hit. His minor league manager predicted a batting title for him when he came to the big leagues. I won?t predict that but he has the potential to be a good hitter.

    Besides whom else do they have now? Surely not their pinch runner Gardner. (Which should be his role).

    One final comment. The Yankee outfield should be Swisher, Melky and Nady.

  3. letsgoyankees

    yankee7777-I agree with your comment on the defense. Which is why I think Gardner’s a better defender. Melky takes belly flops and makes plays look more difficult than they are.
    I too love his arm. But with Gardner’s speed he gets to more balls than Melky does. And Damon has a bad arm. But he has speed, and he has a bat. Sitting him is crazy, expecially when you’re sitting him for a guy who may or may not have a good yr. Not to mention w/o Gardner we’d have no leadoff hitter.
    Since when was Gardner only a pinch runner? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet that in half a season Gardner has more walk-off hits than Melky. Gardner can definitely hit 300.
    Sorry, but I totally disagree.

  4. hateslibs

    yankee7777, You think Milky is as good as any centerfielder in the league. WOW , now that’s a mouthful!! Gardner has a decent arm and covers more ground than your boy Milker. He’s hitting the ball better than Milker and his speed is much better. You brag up Milky who flopped last year and by the way went to SWB. Really nice comment about Gardner being nothing but a pinch runner. Do you know anything about baseball?? Doesn’t sound like you do. You disgrace the Mick with your blog name………. You should pay attention to “”letsgoyankees”” as he sounds like he knows the game!!!!!

  5. richinnj

    Here’s why I have little hope for Melky:

    ISO D

    2006: .080
    2007: .054
    2008: .052

    His patience at age 21 was a reason to believe. Now there is none.

  6. rabruzzese

    I think if Melky completely fails and gets DFA’d, then Gardner has a long stint on the DL the Yankees would call Austin Jackson up. Otherwise I doubt he gets any time until the minor league season is over. At bats are important for him now.


  7. hateslibs

    let’s go redsoxes, oops I mean let’sgoyankees, your more than welcome. Can’t wait for more of your “”””WISDOM”””……

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