Twenty-five men, 25 goals: The Outfield
Scott Kazmir has made 12 career appearances against the Yankees spanning 68 innings and has an ERA of 2.51. There are two current Yankees who have hit him well, and only one of them is likely to play against him. Jorge Posada is 9-for-19 (.474) against Kazmir, and Mark Teixeira is a career 5-for-6. It could be a long night, by which I mean it could be a short night for the Yankees… Even if the offense lets down, a rebound start by Chien-Ming Wang would be a pretty fair silver lining.
TWENTY-FIVE MEN, TWENTY-FIVE GOALS INTO ONE
Continuing from the infield…
JOHNNY DAMON — LEFT FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Get back to hitting .300, get back to hitting with power, or both.
DID HE GET THERE? Yesiree Bob. He had one of the best offensive seasons of his career, if not the best, and the only negative was some injury time.
2009 GOAL: Encore!
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Not strong. Damon has never been consistent and 35 is probably not the time he’ll start.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Damon’s Hall of Fame chances. Bill James’ Favorite Toy estimates that Damon has a 37.8 percent chance to reach 3,000 hits.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees haven’t had many steady left fielders in their long history. Roy White was the only one with any staying power, and yet as good as Damon’s 2008 was the Yankees have had many better from their left fielders. Babe Ruth played a third to half his games in left in most seasons due to an aversion to the Yankee Stadium sun field, but he was only the main starter there once, in 1921. He only hit .378/.512/.846 that year. Charlie Keller had four better seasons, and the aforementioned White, an underappreciated player, had five years that were better.
BRETT GARDNER — CENTER FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Establish himself as a major league regular despite his lack of power.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Spring Training and a changed approach at the end of last season argue yes, but it’s going to be a very close thing. He’s going to have to hit enough that the Yankees can look at the sum total of his contributions at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths, and see something positive even if offense isn’t the strongest leg of that tripod. Until he puts together a sustained stretch of hitting in the Majors, his level of productivity will be in doubt.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: No Yankee has stolen 50 or more bases since Rickey Henderson swiped 93 bags (the franchise high) in 1988. No Yankee has stolen 40 or more bases since Alfonso Soriano pilfered 41 in 2002. The last Yankee to steal 30 or more was Derek Jeter (34) in 2006. Gardner could change all that if he plays enough.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Since 1920, the Yankees have had 23 players post slugging percentages under .300 in a season of 350 or more plate appearances. The most recent was Tony Womack, with a .280 slugging in 351 PA in 2005. The franchise low was Wayne Tolleson, with .241 in 398 PAs in 1987. Perhaps more applicable to Gardner, Willie Randolph was routinely under .350 in the 1980s (he slugged only .351 for his career), but that didn’t prevent him from being a very valuable player due to his ability to hit for a decent average, walk, steal, and play strong defense. Gardner might be able to be that kind of player, but it should be noted that Randolph-style players are not as well tolerated in baseball today as they were in Willie’s time.
XAVIER NADY — RIGHT FIELD
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Nady has always been a weak producer for a corner outfielder, something that has caused him to bounce around a lot. Last year was different. Nady hit .323/.377/.540 through the end of August. He needs to get back there.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: If you’ve been reading, you know I think this is spectacularly unlikely.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Baseball-Reference.com’s similarity scores say the three most similar players to Nady are Pedro Munoz, Shane Spencer, and Herb Perry, all of whom were out of the majors after about 500 games. Nady is at 677 career games now.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Per 162 games played, Nady has averaged 69 runs scored. There’s a reason for that.
NICK SWISHER — ROVER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Reclaim his offensive production after a very rough year in Chicago, and reclaim regular status, too.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: If he continues to play, he’ll continue to out-produce Nady.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: On-base percentage is the key statistic in baseball. Nothing correlates to scoring like OBP. Last year, having the worst season of his career, Swisher’s OBP was .332, and in 2006-2007 his rate was .377.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees have a nice tradition of switch-hitting outfielders with power who walk a lot.
MELKY CABRERA — RESERVE OUTFIELDER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Be all that he can be. For the second year in a row, Cabrera swung from very good to very bad, and lows were deeper than the highs. He finished with below-average offensive rates. He needs to make permanent contact with the guy who hit .325/.375/.482 from June through August.
DID HE GET THERE? No. After a hot April, he completely fell apart and eventually (too late) was demoted.
2009 GOAL: Somehow get back into the lineup, and to hit like crazy when he does.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Despite a nice Spring Training season, not great. That said, all it would take is an injury and a hot streak for Cabrera to earn a second life.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Relative to the league average, Cabrera’s 641 OPS of last season represented the second-worst by a Yankees outfielder in the history of the team. The only outfielder with a weaker season relative to the league was Jake Powell in 1937. When he hit .263/.314/.364 in 400 PA, the league hit .290/.365/.432. Powell was also one of the worst characters to ever wear Yankees pinstripes, so Cabrera has that over him too.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Steve Whitaker, Bill Robinson … Sometimes players don’t develop the way you think or hope they will.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? A terrific pitcher’s duel between Johan Santana and Josh Johnson was marred by a dropped fly by Mets left fielder Daniel Murphy, the run scoring on the play being the difference in the game. Murphy can hit a bit, but maybe not enough to make up for his being a transplanted corner infielder lacking the experience and instincts for his position. I don’t mean to condemn the lad based on one play, but the quality of his offense is unlikely to be strong enough that it makes up for a Greg Luzinski-like performance in left. In this instance, Murphy didn’t so much take a route to the ball as make vague plans to meet it halfway. Santana struck out 13 and lost. Meanwhile, Johnson had a one-run complete game, his second good start in a row.
? The New Waners, Andy and Adam LaRoche, are 0-for-14 and 3-for-22, respectively. The latter comes around, we know that, but the former has failed to hit in several tries now, so he’s going to have a shorter rope. He will hit, eventually, though maybe not today for this team.
? Headline on the Nats page at MLB.com: “Tickets still available for home opener.” Y’think? Step right up for your “L
egacy of Jim Bowden” seats. Helpings of crow delivered right to your box by our helpless wait staff … Adam Dunn is batting .333 with a Major League-leading 10 walks. Maybe they could flip him now. Parenthetically, no Yankee has drawn more than four walks, and that Yankee is Robinson Cano. The whole thing is disturbing.
? Thirty-seven pitchers have already made four appearances, and one, Carlos Marmol of the Cubs, has appeared five times. You wonder if these fellows are going to have any kind of stuff left come the All-Star break. Heck, come May.
? The bench-clearing incident in Los Angeles between the Angels and the Red Sox was really on the umpires. The umpires are supposed to enforce a timely delivery to home plate by the pitcher. Josh Beckett didn’t do that. They’re also not supposed to grant time, or at least are not forced to, so that the hitter can make his own point and step out on the pitcher, but they never, ever refuse to do that. Thus when Bobby Abreu asked for and got time at the last possible second, Beckett was enraged. Even if this seems like a legitimate response to Beckett’s tardiness in making a pitch, the umpire should not have compounded his first error with another by granting time.
? Which hot start is more perplexing? The Mariners being 5-2, or the Padres being 5-2?