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.
20-GAME WATCH: ANGELS VS. YANKEES
W-L R/G AB/HR PA/BB SB CS AVG OBP SLG
ANGELS 9-11 5.1 36.6 11.7 21 3 .280 .343 .425
YANKEES 11-9 5.8 24.2 9.4 16 2 .275 .355 .464
ERA RA H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 OAVG OOBP OSLG
ANGELS 4.81 5.42 10.5 3.3 5.7 1.0 .295 .355 .421
YANKEES 5.64 6.09 9.1 3.8 7.3 1.3 .265 .347 .451
When was the last time the Yankees played the Angels in a four-game series and you felt like it wasn’t going to be an uphill battle the entire time? It feels like decades. Last year, the Yankees went 3-7 against the Angels, 3-6 the year before, 4-6 the year before, 4-6 in 2005… The Yankees went 6-3 against them in 2003, and that’s the last time they’ve been able to touch them. The year before that, the Angels manhandled the Yankees out of the playoffs, so even 2003 was very much an island in a stream of blood.
This time things would seem to be different. The Angels took a few steps backwards over the winter. Though Kendry Morales is crazy hot right now (.379/.419/.862, three homers over the last seven games), he’s not a replacement for Mark Teixeira. Brian Fuentes isn’t K-Rod. Injuries are a huge problem. Mike Napoli can’t stay in the lineup. Vlad Guerrero is out for the long haul, and Gary Matthews is having to play every day. Neither Erick Aybar nor Chone Figgins are hitting, but manager Mike Scioscia won’t give Brandon Wood a try, not that he’s a lock to hit with any consistency given his big swing and middling strike zone judgment.
The pitching has been dramatically thinned by injury as well as the tragic death of Nick Adenhart. The Yankees are going to see only two of the team’s top starters in this series, Jered Weaver in Game 2 and Joe Saunders in Game 4. Anthony Ortega is a rookie without a strikeout pitch. Matt Palmer is a 30-year-old journeyman who has been in the minors since 2002. He too has strikeout rates that are unsustainable in the major leagues. The Yankees should be able to go three-for-four against the Angels. It won’t be easy, it never is, but they’re not the special team they once were.
Looking for more potential A-Rod subs of the fringe kind:
Ron Belliard (Nationals 40-Man): This roly-poly second baseman has hit .282/.334/.433 over the last five years, which means he’s batting life to a draw. No one knows if he can actually field third base or not, a position he’s barely played. He seems to be without a position in Washington as the team tries to move to younger players — through with their recent front office changeover, it remains to be seen if any priorities have changed.
Brian Buscher (Twins 40-Man): The 28-year-old lefty swinger lucked himself into a decent batting average last year, but he’s really not much of a hitter, with very little production outside of that average. He’s been passed by Joe Crede, the Twins have a better utility option in Brendan Harris, and there are better prospective third basemen in the system, including the soon-to-be-ready Danny Valencia. In short, he’s purely redundant in Minnesota.
Korey Casto (Nationals 40-Man): My colleagues at Baseball Prospectus reminded me of this one today at ESPN. Casto, a third baseman/outfielder is absolutely buried in Washington. A lefty hitter, .250/.320/.400 seems like an optimistic projection.
Chone Figgins (Angels 40-Man): He remains the starting third baseman and no one is particularly pushing him — the Angels don’t seem to believe in Brandon Wood, and he may yet slot in at shortstop. Figgins is valuable as a multi-position player, but injuries have been a problem the last couple of years, and he’s an average hitter at best, lacking the pop to be a regular at the hot corner. He will also reach free agency after this season, which means an acquiring team will only be getting a rental for whatever payment the Angels extort–if they would even consider moving him, unlikely that he’s their primary sub at several positions. Figgins would almost certainly be an improvement on Cody Ransom, and he would give the Yankees an interesting extra burst of speed to pair with Brett Gardner, but he’s not a significant run producer. As BP points out, Minor League vet Matt Brown would be a better candidate as a sleeper pickup from the Angels system.
Jeff Larish (Tigers 40-Man): One of my favorite prospects, albeit for no particular reason, this lefty power and patience type is a natural first baseman or DH, but the Tigers have tried to make him into a two-corner sub. PECOTA hates him, but if he can hit .250 he’ll be an offensive asset. He’s 26, not a future star, and is stuck behind veterans at all of his positions — in other words, the kind of player that a team might flip for, say, a half-decent bullpen piece.
More of these to come as merrily we roll along — we have lots of time for speculation. Before I wish you a good weekend, I’d like to remind any readers in the Baltimore area that Jay Jaffe, Clay Davenport, and I will be doing our talk ‘n’ signing routine on Tuesday evening at the Johns Hopkins University Barnes & Noble, 3330 St. Paul Street in Baltimore. Closer to home, next Thursday Kevin Goldstein, Cliff Corcoran, Neil deMause, Jay, and myself will be reprising the act in Manhattan at the Barnes & Noble at 18th Street and 5th Avenue. I hope to see you there to talk about the new baseball season and all the crunchy A-Rod goodness you can stand. I’ll be the fat guy with the glasses. Can’t miss me.