The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, June 28, 2001


This Could Get Ugly

I made the mistake of checking the headlines before bed, and the news for the Yankees does not look good. The NY Times and other outlets are reporting that the Yanks are seriously considering trading Chuck Knoblauch to the Seattle Mariners for Al Martin and Brett Tomko, and signing former Yankee outfielder Gerald Williams, recently released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the worst team in baseball.

Friends, if ever we need evidence that the end of the Yankees reign as World Champions is nigh, it will be in the transaction lines that seal these deals. While Tomko would be a decent addition to the pitching staff, the moves will leave the moribund Yankee offense with even worse prospects, and go against the tenet around which the Yankee dynamo has been built: get on base.

career OBP 2001 OBP career SLG*OBP 2001 SLG*OBP
Chuck Knoblauch .384 .342 .159 .115
Al Martin .340 .305 .153 .105
Gerald Williams .306 .261 .128 .087
Slugging Percentage times On Base Percentage is a very crude stat I discussed a few days back; roughly speaking, it translates as runs created per at bat. Knoblauch has struggled this season, but even at his worst he is miles better than the competition at getting on base. If the Yanks plug one of these two cadavers in the leadoff spot, I will personally turn in my membership in the Joe Torre Is A Managerial Genius club card while the Yankee offense dies on the vine.

Gerald Williams hit 21 HR and drove in 89 runs for the last-place Rays last season. But he got on base at only a .312 clip and was as big a reason why the Rays remained the most pathetic offense in the league. He was released earlier this week because he was 66 plate appearances short of vesting a $4 million contract for 2002, and because the Rays seem to have caught on to his incompetence. Williams's agent made some hysterical noises about the release being unjustified, but anybody who analyzes Williams's stats can't help but conclude he's dragging an offense down.

Al Martin's claim to big league fame is that he was arrested for bigamy. As Chevy Chase says, that's illegal, even in Utah. Martin's having a hard time getting arrested on a ballfield lately, to the tune of a 648 OPS. He's a horrible LF as well, certainly no better than Knoblauch, who at least has the excuse of never playing out there before.

Knoblauch's baggage, along with an unconfirmed but long-rumored handshake deal for 2 years at $9 million per, is probably a driving force behind the Seattle deal. It doesn't help that he's in the midst of a 38-for-192 slump (.198). Tomko is a servicable swingman, having shown flashes of competence as a starter but much more consistency as a reliever (4.82 ERA as a starter, 3.64 as a reliever coming into this season). Ostensibly, he would fill the role Ramiro Mendoza doesn't seem capable of filling since coming back from surgery.

For the Yankees, losing Knoblauch at the top of the lineup would be the end of an era. He has never measured up to the player the Yanks thought they were getting from Minnesota in 1997, but his style of taking pitches and getting on base by any means necessary--including taking a pitch in the elbow--particularly in the midst of a rally, have earned him a spot near and dear to my heart. He's the Lil' Bastard Instant Rally Kit, as we say around here. The Yanks could move Derek Jeter to the leadoff spot--he's fared very well there in the past--or could elevate Alfonso Soriano. A month ago this move would have been laughable, as Soriano drew only 3 walks in his first 50 games. But Soriano has started to draw walks and cut down on his strikeouts. His OBP for June is .372, and he and Knoblauch have been swapping the league lead in stolen bases. It would be a huge risk given his lack of established ability to get on base, but the Yanks have already banked a considerable portion of their future on him, and they may believe he's turned a corner.

Still, these moves do not bode well for the Yankee offense, unless Torre can take At-Bats from some of the stiffs in the Yankee lineup. 200 plate appearances by Gerald Williams will not solve their problems, it will doom them.

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