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, July 31, 2006

 

Slam Dunk

Nothing to say but WOW as to the Yankees' acquisition of Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the Phillies for four Yankee minor leaguers, none of them top-shelf,, the most familiar of which are C.J. Henry, the team's #1 pick in 2005, and 27-year-old LOOGY Matt Smith, who hadn't allowed a run in 12 innings while riding the Columbus shuttle eleventeen times. For whatever his power outage -- he hasn't homered since June 13 and has just eight on the year -- Abreu carries a career .412 OBP (31 points higher than Bernie Williams, the man whose at-bats he'll be usurping in the short term). That will fit in marvelously with the Yankee offense, no matter what kind of logjam it creates when (if?) Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield return (the latter can kiss his chances of having his option picked up by the Yanks goodbye, but that's a story for another day).

The real slam dunk for the Yanks is that they dodged having to pick up Abreu's $16 million option for 2008, something Abreu's agent said would likely be necessary to waive his no-trade clause. The Phillies bought out Abreu's no-trade for the meager sum of $1.5 million, with the understanding that the Yanks aren't picking up the option and will instead pay his $2 million buyout. Pennies on the dollar, kids.

The other major facet of this trade is that no matter how mediocre Cory Lidle is (and he's the dictionary definition), he's replacing a four-headed hydra of Sidney Ponson, Shawn Chacon, Kris Wilson, and Aaron Small who allowed 38 runs in 30 innings over eight starts in June and July. That's less than four innings a start, a lot of mopup for a bullpen that's often had to turn to whichever of these guys hadn't already blown them out of the game, with similarly harrowing results.

A few quick takes from my Baseball Prospectus colleagues with whom I've been discussing this deal over the past day:

Nate Silver ran through various permutations matching up several teams with the potential acquisitions of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and Abreu to see which ones improved which team's Postseason Odds the most (nice visuals of the day-by-day Odds change by a BP fan here). Conclusion: the Yanks' addition of Abreu was a 14.2% upgrade -- the largest bump possible of the 21 scenarios he evaluated (he neglected to include Texas, whose chances with Lee must have jumped 10-12 percent) and that's without considering the effect of Lidle.

Christina Kahrl:
Similarly, the rotation finally has a fifth man who doesn't automatically make you wonder who's available for a multi-inning middle-relief gig. Consider the combined performances of Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, Aaron Small and Kris Wilson:
Pitcher   GS Tm W/L    IP   H  BB   K HR   R   R/9 QS
Chacon 11 5-6 52.0 62 30 28 8 42 7.3 3 (none after May 6)
Small 3 1-2 12.0 23 4 6 6 13 9.7 0
Ponson 2 1-1 9.0 10 6 10 3 10 10.0 0
K.Wilson 1 0-1 2.2 5 2 4 1 3 10.1 0
TOTAL 17 7-10 75.2 100 42 48 18 68 8.1 3
Lidle 21 10-11 125.1 132 39 98 19 74 5.3 14
That's three games that Chacon provided that most teams with a normal offense can win, none since May 6. Now, admittedly, I'm fudging something with Lidle, in that I'm counting two more quality starts than other sources, but that's because he lost two quality starts in the seventh inning, after he'd already given the Phillies the standard six innings while allowing three or fewer runs. (I refer to those as Blown Quality Starts, or BQS, probably my first and only contribution to the universe's statistical alphabet soup.) So, to give Lidle his due, the man has pitched winnable ballgames in two-thirds of his starts despite having a hitters' park as his home, and despite having to pitch 13 of his 21 starts in said bandbox. Now, even if he's "just" a six-inning starter, and even if he's just a 75-pitch starter, he's giving his team outings they can work with to win. Sure, he'll have to face the DH instead of the pitcher's slot, and he'll probably also have to face the Yankees' tough opponents in the East. Even so, he won't be pitching in Philadelphia. As long as somebody gives Joe Torre a good set of instructions on how to operate his shiny pre-owned fifth starter, the Yankees have themselves a major upgrade in the rotation that's almost as significant as Abreu will be in the lineup.

My WAG? The Yankees probably just added four wins in the final 60 games, with Lidle probably being every bit as responsible for that as Abreu. That's not just an upgrade, that's a massive difference, and a reflection on what's being replaced. This doesn't simply help the Yankees keep up with the competition, they now have a much better shot at winning not merely the wild card, but their own division, and they can better withstand an injury in either their rotation or lineup than before.
Joe Sheehan:
It’s more apparent what this deal does for the Yankees: it scares the hell out of the Red Sox. Set aside Abreu’s power outage and Lidle’s averageness, and consider the playing time the two will be assuming. Aaron Guiel (.214/.290/.536) and Andy Phillips (.242/.276/.406) will be sitting down so that Abreu’s .277/.427/.434 can play, with Bernie Williams (.280/.326/.428) losing some playing time now and the rest when Hideki Matsui returns. It’s 100-150 points of OBP; if Abreu doesn’t hit another homer and plays right field like Jim Leyland after two packs, he’s still worth two wins between now and October.

It breaks my heart to say this—I’m the guy who calls the 1996-2000 Yankees not the “Derek Jeter” teams but the “Bernie Williams” ones—but Williams isn’t a useful player any longer, recent hot streak notwithstanding. I was wrong about his career path; if you look in the BP annuals, you’ll see frequent references to how Williams could add power late in his career, especially once he left center field. That never happened; Williams just dropped off at 34 and then again at 36, and he’s now not even an adequate extra outfielder. Objectively, Guiel—with lefty sock and good corner defense—has more on-field value to this team. That’s not how it will play out, but it’s a damning criticism of the player Williams is today.

...All through July, I stood to the idea that the Yankees wouldn’t be able to make a major acquisition because Brian Cashman was committed to keeping Philip Hughes and Jose Tabata in the organization. Without those guys as chips, I didn’t see the Yankees as having enough to acquire a player like Abreu, especially with teams like the Dodgers and Angels, with deep farm systems, on the prowl. Well, Cashman did it, and he didn’t even trade away the next group of guys, like Steven White or Eric Duncan. Instead, he leveraged the Yankees’ cash reserves and negotiated a terrific deal for his team, one that should make them a favorite to reach the playoffs for the 12th straight season.
Mmmm-mmmm, good.

• • •

Meanwhile, held over from Friday due to the Floyd Landis doping scandal is my latest piece at the New York Sun, which examines the MVP races as the season's 2/3 mark approaches, using BP's Wins Above Replacement Player and Win Expectancy metrics to sort out the real impact players. The conclusion? In the NL, it's Albert Pujols (7.7 WARP and a league best 6.81 Wins Added), with Carlos Beltran (6.9 WARP prior to yesterday's grand slam -- his third of the month -- and a distant 10th at 2.48 Wins Added) and Brandon Webb -- that's right, a pitcher -- at 6.7 WARP and 5.78 Wins Added (via Support Neutral Lineup Adjusted Value Above Replacement, the awkwardly-named pitching counterpart). In the AL, it's the year of the pitcher:
n the AL, the MVP award is up for grabs, and if WARP rankings are taken to heart, the field is dominated by pitching. Hurlers on contenders occupy six of the top seven spots; the Twins' Francisco Liriano (7.4) and Johan Santana (7.3) lead the pack, followed by Boston's Jonathan Papelbon (6.6), who like Liriano is a rookie.Leading the WARP chase among hitters is Cleveland's Grady Sizemore (6.0), but with the Indians — a hip preseason pick to win the AL Central after a near-miss last year — now 12 games under .500 and 25.5 out, he doesn't belong in this MVP discussion. A hair behind him is among hitters is the Twins' Joe Mauer (5.9). He's hitting .371/.443/.525, topping the league in batting average and helping his team charge into the Wild-Card picture with a 42–19 record since May 19. Not coincidentally, that date marks when Liriano, who leads the league in ERA at 1.96, entered the rotation.

...No MVP discussion is complete without Boston's David Ortiz, who leads the majors with 35 homers thanks to a spree of 17 in his last 36 games. Ortiz, runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in last year's MVP voting, weighs in at an unremarkable 4.6 WARP; as a DH, he's not adding any defensive value. But true to his reputation as a clutch hitter, he leads the AL in Win Expectancy Added with 4.15, well ahead of closest pursuers Jeter (3.40) and Dye (3.28), not to mention Mauer (2.53). Pitchers Papelbon (5.86) and Santana (5.27) trump that total, however, as do fellow hurlers Justin Verlander (5.22 from yet another rookie) and Roy Halladay (4.65).
You can check the rest of the piece here (PDF). I'll have more commentary on deadline deals tomorrow; for now, the Hit List awaits.

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