Results tagged ‘ Mets ’

The Posada debate continues

If you check out the comments on yesterday’s entry, you will see a lot of frustration with Jorge Posada’s defense. A few lines:

Mr. Goldman, you know as well as I do that we should have let the Mets sign Jorge, instead of the Yanks giving a mediocre catcher the amount of money he received. He grounds into many, many rally-killing DPs and he is a big “K” way too often. Molina is twice the catcher that Jorge is.

Molina knows more about catching than Posada could ever dream about. I believe Cervelli should be brought up to work closely with Jose to refine his game. He’s already proven that he is a better defender than Posada, and hits the ball pretty effectively.

It’s time for the front office to stop turning a blind eye when they see Posada catch. Girardi should know this by now, Posada is not going to learn and doesn’t want to hear it.

molina250_082509.jpgI’m going to agree on one thing. Jose Molina is a much superior defensive catcher to Posada, and Frankie Cervelli looks pretty good, too. I will further agree that Posada hits into a lot of double plays, although show me a catcher who comes up with as many runners on base as Posada does and I’ll show you a double-play machine. I will not agree that he’s “a big K way too often,” as he’s a career .282/.400/.493 hitter with runners in scoring position and a .292/.405/.474 hitter late and close. Finally, I will strongly, violently disagree that the Yankees would be helped in any way by giving more playing time to Molina and Cervelli.

You don’t have to look too far to see what the Yankees would be like without Posada. It happened in a little season called 2008, which was still slowly bleeding to death at this time a year ago. Posada was on the shelf, Molina was playing, and the Yankees were losing games. There were other things wrong with the ballclub, but the Posada-Molina exchange was one of them.

As I tried to indicate in yesterday’s entry, everything in baseball is relative. Posada’s defensive flaws don’t make him a zero as compared to Molina’s 100, it makes him a 70 compared to Molina’s 100. Molina’s pitchers have actually thrown fractionally more wild pitches per nine innings than have Posada’s. Molina has thrown out 41 percent of attempted basestealers in his career, Posada only 29, but that’s a difference of 12 outs per 100 attempts, which sounds like a lot but only works out to a few runs on the season. We could talk about catcher-specific ERA, but that’s a flawed statistic, as it is open to sample size and other distortions, such as who caught who. The point is that you can’t judge players in isolation, but only in comparison. Compared to our idealized vision of a good defense catcher, Posada is terrible. Compared to actual catchers, he’s just a bit below average overall.

Take that knowledge, set it aside, and then consider Posada’s offensive game, which is much easier to evaluate. For most of his career he has not only been an above-average hitter for a catcher, he’s been an above-average hitter period. In 2000, when Posada hit .287/.417/.527, the average AL player hit .276/.349/.443. The average catcher hit only .261/.331/.425. The advantage conferred upon the Yankees was huge. Posada is no longer in his 2000 prime, but he still towers above his catching brethren. Even with Joe Mauer’s huge season in the mix, even counting Posada himself, the average Major League catcher is hitting only .254/.320/.397. To the extent that winning each baseball game is a battle of potential offenses, of being able to say, “My first baseman is better than your first baseman; my catcher is better than your catcher,” the Yankees win still win that battle with almost anyone but the Twins and perhaps the Braves (Brian McCann).

Molina is a career .238/.278/.338 hitter. He’s a below-average hitter compared to the general population. He’s a below-average hitter compared to catchers, shortstops, bat boys, and Snuffleupagus from “Sesame Street.” The offensive loss from such a transaction would outweigh the defensive gains. The Yankees would be net losers, a few runs up on defense, 50 or more runs down on offense. Going by Molina’s performance last year and Posada’s this year, the Yankees would gain a win on defensive runs saved and lose six on offense. As Posada ages, they will eventually have to make a change, but not this one, and hopefully not any time soon.

And before you say, “Yes, Molina, but Cervelli — !” Cervelli is far closer to Molina with the bat than Posada. He’s now 23 and has hit .270/.367/.379 in the Minors, most of that at the lower levels. He hasn’t even had 300 at-bats above A-Ball as yet and it shows in his offensive approach. He needs more time in the bus leagues if he is ever going to improve, and that’s a big if either way. Neither Molina nor Cervelli is going to be the next great Yankees catcher. It could be Jesus Montero, but right now I’d bet on Austin Romine. He’s at least two years away and has some real work to do on his hitting game, as the 20-year-old has power but lacks in selectivity.

In short, keep yelling at the TV if you want to. Perhaps it’s therapeutic. It’s also a bit misguided, because, as I said yesterday, passed balls advance a runner one base. Home runs advance them four. Unless you enjoyed 2008, with its great defensive catching and poor results, root against Posada at your own peril.

Rangers 10-10  4.9  4.1 .281 .342 .458    28 24  5  1.2  3.3 7.9
Yankees 16-4  6.2  5.8 .301 .357 .519    20 6  1  1.1  3.4 8.8

Of the 20 Rangers games surveyed here, 13 were at home, which puts a friendlier tinge on their numbers than is deserved. On the road they have hit .240/.295/.417 as a ballclub. To continue our discussion from above, those are close to Jose Molina numbers.  On the whole this is not a great hitting club. They do run the bases a lot, especially rookie Julio Borbon, one of those outfielders that I mentioned in last week’s draft review (which I’ll return to tomorrow). One player to note is Chris Davis, the slugging but strikeout-prone first baseman who returns to the lineup Tuesday night after a long stint in the Minors. A left-handed hitter, he’ll be taking his shots at Yankee Stadium’s right-field porch.

The rookie the Yankees really don’t want to see in this series is Neftali Feliz, a Minor League starter who is doing the Joba Chamberlain ’07 thing for the Rangers’ bullpen. He’s been close to untouchable so far, slinging the ball up to the plate at 100 mph. The Rangers haven’t been great at closing games, but they’ve become very good at the holy eighth inning. In the starting department, the Yankees will face the veteran Kevin Millwood, whose low strikeout rate should work against him in this ballpark — though note that for the last few years he has been much more successful against left-handed hitters than right-handers. Hard-throwing rookie lefty Derek Holland has pitched very well of late, with a 1.85 ERA in his last five starts, and has had a lot of success away from Arlington, so Andy Pettitte has drawn a tough matchup. Journemyman Dustin Nippert takes what would have been Vicente Padilla’s spot, and no doubt everyone involved except Padilla is happier about that. Nippert is a giant at 6’7″, with a good fastball and a power curve but has never pitched with anything approaching consistency. That shouldn’t change in this series.

Irony is such a lovely word

Yanks-6-13-250.jpgIf you dig irony, the conclusion of Friday night’s game had to be an instant favorite. In November 2007, Mets General Manager Omar Minaya handed out one of the more foolish contracts in recent memory, signing Luis Castillo to a four-year, $25 million contract. Moreno thus assured the Mets of having Castillo’s company from age 32 through 35 when the second baseman’s speed, defense, and durability had already declined due to a set of bad knees. His power was always minimal, so even when at his best his offensive contributions have been minor. The most you can say of him at this point is that he’s selective and that when he does run, he picks his spots well. If you add up the 87 games he played last year with the 50 he’s played this year, you get a .258/.362/.318 hitter with 13 doubles, three triples, and three home runs. He’s also walked 77 times and stolen 23 bases in 27 attempts. He’s not completely without value, but what’s there isn’t something that the Mets needed to lock themselves into, especially when Castillo has so little leeway in his skills; if he slips even slightly, he’s rowing the team backwards.

That this player, of all players, dropped a seeming can of corn to give away a game to the Yankees seems highly appropriate. It would be inhuman not to observe that it’s also a little sad. There is no joy in seeing a 14-season veteran of the Major Leagues humiliated. Still, poor decision-making has a way of coming back to haunt you, and Castillo’s Fumble is the most visible example of a GM’s misevaluation of a player biting his team in the buttocks.

Joba Chamberlain’s start was not pretty and might be better characterized as bizarre, as he left in the fourth having allowed just one hit but walked five and hit two batters. No doubt the Joba-to-the-Pen crowd will again get hyped up, but let’s be realistic: throwing strikes has been a staff-wide problem for the Yankees this year. With nine walks in nine innings last night, the club raised its rate of ball fours to 4.1 per nine innings. In doing so, they passed the Cleveland Indians for the league lead.

I’ve seen a great deal of hostility expressed towards Dave Eiland in reader comments here and elsewhere, but I’m not sure that you can put the blame on him exclusively. When a team has young, hard throwing pitchers, control problems often have to be worked through. A great deal of frustration usually accompanies this. Those of you kicking around long enough might recall that back in the mid-1980s, Bobby Valentine promulgated an ill-considered get-tough program with his wild Rangers pitchers, vowing that if any of his starters walked two consecutive batters he would be instantaneously yanked from the game. All this accomplished was to make his pitchers nervous. Bobby Witt remained Bobby Witt even with a metaphorical gun to his head. The Yankees can change pitching coaches, but the new guy is unlikely to bring a magic bullet to go with that gun.

Joe Girardi has not had a sure touch with the bullpen this year. His reluctance to use Mariano Rivera for a long save in Boston, followed by his usage of him in the eighth inning of Friday’s game, is a frustrating inconsistency. The usage of Brett Tomko ahead of David Robertson (more on this below) makes very little sense. When Girardi finally did get around to using Robertson, the horse was out of the barn. He then tried to push Robertson into a second inning, which would have pushed his pitch count up to 40 or so pitches, more than he typically throws. Instead, he allowed a leadoff hit to Gary Sheffield, which led to a panicky call to Phil Coke.

One interesting aspect of Girardi’s bullpen usage is the frequency with which relievers have pitched; Yankees relievers lead the league in appearances in consecutive games. Phil Coke leads the pack with nine such appearances each. This is in large part a reflection of Girardi’s reluctance to turn to anyone in the pen except for Coke, Mariano Rivera, and lately Al Aceves. As we’ve seen before, particularly in the Joe Torre years, this can lead to burnout of select pitchers. Given that the Yankees have other options in the minors, it would make far more sense for the Yankees to try something new than to continue to burden Girardi with options he’s already discarded.

The one positive to come out of last night’s bullpen mishmash was that Phil Coke had a long outing. The former starter’s splits this year have been backwards: .195/.327/.366 with one home run in 41 at-bats against righties, .216/.245/.523 with four home runs in 44 at-bats against lefties, suggesting that Coke is miscast in the LOOGY role.

Finally, it’s great to see a Yankees manager finally using the team’s closer in tight eighth-inning situations instead of already-settled ninth innings, but it is unfortunate that it took until Rivera was 39, when he may no longer be mentally or physically adaptable to the change.

Nick Swisher is just not having a good week for mental acuity. Neither are the official scorers. That the official scorer called the ball that bounced off his mitt a double is just one more illustration of how badly baseball needs to professionalize official scoring. Millions of dollars in salaries are affected by performance statistics, and too often those statistics are perverted by scorers who display something less than objectivity.

Of course, nothing Swisher did this week compares to Milton Bradley’s actions on Friday, when he forgot the number of outs and tossed a live ball into the stands, allowing the Twins to trot around the bases.

I’m still not clear on what Brett Tomko is adding to the roster, particularly when the Yankees could be getting Tony Claggett or Mark Melancon established in the Majors. He and Angel Berroa (three at-bats this month, seven total since April) are mysteries worthy of a Leonard Nimoy In Search Of… revival. Tomko has been around a long time, bas rarely been any good, and his 10.2 innings out of the Yankees pen going into Friday night’s debacle were deceptive. Sure, the ERA was only 2.53, but he’d walked four and struck out only five. He was always prone to giving up the home run, had already given up one, and with that low strikeout rate it was inevitable that he’d give up another. I’m all for teams fishing in the discard pile for diamonds in the rough, but the Yankees have viable relievers in the minors who might be good for the next five years, not the next five minutes. David Robertson is one of those, and yet he followed Tomko, coming in three-runs down instead of up by one. Veteran Tomkoism is counterproductive in the extreme.

I’m sure someone will write that the Yankees were looking for “length” with Chamberlain out of the game early, but length remains theoretical when the pitcher you choose can’t actually pitch.

Linked here, a very perceptive bit on Kyle Farnsworth from Joe Posnanski. He illustrates that the Royals have discovered what the Yankees (and Braves, and everyone else) already knew: Farnsworth is to be used in low leverage situations ONLY. “There’s no crying in baseball, except when Kyle Farnsworth comes in.” The Yankees pretended this wasn’t true for two and a half years.