On Sunday, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News wrote, “Cashman is poised to spend what it takes on a significant upgrade in left field (read that: Chone Figgins).”
I don’t want to “read that.” In the words of Casey Stengel, let’s make out that’s a misprint. Right now, the common assumption in the media seems to be that when it comes to Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, the Yankees will retain one, but not both, necessitating the addition of another player. We can weigh the pros and cons of retaining one or the other after the playoffs — it’s not a slam-dunk decision either way — but either way, the Yankees will be looking for offensive consistency and a defensive upgrade in left field.
Figgins is not the way to go. The problem is, despite whatever reputation Figgins has, he’s not there: Figgins has no power, his stolen base percentages are edging downwards, is severely diminished when not batting left-handed (.266/.340/.351 career versus lefthanders), and as far as defense goes, has played only 36 games in left field in his career, just one of them coming in the last three years, so you really don’t know what you’ll get. With the exception of two seasons in his eight-season career, 2007 (in which he played only 115 games) and 2009, he hasn’t been a great on-base guy either — and there’s not guarantee he’ll ever draw 100 walks again. He’s also 31 years old, which means the Yankees will be paying for the rump end of his career, and he hasn’t been durable in recent seasons. Finally, to this point in his career he is a .175 hitter in 30 postseason games. Mr. October this ain’t.
This year, the average Major League left fielder hit .270/.341/440. Last year they hit .269/.344/.442. Two years ago, the rates were .277/.347/.453. This is the line the Yankees are shooting to be over when they cast the position. Figgins is a career .291/.363/.388 hitter. In two of the last four seasons, he was well below that, hitting .267/.336/.376 in 2006 and .276/.367/.318 in 2008. Imagine a best-case scenario in which the Yankees get everything that Johnny Damon gave them this year except for 20 home runs. The stolen bases wouldn’t make up for the loss of power, and that’s without the risk that Figgins has another off-year and turns in a .260/.340/.360 season somewhere along the line.
In 1982, the Yankees signed free agent outfielder Dave Collins, another speedster, then realized that he was far below their offensive requirements. It cost them Fred McGriff to get rid of him. Signing Figgins has the potential to repeat that scenario, with the Yankees once again casting a singles hitter at a power-hitter’s position, then immediately regretting it.
RIKKI, DON’T USE THAT NUMBER
As noted here before the series, in Game 2, Joe Girardi put Freddy Guzman into the game in the ninth inning to run for Hideki Matsui, then subsequently was forced to let him bat, a problem given that Guzman is the closest thing to an instant out among the non-pitchers on either team. It was the only discordant note in a game in which Girardi pressed all the right buttons — he backed himself into a corner on a move that didn’t have much of a chance of working out, given that Matsui had singled with two outs. If a home run wasn’t to be hit (in which case the pinch-runner was moot) it was going to take at least two events to score either player Matsui or Guzman, in the former case single and a double or vice-versa, in the case of Guzman a stolen base plus another hit. Perhaps Guzman might have scored from first on just the right ball hit into the gap, but betting on that is gambling Matsui’s next at-bat on a very specific outcome.
It’s one thing to use Brett Gardner in these situations given that Gardner has some ability to hit, but you get into a whole other level of risk when you put Guzman into the game. Before the series, I argued that Eric Hinske would have had more utility to the Yankees. That can be argued given the prevalence of left-handers in Mike Scioscia’s end game — Shelley Duncan would have been a wiser pick than either Hinske or Guzman. Either way, Guzman has to be a tool of very last resort.
I don’t get a vote, but as we wait for the quantum states of the Yankees playoff opponents to collapse into a single hostile force, the Pinstriped Bible awards ballot:
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
2. Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels
3. Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers
Sure, Girardi got all the big-ticket Christmas presents last winter, but let’s review: First, last year he was insecure and came off like Captain Queeg. That wasn’t the case this year. Second, he cut down on the one-run strategies (that guys that were bunting were the ones who probably should have been, like Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli) and self-defeating intentional walks. Third, he remade the bullpen on the fly for the second year in a row. Finally, he was sensitive to having a veteran team and made a point of resting his regulars.
Against this, we have the Joba Chamberlain rules screw-up, a strange loyalty to Sergio Mitre, the weird survival of non-entities like Angel Berroa on the roster and his favoring of Xavier Nady over Nick Swisher at season’s outset. I’m not sure how many of these issues were solely Girardi’s call or how many current managers would have done better. Let’s also throw in the team’s recovery from a rough start and early abuse at the hands of the Red Sox, and the fact that not all of those expensive toys performed up to expectations from the get-go. Girardi is as good a choice as any manager, despite the Yankees’ bulging payroll.
Scioscia managed a very different kind of Angels team this year, a unit that survived more on its offense, which was the apotheosis of the high-average Scioscia/Mickey Hatcher style, albeit with more power, than its pitching staff that endured many injuries and the murder of Nick Adenhart. They also outplayed their third-order winning percentage by 10 games. Leyland’s team was a mess, but he did restlessly experiment throughout the year with patching its various holes. In the end they outplayed their expected record by eight games.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
1. Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies
2. Tony LaRussa, St. Louis Cardinals
3. Bud Black, San Diego Padres
In reverse order: Black had nothing to work with and an unstable ownership situation not only meant that the club couldn’t be improved, but that some of his good players, like Jake Peavy, would be sold out from under him. To his credit, the club didn’t quit and actually posted a winning record in the second half. LaRussa started the season with Albert Pujols and pretty much nothing else, and it got worse from there as Khalil Greene imploded, some of the young relievers didn’t take, and Chris Duncan lost his bat. LaRussa improvised a competent lineup while his pitching czar, Dave Duncan, worked miracles with the hurlers. They outplayed their expected record by five games. Finally, Tracy took over a team that was dead in the water, playing at close to a hundred-loss pace through more than a quarter of the season and presided over a .640 finish and a playoff berth. That’s up there with what Bob Lemon did for the Yankees in 1978.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Andrew Bailey, Oakland A’s
2. Jeff Neimann, Tampa Bay Rays
3. Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox
4. Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers
5. Brett Anderson, Oakland A’s
6. Nolan Reimold, Baltimore Orioles
There were many strong rookie seasons in the AL, but none that really popped, and as such it’s very hard to separate one from the other. Bailey pitched very well, but in a comparatively compressed amount of playing time compared to some of the other candidates. Beckham had a strong year, but his weak August (.223/.313/.393) depressed his numbers just enough that it underscores a future in the middle infield and not the hot corner, while Neimann slipped a bit in the second half. Porcello and Anderson probably have the brightest futures of any of them, and of course if the Tigers does something astounding on Tuesday in saving the division title for his team that could change this ranking.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Chris Coghlan, Florida Marlins
2. J.A. Happ, Philadelphia Phillies
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves
5. Casey McGehee, Milwaukee Brewers
6. Garret Jones, Pittsburgh Pirates
As with the AL, the Senior Circuit enjoyed many solid rookie seasons. Coghlan finished at .321/.390/.460 (128 games) and gave the Marlins the leadoff man they’d desperately needed all season. McCutchen finished at .286/.365/.471 in 108 games. McCutchen may be the better long-term bet, but Coghlan had the more impactful season. On a per-game basis, Garrett Jones was better than either of them on a per-game basis, but didn’t play nearly as much. If Happ took the award it wouldn’t be a crime given the important role he played in stabilizing a pitching staff that was flying apart.
MVP AND CY YOUNG AWARD WINNERS…
…In the next entry.
RED SOX REDUX
The alliterative phrase “possible playoff preview” is overused, but here we have one of those series that could be exactly that. If the current seeding holds through the end of the season, the Yankees would face Detroit in the first round and, if they survive that test, see the winner of a Red Sox/Angels match-up in the second round.
Facing either opponent emphasizes the importance of maintaining the division lead and home field advantage, because the Red Sox are a .500 club on the road to date, and despite the recent successful action in Anaheim, the Yankees want to see as little of California as possible. Beating the Tigers only to find out one has to play up to four games in Anaheim might be the only time in sports history that the line, “I’m going to Disneyland!” would signify a negative.
Derek Jeter: I’m going to Disneyland! Aw, [expletive, expletive, expletive]!”
Thus, this series does matter in a real way, beyond the usual Red Sox-Yankees hoopla. There are also three pitchers undergoing key tests: Joba Chamberlain gets yet another chance to lower his post-Rules ERA from 8.50, and against a pitcher, Jon Lester, who has been almost unhittable since getting off to a rough beginning to the season, so there’s not a lot of margin for error. On May 26, Lester was 3-5 with an ERA of 6.07. He’s made 20 starts since then, going 11-2 with an ERA of 2.13. I hope that you readers won’t fault me too much when I say that I root for Lester as a fellow cancer survivor in spite of the uniform he wears. Some things transcend petty rivalry. I don’t mind if the Yankees beat him, of course, but I’d rather it was by a 2-1 score than a 15-1 score. In any case, much as with Joba’s most recent start in Seattle, the Yankees stand a good chance of being lulled to sleep if Joba allows the Sox to score an early touchdown.
On Saturday, CC Sabathia gets a chance to continue his recent dominance against a resurgent Daisuke Matsuzaka, which is really just a game of minimal expectations: You don’t have to win, but don’t pitch so badly that people start to wonder if you’re hurt, or have turned into Joe Cowley or something. On Sunday, Andy Pettitte will get a chance to put his shoulder fatigue further behind him, drawing Paul Byrd as his opponent, Byrd being Boston’s placeholder for a guy named Hypothetical Better Starter that We Don’t Have.
In short, it’s a weekend of confidence testing, of pulling back from a 3-3 road trip. The playoffs are assured and even the shape of the playoffs as far as the Yankees goes seems largely locked into place, so the key thing here is to not fall apart. That doesn’t seem like very much to add.
Lester on the hill means Melky Cabrera in the lineup. Last year at Triple-A, Brett Gardner batted .324/.407/.495 against southpaws. This year in the Majors he’s hit .302/.393/.415 against them. Cabrera has hit .261/.335/.418 against them, and those rates have slid in the second half — whereas Cabrera hit .267/.345/.480 against lefties through mid-July, since then he’s hit only .256/.326/.359 against them, which is actually a pathetically poor number for a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching.
This year, all right-handed hitters in the Majors are batting .268/.341/.431 against lefties. All right-handers have a built-in ability to hit left-handers, but not Cabrera. His career averages against southpaws stand at .254/.323/.354, and as with so much about his post-April work, his final numbers are going to be reflective of what he’s done in the rest of his career rather than what he did earlier this year. Joe Girardi really needs to forget about what he thinks he saw this spring and move on with things.
I note Baseball Think Factory:
The blue shirt read “New York No. 52” on the front and “Sabathia” for the New York Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia, on the back.
” I thought to myself ‘Is he serious or is he kidding,'” said Nate, 9, a student in Peter Addabbo’s fourth-grade class. “But he had this look like he wasn’t kidding at all.”
Nate complied, and said he was later told to wear it that way until dismissal. At lunch, Nate said the fifth-graders made fun of him because he wearing his shirt inside out.
“It was such a horrible day.” Nate said. “I don’t ever want anything like to happen again.”
Nate said he felt he was treated unfairly.
“Just because my teacher doesn’t like the Yankees I should still have the right to wear a Yankees shirt,” Nate said Thursday after school. The teacher has Boston Red Sox paraphernalia all over the classroom on display, he said.
I have long felt that one of the problems with the educational experience in our country is that school is a place where they teach you about your rights and then fail to honor them. As an aspiring columnist in high school, I simultaneously learned about first amendment rights and was subject to prior restraint and press censorship because the administration didn’t like my choice of topics.
Apparently, now you can also be bullied because the teacher doesn’t like your choice of teams. Had the kid been wearing an Obama T-Shirt, or for that matter a Richard Nixon T-shirt (a friend actually did wear one in high school, albeit as a kind of ironic statement), the violation of his rights would have been much more obvious and probably wouldn’t have been contemplated. Instead, the kid, a fourth-grader, all of nine years old, was singled out in a possibly traumatic way. The petty tyranny of some teachers over children is astounding to behold. They indulge in arbitrary behaviors that they would never, ever have the guts to pull with an adult.
Longtime readers know that I am no fan of the teaching profession. As time goes on and my own children get further into the school system, and I read of matters like this one, I see little to change my mind. This incident was wholly inappropriate and the teacher should be disciplined — and although this is a Yankees-centric feature, I would say that even if the roles were reversed, and an educator who was a Yankees fan told some helpless child to reverse his Kevin Youkilis T.
Since he’s such a brave Red Sox fan, his punishment should be to stand outside of Gate 4 of Yankee Stadium this weekend and ask everyone coming in to reverse their T-shirts. I’d like to see the reaction of people old enough to answer back. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.
Ever go to a Broadway play to see a famous actor in a part, only to have the guy not show up? You’ve dropped some serious dough on Brad Pitt as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” (work with me here). As you’re sitting in your seat waiting for the lights to go down, a little slip of paper flutters out of your Playbill. It says, “For tonight’s performance, the part of Willy Loman, normally played by Brad Pitt, will be played by Ethel Birnbaum.” You are, at the very least, nonplussed.
Wednesday’s game had the feeling of an Ethel Birnbaum performance. For reasons of necessity, Joe Girardi started only about half of his normal lineup. There was no Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher, and once the game was turned over to the bullpen — perhaps a bit hastily — there was no Phil Hughes. That the Yankees won in spite of these sacrifices is one of those “any given day” hand-outs that sports, and that Flying Dutchman of a pitcher A.J. Burnett, can grant.
I am reminded of an occasion during Casey Stengel’s Minor League managerial career when, desperate for a starter, he called on a pitcher lacking the stuff to break the proverbial pane of glass, and won. “Casey,” said the opposing manager, “I think you’re underestimating this league.” Girardi wasn’t guilty of that; he had his reasons, but the effect was the same. You wouldn’t want to try this again unless you had to, especially not against the Angels.
DEAR JOE GIRARDI
Can we please have more Brett Gardner? By this I am not asking that he make even more appearances as a pinch-runner or defensive substitute, but that he be given more starting assignments now and into the playoffs. He’s not dramatically more productive than Melky Cabrera is, but as we saw on Tuesday in Anaheim, his style of play can be a welcome change of pace from the usual Earl Weaver-style approach employed by the Yankees.
Now, I’m the last one to ever criticize Weaver-style on-base ‘n’ bash baseball, because I believe it is the most effective form of offense there is. You could almost say I’m religious about it, Joe. Yet, even Earl employed his base-stealers, players like Paul Blair, Don Buford, Al Bumbry and Don Baylor, who in his younger, more svelte period swiped 30 bases a year for Team Baltimore. Even Reggie Jackson swiped 28 bags his one year in the Crab Kingdom, a career high. Earl’s 1973 team even led the league, hard as that is to believe.
See, it wasn’t that Earl totally disdained the stolen base. He saw it as a tactical weapon, one to be used sparingly rather than fetishized. And if the base-stealer in question does some other things, like takes the odd walk and plays solid defense, well, Earl had his Mark Belanger, after all. Gardner is no Belanger, Joe. My point is our particular offensive cult does permit this kind of messing around with speed guys; as long as two guys are on when the home run hitters come up, we’re okay. Gardner would seem to provide your best option for getting that out of your center fielder.
As for the power you would be giving up, there’s not a whole lot there on Cabrera’s part, and its loss should be offset by Gardner’s larger contribution on defense, on the bases, and of course from his reaching base more often. Cabrera is a groundball hitter, and his current 12 home runs seems to be around the upper limit of his power. Sure, he gets into stretches where he gets a little more loft on the ball, resulting in his bunching four of his home runs into the month of April, but outside of those hot streaks the power production comes down to one or two home runs a month.
That’s not a lot to sacrifice given what’s being gained. And here’s another bonus: both Gardner and Cabrera hit a ton of ground balls, but the latter’s speed is unexceptional, resulting in a high percentage of double plays. The Major League average hitter (the number is almost the same in both leagues) hits into a double play in about 11 percent of his chances. Cabrera hits into one 14 percent of the time. Gardner, with his speed, hits into one only seven percent of the time. Over the course of a full season this is a gain of many outs. This is why, despite the gap in home runs, Gardner is creating 5.5 runs per 27 outs, while Cabrera trails at 4.7. Over a full season, this would work out to at least one added win, and that’s without considering defense. Speaking of which, most metrics agree that Gardner is the rangier fielder. I would say that most naked eyes agree as well, but I can only speak for myself, and being down one eye, I should probably leave that assessment to others not part of the Greater New Jersey Order of Cyclopians.
I understand why you’ve been reluctant to start Gardner of late; he had just come off the disabled list, and maybe his thumb isn’t up to the daily pounding. Cabrera would also seem to have “won” the job while Gardner was gone, but in truth, his recent production has been nothing special. He’s hit .255/.318/.382 in the second half, .243/.299/.361 in August-September. Cabrera is also getting to the point in his career where he’s going to cost the Yankees some significant dollars (he’s in his arbitration years), and given that the budget has proved to be only semi-infinite it would probably be a good idea to get Gardner established so the front office knows the full extent of its flexibility. Perhaps a Gardner/Austin Jackson combination next year will be just as good as a Gardner/Cabrera combination. In that case: voila, instant trade bait! Instant payroll reduction! This sounds like the best of all worlds to me.
Thank you for giving this matter your full attention.
Very Truly Yours,
The fact that the game probably won’t mean much to the outcome of the season notwithstanding, Tuesday night’s ballgame had to be one of the most frustrating losses of the year for the Yankees. They got out to a big lead, but Joba Chamberlain was unable to shut down an enemy offense that has had a hard time getting on base at a .300 rate on the road. At this point, it’s impossible to tell if Chamberlain is just lost or the Yankees have lost him, playing so many games with his schedule in the interest of protecting him that they’ve actually played head games with their own pitcher, sabotaging him mentally.
Cut to the bottom of the ninth. Ron Washington decided to finish up with Jason Grilli, never a good idea against a top offense. Predictably, the Yankees started putting runners on base with a Johnny Damon single and a Mark Teixeira walk. Washington then reached for closer Frank Francisco, the Santa Domingo Treat, who couldn’t throw a strike, or at least not a good one. A-Rod walked. Hideki Matsui singled. The much-maligned Jorge Posada singled. Robinson Cano singled. What had been a 10-5 game was unexpectedly 10-9, men on first and second with none out and Nick Swisher at the plate.
Joe Girardi called for a bunt. You can first-guess the play, and I did, but it’s not a clear-cut decision. After last night, Swisher is a .200/.376/.313 hitter at home, and although there isn’t any particular reason that Yankee Stadium II should be such an impediment to him, it isn’t unreasonable at this point for Girardi to assume that Swisher isn’t likely to get a big hit in that spot. That said, Girardi could also have tried to give Swisher a mental boost by showing confidence in him — there’s nothing stopping Swisher from hitting at home except Swisher. Alternatively, Girardi could have also looked at the situation — pitcher falling apart, a batter at the plate who, even if he fails to hit, is still taking a ton of walks, and let Swisher try to walk to reload the bases. The double-play threat was relatively weak — the league double play rate is about 11 percent. Swisher, with all his fly balls and strikeouts, is a little better than average in this regard, hitting into a double play in only 10 percent of his chances.
An additional negative to calling for the bunt derives from goals: are the Yankees trying to tie the game or win it? Conventional wisdom says the former, but with two runners on, none out, and a pitcher in mid-meltdown, they had a good chance to do both. Even if Swisher had succeeded in getting his bunt down, Girardi was falling into the trap that Earl Weaver warned against: if you play for only one run, you’ll only get one run. The Yankees were in a position to win, not tie, the game. There was a very good chance that Swisher would have walked, and although Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter are double play threats, even a double play has a good chance of scoring the tying run with the bases loaded and none out. In addition, as bad as Swisher has been, the Yankees would have still had to get through Cabrera to survive the inning, and unlike Swisher, Cabrera doesn’t have the redeeming virtue of selectivity.
You know how it worked out. It easily could have gone the other way; if Swisher executed on the bunt, perhaps the game would have gone to extra innings, and the Yankees, with Phil Hughes, Mo Rivera, and the rest, not to mention the last turn at bat, still would have had a very good chance of winning. Still, with Chamberlain’s erratic performance, perhaps provoked by the Yankees’ erratic handling of him, the Rangers trying to give the game away twice, the bunt call by Girardi, and Swisher’s failure to execute, this easily qualifies as the most annoying loss the Yankees have suffered in a long time. As I said above, the good news is that in the long run it shouldn’t mean very much at all.
Five shopping days remain until rosters are frozen for the postseason, which means Brian Cashman can still get his trading shoes on and make a deal. I realize I’ve had a Magellanic range of opinions on Cabrera, but given his current slump (.236/.306/.380 from June 1 on, .198/.239/.326 in August) as well as Brett Gardner’s limitations and his uncertain status as he returns from a thumb injury, and the Yankees might benefit from revisiting an offseason trade target, Mike Cameron of the Brewers.
There are four factors which should combine to make Cameron a relatively cheap acquisition should Doug Melvin be willing to deal: the Brewers have next to no chance of getting to the postseason; Cameron is 36; Cameron is making $10 million; Cameron’s contract is up. The old man has had a relatively good season at .259/.362/.456, and his defensive work is still strong. He’s also played on four postseason teams (though his October work has been miserable). Offense isn’t the Yankees’ problem, but every little bit helps when your goal is to win a World Series, and it’s difficult to image the Brewers would hold out for a top prospect…
…Unless they somehow have delusions that getting nothing is better than getting something, which Melvin suggests is the case, saying, “I’ve gotten calls, but they don’t want to give much up at this time of year … They’ll give you cash, but they don’t want to give me a player … I can’t imagine that a team would give up a good player for one month, unless there is a key injury. I don’t anticipate anything.”
Cameron would likely be a Type B free agent, meaning that if the Brewers offered him arbitration (a big if) and he signed elsewhere, they would receive a sandwich pick after the first round. You’d think a functional Minor League arm would be more valuable than the 40-somethingth pick of the draft, but there’s no way of knowing. And, of course, if the Brewers offer arbitration and Cameron takes it, they’re in big trouble — it’s a weak year for center fielders, and Cameron’s numbers are going to look pretty good come negotiation time.
TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
THE POSADA DISCONTENTS III
Thanks Steven, but you fail to mention besides Jorge’s injury last year that the Yankees did not have CC, A.J., and others on the pitching staff. Furthermore, you also fail to mention that Jorge was not the reason the Yankees were World Champions in the ’90s…it was their pitching staff! Pitching is the name of the game! Yogi Berra, and a host of other top notch catchers will tell you the same thing.
Let’s try this: For all their weaknesses last year, the Yankees finished six games behind the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. Depending on whose definition of replacement level you use, in 2006-2007, Posada was worth between six and eight wins above replacement. Last year, Jose Molina was worth somewhere between a fraction of a win and two wins above replacement, almost all of the value in defense, as Molina was among the 20 worst hitters in baseball to have any kind of playing time last year.
The Yankees got less than one win out of Posada last year. Pretend Posada had been in the lineup having his typical season. The Yankees pick up four to six wins, which means that anywhere between 75 and 100 percent of their deficit disappears. Once you get down to a gap of one or two games. The Yankees had too many problems to overcome the Rays, but Posada’s inj
ury was the one thing that kept them for qualifying for the postseason in spite of everything else that went wrong.
Ever see the old baseball musical “Damn Yankees”? It has a song about denigrating Posada in it. It’s called, “A Man Doesn’t Know What He Has Until He Loses It.” Then again, the Yankees lost Posada last year and some people still don’t know.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE OUTFIELDERS GONE, LONG TIME PASSING (DRAFTING OUTFIELDERS, PART II)
As we go through the draft, you will note that not only have the Yankees passed on several quality outfielders, they haven’t put much of a priority on drafting outfielders at all. Of course, in the draft you select the best player available, rather than choosing for organizational need. Still, if the Yankees are taking the best available player in each slot, those players should actually prove to be better than players selected subsequently. That hasn’t often proved to be the case.
We’ll look at the third round, then pause to consider the outfielders the Yankees actually did select from 2003 to 2007, players who, had they Yankees hit on an outfielder of value, would have been ready by now. Keep in mind one important fact, one so important that I’m going to repeat it several times below: the lower you go in the draft, the more expectations should be tempered, if not non-existent. Farm systems are vast and not every player can be a prospect; quite often, teams just need a guy to stand in right field so that they can field a functional nine. When you see that the Yankees blew their #31 draft choice on a player who washed out in the Gulf Coast League, keep in mind that 98 percent of the time everyone blows their #31 draft choice on a player who washes out in the Gulf Coast League. Being critical of this would represent a failure to understand the system.
After we dispense with the draft, we’ll consider the international talent market, specifically the recruitment of young talent in Latin America.
Third Round: Jordan Schafer (2005/HS), Daryl Jones (2005/HS), Nick Weglarz (2005/HS), Scout Cousins (2006/C), Cedric Hunter (2006/HS), Angel Morales (2007/HS), Kyle Russell (2008/C), Roger Kieschnick (2008/C).
What the Yankees did: The Yankees picked 29th in the third round of the 2005 draft, and while Weglarz went at #14 and Schafer went at #27, the Yankees drafted Brett Gardner. The Cardinals took Jones with the last pick of the round. In 2006, they picked 28th and selected Zach McAllister, a very promising righty who is now carrying a 2.13 ERA at Trenton. With the last pick in 2007’s third round, they went with another righty, Ryan Pope, also at Trenton, a pitcher who emerged from the unlikely cradle of the Savannah College of Art & Design. He’s shown good control in the minors but has also been knocked around quite a bit.
In 2008, five outfielders were selected after the Yankees wasted their pick on Bittle. Two of them are on the list above. Russell, selected by the Dodgers at #16 in the round, is a left-handed power-hitter with a long swing, now playing in the Midwest League and hitting .271/.365/.544 with 24 home runs. He has also struck out 156 times in 421 at-bats, which is something that might relegate him to a Russ Branyan-style career. That said, Branyan is a more productive hitter than anything the Yankees have on the outfield shelves right now. Kieschnick, taken by the Giants with the fifth pick of the round, is also a lefty power-hitter, batting .298/.344/.535 with 23 home runs in the California League. The Yankees took second baseman David Adams at #29, a pick which has yet to resolve for good or ill — Adams has been a solid but unspectacular performer thus far. In the supplemental phase of the third round, the Padres selected University of Kentucky Sawyer Carroll, one of those “polished college hitters” who have a mature approach at the plate but don’t promise to develop too much. In 114 pro games taking him up to Double-A, the 23-year-old Carroll has batted .314/.412/.485 with seven home runs and a nice 72 walks.
WHO THEY DID GET
We pause here to switch gears, and instead of looking at the outfielders the Yankees passed up or didn’t get a shot at due to draft position, let’s look at the outfielders they did draft in the years 2003 to 2007. If the Yankees took you out of high school as an 18-year-old then in 2003, you’d be 25 now. That should give even the late bloomers enough time to manifest themselves.
2003 Outfielders: Estee Harris (#2), strikeout machine Tim Battle (#3), Jose Perez (#7), and two others who did not sign. Harris stalled at High-A and went off to the Atlantic League. The Yankees nursed the athletic Battle until the end of last season, when they finally conceded that his swing would never be of Major League quality. Perez didn’t make it past Staten Island.
2004 Outfielders: Rod Allen (#12), Robert Vilanova (#15), Jon Tierce (#17), Scott Rich (#21), and four others who did not sign. Allen’s career ended in High-A. Villanova got a cup of coffee–in the Midwest League. Tierce topped out at High-A Tampa. Rich was cut after 42 games at Staten Island.
2005 Outfielders: Brett Gardner (#3), Austin Jackson (#8), James Cooper (#9), Joel Perez (#14), Chris Valencia (#41), and four others who did not sign. Gardner and Jackson you know about. They should be good role players or part timers, but anything beyond that is still in doubt. Cooper, now 25, is playing at Trenton this year. In 391 career games he’s hitting .264/.353/.351, and his chances of being more than organizational filler have long since passed. Perez’s career ended in the Gulf Coast League. Valencia is currently playing for Brockton of the Canadian-American Association.
2006 Outfielders: Colin Curtis (#4), Jeff Fortenberry (#11), Donald Hollingsorth (#14), Brian Aragon (#22), Nick Diyorio (#38), Chase Odenreider (#49), and two other players who did not sign. Curtis, now at Scranton, began promisingly but hasn’t hit in three years. His career averages in 413 games are .265/.336/.378, which won’t get you to the Majors. Fortenberry, 25, showed a little home run power early, but has never hit for any kind of average. The Yankees promoted from Tampa to Trenton this year after he hit .180/.272/.354; he’s hitting .160/.259/.256 at Trenton. Hollingsworth had a good eye but had almost literally zero power and failed to advance past the Sally League. The players taken in the later round care organizational filler/hope to get lucky guys. Suffice it to say that the Yankees got neither.
2007 Outfielders: Taylor Grote (#8), Austin Krum (#9), Isiah Howes (#11), Dave Williams (#15), Taylor Holiday (#19), Matt Morris (#23), Gary Gattis (#26), Steven Strausberg (#27), and three others who did not sign. Grote is currently playing at Low-A Charleston. In 154 career games he’s hit .242/.322/.329. Just 20, it’s in the realm of possibility he could get better, but it seems pretty darned unlikely given how far he has to go. Krum has made it to Double-A Trenton at 23. A center fielder, he is willing to take a walk and will steal the odd base, but the aggregate — this year he’s hitting .263/.371/.351 — doesn’t get you anywhere. Howes washed out at Staten Island. Williams didn’t show anything with the bat and was not promoted out of the Sally League after hitting .249/.321/.367. Holiday hit .215 in the Sally League and that was that. Morris hit .207 up through the Sally League and… Gattis stopped in the Gulf Coast League. Again, good players are rarely found this far down in the draft, so that the Yankees didn’t score here doesn’t necessarily indicate anything. Stausbaugh was apparently cut from Tampa earlier this year.
TO BE CONTINUED
In our next entry, we’ll pause for some present-day stuff, then pick up with the top 86 outfielders and the fourth round of the draft.
With the amateur draft signing deadline having just passed, I want to spend a couple of entries here looking at the Yankees’ farm system with an eye towards a very specific problem, the absence of solid outfield prospects. The Yankees don’t have them and haven’t developed one in a very long time. While Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner have their uses, the last outfielder to emerge from the farm system and have anything like a substantial, above-average career with the Yankees was Bernie Williams.
This puts immense pressure on them to retain an aging Johnny Damon this offseason whether giving him another contract is a good idea or not. This is the same pressure that led to the decision to sign Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright a few winters ago when the farm system could not render up quality pitchers. That problem has been treated to a large extent, but the absence of quality position players continues to impel the Yankees towards free agent adventurism.
Since the great center fielder/guitarist, numerous outfielders have passed through the system on their way to the Bronx without making a lasting impression. The parade includes Gerald Williams, Shane Spencer, Ricky Ledee, Ruben Rivera, Kevin Thompson, Justin Christian, Kevin Reese, Shelley Duncan, Donzell McDonald and even Mike Vento. The best of the lot were Marcus Thames, who was dealt away to the Rangers for the mortal remains of Ruben Sierra in 2003, and Juan Rivera, a strong hitter with a tendency towards injuries. He too was traded in 2003, to the Expos as part of the package for Javier Vazquez.
What is meant by a “solid” outfield prospect? It’s a young player who might hit even five percent better than the league average at his position. That’s not asking for the moon or Joe DiMaggio. Five percent better than a Major League average left fielder would be .282/.358/.460; for a center fielder it would be .281/.353/.441; for a right fielder, .284/.362/.465. This is asking for a good player, not a great one. Don’t take those numbers too seriously — they’re just broad guideposts for a hypothetical player who might hit for more power or take fewer walks while arriving at roughly the same place. Whatever your definition of “slightly above-average outfield starter,” that is what is being aimed at.
Prior to the season, Baseball America compiled their list of the top 100 prospects in baseball and placed two Yankees position players on it, Austin Jackson (No. 36) and Jesus Montero (No. 38). Considering Yankees prospects exclusively, they ranked the top 30 players in the organization and found only 10 position players worthy of ranking that high. Among these were four outfielders: Jackson, Kelvin DeLeon, Abraham Almonte and Gardner.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus also compiled a top 100 prospects. As with Baseball America, Jackson (No. 46) was the only Yankees outfielder to rank among the elite prospects in the game. Goldstein also compiles rankings of each organizations top 11 prospects, plus honorable mentions. Using those lists, I compiled the top 86 prospective outfielders coming into the season. Just two of the 86, Jackson and DeLeon, belong to the Yankees.
Although Goldstein’s lists of 11 are more restrictive than BA’s top 30, the shorter list ensures that we are examining players who have a chance to start, as opposed to the likely reserves who often fill out BA’s lists for thinner organizations. Almonte may be the 30th-best prospect in the Yankees organization, but given his current offensive profile (“current” because he is quite young and could evolve) his chances of starting for the Yankees or any team is nil.
Thus, 84 of 86 top outfield prospects coming into the season belong to other organizations. The purpose is not to second guess — as you will see, some of the best of these prospects were early first-round picks, and thus unavailable to the Yankees due to the nature of their consistent high finishes, and it would be unfair to criticize them for that — but to ask what priorities and assumptions the Yankees were working off of in the draft, and to see if other teams are doing a better job of finding outfield prospects in the later rounds or on the international talent market, where good scouting and luck play a greater part.
If the Yankees are stumbling into fewer of those “solid” non-star starters than would be expected, be it because of organizational priorities or simply poor choices, we’ll see why as we explore the top 86 and where they were selected in the draft.
First Round (13): Colby Rasmus (2005/HS), Cameron Maybin (2005/HS), Andrew McCutchen (2005/HS), Brian Bogusevic (2005/C), Trevor Crow (2005/C)Travis Snider (2006/HS), Drew Stubbs (2006/C), Tyler Colvin (2006/C), Jason Heyward (2007/HS), Matt LaPorta (2007/C), Ben Revere (2007/HS), Wendell Fairley (2007/HS), Aaron Hicks (2008/HS).
What the Yankees did: These players were selected in the 2005 through 2008 drafts, so we’ll look at what the Yankees did in those drafts. In 2005, the Yankees picked at No. 17 thanks to the Phillies signing away Jon Lieber. Their own pick at No. 29 went to the Marlins because they signed Carl Pavano. By the time the Yankees picked, Maybin (No. 10), McCutchen (No. 11), and Crowe (No. 14) were off the board, as was Jay Bruce (No. 12). The Yankees spent their pick on the miserable high school shortstop C.J. Henry. Subsequently, John Mayberry (No. 19), Jacoby Ellsbury (No. 23), Bogusevic (No. 24), and Rasmus (No. 28) were selected.
In 2006, the Yankees gave up their first-round pick (No. 28) to the Red Sox to sign Damon, but for the second year in a row the Phillies handed them their own pick to sign a Yankee who wouldn’t help them much, Tom Gordon. By the time they picked at No. 21, Drew Stubbs had gone to the Red at No. 8, as had Colvin (No. 13) and Snider (No. 14). Another strong hitter, Chris Marrero, went to the Nationals at No. 15 (he was later shifted to first base). The Yankees selected Ian Kennedy. Two other outfielders went in the first 30 picks, Cody Johnson to the Braves at No. 24 (he appears to have potential in a Steve Balboni kind of way), and Jason Place to the Red Sox at No. 27.
In 2007, the Yankees picked 30th, last in the first round. Jason Heyward, who might be the best hitting prospect in baseball just now, was selected from the planet Krypton at No. 14. Ichiro-type Ben Revere went at No. 28, and the Giants took Fairley at No. 29, setting up the Yankees to shock the nation by selecting Andrew Brackman, the less said of whom the better. We’ll look at who was still on the board in the ’07 supplemental and second round when we get to the supplemental picks.
In the Year of Our Draft 2008, the Yankees picked at No. 28. Naturally, a lot of the interesting guys were gone. Even the Yankees’ own interesting guy was gone because they didn’t sign their pick, pitcher Gerrit Cole. Hicks was the only outfielder selected in the first round. He went to the Twins at No. 14.
These last four drafts have been borderline disastrous for the Yankees insofar as the first round, where the sure things are supposedly to be found. They completely missed on Henry, and only the recklessness of the Phillies allowed them to redeem the pick by taking him in return for Bobby Abreu, but it’s clear that if the Phillies took Henry they would have taken anybody — the move was the Alex Rios salary dump of 2006.
Brackman also appears to be a complete miss, but it’s too early to write him off despite the 6.56 ERA and seven walks per nine innings in the Sally League. The failure to sign Cole got the Yankees
an extra pick in the 2009 draft, but there’s still an empty spot in the organization where a player with one year of experience would have been.
Only Kennedy has rewarded the Yankees’ evaluation of him as a prospect, at least until his blood clot surgery this year. That, at least, is an act of God, not scouting. What rankles is the availability of Rasmus, now a rookie center fielder for the Cardinals, in 2005, not to mention Ellsbury, Matt Garza, and Joey Devine, all first-round selections after the Yankees took Henry. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances, such as Georgia boy Rasmus indicating he would not be happy in the big city, but the same cannot be said of the other players available at that spot.
First Round, Supplemental: Michael Burgess (2007/HS), Kellen Kulbacki (2007/C), Corey Brown (2007/C), Julio Borbon (2007/C), Zach Collier (2008/HS), Jaff Decker (2008/HS).
What the Yankees did: The Yankees didn’t have a supplemental pick in 2007, so they got to watch as Burgess, Kulbacki, Brown, and Borbon (now playing well in the Majors) were selected. In 2008, the Yankees did get a supplemental first-rounder due to the Rockies signing Luis Vizcaino. It was the 14th of the round, two from the bottom, and Collier and Decker had already disappeared by the time they picked. They used the pick on Stanford lefty Jeremy Bleich, now pitching at Double-A Trenton. Note below that a number of quality outfield prospects were available at this point, as several were selected early in the second round.
Second Round: Seth Smith, (2004/C), Nolan Reimold (2005/C), Jon Jay (2006/C), Mike Stanton (2007/HS), Charles Blackmon (2008/C), Cutter Dykstra (2008/HS), Destin Hood (2008/HS), Xavier Avery (2008/HS), Dennis Raben (2008/C), Kenny Wilson (2008/HS), Jay Austin (2008/C).
Now things get interesting, because any of these players were available at the time that the Yankees picked at the end of the first round. In 2005, the Yankees picked at No. 15 in the second round thanks to the White Sox signing Orlando Hernandez (there should probably be an axiom in baseball that says that if the Yankees don’t feel like spending the money to retain their own free agent player, that player is probably not worth having). Their own second round pick (No. 29) went to the Braves due to the ill-considered signing of Jaret Wright. The Orioles took current rookie Reimold two picks ahead of the Yankees, who selected reliever J.B. Cox, now pitching at Trenton.
The Yankees had no second-round pick in 2006 because their pick went to the Braves as compensation for Kyle Farnsworth, which is depressing. Cardinals center field prospect Jay would have been available to them. The Yankees had the last pick of the round in 2007. They made a solid pick in catcher Austin Romine, currently batting .277/.319/.445 for High-A Tampa. The Yankees picked 29th in round two, 2008. They went with Ole Miss righty Scott Bittle, who they elected not to sign. As we will see momentarily, this meant passing on a couple of quality outfield prospects who would be selected in the third round.
We’ll pick up with the third round in our next entry.
YANKEE STADIUM II (III) AND ITS DETRACTORS
In yesterday’s chat, I was asked “What do you think of the new Yankee Stadium? Does the avalanche of home runs to right bother you?” My response: “Not at all. It just is what it is. At worst, it really requires the Yankees to re-embrace their traditional love of left-handed hitters and pitchers, something that had gotten lost with the various shrinkages of the left side of Yankee Stadium over the years.”
As the year has rolled on, I’ve been mystified by the cynical response to the way the new park plays, not least because it has been competitively advantageous for the Yankees. The offense has out-homered the opposition 107-78 in the same number of at-bats, and the pitching staff’s ERA is a third of a run lower at home than on the road. As long as the Yankees keep the park in mind when building the team in the future, it can continue to be so. This year, Yankees opponents have gotten lefties to the plate at Yankee Stadium roughly 850 times, as compared to 1384 tunes for the Yankees. That advantage might be ephemeral — the Yankees won’t always have four switch-hitters and three lefties in the lineup every year — but if they can maintain some semblance of that balance, as well as place renewed emphasis on the drafting a development of left-handed pitchers, and the park should continue to be an asset.
Whatever the Yankees do, I hope that they won’t rush out as soon as the season is over and reconfigure the fences. First, 81 games (plus a few postseason contests) isn’t enough to get an accurate reading on the park. Second, if people talk, let ’em. Whether it’s Coors Field and its altitude or the old Polo Grounds with its shortened foul lines, which resulted in home runs which were criticized as cheap, or even Babe Ruth’s porch at Yankee Stadium I, they’re all legitimate versions of a playing field. The great thing about baseball there are no correct parks or incorrect parks. They just play the way they play. The Yankees have nothing to apologize for.
MATSUI’S MASHING AND THE FUTURE OF EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING
Whenever one of the Yankees’ potentially departing free agents has a big night, usually Johnny Damon but on Thursday night Hideki Matsui, a conversation starts up as to whether the player should be retained. The talk has some validity. The Yankees are not deep in outfield prospects, Austin Jackson’s .301/.362/.413 at Scranton translates to only .266/.330/.385 in the Majors, and he’s been cold for about 10 weeks; because the free agent class is going to be on the weak side, with an emphasis on older players. That limits Brian Cashman’s choices. He can let Damon and Matsui go, figuring that although they’ve done well this year, their negatives — age (Damon will turn 36 in November, Matsui next June) and defensive limitations (Damon has slipped, Matsui’s knees don’t even let him play) — are good enough reason to move on.
In a vacuum, letting the oldsters go would be correct call. However, it also means the menu of alternatives could be a Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera/Nick Swisher outfield and a rotating DH, which would be offensively light, or the above with Jackson mixed in, or the above with a very young Jesus Montero mixed in at DH, or giving too much money and too many years to Matt Holliday or Jermaine Dye or Magglio Ordonez … or hope to trade the entire farm system to the Braves for Jason Heyward, which won’t happen. It is because of scenarios like these that general managers are paid the big bucks.
As always, much pain could have been avoided if the Yankees had been more adept at drafting and development in recent years. The farm system has clearly improved over the last few seasons, but even having said that, it seems that too often there is cause to observe that the development of position players lags far behind that of pitchers. This has been a glaring problem for so long that it’s hard to believe that the Yankees have not spent time identifying the problem (I am not pointing fingers at anyone, but they need to point fingers at someone or someone(s) or some aspects of what they are doing) and doing something to remedy it, which surely would be cheaper than continuing to pay bonuses to players who end up doing little more than filling out the farm system.
Even if those changes are implemented tomorrow, they will take time to pay off for the big team in the Bronx, so this season’s dilemma remains. I wish I had a brilliant suggestion to solve the problem, other than Montero should be allowed into the mix before long if he heals up well — no use wasting a ready bat waiting for a defensive evolution that might never come — but whereas as season’s outset it seemed like there was no scenario in which it would be worthwhile to bring Damon and Matsui back, now one can at least glimpse situations in which retaining one or both on a short-term contract — most likely Damon given Matsui’s utter loss of speed — isn’t more likely to have a worse outcome than any of the other possibilities.
That’s not exactly a strong endorsement, but it’s more than you could have said in April.
Jesus Montero is out for the rest of the year, having broken the middle finger of his left hand on Saturday. If he’s out even the minimum expected, four weeks, that takes him right through the end of the Minor League season.
Before we mourn, let’s review: 48 games at Tampa, batting .356/.406/.583 with 15 doubles and eight home runs in 180 at-bats. Moving up to Trenton, Montero played in 44 games, batting .317/.370/.539 with 10 doubles and nine home runs in 167 at-bats, this despite being utterly fluxed by the big, cold, riverfront Thunder ballpark (try the crab fries!), where he hit just .232/.376/.354 vs. .400/.457/.718 on the road.
Total: .337/.389/.562. Age: 19. Moreno will turn 20 just after Thanksgiving.
The good news is this: Montero didn’t suffer a knee injury. He didn’t fracture a wrist, which could have affected his swing. He’s not out for six months, just six weeks, tops. The Yankees would have some options at that point, including a quick cup of coffee once rosters expand, and could still send the lad out to the Arizona Fall League or for other winter action with an eye towards prepping him for an extended look in next year’s Spring Training camp. Naturally, this assumes an uncomplicated recovery from the injury.
Montero may not be ready to be a big-league catcher, but if his bat is judged to play the Yankees would be mistaken to send him on an indefinite tour of the upper Minor Leagues waiting for his glove to mature. First, it may never be ready. Second, with Jorge Posada signed through 2011 and still playing well, there isn’t any urgency for him to catch. However, there may be a need for a solid bat of his ability by next spring. There should be room on the club for a young player to take some time at designated hitter while perhaps catching the odd game against less speedy opponents. This could not only get Montero’s bat in the lineup, but serve to lower the team payroll in the short term. Montero’s injury is disappointing, but it need not be a disaster.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: the lad’s got good timing. If you could just go back and erase that injury at Texas on May 26, he might have had a perfect year. For more than a month after that he struggled to hit .200, and didn’t get hot again until Brett Gardner got hurt. Through July 22 he was hitting just .220/.278/.320 for the month. He hit a double in his sole at-bat on the 23rd and since then he’s been rolling, going 15-for-35 in 11 games overall, with five doubles, a triple, and two home runs. He’s also thrown in six walks and turndown service, including a mint placed just so on top of your pillow.
This is truly a stunning, heartwarming turn of events. Though only 24 (he’ll turn 25 on the 11th of this month), Cabrera had spent 2006 and 2007 playing every day but failing to show much with the bat. He’d hit a few balls in the gap, knock one out of the park every now and again, but not so often that you could say he had real power. He was only moderately patient, so even hitting .280 he didn’t get on base that much. He was a switch-hitter, but he couldn’t touch a lefty. Then it got worse, as he followed a torrid April, 2008 with a 100-game cold streak that got him sent to the Minors.
Coming into the season, there was no reason to view Cabrera as much more than a versatile outfield reserve, and given his 2008 performance, perhaps not even that. Even after another hot April and a solid May, it seemed likely that a cold snap would ensue. When it did, it was impossible to tell if it was due to the Texas injury or just Cabrera returning to form. It now appears that the injury was at least partially to blame, and whatever Cabrera does for the rest of the season, he’s not heading back to the dark depths of post-April 2008. He’s even hitting left-handers, something he’d never done with any consistency or authority before. That, more than anything else, suggests real change.
If Cabrera maintains his current .292/.355/.463 level of production, the Yankees have a very solid center fielder on their hands. The average Major League center fielder is batting .268/.337/.422. For once, the Yankees were patient with a young player (far more patient than your host, for once) and it seems to have paid off — and they had far less reason to be patient with Cabrera than with a host of predecessors who quickly headed out of town, Drabek, Buhner, et al. Let us hope the lesson sinks in — for everyone.
THE DREADED MIDTERM GRADES
On Sunday, the Yankees played their 81st game. The season’s official halfway point comes at the All-Star break, but this is it’s actual halfway point. In my ten years as pinstriped armchair detective, I’ve sometimes resorted to the clichéd midterm grades and sometimes not. This year it seemed like a helpful device to review the season. Today we’ll cover the position players, tomorrow the pitching staff.
As you review the report card, remember that the same grade might not mean the same thing for two different players, because each player must be viewed in the context of his position, his career, and his role. Expectations for Mark Teixeira are different than they are for Brett Gardner, so the latter could conceivably get a better grade than the former without implying that he is the better player in a head to head comparison. With that in mind, feel free to offer your own grades in the comments section.
Putting his 25 days on the disabled list aside, you can’t fault Posada’s season. When a 37-year-old catcher is hitting .284/.368/.523, you give thanks for your good fortune and try not to ask too many questions. On defense, he’s thrown out over 30 percent of runners trying to steal, a solid number (the overall Major League success rate on stolen bases this year is 73 percent). The notion that his handling has damaged Joba Chamberlain or anyone else is farfetched bushwah given his career record, as well as those of his many battery-mates. As with several Yankees, Posada has done far more damage at home than on the road. GRADE: 89/100
MARK TEIXEIRA-FIRST BASE
Teixeira has been quite streaky, only reaching a “hot” temperature in May. He’s been vastly more successful at home (.310/.402/.632), but his road production (.243/.373/.472) also gets the job done, albeit at a far more pedestrian level. He’s also been a revelation on defense, even if for some reason the metrics don’t show it. While Teixeira’s season is consistent with his work in previous seasons, he’s not quite at the level of the last two years (.307/.406/.557 in 289 games), and it’s worth noting that he’s having only the fifth-best season among AL first basemen, trailing Justin Morneau, Kevin Youkilis, Russell Branyan, and Miguel Cabrera. Of these, Branyan probably won’t hang on until the end, but the others almost certainly will. Bumped out of the “A” range, but only in comparison to previous performances. The 20-game homerless streak with which he ended the half (.244/.366/.321) didn’t help. GRADE: 86.5/100
ROBINSON CANO-SECOND BASE
Cano has bounced back from his spectacularly miserable 2008, but a league-average on-base percentage is still a bridge too far, as is consistency–in May and June combined, he hit .271/.302/.439, which doesn’t help all that much. He’s on a pace to ground into 24 double plays, and he’s batting .196 with runners in scoring position. There are certainly worse second basemen to have–Howie Kendrick is actually the evil Cano from the Star Trek mirror-verse–but as usual, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. GRADE: 79/100
ALEX RODRIGUEZ-THIRD BASE
With 45 walks and 14 home runs in 51 games, A-Rod has been productive despite his low batting average. Eleven of his 14 homers have been hit at home. Conversely, he’s hitting just .211 in the Bronx, with a truly strange .131 average on balls in play–one wonders if he’s trying to get the ball in the air at the new park, trying to catch up on all the short fence/jet stream-generated fun his teammates had without him. His hip problems seem to have sapped his speed and defense, and he hasn’t been around that much. Docked a few points for days absent and the whole juicing thing, which is spectacularly annoying. GRADE: 83.5/100
There are a few nits you can pick with Jeter’s season. He’s only hitting .264/.340/.383 against right-handers, most of his damage coming thanks to .452/.524/.644 rates against lefties. All of his power seems to be a product of Yankee Stadium II; just two of his ten home runs have come on the road. On the plus side, his walk rate is up, he seems more limber this year, both on the bases and in the field, and though he still hits everything on the ground (he ranks 11th among players with 150 or more plate appearances this season), he’s kept his double play rate in hand. Overall, I’m not complaining–after the lethargy of last year, this qualifies as a comeback. GRADE: 91/100
JOHNNY DAMON-LEFT FIELD
Damon hit 17 home runs last year. He’s hit 16 in 76 games this year. The difference is Yankee Stadium II; the former Caveman is hitting .289/.390/.592 with 12 home runs (one every 12.7 at-bats) at home, .278/.340/.465 with four home runs (one every 36 at-bats) on the road. Now, that doesn’t mean that Damon shouldn’t get his due, as being able to take advantage of one’s environment is a skill. It’s much like Jim Rice’s home-road splits in Boston: if everyone who played in Fenway hit like Jim Rice, you’d have an argument about discounting his stats. Damon’s road stats are also sufficient–the average Major League left fielder is hitting .267/.342/.433 overall. At his current pace, Damon is going to obliterate his career high in home runs, his career high in walks is also in reach, and he’s easily going to have his tenth 100-run season. Stolen base frequency is down and his range in left seems down a bit, but as with Jeter I’m not going to complain about a late-career high. GRADE: 90/100
MELKY CABRERA-CENTER FIELD
He’s doing some things he’s never done before, like hitting as a right-hander and taking the occasional walk–he had 29 free passes all of last year, compared to 22 now. That said, he’s mainly helping with his defensive versatility, not his bat. His home runs are a gift of YS II, with seven of eight round-trippers coming in the friendly confines, and coincidental with the injury he suffered in Texas or not, his bat turned off at the end of May and hasn’t come back–even with a semi-hot streak over the last couple of weeks, in 31 games since the end of May he’s hit .221/.303/.379. Given that Cabrera hit only .235/.281/.300 after April last year, the idea that the injury is what’s holding him back should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Cabrera is an asset as a reserve, but he’s not a starter. Alternatively, he’s playing hurt under the misguided belief that he’s helping. At that point, Austin Jackson would be the better choice. GRADE: 72/100
NICK SWISHER-RIGHT FIELD
What a weird player, inconsistent in every phase of his game. At his April level of production, he was a Ruthian terror. In June he hit .253/.379/.506 and was still plenty productive. In between, he took a lot of walks but hit .150. Six games into July he just drew his first walk of the month and was 4-for-22 with one walk in seven games since hitting his last home run going into Tuesday, when he finally broke through with three hits (which doesn’t count towards the midterm). He hasn’t been all that productive with runners on–this seems to be a career-long problem, as if he shortens up his swing and worries about striking out in those situations. The result is quite a few walks but not many hits. His defense is usually solid, but he also has his off days. As he did last season, Swisher has a pronounced home-road split. He’s batting .279/.373/.625 with 11 home runs (one every 12.4 at-bats), but only .181/.347/.302 (again, through Sunday) with three home runs (one every 38.7 at-bats) at home. He’s been helpful on the whole, but the only reason he ranks among the top 15 right fielders in productivity is
that there are only 15 right fielders having good years. In short, I don’t know what to make of him. GRADE: 80/100
BRETT GARDNER-THE OTHER CENTER FIELDER
Gardner is listed among the starters because he’s actually started more games in center than Cabrera, even though Cabrera has played more overall. Given what little was expected of Gardner, not to mention the way he started the season, he probably deserves an A grade just based on performance vs. expectations. He started only 25 games across May and June, but he also appeared in 21 more and hit like crazy, batting .330/.427/.510 with four triples, three home runs, 16 walks, and 12 steals. He has not been handled brilliantly. After Gardner’s 5-for-6 game against the Mets on June 26, he was given just two more starts (he went 0-for-7) before Joe Girardi presumably decided he had gone cold and it was time to try Cabrera again. It’s not clear how a kid is supposed to build up any momentum under those conditions. When he sits, the Yankees aren’t suppressing a great bat, but they do lose some patience (Gardner has drawn a walk every 9.7 plate appearances, whereas Cabrera has taken a pass every 11.6 plate appearances), their best baserunner, and their best center field defender. Despite the hot streak, it’s doubtful that Gardner will ever be a big run producer, but he’s certainly been worth playing. GRADE: 85/100