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.

Monday, December 24, 2001


Happy Birthday to Me, Rickey Henderson, and 64 Other Ballplayers

December 25 marks a holiday for most of this country and probably, for most of my readership--if so, my sincere wishes for a happy holiday to you. For me the day is somewhat more paradoxical: I'm Jewish and thus don't celebrate Christmas, which is fine by me because I'm none too fond of that red and green color scheme. It also happens to be my birthday, number 32 to be exact.

I'll spare you the tales about how this combination of circumstances influenced my psyche while growing up (long story short: people forgetting birthday bad, never having to work or go to school on birthday good) and, as usual, move onto the baseball angle in all of this. lists 65 players as being born on December 25, including Hall-of-Famers Pud Galvin and Nellie Fox, and future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson. Henderson is undoubtedly the best major-leaguer born on this day, but then again, he'd be the best major-leaguer born on any one of over three hundred other days, too.

Given that there are 253 members of the Hall of Fame (including executives), having two or three HOFers born on any single date is an above-average representation. Still, having spent some time looking over the resumes of the 65 ballplayers with December 25 birthdays, I can't make any claims for the All Xmas Team I've assembled. They're exceedingly long on futility infielders and backup catchers, short on outfielders, first basemen, and power hitters in general. Their pitching is pretty solid, though they don't really have a closer.
Pos  Name (Years)                 AVG   OBP   SLG   HR

C Quincy Trouppe (1952) .100 .182 .100 0
1B Walter Holke (1914-1925) .287 .318 .363 24
2B Nellie Fox (1947-1965) .288 .348 .363 35
3B Gene Robertson (1919-1930) .280 .344 .373 20
SS Manny Trillo (1973-1989) .263 .316 .345 61
LF Jo-Jo Moore (1930-1941) .298 .344 .408 79
CF Rickey Henderson (1979-) .280 .402 .420 290
RF Ben Chapman (1930-1946) .302 .383 .440 90

C Gene Lamont (1970-1975) .233 .278 .371 4
IF Tom O'Malley (1982-1990) .256 .329 .340 13
IF Joe Quinn (1884-1901) .261 .302 .327 29
IF Bill Akers (1929-1932) .261 .349 .404 11
OF Red Barnes (1927-1930) .269 .347 .404 8
OF Gerry Davis (1983-1985) .301 .370 .397 0
PH Wallace Johnson (1981-1990) .255 .316 .332 5

Pos Name (Years) W L S ERA
SP Pud Galvin (1875-1892) 364 310 2 2.86
SP Ned Garver (1948-1961) 129 157 12 3.73
SP Ted Lewis (1896-1901) 94 64 4 3.53
SP Charlie Lea (1980-1988) 62 48 0 3.54
SP George Haddock (1888-1894) 95 87 2 4.07
RP Al Jackson (1959-1969) 67 99 10 3.98
RP Lloyd Brown (1928-1940) 91 105 21 4.20
RP Eric Hiljus (1999-2001) 5 0 0 3.68
RP Charlie Beamon (1956-1958) 3 3 0 3.91
CL Jack Hamilton (1962-1969) 32 40 20 4.53
A few words about the selections:

* Quincy Trouppe spent twenty-two years in the Negro Leagues before receiving a 10-at-bat cup of coffee with the Cleveland Indians in 1952, at age 39. He was a fine player in his day, making All-Star teams everywhere he went and accumulating a lifetime Negro League Average of .311. He also won a Negro League championship as player-manager of the Cleveland Buckeyes. Bill James rates him the #7 catcher of the Negro Leagues in the New Historical Baseball Abstract. One more interesting note about him: during the height of World War II, he had trouble securing a passport to play in the Mexican League. The league's president intervened, and made arrangements for Trouppe's services in exchange for those of 80,000 Mexican workers. You could look it up.

* Manny Trillo played most of his career as a second baseman, and a slick-fielding one at that, winning three Gold Gloves and setting a record for consecutive errorless games. But Nellie Fox also won three Gold Gloves at 2B, so I took the liberty of moving Trillo to SS (where he had limited experience). I'm sure he and Nellie would have made a fine double-play combo. Trillo is the only Christmas-born ballplayer whose real name is Jesus.

* Jo-Jo Moore and Ben Chapman both crack Bill James' Top 100 lists by postion. Moore ranks 77th among LFs, Chapman 55th among CFs (I put him in right because he played a good portion of his career there). Chapman was, by all accounts, an aggressive ballplayer who fought a lot. He stole as many as 61 bases, and had some power as well. He later managed the Philadelphia Phillies for parts of four seasons and is most noted for baiting the rookie Jackie Robinson with racial epithets. Schmuck. We'll let Trouppe manage this squad, just to rub it in Chapman's face.

* Red Barnes--don't you love that name? Gerry Davis did pretty well in 73 ABs for the Padres, but missed out on their glory year of 1984. There's now an umpire with the same name, but I can't figure out if its the same guy.

* Wallace Johnson was a pretty good pinch-hitter whose claim to fame was the hit that put the Montreal Expos in their first (and only) postseason in 1981. He's now a coach with the Chicago White Sox.

* Three of the pitchers on this team made their names in the 19th century, when pitching and pitching stats were much different. Galvin had back-to-back 46-win seasons in 1883 and 1884, making over 70 starts each year. He won 20 games or more ten times, and lost 20 games or more 10 times as well. George Haddock went from 9-26 in 1890 for Buffalo of the Players League to 34-11 with Boston of the American Association the following year. Ted Lewis won 47 games over two seasons for the Boston Beaneaters in 1896-1897.

* Ned Garver was a hard-luck pitcher who managed to go 20-12 for a St. Louis Browns team that went 52-102 in 1951. This performance so impressed MVP voters in the AL that he finished second to Yogi Berra.

* Speaking of pitching for lousy teams... at 8-20 with a 4.40 ERA, Al Jackson could have easily been mistaken for the ace of the 1962 Mets (though Roger Craig had an equal claim). Jackson managed to lose 88 games in a 5-year span, four of those with the Mets. He's spent several years as a pitching coach, and I believe was recently hired somewhere.

One more thing I discovered: The first Christmas-born ballplayer, Nat Jewett (who I'm guessing didn't celebrate either), was a member of the 1872 Brooklyn Eckfords of the National Association, who went 3-26 for the season. Sweeeet. You learn something new every day, even on your birthday...

Wednesday, December 19, 2001


Remaking the Yankees, Part VII: Adding It Up

In analyzing the Yankees offseason moves over the past couple of weeks, I've largely steered clear of any commentary about the consequences of the Yanks' spending spree, both for themselves and for the rest of baseball. I did this for several reasons:

• First, because I wanted to focus on the vacancies in their 2002 roster, their options for filling said vacancies, and the quality of the decisions they made.

• Second, because in this contentious environment, we are currently so awash in misleading financial data, that it's tough to take any analysis of baseball's finances seriously.

• And third, because if I'm nowhere near being a major-league baseball player (even a futility infielder with a sub-700 OPS) or a General Manager, I'm even further away from being an economist or an accountant. In general, money bores the hell out of me, unless it's my own we're talking about.

Nevertheless, I do feel some nagging responsibility to address the issue now that I've watched George Steinbrenner's team throw $165 million at four free agents. So bear with me as I try to weed through some of the numbers.

According to figures released last week by the Major League Baseball Players Association, the Yankees paid an average annual salary of $3.93 million to the 31 players on their August 31 roster or disabled list, leading the major leagues. This figure was 84% higher than the major league average of $2.14 million. This was the first year that the average salary surpassed $2 million, and was up 12.8% on last year's figure of $1.9 million

This was the third straight year that the Yanks have had the highest annual salary, and the seventh time in the past eight. Multiplying the average salary by the number of players on their roster and DL, we get a figure of $121.8 million worth of salaries. Back in April, ESPN reported the Yanks' opening day roster as totalling $109.8 million in salary, which barely edged out the the Boston Red Sox ($109.6 million) and Los Angeles Dodgers ($109 million) for the top spot. If I understand correctly, those opening day figures were based on average annual values of contracts rather than what the teams would actually be paying this year, but it's unclear whether the recently released figures are calculated the same way. We may be comparing apples and oranges.

This is an important distinction. Take Derek Jeter's contract, for example. Jeter signed a 10-year contract worth $18.9 million annually, so that $18.9 mil figure would be included in the MLBPA's calculations. But according to the structure of the contract, in 2001 Jeter actually received an $11 million salary, plus $2 million of a $16-million bonus which was spread over 8 years. Total salary for 2001: $13 million. You can see where this is going--a vastly inflated figure compared to their actual payments for the year. Still, according to these figures, the Yanks spent more money on player contracts than any other team.

The Yankees spend the most money because they make the most money. Forbes Magazine estimated their revenue for the 2000 season at $192.4 million, tops in baseball. The Mets were second, at $162.0 million, the Braves third at $145.5 million, the Expos last at $53.9 million. The league average was $105.9 million. According to 2001 unaudited figures released by Major League Baseball a couple of weeks ago, the Yanks' revenue was $242.2 million, again tops and about twice the major league average of $118.3 million. Montreal again brought up the rear, this time at $34.2 million. Not coincidentally, these high revenues make the Yankees the most valuable franchise in baseball. George Steinbrenner's team was valued by Forbes in the beginning of the season at $635 million, almost 40% higher than the next most valuable club, the Mets, and 241% of the major league average franchise valuation.

According to those numbers released by Bud Selig, numbers about which we should be very skeptical because of the lack of detail they provide and the accounting tricks they undoubtedly conceal, major league teams posted a $232 million operating loss in 2001, or an average of $7.73 million per team. Against all of this, the Yanks posted an operating profit of $14.32 million after factoring in revenue sharing (towards which the Yankees kicked in $26.5 million this year), making them one of only nine teams to show a profit for 2001:
Milwaukee $16.13 million

Seattle 15.48
NYY 14.32
SF 12.69
Detroit 5.66
Oakland 3.41
Cincy 2.35
Minnesota 0.54
Anaheim 0.03
A closer look at the numbers reveals that revenue sharing put the Angels, Reds, Tigers, Twins, and A's in the black, while it put seven otherwise profitable teams in the red. The Brewers, in addition to turning a profit (nice job, Bud, I mean Wendy) received a small amount of revenue sharing ($1.7 million), meaning only three teams withstood their revenue-sharing contributions and still showed a profit. Not surprisingly, the Yanks were one of those teams.

According to Selig's testimony before Congress, the Yankees were one of only two profitable teams over the past seven years, the other being the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees posted a $64.5 million operating profit from the years 1995-1999, as the Blue Ribbon Committee reported last summer (I don't have updated figures covering all seven years).

The Yankees are the wealthiest and healthiest franchise, so what else is new? Well, YES--the Yankee Entertainment and Sports Network, George Steinbrenner's new cable channel--will be carrying the Yankees games starting next season, bringing a new revenue stream of bigger and bigger local broadcasting dollars. The Yankees made $56.75 million in local broadcast revenue this year, according to Major League Baseball, 2.5 times the major league average. Estimates on what the team will earn in its first year of YES range from a low of $52 million (according to a former president of CBS Sports) to a high of $80 million (according to Doug Pappas, head of the Society for American Baseball Research Business of Baseball Committee, who maintains a site devoted to his excellent writings on the subject and who has been writing a worthwhile series on similar grounds over at Baseball Prospectus). The rich, in other words, stand to get a whole lot richer, which is why they've been spending so much money lately.

One of the things wrong with baseball right now is the ill-structured revenue sharing agreement, a result of the 1995 strike settlement, which allows teams receiving luxury taxes paid by the likes of the Yankees to pocket those dollars rather than reinvesting them in player salaries. But just as wrong is that the Yankees are allowed to maintain their huge local revenue advantage unchecked. As it's structured right now, teams do not share their local broadcast revenues, despite the fact that it takes two teams to tango on the Madison Square Garden Network or YES. A revenue-sharing solution which requires teams to contribute some percentage of local revenues (AND prevents those receiving revenue sharing from merely pocketing the income) is one of the most commonly offered solutions to the current revenue disparity problems.

It remains to be seen whether the owners will get hip to this idea, as it makes much more sense than a salary cap. Given George Steinbrenner's public support for Bud Selig but his just-as-public disdain for revenue sharing ("I'd rather send a million dollars to Save the Whales than to the Pittsburgh Pirates," he's been quoted as saying), it will be some measure of Selig's sincerity in tackling the problem if he shows the courage to try to reach inside of George's pocket himself.

You can stop laughing now.

In the wake of the Yanks' wave of free-agent signings last week, ESPN offered up a headline which read "Yank payroll closes in on $150 million." The story--mostly about YES--included a sidebar which listed the average annual value of Yankee players' contracts, along with estimates for their unsigned younger players. The total reported there was $147 million--an astronomical number. But it's also one that simply isn't true. Those numbers do not take into account the salary structures of several of the Yanks' top contracts, as I hinted at above. Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi, for example, both have heavily back-loaded contracts. While ESPN reports the averages as $18.9 million for Jeter and $17 million for Giambi, the truth is that Jeter will receive "only" $15 million in 2002 including signing bonus, and Giambi only $10.8 million (on the other hand, they will be receiving respective salaries in 2007 of $20 and $21 million). These figures are taken from a contracts page which lists the year-by-year structure of nearly every long-term contract. Using these figures (which include the structure of bonus payments), as well as what's been reported this week, we come up with a much different estimate of the Yankees payroll. In creating the table below, I've averaged out bonuses over the life of the contract unless they were otherwise indicated, and I've used ESPN's estimates for unsigned players, denoted by an asterisk:
              2002               ESPN

Base + bonus total AVG
Jeter 13.0 + 2.0 15.0 18.9
Giambi 8.0 + 2.8 11.8 17.0
Mussina 9.0 + 2.0 11.0 14.8
Clemens 7.8 + 2.5 10.3 15.4
BWilliams 12.0 12.0 12.5
Pettitte 8.5 + 1.7 10.2 8.5
Rivera 7.45 + 2.0 9.45 9.9
Ventura 8.25 8.25 8.0
Posada 8.0* 8.0 8.0*
Karsay 3.0 + 4.0 7.0 5.75
Hitchcock 5.0 6.0 6.0
White 4.5 5.5 5.0
OHernandez 4.0* 4.0 4.0*
Stanton 2.5 2.5 2.58
Mendoza 2.5* 2.5 2.5*
GWilliams 2.0 2.0
Vander Wal 1.55 1.55 1.92
AHernandez 1.0 1.0 1.0
Soriano 1.0* 1.0 1.0*
Spencer 1.0* 1.0 1.0*
Henson 1.0 1.0 2.83
Johnson 0.5* 0.5 0.5*
130.55 147.08
As you can see, those are two very different figures--a 12.7% difference. What's interesting is that the righthand column of approximate annual values is what the MLBPA uses to calculate revenue-sharing figures, rather than basing them on actual payments due.

There's no getting around the fact that the Yankee payroll is extremely high. So far, they've been the most active team in the free-agent market, and while teams have paid lip service to cutting payroll, questionable mid-level signings have abounded. Many of the top free agents--Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Chan Ho Park, for example--remain unsigned, with their respective suitors keeping a very low profile. Right now the Yanks are getting all of the exposure and taking all of the heat.

For what it's worth, I would like to point out that with the exception of the Karsay signing, the Yanks haven't really broken any new ground, contract-wise. Jeter's contract is still about $6 million per year lower than Alex Rodriguez's. Giambi's contract is one of the top five in terms of average annual value, and it's probably going to become a millstone over the second half unless he stays in shape and very productive. What is new ground is the number of players the Yanks have who will be making over $10 million a year--five or six, depending on which method you use.

Right now the Yanks are clearly in a class by themselves when it comes to spending. There's no doubt that losing the World Series and shedding mid-priced mediocrities has opened their checkbooks wider than if they had won the Series. Whether they'll be the only team in that stratosphere come opening day remains to be seen.

As I said before, I'm not an economist. I highly recommend anybody who's got even a passing interest in the finances of baseball read Doug Pappas's writings--there's a man who understands where the money comes from and where it's going much better than I do.

Sunday, December 16, 2001


Remaking the Yankees, Part VI: The Bullpen

In the era of the Feel-Good Yankee Dynasty, it's ironic that one of the team's most glaring weaknesses last season had its roots in an old-school Bronx Zoo-style feud. It started when Joe Torre bypassed his own righty setup man, Jeff Nelson, for a spot on the 2000 AL All-Stars. Nelson, en route to a 6-2, 1.69 ERA first half, publicly vented his frustration at Torre. The seeds of ill will thus sown, they were further cultivated when Nelson questioned Torre's use of him later in the season as the team began to struggle. Nelson's complaints earned a put-up-or-shut-up rebuke from the Boss himself: "I want to offer Nelson the following advice," Steinbrenner told the New York Daily News in early September. "Just give us what we need and zip the lip."

Nelson began talking like a man on the way out. "I have 29 more days plus the playoffs to put up with this stuff," he responded, then made good on his prediction by signing a 3-year, $10.5 million contract with the Seattle Mariners during the offseason. The Yankees had offered Nelson $9 million over the same period, and despite his role in bolstering a dominating bullpen which anchored four World Championships in five years, Steinbrenner let him walk over such a relatively small amount.

The Yankees never did replace Nelson adequately last season, and their failure to do so had a trickle-down effect on the entire bullpen. They auditioned a sordid assortment of righties, trading away prospects such as D'Angleo Jiminez and Ricardo Aramboles to get mediocrities like Jay Witasick and Mark Wohlers. Lefty Mike Stanton got the bulk of the setup duty in the bullpen, appearing in 76 games and wearing down as the season progressed. Randy Choate stepped into the spot-lefty role with mixed results, including some serious control problems. With the back end of the starting rotation struggling, Ramiro Mendoza racked up lots of innings in middle relief instead of the type of setup duty in which he's excelled in the postseason.

In the end, Torre put his trust in only three relievers--Stanton, Mendoza, and Rivera. Not coincidentally, they were the only ones to pitch over 50 innings for the team. This short bullpen had ramifications during the playoffs, as Rivera was called upon for five outings of longer than an inning, including Game Seven of the World Series, where... well, you know the rest.

Here's a breakdown of the relievers' stats, with the pretenders to Nelson's role grouped together in roughly chronological order (I threw Nelson's stats with Seattle on for comparison's sake). Note that while those relievers' ERAs weren't uniformly bad, they allowed a high number of baserunners per inning (WHIP) and a majority of inherited baserunners (IR) to score (IS). The last column is saves (SV) and blown saves (BS):
                  IP    ERA    WHIP  IR-IS  SV/BS

Todd Williams 15.1 4.70 2.02 12-8 0/0
Carlos Almanzar 10.2 3.38 1.50 13-11 0/2
Brian Boehringer 34.2 3.12 1.36 14-6 1/1
Jay Witasick 40.1 4.69 1.61 18-10 0/1
Mark Wohlers 35.2 4.54 1.43 17-5 0/0

Randy Choate 48.3 3.35 1.25 19-4 0/0
Ramiro Mendoza 100.6 3.75 1.11 46-7 6/2
Mike Stanton 80.1 2.58 1.36 44-12 0/1
Mariano Rivera 80.2 2.34 0.81 25-5 50/7

Jeff Nelson (SEA) 65.1 2.76 1.13 38-5 4/1
The good news is that the Yankee brass has recognized the cost of their penny-wise, pound-foolish decision to let Nelson walk. Brian Cashman even took public responsibility for his less-than-stellar work in this department. And so the Yanks did what they have done all winter--carefully evaluated their options, then threw A LOT of money at their top choice and induced him to sign a contract. In this case, they settled on righty Steve Karsay, who started the year in Cleveland before being traded to Atlanta in the John Rocker deal. Karsay signed a 4-year, $23 million dollar contract to serve as the belated replacement for Nelson. Reportedly, Joe Torre plans to have Karsay, who has a history of elbow trouble, share the righty setup role with the equally fragile Mendoza so as not to overwork either. This in turn should take some of the pressure off of Stanton to throw as many innings as he did. And it should also take some pressure off of Rivera; Karsay's experience in the closer role (though not wildly successful--29 saves, 15 blown saves overall) may prevent Mariano from working too many days in a row.

While the signing was emphatic (almost twice the amount they offered to Nelson per year), this was one example where they overspent significantly. The Yanks also toyed with the idea of signing David Weathers, a former Yankee with a longer track record of mediocrity (save for his '96 postseason in pinstripes, when he won two games) who just signed with the Mets for three years at $9.4 million. The two posted very similar stats, though Weathers entered many more games with men on base:
                    IP    ERA    WHIP  IR-IS  SV/BS  Car. ERA

S. Karsay (CLE-ATL) 88.0 2.35 1.11 19-3 8/4 4.00
Weathers (MIL-CHC) 86.0 2.41 1.15 44-8 4/6 4.81
If you see double the annual value in Karsay, you'll have to show me how that works, because I certainly don't see it.

Be that as it may, the Yankees bullpen is much stronger than it was when Luis Gonzalez's broken-bat single fell for a game-winning base hit one sad November night. Rivera will be back, and he's expected to shrug off that devastating defeat with the same success he did Sandy Alomar's home run in the 1997 AL Divisional Series. With one inning to go and the World Championship on the line, he's still the man any manager in baseball would be thrilled to turn to. As for the rest of them... Witasick was just traded for outfielder John Vander Wal. Wohlers was offered arbitration but is probably a longshot to make the team in the spring. The question marks are:

• Whether Randy Choate will emerge to take on significant innings and earn the trust of Torre. Rather than being used as a spot lefty, Choate pitched most of his innings doing mop-up, perhaps to better showcase his trade value. Looking at his game log, 15 of his last 19 outings were in games decided by more than three runs, and his last six appearances (from August 18 on) were all in losses. Choate showed control problems, walking 27 batters in his 48+ innings (5.0 per 9 IP). Given the Yanks' surplus of developing lefties, it wouldn't be surprising to see him traded.

• Whether Ted Lilly, bumped to the bullpen by the signing of Sterling Hitchcock and Brian Cashman's assertion that the team will keep El Duque (I think he reads my column, as Baseball News Blog's Pete Sommers has suggested), will get enough work in the bullpen to develop. Given Lilly's high strikeout rate (8.4 per 9 IP) and success out of the pen (3.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 5.0 K/W in 16.2 innings), this may be an appealing option.

• Whether another Yankee youngster, such as Adrian "El Duquecito" Hernandez, will make the club and get some major league innings. Hernandez, a Cuban defector, is at least 27. He didn't wow anybody at Columbus (5.51 ERA, 7.4 K/9, 1.5 WHIP as a starter), but he acquitted himself reasonably well with the Yanks (3.68 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in 22 innings). If they're going to find out what they've got in him, now may be the time.

Those are minor questions, however. The Yankees seem very content with the answers they can offer out of the bullpen at this point.

Before I put the issue of the Yanks' big makeover to bed and depart for the ski slopes of Utah, I have some final thoughts on the ramifications of their spending this winter. I'll be back with those in my next piece, as well as some words about what's going on elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001


Remaking the Yankees, Part V-Point-Two: Patching the Rotation

In my last piece, I examined the Yankee pitching rotation's performance in 2001, and pointed out the gulf that existed between their top-line starters and the back of the rotation. Today I'll examine their options for constructing the rotation for 2002.

Their Big Three--Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettite--will return as the front end, and while one could quibble about various aspects of their performance, they provide a strong foundation that nearly any team would kill for. Clemens will turn 40 in August, but has pitched significantly better in the latter half of his thirties (three Cy Youngs in the Dan Duquette-termed "twilight of his career") than the former half, so this shouldn't be too much cause for alarm. Mussina, coming off of arguably his finest season, just turned 33 and should be more comfortable in New York than he was last year. Pettitte improved his control considerably and showed signs of evolving into a power pitcher. He turns 30 in mid-June and already has 115 major-league wins under his belt. You could do worse.

Which brings us to the back end of the rotation, where two spots are up for grabs right now. Speculation about this has been rampant since the World Series, with everybody from David Wells to John Smoltz to Hideo Nomo to Jason Schmidt mentioned as a possible free-agent signing. Additionally, three pitchers who saw limited time in the Yanks' rotation in 2001 are still in the mix as of this writing, though that situation could change very soon.

So without further ado, let's take a look at some of the candidates (ages are as of July 1, 2002, innings are rounded to the nearest whole, ERA+ is a measure which compares the pitcher's ERA to the park-adjusted league average--100 means that the pitcher was league-average, a 110 ERA+ means the pitcher was 10 percent better than the league average):
                Age   --------2001--------   ------Career------

Hernandez (R) 36 95 4-7 5.63 92 45-33 4.13 113
Hitchcock (L) 30 70 6-5 5.63 77 67-67 4.75 91
Lilly (L) 26 121 5-6 5.37 83 5-7 5.73 79
Wells (L) 39 101 5-7 4.47 103 166-114 4.08 110
Nomo (R) 33 198 13-10 4.50 101 82-71 4.05 104
Schmidt (R) 29 150 13-7 4.07 103 56-54 4.50 97
Not exactly the most promising lot, at first glance--no one who was significantly better than league average in ERA, at least. Several of the pitchers are coming off of injuries: El Duque missed two months with toe surgery and had question-marks about his elbow hanging over his head all season; Hitchcock came back from Tommy John surgery; Wells was shelved after June 28 with a back problem that required the knife.

A closer look at each once:

• Acquired near the trading deadline from San Diego last summer, Hitchcock may be close to re-signing or already re-signed as I write this, but the Yanks have been delaying their official free-agent announcements until they seal the Giambi deal. Reportedly it's a 2-year, $12 million contract. I'm not big on the idea. Coming off of surgery, Hitchcock was tagged routinely until October, when he gained enough strength to give his fastball some life (it was in the high 80s, not exactly Ryan country). In October, he went 2-0 with a 3.06 ERA in 17.2 innings, pitching a complete game in the season's final week, then picking up a win in Game 5 of the World Series. He's a good strikeout pitcher (7.0 per 9 IP, with a career high of 194) when healthy. But Hitchcock has never put together a season with a winning record and a better-than-average ERA. And he's never won more than 13 games. They say lefty pitchers don't really find themselves until they're 30; while it's possible Hitchcock could develop into a solid 12-10 man, I don't see much more upside than that.

• Hernandez was once considered to be one of the many aces of the Yankee staff. But he's only 16-20 the past two years, with a 4.61 ERA (105 ERA+), and he may have worn out his welcome with his enigmatic tendencies (including lying about his age) and his macho refusal to report injuries. From where I sit, the Yanks have cultivated the existing communications gap just as much as El Duque. Their failure to retain first base coach Jose Cardenal, El Duque's translator, after the '98 season, and subsequently not hire a Spanish-speaking coach has contributed greatly to El Duque's wariness of communicating with the Yankees' staff.

Hernandez is a free agent, but one with fewer than six years of major league service, and thus still bound to the Yanks (so long as they offer him a contract by December 20). He's been the subject of several trade rumors, most recently in a package to Anaheim for Daren Erstad. Nobody really knows how many miles are on El Duque's arm at this point and Yanks aren't sure they want to find out.

But given his past two seasons, I don't think he's liable to command a big contract, and at the price (say, $4-6 million), the Yanks aren't going to find a pitcher with more big-game experience and a higher upside, even given his age. He pitched well in September (4-1, 2.88 ERA) and had two solid, gutty starts in the postseason (the third start, in the 14-3 drubbing they took in Game 3 of the ALCS, was right after the death of his father, as we later learned). If the Yanks are going on late-season auditions, his was much more substantial than Hitchcock's, and he probably won't cost more.

• Lilly had his ups and downs in his rookie season, making 21 starts for the Yanks. There's definitely some promise there--in 120.2 innings, he struck out 112 and only allowed 126 hits. But as his ERA attests, he took his lumps. His troubles were due to giving up too many walks (3.8 per 9 IP) and too many homers (1.5 per 9 IP). Better control and more experience are all he needs--he doesn't lack for stuff or the ability to challenge hitters. I'd hate to see him wearing another uniform when become the #3-#4 starter he looks to be.

• Nomo hasn't drawn serious interest from the Yankees. He broke off talks with the Red Sox, who were reportedly offering 3 years at $20 million, and thus will be searching for his seventh team in the past five years. He showed flashes of brilliance in 2001, including a no-hiter in his first start for Boston. But he was awful in the second half, collapsing with the rest of the team: after a 5-0 July, he went 2-6 with a 6.98 ERA. And if you want a communications gap, well... remember that Hideki Irabu wasn't that long ago. End of story.

• Schmidt is a pitcher the Yanks have long coveted, dating back to his days as a Pittsburgh Pirate (ironically enough, the outfielder he was traded for last summer, John Vander Wal, was just landed in a trade for Jay Witasick). He missed the first five weeks of 2001 after undergoing surgery to repair a frayed rotator cuff in August 2000. Still, he posted the strongest season of his career, and is seeking a long-term deal. Reportedly, he's close to one with the Giants (at 4 years + option for $34 million) or the Mariners, while the Yankees have yet to make an offer. He would be a decent addition, but I wouldn't bother leaving the light on for him at this point.

• Wells has been itching to get back into pinstripes since the moment he left in the Roger Clemens trade. If it's ever going to happen, now is the time. Cast adrift after an injury-shortened season which followed yet another controversial trade, he is reportedly prepared to accept a low up-front, incentive-laden contract to prove he's healthy. He has his suitors; the Rangers are interested, and Wells's agent has called attention to the Diamondbacks' interest--probably to spur George Steinbrenner's competitive check-writing juices. I wouldn't normally go around recommending 39-year-old overweight pitchers with outsized personalities who are coming off of back surgery, but hey, this is Boomer--a man who lives to pitch in Yankee Stadium and who does it as well as any active player (28-9, 3.27 ERA lifetime). When he's healthy, he eats innings with the same voracious appetite he has for salted meat products (200+ innings for six straight years, several bouts of gout as well). Torre may be wary of some of his personality traits, but with something to prove and a small safety net to work with, Wells is liable to be on his best behavior. At the price, he may be worth a gamble even if he knocks Lilly back into the bullpen for awhile.

With Hitchcock all but signed, the Yanks have the jump on me here. I've more or less given the thumbs-up to three pitchers, all of them relatively known commodities in Yankeeland, and none of them Hitchcock. If he's added, that leaves my trio competing for one spot. It's possible Lilly would start the season in the bullpen, though a trade isn't out of the question (I'd hate to see it happen, though). And the Yanks have several young hurlers on the horizon (Brandon Claussen, Alex Graman, Adrian "El Duquecito" Hernandez, and Brandon Knight--see this handy article at for more on them) who may push Lilly out the door.

Meaning, even if you stash Lilly in the bullpen, it probably comes down to a choice between El Duque or Boomer. Two old guys, questionable health-wise but with no shortage of personality or history with the Yanks. I'd hate to have to choose between the two. My emotional attachment to both may be clouding my judgement, but I think they're each capable of solid seasons at a reasonable price. With Pettitte, Hitchcock, and Lilly in the fold, the Yanks would be stocked for lefty starters and I can't see that adding another (Wells) would make as much sense. So I'd pick El Duque. But my gut feeling is that the Yanks are leaning the other direction, partially because Hernandez has some trade value, because they feel compelled to punish El Duque for his enigmatic ways, and because it's no secret George Steinbrenner has a soft spot for the big man. While I'd welcome seeing Boomer in pinstripes under nearly every other circumstance, I'd hate to see the crafty Cuban go on his way.

I'll evaluate the Yanks' bullpen this weekend. Meanwhile, the announcements have come down: the Giambi deal is done, Rondell White has been signed to a 2-year, $10 million contract and will play leftfield, and John Vander Wal was acquired in a trade for Jay Witasick and will likely platoon with Shane Spencer in right. First, White: a 30-year-old product of the Expos system who the Yanks tried to get last year before acquiring David Justice, White brings a similar reputation to Justice for being injury-prone. He's been on the DL seven times in the past six years, he's averaged only 110 games a year over that span. But when he plays, he does hit--.351 career OBP, .484 SLG, .371 and .529 in 95 games last year. White is a relative bargain when compared to Moises Alou, who seemed to intentionally price himself out of the market. His speed has decreased considerably with his knee problems (only 6 SB the past two seasons after a high of 25 and five straight years of double-digits), and he's certainly a risk. But he may well flourish if healthy. Vander Wal: a 36-year-old lefty with a .364 OBP and .442 SLG (.357 and .442 for his career) who's become a semi-regular after being one of the game's best pinch-hiters. He doesn't have great range or a great arm, but he's relatively sure-handed. Adding him to a platoon with Spencer automatically strengthens the bench. And by trading away Witasick, a middle-relief bust acquired for infielder D'Angelo Jiminez, Yanks GM Brian Cashman may finally get the rabid sabermetric critics of that deal to put a sock in it. Which is worth something in the circles I travel in.

One final note of gratitude for Pete Sommers at Baseball News Blog and Sean Forman at Baseball Primer for highlighting this series in their web logs. This page is on its third straight week of record-high readership thanks in part to their kind words. I hope those of you coming here for the first time have been sufficiently impressed to keep coming back for more (take a look around the rest of the site while you're here). I promise it's not all Yankees, all the time--I've got several other pieces in the works when I'm done with the Big Makeover.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001


Remaking the Yankees, Part V: Assessing the Rotation

I've spent the past week and a half evaluating the Yankees' options for revamping their offense this offseason. Given the attrition of several of their less effective hitters and the ability to spend BIG dollars to replace those hitters with significantly better ones, there's no doubt that the Yankee offense should see a big boost in 2002. At least once Jason Giambi signs on the dotted line and the Yanks land themselves a reasonably competent corner outfielder or two, that is.

But when it comes to the Yankees' perennial plans for October, the name of the game is pitching. No better illustration of this came than when they made their big free-agent splash last winter by signing Mike Mussina rather than a big hitter to bolster their sagging offense. The signing gave the Yanks four top-line starters, in Mussina, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Orlando Hernandez--on paper the best quartet in baseball going into the season. Today I'll examine how that vaunted rotation performed, and move into the Yanks' options in my next piece.

Three of the four top-line starters--Clemens, Mussina, and Pettitte--lived up to their billing and managed to stay reasonably healthy in 2001. Pettitte missed a few starts, but as a group they made 61% of the Yanks' starts, exactly what we would have expected in a five-man rotation. Orlando Hernandez, on the other hand, didn't hold up his end of the bargain. To the puzzlement of Joe Torre, Mel Stottlemyre, and crew, El Duque struggled during the first two months of the season (0-5, 5.14 ERA) before revealing that he had been concealing a toe injury which hampered his mechanics. Sidelined for two months by surgery, he came back strong, going 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA in September.

Hernandez's early-season troubles created a domino-effect mess at the back end of the Yankees rotation. While El Duque was dragging his damaged body out to the mound every fifth day, the Yanks were struggling to identify a #5 starter. Rookie Christian Parker won the job out of spring training, got shelled in his first outing, developed tendonitis and was done for the year. Rookie Randy Keisler made two starts, stunk up the joint and created an even big stink when he was demoted. Yet another rookie, Ted Lilly, took over the #5 spot and acquitted himself reasonably well before becoming the de facto #4 when El Duque went down. At that point, Kiesler rejoined the rotation, and when Adrian Hernandez (still another rookie, and a Cuban-defector protege of El Duque) subbed for Pettitte through a couple of turns, the Yanks suddenly had three rookies in their rotation.

The results, as one would expect, were not pretty, and Yankee GM Brian Cashman finally acquired an experienced (if significantly less than 100%) arm in the form of Sterling Hitchcock. Hitchcock, still recovering from Tommy John surgery, was tattooed on a slightly less frequent basis than the rookies. Not until El Duque returned strong in September did the Yanks have their playoff-projected quartet of top-liners in place.

Looking at the statistics of these pitchers as a group, there's a wide chasm between the Big Three and the rest of the group. The Big Three combined to go 52-24 with a 3.53 ERA, while Your Name Here went 12-24 with a 5.96 ERA. Here are their performances as starters only (Innings Pitched have been rounded, the AVG, OBP, SLG and SL*OB are the opposing hitters stats against each pitcher):
            IP   W-L   ERA   RS   K/9  K/W  WHIP  HR/9  AVG   OPB   SLG  SL*OB

Mussina 229 17-11 3.15 4.53 8.4 5.1 1.07 0.8 .237 .271 .358 .097
Clemens 220 20-3 3.51 6.58 8.7 3.0 1.26 0.8 .246 .305 .375 .114
Pettitte 201 15-10 3.99 6.46 7.4 4.0 1.32 0.6 .281 .313 .397 .124

Lilly 104 4-6 5.63 4.62 8.4 2.0 1.53 1.5 .267 .337 .464 .156
Hernandez 91 3-7 5.06 3.61 7.3 1.8 1.42 1.9 .248 .324 .452 .147
Keisler 51 1-2 6.22 6.75 6.4 1.1 1.70 2.1 .259 .366 .358 .180
Hitchcock 50 4-4 6.16 7.42 4.9 1.6 1.65 0.9 .315 .366 .469 .172
Cy Young Award to the contrary, Mike Mussina was the best Yankee starter, hands down. His ERA was 0.36 better than Clemens, and he had significantly better rate stats with regards to K/W ratio and WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched) than Clemens did. Andy Pettitte was off to his best season ever until a late dip; still, he significantly improved with regards to his stamina, WHIP, walks and strikeouts per nine innings and his K/W ratio (I published a piece on his improvement in the wee hours of September 11, just before the world as we know it changed). He wasn't as good as either Clemens or Mussina overall, but he was better than the one in the catalog.

I took a novel look at the Yankee starters by examining the offensive performance of the hitters that faced them. Using Extrapolated Runs, I calculated Offensive Winning Percentages for the batters facing each one, then multiplied by the number of decisions and compared that to the pitchers' actual Won-Lost records. The results confirm what we already know--Clemens was very lucky with regards to wins and losses (six wins above the projection), Mussina fairly unlucky (almost three wins below). Run support obviously played a big factor in that disparity--the Yanks scored over two runs per game more for Clemens (and Pettitte) than for Mussina. Pettite was almost dead on in this projection (the four categories stand for Offensive Winning Percentage Against, Projected Wins, Projected Losses, and Wins Above the projection):
           OWPA    PW    PL    WA

Mussina .290 19.9 8.1 -2.9
Clemens .392 14.0 9.0 6.0
Pettitte .416 15.2 10.8 -0.2
Lilly .569 4.3 5.7 -0.3
Hernandez .572 4.3 5.7 -1.3
Kiesler .663 1.0 2.0 0.0
Hitchcock .624 3.0 5.0 -1.0
Does anybody still think Clemens deserved that Cy Young?

Anyway, I could play with the numbers all day (I did, in fact). In my next piece, I'll explore how this all shakes down as the Yanks plan for 2002.

Monday, December 10, 2001


Remaking the Yanks, Part IV-Point-Something: The Ventura Deal

It's not as if the Futility Infielder eight-ball didn't see the possiblity of a David Justice-for-Robin Ventura trade coming. But when it was being discussed in the New York Post a few of days ago, I took it for the Post's usual modus operandi when it comes to the Yanks. I've often felt that their writers covering any NY team write about what they want to see happen, either as a best- or worst-case scenario (Jordan/Ewing/Tino/Boomer/Tuna is coming back with the Knicks/Yanks/Mets/Jets/Rockettes) rather than what will happen. So I waved it off, writing, "It's hard to see how that trade helps either team from a financial standpoint. It might solve the Yanks short-term third base needs, but at the expense of outfield production."

I wasn't wrong about the financial angle. The difference in salaries (Justice will make $7 million, Ventura $8.25 mil) won't prevent the Yanks from signing Jason Giambi, and it won't help the Mets sign Barry Bonds, unless Steve Phillips can ship Justice off for some cheaper talent. But while it's obviously a trade that's short-term in nature (both players are in the final year of their contracts), I do think it's a good one, particularly for the Yankees.

On the surface, what we have here is a challenge trade involving two proven veterans coming off of disappointing, injury-plagued seasons. Justice hit .241 with 18 HR and 51 RBI while hampered by groin problems, Ventura hit .237 with 20 HR and 61 RBI while struggling with shoulder problems that have contributed to two consecutive sub-par seasons.

But if you look at it more closely, it's easy to be convinced that the Yanks are getting the better end of the deal. For one thing, Ventura's season wasn't all that bad. He still managed 88 walks and a .359 On Base Percentage, only five points off of his carer mark. And that .359 OBP is 16 points higher than Scott Brosius, who had a good year with the bat by his own standards. Here are the lines of the two traded players, along with Brosius:
           2001 OBP/SLG/SL*OB        Career OBP/SLG/SL*OB               

Justice .333/.430/.142 (439 PA) .378/.507/.192
Ventura .359/.419/.150 (549 PA) .364/.447/.163
Brosius .343/.446/.153 (478 PA) .323/.422/.136
Ventura was about 5% more productive than Justice on a per at-bat basis, and not far off of his own career level (down 8%). In a down year, he was almost on-par with Brosius. Justice was waaaaay off, down about 25% from his career level of productivity.

And then there's the defense. For starter's there's a larger market for corner outfielders than third basemen, not just this year, but in any year--that's just the normal distribution of talent. Justice is so highly thought of for his defense that he's been a DH for about half of the American League portion of his career (334 times in 675 games). On the other hand, Ventura plays a difficult position and has six Gold Gloves to his name, most recently in 1999. He has fallen off a bit in the past two seasons, but he still had a better season with the leather than Scott Brosius (who fielded a lousy .935 this year). In fact, he's got slight edges on Brosius, career-wise, in fielding percentage, range factor, double plays and zone rating (though not enough to draw conclusions without analyzing the groundball tendencies of their respective pitching staffs).

Ventura had shoulder surgery after the '99 season, but the shoulder has continued to bother him. He struggled mightily last summer, hitting only .183 from June through August, though he had a strong September (.286 AVG/.412 OBP/.536 SLG) as the Mets pushed the Atlanta Braves for the NL (L)East title. Reportedly he's taken a new approach to his training this offseason, involving kick-boxing. It should help him if he's looking for a rematch with Nolan Ryan, and it probably couldn't hurt if the Sox ever recall Izzy Alcantara. But the bottom line is that hif he's reasonably healthy, he should be as good or better than Brosius, and he buys (albeit at a steep price) some time for Drew Henson to develop.

On the other side of the coin... I spent a lot of time during the postseason ragging on Justice, who looked awful for most of the year, and especially bad in the World Series. In 2001, he lived up to his injury-prone nature, and had a career-worst season. But that doesn't detract from what he did in 2000, coming over to the Yanks in a trade from the Indians and igniting the Yankee offense with 20 HR and 60 RBI in a half-season. Those 87-win Yanks may well have missed the playoffs without him, and his home run in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series, off of the Mariners' Arthur Rhodes, goes down as one of the biggest of the Torre Era (it was still giving me shivers when they played it during pre-games and rain delays at Yankee Stadium in the fall).

Justice may well help some team in 2002, but there's a good chance it won't be the Mets. One of the reasons Phillips traded for Justice is that unlike Ventura, he doesn't have any no-trade restrictions in his contract. As he's probably not capable of a 140-game season in the outfield, he'll likely wind up back in the American League. But even if the Mets did keep him, he would help a sad outfield whose top hitter was Tsuyoshi Shinjo (.268, 10 HR, 56 RBI, .320 OBP, .405 SLG). Not exactly amazin'.

As for the rest of the Yanks latest offensive facelift (since I've blown my piece on the rotation off for at least another day), wild reports are emanating from ESPN. Bob Klapisch reports that the Yanks are growing disturbed about Jason Giambi's hesitancy to close the deal. Giambi was reportedly huddling with his family in Las Vegas this weekend to mull his options--or to wait for another suitor (or a credible counteroffer from the A's) to emerge. Meanwhile, over on Planet Gammons, Ol' Pete seems to have gone off of his medication, and not just the kind that prevents him from those run-on sentences (see the opening paragraph of this column). Gammons concocts a scenario whereby both Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds end up in pinstripes. Somebody get this guy a doctor. On a much more rational note, the New York Times suggests that the Yanks are pursuing Giants outfielder John Vander Wal, a 36-year old lefty who hit .270 with 14 HR and 70 RBI (.364 OBP/.442 SLG). I'll let you guess which Giant my money is on for donning the stripes.

Thursday, December 06, 2001


Technical Difficulties

Apologies to any of you who had trouble finding this page earlier today. Apparently something is wrong with Reblogger, the service which allows readers to post comments to each article. I had to disable that feature--hell, I had to go on a search-and-destroy mission within my site's code to weed it out--because when it went down it prevented this page from loading.

I'll be looking into other alternatives in the next few days. Again, sorry for the inconvenience and thanks for trying again. And now, back to my series about the Yankees' offseason facelift...

Wednesday, December 05, 2001


Remaking the Yankees, Part IV: Third Base

Scott Brosius surprised the baseball world by announcing his retirement last week. Thirty-five years old and facing free agency, but with four straight trips to the World Series to show for his time in the Bronx, Brosius concluded he'd done it all and decided to hang 'em up. All of this despite the fact that he'd posted his best season in three years and had a reasonable shot at either a one-year deal with the Yankees or a longer-term contract elsewhere, possibly with the Seattle Mariners. You could do worse. But more power to Brosius for choosing to spend time with his family. He'll certainly be missed in the place where he showed the best defense since Graig Nettles and had his share of big hits.

Feel-good stories aside, the Yankees now find themselves between hops at the hot corner. Former University of Michigan quarterback and potential Heisman Trophy winner Drew Henson is clearly The Future. The trouble is, the Yanks have no Present in place.

The Yankees drafted Henson in 1998, signing him for a $2 million bonus. In need of immediate pitching help, they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in the Denny Neagle deal last July. But after Henson flexed the muscle of his NFL leverage (as in, pay me or I'll continue to play football), the impoverished Reds sent him back to the Yanks (along with outfield bust Michael Coleman) in March for 19-year old prospect Wily Mo Pena.

Henson certainly has physical tools--he's 6'5", 222 lbs with an outstanding arm. And he's certainly got a commitment from the Yankees to make him their third baseman sooner or later--he signed a six-year, $17 million deal upon being reacquired. But he doesn't have much experience in professional baseball; last year was his first full season devoted to the sport. Hit by a pitch, he broke a bone in his hand in April, and struggled once he returned in June. In 303 at bats, mostly with AAA Columbus, he hit .228 with 12 HR and 43 RBI. His peripheral numbers are not pretty--.265 OPB, .370 SLG, and only 13 walks to go with 99 strikeouts. He also found time to make 20 errors in the field.

Henson did play well in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .314 AVG/.407 OBP/.570 SLG, with 6 HR and 33 RBI--good enough for Peter Gammons to slobber over, at least. But at last report, the likes of Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder, and Freddy Garcia were nowhere to be found in Arizona. There's a good reason they don't print AFL stats on the back of a baseball card.

The Yanks' organizational consensus seems to be that Henson will start the season at AAA, but may be in the Bronx by midsummer, though Joe Torre has left the door open for Henson to win the job in spring training. I think this is wildly optimistic (look at that K/W ratio, if nothing else). Given that the Yanks haven't rushed any of their prospects along in quite awhile, it would be surprising if they start with Henson.

So that leaves a sizable gap at third base. The free agent market for third basemen is a thin one. The only name that has been linked with the Yankees is that of Randy Velarde, acquired by the Yanks from Texas just before the postseason roster deadline. The 39-year-old Velarde suffered through hamstring problems last season, and didn't hit much after being acquired. His 200-hit season of just two years ago is a distant memory. He's not a great third baseman (career .934 fielding percentage); he's only played 14 games there in the past four seasons. Here he is, along with the rest of the class:
               Age  2001 OBP/SLG/SL*OB      Career OBP/SLG/SL*OB

David Bell 29 .303/.415/.126 .309/.396/.122
Vinny Castilla 34 .308/.467/.144 .331/.504/.167
Craig Paquette 33 .326/.465/.153 .281/.426/.120
Ed Sprague 34 .374/.436/.163 (94 AB) .318/.419/.133
Randy Velarde 39 .356/.424/.151 .353/.410/.145
Castilla's numbers have been vastly inflated by seven years in Colorado. But interestingly enough, he struggled last season in the second-best hitter's park in the free world, Enron Field, performing much better away from Enron (.337/.498/.168) than at home (.279/.435/.121).

By the end of last season, the Yanks were deep with stop-gap solutions at third. Hell, Joe Torre's postseason bench was geared toward the possiblity of a third baseman or two getting mauled by man-eating tigers or washed away in a flood every three innings. No less than four bench players on the postseason roster--Velarde, Luis Sojo, Enrique Wilson, and Clay Bellinger--saw time there in 2001. Sojo has retired to await his bobble-headed coronation and the first annual Futility Infielder of the Year Award. This leaves:
                Age  2001 OBP/SLG/SL*OB    Career OBP/SLG/SL*OB

Enrique Wilson 26 .238/.281/.067 .305/.364/.111
Clay Bellinger 33 .207/.383/.079 .258/.365/.094
I have never understood the infatuation with Wilson, on the part of either the Yankees or any other organization. He's only 25, and he's reportedly got "soft hands." But he can't hit a lick, and he looks like a young acolyte of the Luis Sojo bodybuilding program. After a miserable half-season in Pittsburgh, he did "improve" with semi-regular playing time in pinstripes (.283/.343/.097). He's reportedly the leading contender to open the season at third. Greaaaaat.

Bellinger is as useful a 25th man as there is in baseball. Pinch-running, playing every position except catcher (but hustling out of the dugout to warm up pitchers after the catcher makes the last out), telling the boys they're not out of it yet, and generally keeping the bench planks from warping, he's a valuable guy to have around. Defensively, he played a great third base for a couple weeks when Scott Brosius broke his hand in August, and even hit a few homers in that span. But no one is going to pencil his name in the Opening Day lineup; it's just that way when you buy property below the Mendoza Line.

Should the Yanks be forced to go with a Giambi-free Plan B, they may decide to trade for a bigger bat at third. The Mets' Robin Ventura, 34 and coming off of his second straight sub-par season (.359/.419/.150), is up for grabs, but the Yanks, who explored the possibility of acquiring him before they got Velarde last summer, want the Mets to take on most of his $8 million salary. As Ventura's salary continues to hamper Mets GM Steve Phillips' free-agent options, he may become available. The New York Post reported Wednesday that a Ventura-for-David Justice deal has been discussed, but it's hard to see how that trade helps either team from a financial standpoint. It might solve the Yanks short-term third base needs, but at the expense of outfield production.

If the Yanks really decided to make a splash, they could trade for the Phillies' Scott Rolen. Rolen, who will be free of blowhards Larry Bowa and Dallas Green by the end of 2002 if not sooner, is a fine young player entering his prime, with three Gold Gloves already to his name. In a slightly down season, he still hit .289 with 25 HR and 107 RBI (.378/498/.188). He would require significant talent in exchange (Johnson plus pitching, at least), and then a hefty long-term contract to make it worthwhile. But with Henson already slated to get paid and with significantly less value to any team besides the Yankees (because they fear he could resume his football career), it ain't gonna happen.

The bottom line is that the Yanks expectations (and budget) for third base are pretty low right now. An Enrique Wilson/Clay Bellinger tandem may be a bit too ramshackle to get by with--they pretty much define the concept of "replacement level" ballplayers. Though I realize that more pressing matters have required the attention of Brian Cashman and company, I'm surprised the Yanks haven't pursued Velarde more vigorously. He may be old and less than ideal, but unlike the two above, he is a proven major-league hitter, and would make an ideal #2 hitter behind Derek Jeter, certainly better than Alfonso Soriano at this stage.

Given that Velarde missed the Yanks' championship run (leaving after '95 and returning last season), it's a safe bet he'd re-up for another shot at a ring if given the option, even if it's just to keep Henson's seat warm.

Torre's projections aside, I don't think we've heard the last word on the subject. Expect the Yankees to do SOMETHING to bolster the situation, but don't expect too many barehanded plays on grounders this summer. Scott Brosius is taking those all back to Oregon. Sigh...

Recapping it all... if you haven't read the first three parts of this series, they are conveniently located below. Here is a summary of my cumulative proposals for the Yankees' offensive remake, in the form of a batting order. This does not assume rampant, unchecked spending ("...and we'll sign Boone, and we'll trade for Rolen and sign him...") or the kind of pipe dreams proffered by the likes of the New York Post. I think it's very realistic, given the statements that are coming out of the Yankees' brass and my own analysis:

1 Jeter SS
2 Velarde 3B
3 Giambi 1B
4 Williams CF
5 Alou RF or Floyd LF
6 Posada C
7 Justice DH
8 Spencer/Johnson RF or LF (platoon)
9 Soriano 2B

I think the Yanks, if they are going to keep Johnson, are best served by trying to find out if he can play the outfield. If Shane Spencer can make himself into a passable outfielder, then Johnson ought to be able to. Spencer kills lefties, and could pick up the defensive scraps when necessary; otherwise the Yanks ought to see if Johnson can hit big league pitching, particularly righties.

The one negative about this lineup is defense. Though Brosius had a lousy year with the glove, Velarde would be hard-pressed to upgrade the position significantly. Alou or Floyd won't challenge for a Gold Glove, and neither will Giambi, especially when compared to Tino Martinez's stellar defense. Spencer/Johnson could be an adventure, but so was Chuck Knoblauch, and we all lived through that. But this lineup is a significant step up offensively, with major improvements at 1B, one corner outfield slot, and DH likely. It ought to be enough to put the Yanks back among the top offenses in the league. At the price, it had better.

I'll be checking out the Yankees' pitching options this weekend...

Sunday, December 02, 2001


Remaking the Yankees, Part III: Corner Outfielders

Corner outfielders, along with first basemen and designated hitters, are supposed to be the staples of a team's offense--the big hitters, the guys who put runs on the board. One of the Yanks' biggest problems last year was the poor production from their left- and rightfielders and designated hitters. Looking at their production using Baseball Prospectus's Equivalent Runs (as I did in Part I of this article), specifically Runs Above Position, the Yanks didn't have a single corner outfielder who was above average (I should take the time to point out here that the average is for the 30 teams, not a "league average" as I said in Part I). Rightfielder Paul O'Neill, since retired, was 2.4 runs below, Chuck Knoblauch was 15.7 runs below, David Justice (who spent more time at DH) was 9.6 below, and Shane Spencer was 7.7 below.

It's interesting that in both left- and rightfield, the bulk of the offensive talent is in the National League, and by a wide margin. The top six NL LFs (Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez, Lance Berkman, Gary Sheffield, Brian Giles, and Cliff Floyd ) all outpaced their AL counterparts, and by a wide margin--Bonds was 126.5 runs above average (having the best offensive season ever by most measures), Gonzalez 101.3, with the other four closely bunched between 67.5 (Giles) and 76.6 (Berkman). Mark McLemore was the top AL LF at 39.6, with the likes of Frank Catalanotto, Shannon Stewart, Bobby Higginson, Stan Javier, and Marty Cordova--not exactly staples of anybody's MVP ballot--behind him. Over in RF, Sammy Sosa (77.1), Larry Walker (41.0), Shawn Green (35.9), and J.D. Drew (30.1) were the top four, with Juan Gonzalez leading the AL at 28.3.

I'm not sure why this productivity imbalance exists--my initial hunch was the presence of the designated hitter, but looking at that list, only Manny Ramirez would rank in that class if considered as an OF. The AL does have its share of leadoff hitters who saw time in 2001 at corner spots. Ichiro, Shannon Stewart, Catalanotto, and Knoblauch all played the bulk of their games in left or right, and centerfielders Roger Cedeno and Johnny Damon saw significant time there as well.

Having looked at the leadoff options available on the market in Part II of this series, my conclusion was that it doesn't make sense for the Yanks to sign a leadoff type like Kenny Lofton or Roger Cedeno. Neither is an especially productive hitter for a leadoff, and both have significant drawbacks. Better the Yanks should go after a more traditionally productive hitter to fill either left- or rightfield, and then fill the other spot internally.

There are several players of that variety, both on the free agent market (listed below in the first cluster) and as trade possibilities (the second cluster):
                Age   2001 OBP/SLG/SL*OB    Career OBP/SLG/SL*OB   RARP

Moises Alou 35 .396/.554/.219 .372/.524/.194 38.2
Barry Bonds 37 .515/.863/.444 .419/.585/.245 145.0
Marty Cordova 32 .348/.506/.176 .346/.451/.156 19.6
Johnny Damon 28 .324/.363/.118 .346/.425/.147 8.9
Juan Gonzalez 32 .370/.590/.218 .345/.568/.196 49.3
Reggie Sanders 34 .337/.549/.185 .350/.484/.169 19.6

Cliff Floyd 29 .390/.578/.225 .355/.486/.173 55.7
Raul Mondesi 31 .342/.453/.155 .335/.499/.167 18.8
Gary Sheffield 33 .417/.583/.243 .399/.521/.208 63.2
Dmitri Young 28 .350/.481/.168 .351/.468/.164 18.6
Some of these players don't have an ice cube's chance in hell of signing with the Yanks, especially if they sign Jason Giambi. Barry Bonds and Juan Gonzalez both fit into that category. I included Johnny Damon for several reasons. Though I didn't deal with him much in the leadoff article since the Yanks haven't shown much interest in him, he is young enough and has shown enough talent over the course of that young career to be a significant step up from the other three. But I also wanted to show where this "best of available class" player fits in, productivity-wise, compared to some of the heavier hitters.

I included (Equivalent) Runs Above Replacement Position in this chart, rather than Runs Above Position because I felt it works better for cross-postion comparisons. Notice that if we rank them by RARP, it correlates almost exactly with this year's SL*OB figures for these players.

None of these players is without his question marks:
• Bonds, though he won't sign with the Yanks, is the oldest of the bunch, making a long-term contract something of a risk. He is, as we've seen, not exactly free from controversy with regards to his teammates. But there's no getting around what a great hitter he is.
• Sheffield is a devastating hitter, but historically a disruptive presence just about anywhere he goes. He would likely cost the most when salary and the amount of talent needed in exchange are considered.
• Gonzalez is a fine hitter who has had back problems which have scared teams away. He rejected a trade to the Yanks in 2000, and though he now says he'd be willing to play in New York, that may be just a bargaining ploy. He answered some of the questions about his health with a strong season in Cleveland last year.
• Alou is getting on in years, and has had his share of health problems. He has downplayed the possibility of coming to New York in the past, but may be warming to the idea. He's being sought by several teams, including the Red Sox and the Mets.
• Floyd spends a lot of time on the DL; he's averaged only 111 games a year over the past five seasons, and only 135 over the past two, thanks to knee and back problems. He's a few years younger than the other heavy hitters here, which does make him more desirable. But the Florida Marlins' situation, with no General Manager in place and contraction still a remote possibility, may delay his being moved.
• Cordova, a former Rookie of the Year, had his best season since 1996 and re-emerged as a solid player. Whether he can maintain that performance is open to debate; he tailed off dramatically after the All-Star break (.379 OBP/.535 SLG/.203 SL*OB before, .316/.474/.150 after).
• Sanders may as well be nicknamed "Sick-Note"; he's averaged 124 games a year over the past four seasons, and never topped 138 games.
• Mondesi is coming off a disappointing season, and it's beginning to look as if he may never fulfill his potential; he's still never driven in 100 runs in a season, and his power has fallen off despite moving to a more favorable park. His defense, including one of the game's best arms, does add something to his value, though whether he's worth his $10 million is open to debate.
• Young, a switch-hitter who hits both righties and lefties well, doesn't have as much power as one would like, but may add some as he matures. He's had trouble staying in shape in the past. Young is eligible for arbitration, but would probably be cheaper than most of the others listed here (with the possible exception of Cordova).
• Damon was almost a total flop in Oakland after a .382/.495/.189 season in Kansas City the year before. He had a terrible first half (.301/.357/.107) and a so-so second (.351/.372/.131), and it's been posited that he couldn't handle the pressure of playing in New York. He does still have a very good upside, however.

Taking all of this in and considering the salary ramificiations of a potential Jason Giambi signing, Alou, Mondesi, Floyd, Cordova, and Young appear to be the best candidates here. All have their positives: Alou is the best hitter of the bunch; Mondesi would give them a world-class arm in right field, and may find rejuvenation in a change of scenery; Cordova may come relatively cheap; Floyd (a lefty) and Young (a switch-hitter) would be the best fits for Yankee Stadium, and both are fairly young and cheap (Floyd is in the final year of a 4-year, $19 million contract; Young is arbitration eligible after making $3.5 million in 2001).

Floyd, Young, and Mondesi would all require a significant surrender of talent--Mondesi possibly a premium because the Blue Jays are in the Yanks' division. Young has long been the subject of trade rumors, but Reds GM Jim Bowden may be asking too much for him. Bowden has had his eye on the prospective starters in the Mariners' organization in exchange for Young for quite awhile, and the Yanks simply can't compete with that without affecting their own long-term plans.

Supposing the Yanks manage to trade for Floyd or sign Alou, it's likely they'll stick with Shane Spencer and David Justice in the other outfield slot and at DH. Justice had a miserable 2001 season (.333/.430/.143, compared to career marks of .378/.507/.192). He had off-season hernia surgery and battled both groin and domestic problems all year. While the Yanks might like to trade him, he didn't exactly showcase himself in the postseason. Given an offseason to recuperate, he may still have productive days ahead of him--the Yanks would certainly accept a year in line with his normal level of performance. Spencer was slightly below his own meager standards (.315/.428/.135, compared to a career .324/.468/.152), but he heated up as the year wore on (.339/.439/.149 after the break). He's valuable as a platoon player (he kills lefties), and his defense has come a long way, but if he's ever going to have a Bubba Trammell-like breakout season, this may be his one shot.

Other internal options exist for the Yanks. Nick Johnson, who until the Yanks started their pursuit of Jason Giambi was slated as the first baseman of the future, may see a good chunk of at bats at DH, and may even get a shot at playing the outfield in spring training (if he's not traded, that is). Another rookie who may figure into the Yanks' plans is Juan Rivera. The skinny 23-year old Rivera hit .322 with 28 HRs in a season split between AA Norwich and AAA Columbus (.360/.557/.201), and early reports are that he may be in the Bronx by midseason.

On a different tack, Alfonso Soriano may be shifted to left field (where he was slated to begin the 2001 season before the Knoblauch experiment) if the Yanks switch gears and land another second baseman. They've expressed interest in Brett Boone and Robbie Alomar, both of whom would cost as much as the high-end corner outfielders discussed above. This is probably a longshot right now.

It's likely the Yanks will dredge up a free-agent or two signed to a minor-league contract to compete for some at bats at DH (Glenallen Hill, please have your agent call Brian Cashman if you are healthy). Last year the Yanks were positively wretched there, batting only .218 (.320/.397/.127). Freely-available talent that can fill this slot abounds; the Yanks just need to bring in some warm bodies to find one or two able ones who fit the bill.

Boiling it all down... my guess is that the Yanks will go after Floyd unless the Marlins' situation causes too much delay or they can get Alou at terms favorable to them. They will then mix and match with Spencer, Justice, Johnson and eventually Rivera to fill the other two slots. But no matter what they do, there's no question help is on the way, and while it will probably cost some money and some minor-league talent, they won't have to break the bank to get some.

In Part IV of this series, I'll examine the Yanks third-base situation.

Saturday, December 01, 2001


Remaking the Yankees, Part II: The Leadoff Spot

In my last post, Part I of this series, I examined the Yankees' first base situation. Since then, they have continued to play footsie with Jason Giambi, but nothing more. The Yanks reportedly are waiting to see if the A's will revise their 6-year, $91 million offer or if any other serious suitors have emerged before placing their own bid. Meanwhile, Yogi Berra and Rudy Giuliani have both placed calls to Giambi, trying to sell him on the virtues of life in pinstripes.

Giambi is but one of the pieces in the larger puzzle of the soon-to-be remade Yankees. The current assumption is that they will sign at least one more big bat to go along with him in the lineup, probably at a corner outfield spot. But with Chuck Knoblauch departing, they also have a void at the top of the lineup which needs filling. Today, I'll look at how that fits into the Yanks' offseason plans.

The leadoff spot was one of the Yanks' relative weaknesses this past season. Knoblauch got the bulk of the at-bats, but hit only .246 AVG/.336 OPB/.347 SLG there, and was hardly the table-setter he had proven himself to be over the years. Shifted from second base to left field late in spring training because of his throwing difficulties, Knoblauch had enough distraction already without the redefined strike zone. The new high strike ate him alive, and for the first time since 1995, he had fewer walks than strikeouts. He was especially horrendous when leading off an inning: .203/.291/.267. Eeeugh.

But it was a tough year for leadoff hitters all over the AL. Several top-spot stalwarts had sub-par years; like Knoblauch, the strike zone may have had something to do with it. Only eight of the 14 teams posted an OBP higher than the league average at the top spot. Think about that--in the most important spot in the lineup for getting on base, nearly half of the teams couldn't find somebody who was at least AVERAGE! Here are the rankings, with the players garnering significant time (expressed as a percentage of the team's plate appearances in the #1 spot) for each team:
Team  OBP  Playing Time

SEA .385 Ichiro 93%
TEX .367 Catalanatto 47%, Greer 36%
MIN .348 Guzman 28%, Rivas 23%, Jones 18%, Lawton 16%
ANA .343 Eckstein 67%, Erstad 26%
TOR .340 Stewart 60%, Cruz 32%
NYA .334 Knoblauch 75%, Jeter 14%
DET .334 Cedeno 75%, Macias 20%
CHW .330 Durham 76%, Valentin 14%
CLE .322 Lofton 72%, Cabrera 13%
OAK .320 Damon 92%
TAM .320 Tyner 51%, Williams 21%, Winn 14%
BOS .312 Offerman 49%, Nixon 23%, Stynes 17%
BAL .287 Anderson 56%, Hairston 14%
KAN .282 [identities protected by the Federal Witness Relocation Program]
It was an especially tough year for leadoff hitters in the final year of their contracts. Here are the OBPs of four who fit the bill and are now on the market, including Knoblauch:
                 Age   2000   2001  Decline   Career

Chuck Knoblauch 33 .366 .339 .027 .382
Johnny Damon 28 .382 .324 .058 .346
Kenny Lofton 34 .369 .322 .047 .377
Roger Cedeno 27 .383 .337 .046 .355
Not exactly pretty, especially if you're looking to buy--and I didn't even list Brady Anderson and his .311 OBP. It's worth noting that the league OBP fell from .346 in 2000 to .329 last year, so these declines aren't quite as bad as they seem. Looking at this motley crew, Knoblauch had the least falloff, and he still had the highest OBP among thm. I'm not suggesting that the Yanks should re-sign him, just that he may still have enough to lead off for some team, somwhere, at least part-time.

The Yanks have reportedly had some contact with agents for both Lofton and Cedeno. Lofton is even older than Knoblauch, and considerably more frail--he's played over 150 games only twice in his career, and has averaged only 135 games a year over the course of the past 10 years. He hasn't been the same since injuring his shoulder on a head-first slide into first base during the 1999 playoffs, a textbook example of the hazards of such an ill-advised play. Lofton was a Gold Glove centerfielder from 1993-96, but at this stage of his career, he's a leftfielder if he comes to the Yanks. He's not a great option, though.

Cedeno, unlike Lofton, at least has the advantage of being in his prime. Some portion of his decline can be attributed to moving from Houston's Enron ("Home Run") Field to the Tigers' spacious Comerica Park. He stole 55 bases last year before the Detroit management benched him for the final 19 games to keep him from qualifying for incentive bonuses (the Major League Baseball Players Association is pursuing a grievance on his behalf, and with good cause). But he'll be playing on his fifth team in five years; his defense is atrocious, and his baseball fundamentals so suspect that he tends to wear out his welcome fairly quickly. One story from ESPN's Peter Gammons has a "respected talent evaluator" comparing him to an old Padres outfielder named Gene Locklear, of whom Don Zimmer once said, "He runs until they tag him out, and he chases flyballs until they stop rolling." Not exactly the kind of player the Yanks trip over themselves trying to sign (and I'm guessing that the "respected talent evaluator" was Yanks' Director of Scouting Gene Michael).

As I see it, the Yanks have two other options in the leadoff spot, barring a trade (Shannon Stewart, drool... ). One is a player whose OBP was .366 last season, which was actually better than his .368 the year before, relative to the leagues (he split his time between the AL and NL in 2000). His career OBP is .402. His biggest problem is his age--he'll be 43 on Christmas Day. By now you should have guessed that I'm talking about the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, Rickey Henderson. Henderson would come pretty cheap (not exactly a concern for the Yanks these days), but his set of skills is pretty limited overall. Still, the man can get on base, despite all of the baggage that he carries.

The other option is one already familiar to Yankee fans. Derek Jeter got 14% of the Yanks' plate appearances in the #1 spot, and he hit very well there: .324/.360/.543, a stronger performance than the .302/.371/.455 line he posted batting second. He's done EXTREMELY well there in the past: .406/.516/.510 from 1998-2000. While he has a tendency to jump on the first pitch rather than work the count, he hits extremely well when he does: .437/.462/.793 in 87 ABs. The Yankee brass seems to have taken note of all of this, and reportedly they are leaning in the direction of opening the season with him at the top and Alfonso Soriano batting second. Though Soriano has the speed to be a leadoff hitter, he needs to raise his OBP considerably from the .304 he posted in 2001 before that's an option.

I think making Jeter the leadoff hitter would be a great move--his power hasn't developed as dramatically as expected (particularly when you consider it in comparison of the other members of the Holy Shortstop Trinity). Until it does, he's better suited as a leadoff hitter than a #3, if you're going to move him out of the #2 spot. Also, none of the leadoff hitters who are on the market are worth filling a corner-outfield vacancy with at the expense of adding another more productive hitter elsewhere in the lineup. I mean, Cliff Floyd/Moises Alou or Kenny Lofton/Roger Cedeno--who would you choose? The answer seems pretty obvious.

So, having solved the leadoff problem for Joe Torre and Brian Cashman, I'll take a look at their corner outfield options next time around.


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