Tagged: pitching

To the mats with reader mail

You really are something. You make the biggest deal in the world out of minor differences in Swisher (hero) and Nady (zero) yet totally discount the importance of swapping Jeter and Damon in the order. If I wanted to bore you I could come up with 10 factors — physical, mental and record based — that could change the dynamic of the Yankee lineup — or not. But to be so disdainful of how we earthlings waste our time obsessing over swapping a Hall of Fame No. 2 hitter with one of the better career leadoff men of the past ten or so years… Yes, I understand that none of this matters in the grand scheme of the universe — other than Nick Swisher, of course.– javamanny

Hey, I did allow for the possibility of a placebo effect, which takes care of your “physical, mental, and record-based” factors (what’s a record-based factor, anyway?). The point remains that small lineup changes, and maybe even big lineup changes, are more about psychological than real-world benefits. Many studies have been done of this subject, and the results consistently show that the difference between the least-optimal lineup (leadoff with the pitcher or Jose Molina or someone like that) and the best is only a few wins. The difference between the optimal lineup and the second-most optimal lineup or the third-most optimal lineup is nonexistent. As I said yesterday, it’s always possible that someone muscles up and hits .350, and when that happens, you or someone like you will write in and say, “See? It’s all because of the lineup change!” But you won’t really know. Given all this, swapping Jeter and Damon isn’t a significant move at all.

What is not nonexistent, however, is the impact on the bottom line, wins and losses, created by the manager’s decision to play one player over another. At his 2006-2007 best, Swisher’s offense and defense combined to make him a six-win player. At Nady’s normal rate of production–that is his whole career except for the first 89 games of 2008, he was a one-win player. This is anything but a minor difference.

Let it not be said that we don’t agree on anything, javamanny. I am definitely “something.”

Just imagine in the spiral bands of the Milky Way Galaxy we have a speck of dust orbiting a star we call the Sun in which there is a Nick Swisher and a Jeter and Damon flip flop. Makes you wonder what might be going on in the M31 Galaxy — although I am beginning to suspect Arod is an android.–midcoaster

That was kind of my point. Flipping one lineup spot is about as infinitesimal a change as you can make… Also: A-Rod is a cookbook.

Steve – Love you, man, but you wasted about 250 words on this topic without ever saying anything analytical or insightful about the pros/cons of such a move. I’m leaning toward pro for the following: 1) I agree with others about Jeter’s increased propensity for GIDP; 2) no one has mentioned the lefty/righty thing: with Gardner projected in the 9 hole, that would give you l-r-l in the 9-thru-2 spots (nice!); 3) Damon is more of a pull hitter – with Jeter on first base (and the first sacker holding him on) this increases the likelihood of more ground ball hits by Damon in the 1st-2nd hole; 4) Finally, I also generally agree with the points about Damon’s bigger power/run production potential. O another note, did you just imply that – Swisher was a better option in center than Melky? Nick Swisher? Come on… –budboy

You raise some fair points, budboy (as did the others who raised them), and all of them may mean something to the bottom line this year, but what value in terms of wins and losses do you want to assign to them? I will concede that many small things can add up to a big thing, so perhaps Joe Girardi has made a move that will pay off in some way, but a lot of dominoes would have to fall in precisely the optimum way for it to mean very much at all.

As for Swisher in center field, sure, some of the time, if the Yankees are smart about it. When CC Sabathia is pitching, probably not, when Chien-Ming Wang is pitching, sure, and with the other three guys you check which way the wind is blowing before making a decision.

Just wondering, how suicidal would it be to platoon Nady and Gardner? Now before you jump down my throat thinking I want X in center, stop and breathe. Against righties, run Gardner in center and Swisher in right. Against lefties, Swisher roams center for six innings giving way to Gardner and Nady starts in right until Swisher slides over (assuming a lead.) The preponderance of right-handers would mean, what, 35 partial games in center for Swisher?? I think this set would be the team’s strongest getting the most PAs for the best on-base guy and Nady shots vs. lefties. –Greg D.

It makes sense to me, but Joe Girardi may not want to think that much. See also the adjustments for the starting pitching made above–Sabathia is more of a fly ball pitcher, so you might want your best ballhawk on the field for his starts, regardless of the opposition’s hander. Of course, that would be Gardner and Swisher regardless, but the world ain’t logical or we wouldn’t be talking about this.

Landing Big Tex a big win for Yanks

In the 2004-2005 offseason, the top free agent on the market was Carlos Beltran, the switch-hitting, slugging center fielder. It happened that the Yankees had a need in center field, as Bernie Williams, 35, had just completed his second subpar season in a row, and his defense had long since passed the point of no return. Beltran reportedly had a great deal of interest in playing for the Yankees, but for reasons that were unclear then and remain unclear, the Yankees passed. That meant not only leaving Williams in center for another year, but it also meant that when Williams finally had to be wedged out of center field, they had to go to the best available player, which meant Johnny Damon. Damon has had two good years in three for the Yankees, but he is not the player that Beltran is, is far older, and soon proved that he was no longer a center fielder.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Yankees’ decision to pass on Beltran so as to use their monetary advantages that winter primarily on pitching help–which came in the dubious forms of Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, plus the aged but still viable (and cranky) Randy Johnson–has played a key part in their failure to win a title in the years since. Had the Yankees passed on Mark Teixeira, a player who perfectly suited (as was suggested here in this space on Monday) three of their needs simultaneously, age,offense, and defense, they would have repeated the same error.

They did not. All credit to Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner family, to the former for playing it cool and then making his move, to the latter for opening their wallets and spending big–and to all three for not just spending, Wright- and Pavano-style, but for spending it on the right player, maybe the “rightest” player that they’ve acquired since Alex Rodriguez. If only they don’t try to move Teixeira to another position so a defensively inferior player can play first. Nah, that would never happen.

There is one point in the above worth repeating: all the dollars that accrue to sport’s wealthiest organization mean nothing if they are not spent wisely. Too often, the Yankees have settled for something other than the choicest cuts of meat. This time, it’s filet mignon all the way.

The Yankees are not perfect. The defense is still poor. The outfield defense could be very shaky depending on the alignment the Yankees pursue. They could choose to let a meaningless spring training battle decide center field instead of letting the evidence of a full major league season inform their choices. They could give Xavier Nady more playing time in right field than Nick Swisher. Derek Jeter is losing range even as we speak. Jorge Posada may or may not be able to throw–

–And that reminds me to revisit another point, as a major metropolitan newspaper published a column castigating the Yankees for closing off first base to Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada. Here we go:

This year, major league first basemen hit .272 /.353/.464.
Two years ago, they hit .276/.357/.463.
Three years ago, they hit .285/.363/.488.
Over the last five years, they hit .275/.355/.468.
Over the last ten years, they hit .276/.359/.472.

No doubt you’re starting to get the picture. Now, this is the average. If a team is getting these rates from its first baseman, it’s breaking even in comparison with the league. You could have Albert Pujols and do a lot better. You could have Doug Mientkiewicz and do a lot worse. Heck, your manager could give Miguel Cairo the odd start at first base. Some of these first baseman, like Albert Pujols and New Yankee Teixeira, not only hit but can field the position. While the standards are set where they are, there is no plausible reason that the Yankees should pass on a 29-year-old MVP-level player so they can reserve first base for aging former stars who will struggle to meet even the average level of production for the position and will almost certainly not be defensive assets. That is a formula for losing. And, oh yeah, the contracts of both Damon and Matsui are up at the end of the season. Unless the Yankees are as misguided a year from now as they were intelligent in signing Teixeira, what to do with those players at age 36 and up will be some other club’s problem.

Thus endeth the lecture. For now, suffice it to say that the Yankees have given their fans a great early Christmas present. More importantly, they’ve done the right thing competitively. Before the Red Sox became the favorites in the bidding, Teixeira was a move the Yankees should have made. Once the Red Sox became involved, it was a move they had to make, lest their rivals to the North unveil their own version of Murderer’s Row. As I said above, it was the right-est move the Yankees have made in years.

And with that, I wish you a happy and healthy holiday, whatever holiday is your holiday of choice. Enjoy it, and when you sit down to dinner with your family, don’t forget to scratch out Teixeira-ified batting orders into the mashed potatoes.