HIDEKI MATSUI-DESIGNATED HITTER
Joe Girardi has treated Hideki Matsui as one of a number of parts instead of a star, giving him a lot of rest (this aside from the enforced time off during interleague play). Matsui has been up and down but has hit for good power this year — even during his May-June low point (.227/.317/.454 in 49 games) he still socked eight doubles and eight home runs. Even with all the rest, he’s on pace for the second-highest home run total of his American career. Some of that is Yankee Stadium II at work, but not all. As usual, platoon issues are minimal (he’s slugging .652 against southpaws). Even his sluggishness on the bases hasn’t hurt too much. GRADE: 85/100
CC SABATHIA-LEFTY STARTER
One of the problems with signing players off of career years is that your expectations are inflated. CC Sabathia finished the first half with an ERA of 3.85, consistent with his AL career mark of 3.83. That said, Sabathia hasn’t been his most consistent this season, giving the Yankees a quality start only half the time (discounting his injury-truncated start against the Marlins). He’s been quality in 60 percent or more of his starts every year but one since his rookie season. Part of the shortfall, if that’s not too extreme a term, is his 4.55 ERA at home — on the road, CC has been the same old Sabathia, with a 3.19 ERA. GRADE: 87/100
ANDY PETTITTE-LEFTY STARTER
In his post-game interviews, Girardi always says that Andy Pettitte pitched well regardless of the results. Chalk it up to sentimentality. Pettitte has a strong 8-4 record, but that’s not quite a fair representation of his performances as he’s been quality a little less than half the time, picking up wins despite allowing 12 hits in 6.2 innings to the Twins, or allowing nine baserunners (but just one run) in five innings against the Indians. His battles with control has been perplexing given his age and his experience; right now his walk rate is the highest since 1999. GRADE: 82/100
A.J. BURNETT-RIGHTY STARTER
After a bumpy start, A.J. Burnett has performed at the highest level of any Yankees starter, giving the club 10 quality starts in 16 tries and closing out the first half with four terrific starts in a row (caveat: two of the four were against a highly-depleted Mets club). Bumped down slightly for that troublesome walk rate, Burnett leads the league in free passes. GRADE: 89/100
JOBA CHAMBERLAIN-RIGHTY STARTER
Short starts, wildness, tentative pitching, and Joba Chamberlain has still given the Yankees a quality start in half his starts, which is a touch better than average. His last two starts have been on the rough side but aren’t any reason to write him off as a starter. Pitching at home has been a problem, and something odd is going on with his approach to right-handed hitters, as they’re hitting .293/.360/.503 against him — last year it was .209/.297/.273, and in 2007 it was .156/.224/.244. Is it the decreased velocity? Is his slider not biting? Darned if I know, but it sure is interesting, and a bit frustrating, too. GRADE: 81/100
CHIEN-MING WANG-RIGHTY STARTER
Chien-Ming Wang’s physical problems seem to have destroyed his mechanics, and though he pitched better after coming off of the disabled list, all better really meant was a 6.50 ERA instead of 16.00. He has yet to make a single quality start in nine tries — even Steve Trout got one in the same number of chances — and now that he’s back on the DL, it will be some time before he does, if he even gets the chance. He did pitch two good games in relief, and it’s possible the Yankees should have left well enough alone. GRADE: 55/100
The great Mariano Rivera’s home-run rate is his highest since 1995, which is to say in his whole career as a reliever, and it’s not just a function of Yankee Stadium II. Still, Rivera has blown just one save, and overall has been one of the most effective relievers in the Majors this year. The one place where he’s struggled is in tie situations, which has frustrated Girardi’s attempts to use him to the greatest advantage. Alas, no one is perfect, not even Rivera. Bumped downward because as good as he’s been, his “A+” standard is years like 2005. He may yet get there; in 14 games covering June and July he’s held batters to .163/.196/.245. GRADE: 94/100
ALFREDO ACEVES-RIGHTY MIDDLE RELIEF
A revelation. It will be interesting to see if Alredo Aceves remains Mo-like, which is to say that he keeps killing left-handed hitters. They’re currently hitting .155 against him. In retrospect, leaving him off of the Opening Day roster looks like a major mistake. GRADE: 96/100
PHIL COKE-LEFTY SPOT RELIEF
Phil Coke has given up a few more home runs to lefties than you would like, but his overall line against them (.176/.203/.382) is pretty darned good, and he’s holding righties down as well (.167/.297/.296). Since allowing runs in back-to-back appearances on May 26 and 31, he’s pitched 15.2 innings over 17 games and allowed just one run on five hits and four walks. He’s even pitched well at Yankee Stadium II. One wonders if the eighth-inning bridge the Yankees have been looking for has been wasted on one-batter appearances. GRADE: 97/100
PHIL HUGHES-RIGHTY MIDDLE RELIEF
His starting work was spotty (5.45 ERA), but Phil Hughes did give the team two more quality starts than Wang did. We’ve only seen 14.2 innings of Hughes the reliever, but he’s been dominant, with opposing averages of .120/.170/.220, which works out to just six hits allowed in 14.2 innings. Hughes gets a confidence booster and the Yankees get a lights-out reliever. It’s the best of both worlds. GRADE: 83/100
DAVID ROBERTSON-RIGHTY MIDDLE RELIEF
David Robertson has done a fine job of breaking in. He’s particularly hard on right-handed hitters, whom he’s held homerless in 45 at-bats. When his curveball doesn’t curve against lefties, though, it’s a souvenir. Numbers that are likely a small sample mirage: His .125/.286/.150 rates at home. Now all he has to do is get out of the trash-time role. GRADE: 82/100
It’s always shocking when the Yankees start going for three, even with fast guys like Johnny Damon and Brett Gardner in the lineup. Traditionally the team just doesn’t hit many triples, in large part because the late Yankee Stadium just didn’t give up many. If a Yankee, even a speedy one, was going to get a lot of three-baggers, he had to leg them out of the road as the team did last night. The last Yankee to hit even 10 triples in a season was Jerry Mumphrey in 1982. Willie Randolph did it a couple of times in the late 1970s (1977 and 1979), and then to find the previous example you have to go back to 1955, when both Mickey Mantle and Andy Carey got there.
That’s trivia. Potentially more interesting was the sight of Gardner turning on a couple of fat inside pitches and smashing them for extra bases. This is a welcome return to what he did in Spring Training, when his swing seemed to have more leverage. It’s foolish to overreact to one game — you can pick moments out of any player’s career when, if considered in isolation and ignorance, the Mario Mendozas of the world looked like Babe Ruth, and vice-versa — but perhaps Gardner is finally awakening from his long funk. Now all he needs to do is find a way back into the lineup, which won’t be easy.
American League pitchers are averaging 3.6 walks per nine innings pitched. Yankees pitchers are averaging 4.1, which ties them for worst on the circuit with the Red Sox, just ahead of the Cleveland Indians, who are walking an even 4.0. A good deal of the blame most go to the bullpen, which is averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings. After Andy Pettitte walked four in his six innings of work last night, which didn’t help matters, Alfredo Aceves pitched a seemingly miraculous two innings of walk-free baseball, but Jon Albaladejo evened things up by passing two in his single inning of work. Given that the current pen has too many similarly inclined pitchers when it comes to control — and Brian Bruney has never been one for pinpoint pitching, though it seemed like he was getting there before he got hurt — that one possible solution is to forget Aceves’ possible usefulness as a long man/spot starter and instead try him in a few higher leverage situations than last night’s semi-blowout.
Then, of course, there’s the other kind of obvious solution, which is a trip to the Minors for Edwar Ramirez. Given his combined walk rate and home run rate, he’s less a reliever now than an unsecured weapon of mass destruction. He’s averaging close to seven walks per nine innings and a home run every three. He can’t survive those rates, not even with his impressive strikeout rate. Ramirez, for all the wonderfulness of his change, is essentially a trick pitcher. The league has caught up, and he needs to find a new wrinkle to be useful.
CC SABATHIA — LEFT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: More of the magic he showed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Failing that, the stuff and results he gave the Indians in 2006-2007 (31-18, 3.22 ERA) would probably be fine.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Milwaukee-level wonderfulness seems unlikely, but something in his mature Indians catalogue seems doable. The only question is if throwing over 500 innings the last two years will bother Sabathia in any way. With most pitchers we could be pretty sure the answer would be yes, or at least “very likely yes,” but he’s such a unique physical specimen that we’ll just have to wait and see.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: That innings pitched total. Sabathia threw 253 regular-season innings last year. No Yankee came close to matching that total during the Torre years — Andy Pettitte pitched 240.1 innings in 1997. The last Yankee to exceed Sabathia’s total was Ron Guidry, who threw 259 in 1985. Guidry never quite got over it, but he was a very different physical type from Sabathia. Pettitte too was a lot less effective in 1998-1999 than he was in the rest of his prime, but again, Pettitte is a very different pitcher.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Sabathia struck out 251 batters last year. The Yankees franchise record is 248 (Guidry, 1978). The last Yankee to whiff more than 200 batters in a season was Randy Johnson in 2005 (211). The Yankees have had just 14 such seasons in their entire history.
CHIEN-MING WANG — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Stay healthy, keep up the good work.
DID HE GET THERE? No. Injuries wiped out half his season.
2009 GOAL: Stay healthy, get back to where he was in 2006-2007 (38-13, 3.67 ERA).
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Ask me again after he makes his next start.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Wang has a career strikeout rate of 4.0 per nine innings. The only pitchers to throw over 1,000 career innings since 1990 with a strikeout rate of 4.5 or lower: Carlos Silva, Kirk Reuter, Ricky Bones, Bob Tewksbury, Brian Anderson, Zane Smith, Mike Moore, and Steve Sparks. Tewksbury and Smith are the keepers, though neither is truly comparable to Wang.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: This isn’t the first time Wang has struggled with his mechanics. In fact, you could argue that he’s been struggling right along, even as he’s been succeeding. Maybe a better term for it would be “evolving.” In addition to the degradation in his ground out/fly out ratio mentioned in this space earlier today, his strikeout rate has been gradually rising, though not so far as to make him a strikeout pitcher, while his walk rate has also been climbing.
A.J. BURNETT — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: N/A
2009 GOAL: Show consistency and durability, two qualities that have eluded him in most seasons.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: It seems unlikely that Burnett will achieve either in his 30s, but you never know with pitchers. He has swing and miss stuff, and outside of 2003 has been on the field more often than not, so he’s a better bet than Carl Pavano, but you still wouldn’t call him a truly reliable pitcher.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Batting average on balls in play. It was .318 against Burnett last year, and should come down some this season. Even a slight drop would greatly improve his numbers.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: Strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, Burnett led the American League with 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The last Yankee to lead the AL in that category? Dave Righetti in 1982, with 8.02. It was the second consecutive year he led the league. In 1984, the Yankees put him in the bullpen, a move still open to second-guessing.
ANDY PETTITTE — LEFT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: Pitch, not talk. Only speak the name “Clemens” in reference to the life and work of Mark Twain; pursuant to this, memorize passages from “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” and this passage from “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson:” “One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.” Oh yeah: pitch well without injury, shrugging off last season’s September slide.
DID HE GET THERE? He got through the not speaking about Roger Clemens part alright. The pitching part was complicated by some rough second half pitching.
2009 GOAL: If he can carve about half a run off of his ERA and get back to his 2006-2007 form (29-22, 4.13 ERA) no one will complain.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: It seems reasonable. The Yankees played poor defense behind Pettitte at times last year, something suggested in his .338 batting average allowed on balls in play. His strikeout rate was very healthy, and his control was good. Pettitte may fancy himself a pitcher on the verge of retirement, but the numbers say otherwise.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Yankees career wins list. With just 12 wins this year, Pettitte can pass Lefty Gomez for third place on the franchise list (Hall of Famer Gomez won 189 games for the Yankees). Leader Whitey Ford (236) remains a long way off, as does number two Red Ruffing (231).
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: The Louisiana career wins list. Pettitte has the second-most career wins of any pitcher born in the bayou state, trailing Hall of Famer Ted Lyons 260-216.
JOBA CHAMBERLAIN — RIGHT-HANDED STARTING PITCHER
2008 GOAL, AS STATED HERE: I don’t seem to have written one, but had I done so it probably would have been something along the lines of, “Find way out of the bullpen; avoid being eaten by killer insects.”
DID HE GET THERE? Yes on both counts, though there were some health problems along the way.
2009 GOAL: Put up a big season in the rotation, forever quieting those who would like to see him thrown in chains and dragged back to the eighth inning.
CHANCE OF MAKING THAT GOAL: Strong, health permitting. Perhaps we don’t even need to say that — “health permitting” is true of all pitchers.
SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: One-hundred quality starts. The quality start, a game in which the starting pitcher throws at least six innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs, is a measure of how often a pitcher does what he’s supposed to do, “give his team a chance to win.” One reason the Angels have been so resilient in this century is the depth of their starting rotations: in most years, they have received more than 90, and up to 99 (2005) quality starts from their rotation. When the Yankees reached the World Series in 2003, they received 96 quality starts. In 1998, they received 92. Last year, they had only 78 quality starts. No American League team has had the depth and consistency to receive 100 quality starts since the Angels in 1989. This also reflects the growing reliance of relief pitching over that time. Going five-deep in the rotation should allow the Yankees to compile enough quality starts to contend for the league lead, if not the elusive 100.
ANOTHER THING YOU MIGHT NOT BE THINKING ABOUT: A team doesn’t need five starters in the postseason — it only needs five to get there. Should the Yankees make the playoffs, it’s possible that Chamberlain could be back in his old role, depending on how the rest of the rotation looks at the time.
This winter, the Yankees redesigned their pitching staff. While Spring Training statistics and results are generally unreliable and not worth becoming overly excited about, it is at the least a good omen that, through 30 contests, Yankees pitchers have the lowest ERA in the business at 3.41.
Again, exhibitions, with their half-games for regulars and weird weather conditions (the wet and wind in Florida, the dry, heated environment in Arizona) don’t give us a very reliable picture, particularly in a year in which the WBC diluted Spring Training games by sucking off scores of Major League regulars. Further, some of these very effective innings have been pitched by the likes of Brett Tomko and Kei Igawa, who are unlikely to persist in their excellence were they even to make the team, while others were hurled by Phil Hughes and fellow prospects ticketed to the Minors. Even with these caveats, the bulk of the Major League staff has performed well.
There remains much that we do not know and cannot know, such as the long-term viability of pitchers who are traditional health cases, such as A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, or those that are recovering from injury, like Mariano Rivera (although if all healing pitchers looked as good as Rivera has this spring, most of them would be lining up to go under the knife). Still, so far so good. The offense has been good too, though the numbers aren’t as impressive as those of some Cactus League teams that basically play on the surface of the moon.
NOW THAT BRETT GARDNER HAS WON THE CENTER FIELD JOB…
…I’m wondering if he will ever hit another home run. There is something to the idea that he got a running start on the center field competition by lashing out at cold pitchers early in the spring campaign. Even if true, nothing is taken away from the consistency he’s shown, if consistency can be said to apply to 23 games and 55 at-bats. What is most striking, though, about the now-finished center-field competition is what decided it. In the end, Melky Cabrera played almost as well as Gardner did. To date, each has had 55 at-bats. Gardner has hit .364/.426/.636. Cabrera had hit .345/.419/.491. Each has drawn six walks. Gardner’s offensive edge comes down to one more hit, one more triple, and two more home runs. The differences aren’t significant, especially if Gardner’s power surge was truly an artifact of early spring. What’s left are a few things you can see in the statistics, such as Gardner’s speed, showing up in that extra triple and three more stolen bases, and his superior defensive capabilities. Once you throw in Cabrera’s poor 2008 and Gardner’s strong finish to the same, which disposed Joe Girardi towards him, it becomes clear that Cabrera would have had to out-hit Gardner by a significant margin to make this a real competition.
Gardner’s hold on the job is about as secure as Priam’s hold on Troy; there are enemies at the gate as long as Cabrera remains on the team. In the pressurized world of the Yankees, all it would probably take to throw the doors open to Cabrera is a 2-for-20 in the first games. It’s doubtful that Gardner will be shown the same tolerant patience that the Yankees lavished on, say, Kyle Farnsworth, or Cabrera himself.
Unless Cabrera’s nice spring represents some unexpected development in his abilities, I don’t expect him to get too many chances as a Major League regular from here on in, barring injuries. Every team has players like Cabrera, not particularly special talents who become regulars for a year or two out of need or inertia. Sometimes they play well for a time and fool you into thinking they could be more than the sum of their abilities suggests, but ultimately something better comes along and they are replaced. If they move on to other organizations, where that same need does not exist, they have a difficult time breaking into the lineup. Ultimately they become bench players or journeymen Minor Leaguers.
This is, on the whole, the fate of players whose offensive contributions are built around batting average, and when I say batting average I mean .290 and not .330. To be productive, the .290 guy has to hit .290 or better. The problem is, there are always years in which, due to luck, he will hit .260, and then the fellow is below average. That’s Melky, except that in 2007, when he hit .273, he was below average. Last year he hit .249, and he was a weeping wound. He’s still young enough to rebound and even find some consistency, but the odds are against it. Such a development would require him to find both the physical tools and the internal drive to exploit them. That’s asking a lot of a player, to grow his body and his mind.
THE UTILITY JOB (A BRIEF NOTE)
This corner is all for anyone but Angel Berroa, who is the anti-hitter, and if it’s a young guy so much the better. In case you haven’t checked out the 23-year-old Ramiro Pena, he’s a career .258/.316/.319 hitter in 334 Minor League games through the Double-A level. If Girardi is prepared to use Pena as the purest of defensive replacements, putting a bat in his hands only in blowouts, that’s not a problem. However, if injuries force Girardi to turn to the bench for any length of time, the Yankees will have to look elsewhere–Jose Molina is a better hitter at this moment. That said, Pena is a strong defensive player, reputed to have great range. It would be fascinating if Girardi had the guts–the sheer, General Patton chutzpah–to shake a NY institution to its foundations and utilize a late-inning defensive replacement for Derek Jeter.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
The White Sox waived Jerry Owens, which apparently makes Dewayne Wise their starting center fielder and leadoff hitter. Tough to score too many runs when your leadoff man has a .290 OBP, which is what the Sox just signed on for… The Tigers picked up the speedy Josh Anderson from the Braves, which takes Anderson from shooting for Braves starting center fielder, a position for which he was under-qualified, to reserve outfielder on the Tigers and probable regular defensive replacement for Carlos Guillen in left. That’s something he can do… Really curious to see how Jason Motte does as Cardinals closer. He’s a converted catcher who can dial up his fastball, and his Minor L eague strikeout numbers were amazing, with 110 Ks last year in just 67 innings… Rays owner Stuart Sternberg talked about holding the line on payroll in an <A HREF=”http://www.tampabay.com/sports/baseball/rays/article987949.ece”>article</A> this weekend. If the Rays’ budget isn’t going to rise along with its players’ salaries, than this particular threat to the Yankees is going to be short-lived, like Connie Mack’s 1929-1931 A’s.
I said a good deal of what I wanted to about the return of Andy Pettitte in yesterday’s installment, and you said what you had to say in the comments. Then, in Brian Cashman’s phoner after the deal was announced, he echoed some of your comments about depth and how at some point the Yankees might still need to call upon one of their younger pitchers.
Still, Phil Hughes (pictured) and pals have clearly been relegated to Plan B, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. The Yankees are well fixed for Minor League pitchers, so depth was unlikely to be an issue. More pressing is the need to give those pitchers Major League experience so that when Chien-Ming Wang gets hurt again, or Pettitte’s always troublesome arm acts up, or A.J. Burnett experiences whatever happens to Burnett, they are ready to step in with more consistency than they showed in 2008. It is not overly optimistic to think that last year was the growing pains year for Hughes and Ian Kennedy, while 2009 could be the year they begin to deliver. Yet, that possibility seems to have been aborted.
Yet, there is no reason to be glum. On paper, the Yankees have put together a team that is going to be very tough to beat. If everyone does what they’re supposed to do, the rotation will be the deepest in the game, the bullpen will be solid, and the lineup… Well, the lineup may still have some problems, even if Jorge Posada is healthy. Robinson Cano needs to snap back, Derek Jeter needs to find the Fountain of Range — I mean Youth, and the outfield could be a complete wipeout.
That leads me to the question of the day, and one which I will probably center my Hot Stove show comments around this Thursday: on the phoner, Mr. Cashman was asked if he was now ready to retire for the winter. “I wouldn’t expect anything further at this stage, or anything significant,” he said.
Here are my questions: Should the Yankees be done? Has Cashman done enough? How would you evaluate the job that he and the Yankees did in preparing the team to contend this year? I’m not sure what the structure of this week’s show will be, but if it all possible I will read selected answers and respond on the air.
I’m holding my comments on the Joe Torre/Tom Verducci book until I’ve actually read it, but it’s worth briefly revisiting Alex Rodriguez’s supposedly un-clutch performances. I can’t defend the guy’s personality or his teammates’ perception of it. That’s a different matter from what he does on the field. The fact is, except perhaps in very limited cases of piling on, all the runs generated by a player count. We make judgments as to a hit’s value using information that we could not possibly know at the time, which is to say the game’s outcome. It is true that if an A-Rod hits a home run with his team down 5-0 in the seventh, it’s likely that the home run won’t have any impact beyond the back of his baseball card.
However, game conditions change, and scores affect player behavior and managerial decision-making. A three-run shot with a 3-0 lead moves a game from in doubt to safe. That single tally in the face of a big deficit may bring a closer into the game who otherwise would have rested, or serve as the foundation block of a rally. You can’t really know until it’s all over. Naturally, it would be preferable if A-Rod chipped in a few more two-run shots when the team was down 1-0, but it is incorrect for anyone to imply that his stage fright in some of the big spots means that the rest of his contribution is without value.
As I take pen in paw here, reports are circulating that the Yankees are close to an agreement with L’il Orphan Andy Pettitte. This will no doubt make Andy’s many fans very happy, and for good reason, as he should be an asset this season. As I’ve written here several times over the course of the offseason, some of his second-half fade was attributable to very poor defensive support. It will also be fun to watch Pettitte add to a career which, while not of Hall of Fame quality, fits nicely into the wider but still relatively exclusive “Hall of the Very Good.”
That said, I do have some trepidation about the Yankees not reserving a spot for youth in the rotation. If Pettitte pitches the Yankees to a pennant, that’s one thing, but if not, at the end of the year he will (presumably) ride off into the sunset, leaving the team with nothing but memories. If Phil Hughes or Alfredo Aceves or anyone young was capable of giving the team something within ten percent of what Pettitte can, then the greater value would be in that pitcher gaining experience rather than the Yankees having a Cadillac in the Pinto part of the rotation.
ONE MORE MOLINA BIT FROM THE COMMENTS
…Before I close this subject until such time as Jorge Posada shows us the condition of his arm. This one is by “amdream23:”
You make two logical fallacies about Molina who would be fine as a full-time catcher with the Yankees, given their other hitting. You say he saved five runs based on throwing out 13 or so baserunners. But he didn’t play a full season so you should project that out further.
Second, what about the baserunners on first that didn’t try to steal since they knew he has a good arm? Isn’t there a deterrence effect? Rather than Molina, look at A-Rod’s failures. He excels in hitting mediocre pitching and padding his stats but chokes against good (never mind great) pitching. He’s another Winfield. The Yankees will never win in the playoffs with A-Rod anchoring the team.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, “am.” I thought a logical fallacy was something like assuming “after therefore because” or saying that fish can swim and so can Derek Jeter, therefore Derek Jeter must be a fish. No? I’m going to ignore the A-Rod bashing because it’s a non-sequitur in a discussion of catching, seems to suggest that we should somehow think Molina a better player than A-Rod. Maybe I’m misreading that, but it’s just weird. Finally, let us say this of Dave Winfield: yes, he had a miserable 1981 World Series, but not too long after leaving the Yankees he drove in the Series-winning runs for the ’92 Jays. Winfield was a terrific player and a lot of fun. His big sin with the Yankees was that he couldn’t pitch.
One logical fallacy I would like to stomp dead is the one in your first sentence: “Molina would be fine as a full-time catcher with the Yankees given their other hitting.” No. We should never look at it like that. It’s the worst kind of complacency, first because it says that a team can settle for mediocrity at a position provided that it did its job at the other positions, and second because it makes an assumption: “given their other hitting.” Every once in awhile, as with the Yankees in 2008, a team will spawn a couple of unexpected replacement-level hitters and suddenly the guy you could tolerate becomes the straw that broke the lineup’s bat — er, back. No, make that “bat.”
Let’s deal with MAD, Molina’s Alleged Deterrence. A full-season workload for most catchers is about 1200 innings, or about 140 full games. Molina caught 737 innings last season, so he got in about 60 percent of a full season. The Yankees played 1441 innings in total, so he took just a fraction over half of the team’s catching load. Now, here’s a very simple way of looking at things, but this is my take on all the baserunners that might not have run because Molina was in the game: they ran anyway. The average AL team saw 129 stolen base attempts last year — 94 steals, 35 caught stealing. Half of that would be roughly 65 attempts — 47 steals, 17 caught. Molina, though, saw 75 stolen base attempts. Another way of looking at it would be to say that the AL least year had .80 stolen base attempts per nine innings. Molina had .92 attempts per nine in the games he caught. Perhaps a lot of that was the pitchers, and had Molina not been catching even more runners might have gone, but that would be pure supposition.
Your request that we give Molina credit for the half-season he didn’t play won’t make him look any better. As above, he played roughly half a season, starting 81 games behind the plate and relieving in 16 more. If we simply double his playing time, we have a player who saved ten runs in dead baserunners and was roughly 30 runs worse than the average catcher and maybe 40 runs worse than the average hitter. Giving you more of Molina doesn’t make him any better; it just increases the damage.
FIXING A HOLE
I have a “Flight of the Conchords” song stuck in my head. I’m off to clear it out with some Beatles.
It doesn’t quite deserve Gladys Knight, does it? While I wait, a few thoughts on Andy Pettitte.
Now, I am in something of a bubble while traveling, so if in the time I compose this dispatch Pettitte has re-signed with the Yankees, joined Joe Torre in Los Angeles, retired in a fit of Cajun pique, decided to discover Japan, or volunteered for the Roger Clemens Memorial Witness Protection Program, forgive me. YES is very generous, but they haven’t yet volunteered to subscribe me to a portable broadband service and I’d feel kind of Oliver Twist-y asking. I mean, I’m the only guy in the company with his own bunker. Sure, Bob Lorenz is a much bigger name than me, but when the blow down storms come, it’s me Bob is going to have to ask for a seat in the safe room. And he’s going to be very disappointed, because my chair sucks compared to his.
Earlier this week, I remarked that the Yankees need to leave a spot in the rotation open for youth. The most obvious candidate for that spot is Phil Hughes, but it could just as easily be taken up by Alfredo Aceves, Ian Kennedy, or a darkhorse candidate like George Kontos. The Yankees need the flexibility that youth generates, because as we’ve seen this winter, we’re entering a new paradigm when it comes to free agent action. The arbitration-based compensation system is dying.
Even the Yankees were reluctant to offer their departing free agents arbitration for fear that they would accept (in retrospect, had they known the Players Association was steering free agents away from accepting such offers, they might have been emboldened to take the chance). Simultaneously, those players who were offered arbitration have seen their possibilities dry up, because the buyers have finally, finally realized, decades into the free agent process, that a team’s chances of developing a decent player for a first-round pick, one that they control for the first six years of his career, are good enough that it’s just not worth forfeiting a pick for a player like Jason Varitek, who is going to come in for a year or two, be a character guy, and then retire.
With the pick you gave up for Varitek, you could have made a conservative draft pick, selecting the proverbial polished college pitcher who is not going to develop much but should safely turn into a solid four-five starter within those same two years. Given what four-five starters cost on the open market, it’s just not worth passing one up for a 35-year-old catcher. There really was a point at which teams did not get this. At one point the Montreal Expos gave up a first-round pick to sign a third-string catcher named Tim Blackwell. You could look it up.
As a result of this, hoarding old guys has less value than ever. It used to be that a departing vet classified as a Type A or Type B free agent would leave a parting gift in the form of a draft pick. Now, with clubs hesitant to buy into the system at both ends, when they depart all the leave is an empty locker. Bobby Abreu is going to play for another few years, but the Yankees will have nothing to show for it but memories of the many fly balls that went over his head.
This makes an Andy Pettitte something of a dead end in the life cycle. Sure, he might help the club to a pennant, but you can make a strong argument that the Yankees are close enough to that already that the marginal wins he provides over a youngster — we have to acknowledge that the big zero that the Yankees received from Kennedy and Hughes last year was an unlikely to be repeated fluke — are not only not worth the money but will also leave the Yankees naked when he finally heads off into retirement. He will have blocked off a youngster for small return, won’t be bringing a draft pick, retirement or no, and so when he’s gone, there’s a vacuum where there should have been the next guy standing ready.
Conversely, if the Yankees invest 20-25 starts in a young fifth starter this year, they might get 30 starts a year for the next five, at prices they control. There’s a lot of value in that achievement and not much risk. This is particularly true because given the team’s depth in young pitchers, they can pull the plug on any failing experiment very quickly. Hughes not working out? Back to the Minors and ring in a new Kennedy administration. Kennedy has a Bay of Pigs? It’s Aceves time. Aceves’s arm falls off? Try Kontos. The point is, at the end of the season you have something you didn’t have before, an additional asset to carry you forward into 2010.
Having written that, I am mere minutes from heading into the YES studios to get my spray-tan. Once again, the show airs at 6:30 p.m., and I’ll be checking through your comments for juicy tidbits with which to wow Bob and the gang. See you in the bunker.