Show some love for the glove

RECORD-SETTING DEFENSE
The Yankees’ new record for consecutive games without an error doesn’t mean much to me, because official scoring in baseball has spectacularly low standards and has become almost totally subjective. What is interesting about the record is the way the Yankees have been climbing the defensive efficiency ladder. Defensive efficiency is the percentage of balls in play that a team turns into outs. Over the last several seasons, almost uniformly going back to the last century, the Yankees have ranked toward the bottom of the Majors in this category. Their players had so little range that the pitchers were giving up hits on balls that other teams might have put in the back pockets. Everything gets distorted: The pitchers look worse than they really are, the team goes crazy trying to sign pitchers when it really needs fielders and hitters, and the whole club spins off its axis.

If memory serves, the last time the Yankees led the league in this category was 1998. Since then, there’s been a lot of “Past a diving [your name here]!” in the play by play. That has changed a great deal this season, particularly due to the addition of Mark Teixeira, who is a revelation on the fielding job after so many years of Jason Giambi. Another key factor has been Nick Swisher, who hasn’t made many spectacular plays but gets to many more balls than Bobby Abreu was inclined to pursue in right field. Right now, the Yankees are fourth in the American League at 70.7 percent, a number almost indistinguishable from that of the league-leading Rangers (71.3 percent; the Brewers lead the Majors at 72.4 percent). It’s an old but true baseball adage that you can’t win by giving the opposition extra outs. Usually, that adage refers to errors, but it should apply to every ball hit within the fences and between the lines. The Yankees haven’t cared much about this in the recent past, but with Teixeira’s help a change has come. It and the team’s current hot streak are not coincidental.

joba250_060209.jpgJOBA CAN PITCH THE EIGHTH — AS A STARTER
And that’s all I have to say about that. He won’t get there in most starts, of course, but the point is that if he is capable of this kind of upside, the Yankees owe it to themselves to keep running him out there until he gives some definitive reason that he can’t. The performance of OTHER pitchers, like the eighth-inning relievers, have nothing to do with him. The bullpen is its own problem with its own solution set. You don’t take a pitcher who is capable of giving you 21 or even 24 outs a night with an ERA below 4.00 out of the rotation because you can’t find another guy who can give you three, no matter how “important” the spot. That’s idiotic. All of the outs are important. We just perceive protecting late leads to somehow be a bigger deal than holding the opposition scoreless in the first or the third or the sixth, but a run is a run is a run, and you never know which one is going to beat you. More to the point, you can’t protect leads you don’t have, and a strong starting pitching staff is the tool that is most likely to buy you the time to generate that lead. Secondary point: It’s much easier to find a guy to give you three outs than it is to find the one that will give you 21, even if the Yankees are having trouble finding that guy right now.

And yet another point, one that I alluded to yesterday: As good as Chien-Ming Wang has been as a starter in his career, his stuff and approach do not correlate with long-term success. I don’t care if you have a sinker so heavy that Superman can’t lift it — eventually the lack of strikeouts, the lack of a solid inner defense, or both is going to eat you alive. In Wang’s case, his injury of last season may have altered his delivery, stuff or strength in a minute way, hard to perceive with the naked eye, but significant enough that he can no longer balance on the point of a needle the way he used to. Putting him in the bullpen, while perceived by many fans and commentators as a waste or an insult of some kind, may in fact allow him to make changes in his approach that will save his effectiveness and ultimately his career. A Wang who isn’t worried about marshalling his stuff and can throw harder over a shorter span of time while still getting groundballs may be able to get outs in a way that a six- or seven-inning version of Wang can no longer aspire to.

Right now, there’s no reason for the Yankees to make a change except that some people are arguing for it. Wang is pitching well in the bullpen, they say, so let’s make him a starter. Chamberlain is pitching well as a starter, so let’s make him a reliever. That way lies madness.

Parenthetically, I was pleased that Joel Sherman made very much the same argument I did yesterday about using Mariano Rivera in a tied game on the road. Within that piece there’s also a promising note about the Yankees vowing not to resign Hideki Matsui after the season, 100 percent the correct decision. 

6 Comments

Thanks for answering the question I’d been wondering about — is the Yanks defense doing a better job of turning balls in play into outs. It seemed like they had.

Buck Showalter today tried to argue that Joba (or possibly Hughes) should be used in the 8th. Both are better than Wang. Finding an 8th inning guy has to be easier and cheaper than finding a quality starter.

Rivera should have pitched over Coke/Robertson. Torre potentially lost the Series against the Marlins when he pitched Jeff Weaver while Mariano stayed glued to the bench.

Anothe joke of a move is when Rivera gets an out or two in the 8th, the Yanks blow it open in the 9th and Mariano pitches the 9th so he can get the save in a blowout game.

I like the idea of Wang helping the Yankees out of the bullpen and pitching key innings late in the game. Since coming back as a reliever he has a 2.57 ERA and is averaging a K/IP. These numbers are far better than most relievers the team has and probably better than if he was starting. He could potentially be a John Smoltz type pitcher for the Yankees, effective as starter or reliever. The bottom line is the Yankees need to improve the bullpen, which has a 5.06 ERA and is over 2 runs higher than that of Boston’s 2.89 bullpen ERA.

It’s still hard to forget Wang’s success as a starter the past few years and its not like that ability just disappears. You could view Hughes and Wang as interchangeable parts right now, but it’s hard to pull Hughes from the rotation and put him in the pen. Hughes has had two shutout starts, while Wang this year was never able to get past or out of the 4th without giving up a run.

Steven, besides using Wang, Aceves, and Mariano out of the bullpen what other pieces are there to create an effective corp of relievers? Something needs to be done now as this seems to be the team’s biggest weakness, even during the 18-game errorless streak the bullpen’s ERA was 4.54. Is it me or does Girardi seem complacent with what he has at the moment. I’ve always been a fan of internal options. Give Robertson more innings, lose Veras (darn guy put up zeroes in the 9th but will probably stink it up next time), either use Tomko or demote him, maybe give Melancon another shot, or try Claggett. They could turn a AAA starter into a reliever like Kontos or Fossum, who needs a long man when potentially 3 or 4 relievers can go multiple innings. At AA there is Josh Schmidt who is lights out with a 1.23 ERA, 15 H in 29.1 IP, and 33 K. Where do you see the solution, internal candidates or do they need to look to trade for arms?

One could easily argue that defensive efficiency is better, because the pitching is better; and, in fact, the defense looking poor in the past few years was more the pitchers’ fault, than the fielders’ (Giambi and Abreu excluded). Good hitters have high batting averages because they consistently put the barrel of the bat on the center of the ball and hit it hard, making it very difficult to field (not because the defense loses range when it’s their turn at bat). Conversely, good pitchers prevent hitters from doing this, so even if they put the ball in play, it’s an easy out. Tex has been a huge upgrade, Swisher not so much. By the way, if anyone can see anything wrong with Jeter’s D this year, they are just hating on the guy.

I’ve always thought the game scoring should be done by a neutral party like an extra umpire. Sometimes home cookin’ just isn’t fair to all the teams involved.

I love Jeter, but his D isn’t the best in the league. There were times earlier this season he didn’t get to balls he should have or if he did he didn’t have enough left to make the throw to first. Many of those plays where he lacked range should have been errors. I remember one particular game where he it happened to Jeter twice. This isn’t a criticism of Jeter, its just part of him getting older. However, It does seem Texieria’s range has allowed Cano to play more toward 2nd and Jeter to play more toward the hole at SS and this has made Jeter’s fielding better.

Wang was simply not generating enough velocity on his sinker and fastball to be effective. He was apparently not fully healed from his injury.

As his velocity has increased, so has his performance. He should be back in the starting rotation soon.

And, not unlike Rick Reuschel, Jamie Moyer, Greg Maddux and Paul Splitorff among others, Wang can have a wonderful career with a relatively loe K/9 rate.

I find it hilarious that you argue pro-Joba as a starter, (which I’m 100% in favor of), and then turn around and argue that Wang might belong in the bullpen because his stuff won’t allow him to succeed long term.

Before his injury Wang had thrown 630 innings with an ERA under 4, won 19 games twice and twice been on a similar win pace but only pitched partial seasons. He shows up this year out of shape due to being TOLD not to work out to aid his recovery and his stuff is not what it was. Now that he has rehabbed his way back his stuff has been pretty much what it was prior to the injury. How does that in anyway indicate he needs to work out of the bullpen?

Wang was not “balancing on the point of a needle”, he has been a well above average starter for what amounts to 3 full seasons of work, 3 seasons in which he chalked up 54 wins. It’s not an accident, he’s an outlier. Wang has a special skill set one that should be maximized as a starter. I too have concerns that if Wang loses a little velocity or sink he’s out of the league. All the more reason to maximize his value by showing that he’s still a valuable starter. At that point trade him to stock the minors or for what you need at the major league level.

If you disagree answer me this, what team wouldn’t IMMEDIATELY jump on a Wang for any member of their bullpen except the teams with elite closers? There aren’t but a handful of closers that wouldn’t be dealt for Wang straight across. None of those teams would then put Wang in the bullpen so why would the Yankees keep him there. Talk about a mis-use of resources!

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