So Bernie Williams has undertaken his version of Operation Shutdown, refusing the Yankees‘ admittedly half-assed offer of a minor-league contract for a player who — no matter his long list of accomplishments or central place in building their recent dynasty — has no business being on their 2007 roster. Instead Williams plans to continue spurning guaranteed offers from other teams and wait for the Yankees to change their minds and offer him a guaranteed roster spot. In other words, he’s painting himself into a corner roughly the size of the spot on the Venn diagram where the keen strategy of a four-year-old’s hold-breath-until-blue temper tantrum meets a paraphrased Yogi Berra chestnut: if he doesn’t want to come to spring training, nobody’s going to stop him.The rest of the post is about Bernie's Hall of Fame chances per JAWS (not quite there on the numbers, but likely with the peripherals -- Fielding Grammies, Series rings and other things), but for the moment I wanted to address to my colleague Joe Sheehan's advocacy of a roster spot for Ol' 51. I've probably strained my neck muscles agreeing with Sheehan so often on a wide variety of topics, particularly regarding the Yankees, but I think he's off base this time.
Even for a Yankee fan who enjoyed Bernie’s best years, I’m finding it harder to sympathize amid this sad final act than I usually do for a favored player whose career is clearly behind him. Williams’ combined offensive and defensive production has been inadequate for the past four years, and while the Yankees covered for him until 2005, they paid a price (count da rings… hmmm, that would be zero) for their latter-day delusions. As Williams’ talents have faded, he’s done little in the way of acquiring skills that might have allowed him to hang on in a reduced capacity, say by learning first base — a position the Yanks have struggled to fill during the period of his decline — or adapting to the admittedly difficult world of pinch-hitting. Bernie’s stats there, according to the fabulous new splits feature at Baseball-Reference.com show him at .205/.360/.282 in the pinch for his career, with about 2/3 of that experience coming in the last two years. Furthermore, Williams’ PECOTA projection (.258/.320/.388, for an MLVr of -.114) has fallen well below that of the man taking his fourth-outfielder job with the Yanks, Melky Cabrera (.282/.341/.408 , -.033). And that’s without even mentioning the defense and a throwing arm only slightly stronger than your average Thanksgiving turkey — on the plate.
You know the old baseball saying about the ubiquity of defense-only players, how you can shake a tree and have a million gloves fall out? It's wrong. The minor leagues don't mint defenders with anywhere near the consistency that they stamp out right-handed first-base types whose main skill is that they can stomp left-handed pitchers. They breed like rabbits. You don't have to shake a tree — you can find them lying around on the ground.In other words, Williams' one remaining skill, hitting lefthanded pitching, just isn't all that special, at least at the level he's able to manage. Don't tell me that his .323/387/.549 versus southpaws in 150 PA last year is any more valid than the .231/.305/.286 he hit in 203 PA against them the year before, or the previous two years of adequate but unremarkable production from that side which preceded it. They're all small sample sizes, and one shouldn't let sentimentality dictate the reading of them as anything but. The total against lefties in those four years, in a much more valid, season-sized sample of 713 PA, is .271/.369/.421, which is the kind of basically average production that necessitated Williams' early entry into the shuffleboard market in the first place.
Think about it this way: last year, the complete group of major league right-handed hitters averaged .275/.346/.442 against lefty pitchers, with a home run once every 30 at bats. Josh Phelps, who no one thinks of as a particularly great hitter, has a career record of .292/.357/.500 against lefties, with a home run every 19 at-bats. Lance Niekro, a miserable hitter despite good baseball bloodlines, is a career .296/.330/.574 hitter against lefties with a home run once every 17 at-bats.
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