Slotting in Hideki

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Later tonight, when Darrell Rasner faces off against A.J. Burnett (gulp), Hideki Matsui should return to the lineup for the first time in two months. Hideki hasn’t played June 22, and by all accounts, he’ll need knee surgery this year. With Matsui returning, though, I have to wonder how the Yanks plan on using him.

On the season, Matsui had been quietly having a great season before he hurt his knee. While his power was down a bit — he has just 7 home runs in 69 games — his triple-slash numbers are .323/.404/.458.

But Matsui has excelled in a few situations this year when the rest of the team has not. In 78 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Matsui is hitting .338/.449/.462. In clutch situations, he’s been stellar as well. If the Yanks are to make a run for October over the last six weeks of the season, they sure could use a bat like Matsui’s in the lineup.

There’s one catch: Where should the Yankees play Matsui? As far as I can tell, the Yanks’ lineup is full, and inserting Matsui into the order could weaken the team.

Right now, the Yanks’ outfield consists of some combination of Xavier Nady, Brett Gardner, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu. In the DH slot, they use the odd man out of the outfield — usually Damon or Nady — or Jason Giambi with Wilson Betemit stepping in at first. The Yanks aren’t about to sit Xavier Nady and his +171 OPS. Damon’s been a stellar offense force, and even Jason Giambi has managed to turn in a good season. Bobby Abreu leads the team in RBIs.

Meanwhile, Matsui can only DH. So how will Joe Girardi manage this one? I’m guessing that Jason Giambi will play first and Matsui will DH. Brett Gardner will perhaps be the odd man out, but the Yanks seem committed to playing him. Plus, the defense suffers significantly with Damon in center.

Right now, I’m basically just thinking out loud, but if the Yanks want to insert Matsui in the lineup, the outfield would generally be Nady-Damon-Abreu. That’s not my ideal lineup, but with Matsui returning, it will do.

Of course, we’re being a bit premature. No one knows how Matsui’s knee will hold up, and the Yanks probably won’t push it too much. Damon is better suited to the DH/OF role he’s inhabited for much of the year, and Brett Gardner has, in his most recent call-up, shown the promise and ability we thought he would the first time around.

Considering the way the Yanks have been going, having too much offense would be a welcome problem, and we’ll see, starting tonight, how Girardi and his coaches handle it. As long as Hideki hits, it almost doesn’t matter.

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  • jeff

    I apologize in advance for nitpicking, Ben:

    “Damon’s been a stellar offense force, and even Jason Giambi has managed to turn in a good season.”

    This is really unfair to Giambi. His OBP is a touch better than Damon’s and he’s slugging 62 points higher. If Damon has been a stellar offensive force, Giambi has been a fucking supernova.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      Damn Ben, you got served. ;)

    • Steve

      Giambi’s production looks nice, until you look at his clutch numbers and realize he’s hitting in the #5 hole. Then you realize he’s one of our biggest problems this year.

      Damon, on the other hand, has excellent #s top to bottom. He’s been one of our biggest assets, unless of course you need a bunt in the late innings of a tight game.

      • ChrisS

        Yeah, if clutch was something that could be controlled by the player. But it ain’t, so fuck the heck.

        Damon is riding a very high BABIP compared to his LD%. Yay for Yankee fans, but it’s out of his hands. If Cano had Damon’s BABIP over expected, he’d be hitting .320 and staff writers would be raving about his carefree and laidback attitude that allows him to be so successful in NY.

        • Steve

          Your argument might make some sense if he wasn’t the #5 hitter, but unfortunately for you he is.

    • Steve S

      Giambi has had two good months- May and June. August is starting to look a little better but his April and July were absolutely awful, especially for a middle of the order guy. Johnny Damon has been consistent the entire year and done exactly what he was paid to do. He has been on base and been one of the Yankees most consistent hitters for the entire year, which is something that this team has desperately needed.

  • Chris

    I think it’s obvious who’s the odd man out (or at least it should be). Gardner’s OPS+ for the year is at 36 – up from 8 because of his two recent multi hit games.

    • Count Zero

      Agreed — with a caveat: If we play us some more .500 ball over the next week and drop further behind the Rays, Sox and Twins, then you play the guy who actually might have a future.

      The realization that we are just about out of it should affect your decision to play / not play Gardner in September. I know that we have six left head to head with the Sox and that makes anything possible, but we are now four back of the Twins too and we don’t have any games left with them. If we fall six back of the Twins it’s over. At some point leapfrogging two teams becomes very unlikely.

    • 27 this year

      Can someone explain how OPS+ works?

      • ChrisS

        From The Hardball Times:

        “OPS measured against the league average, and adjusted for ballpark factors. An OPS+ over 100 is better than average, less than 100 is below average.”

        The assumption is that you can’t compare players from different periods, but you can compare to them their peers for that year. Thus a 100 OPS+ is basically league average. It doesn’t take position into consideration, so that a 1B with 110 OPS+ ain’t all that hot, but a catcher with a 110 OPS+ is pretty damn good.

  • blah

    The offensive upgrade of Matsui over Gardner seems like it would more than make up for the defensive downgrade of Damon over Gardner.

    What am I missing?

    • ChrisS

      What am I missing?

      Listening to Michael Kay say:

      “And that one is going to get past Abreu and Damon, and roll to the wall.”

      “And he’s in safe with a double.”

      “Damon can’t catch up with it.”

      “And it’s over Abreu’s head and off the wall for a double.”

      Guys that can chase down flyballs are important for a pitching staff that gives up a lot of flyballs.

      To be fair, I don’t think it will cost the Yankees that much over the last few weeks of the season, but over a full season, it’s a couple of wins. And who knows how much, should they make it, in the post-season where every out is precious.

      • CTYankee

        Very funny. Excellent post

      • Chris

        The couple of balls that will be missed with the suboptimal defense will be greatly outweighed by the improvement in offense. This isn’t swapping in a similar offensive player. You’re replacing the offensive black hole that is Brett Gardner with a guy that has an OPS over 850.

  • tommy reynolds

    my thinking here is, Damon can still track down flyballs and its his arm that hurts his defense. How many times throughout the game is Damon going to have to throw out a runner? Hes producing at the plate and Matsui’s bat has been sorely missed. With how our starting rotation has been going, we need all the runs we can get. Sorry Brett Gardner, love the way you play but be a good little rookie and bite the bullet on this one, be a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. We are going to have to win games 7-5, 10-7 etc. to get back to the playoffs and that means we need Matsui’s bat more than Gardner being in CF

    • steve (different one)

      has the rotation been bad?

      they’ve gotten decent starts about 10 out of the last 11 games, and they’ve gone 5-6.

      the bullpen stumbled in Anaheim, but for the most part, it’s been the offense.

      they’ve lost 4 out of their last 7 games giving up only 4 runs per game. that’s squarely on the offense.

  • Rich

    Girardi told Kay on his weekly show on YES yesterday (when asked why Damon sat last Monday) that Damon suffers leg injuries every year and needs regular rest. So I would think that there might be some type of rotation since it seems likely that Matsui will need regular rest.

    Nady played a little 1B in Sunday’s game, which was his 80th career game at 1B, so it’s possible that he could play there v. LH pitching while Giambi sits and Damon, Gardner, and Abreu play the OF.

    It will be harder to justify playing Gardner v. RH pitching unless Matsui needs to sit for a game.

  • BigBlueAL

    What is there to figure out??? You play Damon at C and bench Gardner. Next question….

  • RustyJohn

    They need to grow a fucking Japanese medicinal garden out in center field and keep Godzilla healthy cause the line-up will be sick with him. And, can we do something with the rally killing, GIDP, can’t hit with RISP middle of the line-up? Having ARod and Giambi together while keeping Nady buried at 6th or 7th in the line-up is frustrating as hell.

    How about this for an idea…Torre used to sometimes bat Bernie or O’Neil in the 2 spot and they weren’t exactly fleet o’ foot…besides, it isn’t as if Nady is going to ground into more dp’s…

    Damon
    Nady
    Matsui
    ARod
    Abreu
    Jeter
    Giambi
    Pudge
    Cano

  • Steve

    I think he’ll get everyone AB’s, including Gardner. Damon gets one day off per week, Nady gets a day here, Abreu gets a day there.

    I don’t think they’ll want Hideki to play more than 3 days in a row, so he only DHs 4-5 times a week. I could see Gardner still playing 4 times a week.

  • adeelmd

    I agree with the above, but for other reasons. I REALLY feel that Abreu and A-rod need to be broken up. On paper, they make a great 3-4 punch, but how many more years do we have to endure this combo that never seem to click?

    Everyone knows how a-rod likes to hit behind Abreu because “he sees a lot of pitches”… maybe that’s why A-rod is doing bad with Risp this year….. Everytime Abreu sees a lot of pitches (meaning he is having a good at bat and it is probably a run scoring or clutch situation) A-rod keeps on looking at the pitches he gets and that somehow messes up his mind game.

    If Abreu doesn’t gets out on a few pitches or A-rod leads off (non-clutch situation), he didn’t see the sequence before him and has to rely on his natural hitting ability rather than the previous sequence.

    Just some food for thought, but they really should be separated. Everytime one of them hits, the other makes an out.

    another idea to put out there….

    1. damon
    2. abreu
    3 nady
    4 a-rod
    5. jeter
    6. matsui
    7. giambi
    8. canoe
    9. i-rod

    • Steve

      Damon
      Jeter
      Abreu
      A-Rod
      Matsui
      Nady
      Giambi
      I-Rod
      Cano

      Thats mine, assuming Matsui hits. Abreu, Matsui and Nady all have good clutch #s, so we really should be better in that dept.

    • steve (different one)

      yeah, i’d imagine your “theory” isn’t supported by anything more than your imagination/anecdotal evidence.

      they certainly “clicked” during 2006-2007.

  • Steve

    “1. damon
    2. abreu
    3 nady
    4 a-rod
    5. jeter
    6. matsui
    7. giambi
    8. canoe
    9. i-rod”

    There’s one thing wrong with your lineup. Its lefty, lefty, righty, righty, righty, lefty, lefty, lefty, righty. No manager in his right mind would put out a lineup like that, you’re just begging to get destroyed in the late innings by a bullpen specialist.

    I’ve tried to come up with better lineups myself, but I keep running into the same problem. I HATE having Giambi behind A-Rod given both players clutch #s, but every time I try to come up with something better, I soon realize my lineup is worse than the one Girardi fields.

    Now that Matsui is back, maybe you can slot him in #5 and move Giambi down in the lineup, but you can’t do much more than that.

  • Bart

    Until the Yankees can play KC and get more than 3 runs — and not leave 33 runners on base — what Damon does with his Bat is more imporatnt than his CH play — ASSUMING MATSUI RETURNS TO FORM you have to go with Damon in center unless Nady can play there???

    If MATSUI does not return to form then instead of punishing the knee further you sit him and play Gardner. maybe matsui can be spot PH

    Unless Giambi breaks a leg there is no reson for Bettimit to ever play — I’d keep Ransom although I someone has to be sent dwon to AAA when matsui is activated — sicne they are not scoring runs maybe a P. I’d dump bettmit.

    Girardi might think about resting guys wafter he closes the gap on Boston sufficently to know that rest is more important than playing another in a string of games —

    Pete Abe muses on Ponson and Pavano in the same rotation that spints into October.

    • Andy In Windy & Rainy Daytona

      Screw Pete Abraham. If it means Kim Jong-Il pitches and they win, so be it. Ponson has been passable, and I’m sure that’s all they can ask for.

  • zs190

    I bat Matsui 7th in the lineup.

    Damon
    Jeter
    Abreu
    ARod
    Giambi
    Nady
    Matsui
    Cano
    Pudge

    Sit Pudge for Andy and Mussina’s turns. Rest Matsui 2 days a week and Giambi once a week and keep Damon in lineup as CF/LF, play Nady at 1B when Giambi needs a rest, just say no to Wilson Betemit.

    • nick blasioli

      i like your assesment and idea…i just wish joe would read this blog have you noticed how much stronger the lineup has gotten with matsui in it….now it seems that the yankees have a trickle of hope for the playoffs…

  • zs190

    By the way, I’m not really sure about signing CC now, wow, they just ran him into ground again. Another CG, 130 pitches…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594331910 Jamal G.

      According to Bill James, innings are not what you really look for when trying to find out if a pitcher is being abused. You look at pitch counts, specifically if he is delivering more than 105-pitches per start.

      • Steve

        Bill James or not, thats just common sense. If anything, more innings give you more time to rest between throwing pitches. Any pitcher will tell you an 85 pitch, 9 inning shutout is a walk in the park compared to a 5 inning, 110 pitch outing.

    • ChrisS

      Pitch counts are more important before the pitcher reaches ~24. I think there was a Will Carroll article on this not that long ago.

      130 for a workhorse in his prime like Sabathia with little-to-no history of arm trouble isn’t all that bad.

      Long term deals for pitchers, I don’t think, is very smart regardless, but if Sabathia was throwing ~125-140 pitches a game, I’d be a little more concerned. He’s averaging about 112 pitches per game with three spikes: 130, 124, and 122

  • AndrewYF

    They have only gone over 110 pitches with him twice, yesterday and a couple starts ago when he pitched 120-something. They’re not really overusing him that much. And you’re insane if you have doubts about signing CC, he’s proven to be one of the most durable pitchers in baseball since his debut.

  • Travis

    Sign CC now, 130 pitches or not.

  • JohnC

    Matsui DHs, and Damon plays CF. Much as I was excited to see Gardner finally drive the ball, I think he would be overmatched against the likes of Burnett and Halladay. Much rather have Hideki in there, rusty or not.

  • Yank Crank 20

    This reminds me of 2006 when Matsui and Sheffield came back from injuries and all of a sudden we were had a logjam in the outfield with Damon, Matsui, Sheffield, Abreu and Bernie. I hope it goes a little better than forcing a Sheffield to 1b situation.

  • PhilK

    I think there will be a catch-up period for matsui – he will not start hitting major league pitching well after a 2 month layoff.

    • http://knickerbockerchatter.blogspot.com Bruno

      Didn’t he go 4-4 with a HR in his first game after missing 3 months with a broken wrist in ’06?

      • steve (different one)

        if i recall, it was 4 singles.

  • Mike Pop

    start brett sit johnny

    • http://knickerbockerchatter.blogspot.com Bruno

      put the crack-pipe down

  • Old Ranger

    I’d like to sit Johnny and play Brett (defence alone), but the sensible way is…Johnny plays. Damm, that hurt. Brett is going to make it difficult to keep him out of the game…but, for the moment, he sits. 27/09?

  • Capital T

    Matsui is the odd man out. He will play when Damon or Giambi need a rest (2-3 games a week with the upcoming schedule) and off the bench to pinch hit for Gardner/Bettimit/C of the day in late innings. This keeps the two aging vets fresh and doesn’t tax Matsui’s knee too much.

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  • cult of basebaal

    wait?

    what???

    there are people who actually think it would be better for the team to sit damon and play gardner?

    seriously???

    wow.

    i guess there’s one only thing to say to that …

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

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  • Bill

    Gardner to the bench and Damon in CF is the obvious move here. Our defense will suffer, but the offensive upgrade from Gardner to Matsui should make up for it.

    Gardner can also be brought in relatively early in the game (6th or 7th inning) to pinch run and upgrade the defense.

    • Bill

      Also Matsui won’t be playing everyday and guys like Damon and Giambi may also need days off. Nady can play some 1B to give Giambi a full or half day off (DH). And we finally will stop playing Betemit who is pretty terrible at the plate and in the field.

  • cult of basebaal

    well … here’s joey joe joe jr’s 1st shot at it:
    Damon CF
    Jeter SS
    Abreu RF
    A. Rodriguez 3B
    Giambi 1B
    NadyLF
    Matsui DH
    Cano 2B
    I. Rodriguez C

    • Steve

      Our biggest problem this year is hitting with RISP

      The #5 spot in the batting order is one of your main run producing spots.

      Jason Giambi is hitting .209 with RISP

      Hideki Matsui is hitting .338 with RISP

      I have nothing else to say.

  • RobertGKramer

    Considering the demotion of Christian, I see Gardner not playing every day and doing some pinch running particularly when Matsui reaches. Damon will also be used when he doesn’t otherwise play. I’m not sure it’s wise to start Matsui on turf. He might only pinch hit until Friday!

    • Steve

      He’s pretty much played a full season in AAA this year, so the “young guys need to play” stuff is already taken care of. I don’t think they will rely on him to produce, they can use him to pinch run and caddy for Damon in the field. He’ll get a start a couple times a week and get some ABs, but you have to do everything you can to win games at this point, not develop players.

  • Capital T

    For all those who thought Damon was the answer to CF, chalk up an L. He just blew the game

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