What each 2009 Yankee brought to the table

Yankees sign Reid Gorecki
The twists and turns of Johnny Damon's off-season

Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer. – Ted Williams

We all know that baseball players fail more often than they succeed. Our parents and coaches teach it to us at a young age. We see it every day when players ground out, pop out, strike out, and even invent new ways to make outs. The backs of baseball cards, their percentages expressed in decimal format, reveal this to us. Sure, we still get angry when our favorite player — or, better yet, a player we dislike — strikes out. Even though our rational mind comprehends the rate of failure in baseball, our emotions still react as though we expect the player to succeed every time.

Last week, Jeff at Lookout Landing1 wrote an article on this subject through the lens of player evaluation. Because failure occurs more frequently than success, we tend to harp on a player’s shortcomings while sometimes ignoring what he contributes. And what a player contributes can come in many forms, as Jeff says.

Now, there are a million different ways for a player to accumulate value. He can draw a lot of walks, or hit a lot of singles, or hit a lot of homers, or play awesome defense, or steal eighty bases, or whatever. There is no one mold for a valuable position player. There are countless molds. What this means, in turn, is that there are also a million different ways to be flawed. You can be a slap-hitter. You can be a hacker. You can be a butcher in the field. We’re talking about literally infinite combinations. If you have a hundred players with value X, they could take a hundred different paths to get there.

By value, he means a player’s contribution to runs and, as a byproduct, wins. That’s all that matters, right? Who cares if it happens in an ugly fashion? As long as a player makes contribution to his team scoring runs and winning ballgames, we shouldn’t care how he accomplishes it. Yet many fans do. We can sometimes let a player’s flaws distort our evaluations of his contributions. Jeff continues in the next paragraph:

Some of these paths will be more appealing than others. Fans generally like power, contact, and discipline. Fans generally don’t like free swingers or strikeouts. If Player A achieves value X with home runs, walks, and groundouts, while Player B achieves value X with doubles, defense, and strikeouts, Player A will generally be better-received, even though the two made equivalent contributions to the team.

There’s plenty more to say on this topic, but for now let’s just take a quick look at how each Yankee position player contributed to the 2009 team.

Power, contact, discipline, and defense: Mark Teixeira

Power, contact, and discipline: Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui

Contact, discipline, and defense: Derek Jeter

Power, discipline, and defense: Nick Swisher

Power and contact: Robinson Cano

Contact and defense: Melky Cabrera

Discipline and speed: Brett Gardner

(You could argue that Cano adds defense, even though UZR doesn’t agree, and you can argue that Swisher doesn’t add defense based on a few blunders earlier in the year. I don’t buy them, but feel free to make the case.)

Despite these players’ flaws, both real and perceived, each brings at least two skills to the table out of five: power, contact, discipline, defense, and speed.2 Say what you will about each player’s flaws — and we will certainly follow-up on this — but it’s hard to argue with the ways in which these players can succeed. With one four-skill player, seven three-skill players, and three two-skill players, it’s no wonder the Yankees were so successful in 2009.

1Lookout Landing is one blog I’d recommend to any fan of the game, regardless of team allegiance. Jeff leads thought provoking discussions that reach beyond the Mariners, and the other authors contribute as well. Plus, the M’s are a pretty interesting team. (Up)
2Yes, the traditional five tools include throwing arm and do not include discipline, but I think the latter is much more important in terms of value than the former. (Up)

Yankees sign Reid Gorecki
The twists and turns of Johnny Damon's off-season
  • DP

    “Power, discipline, and defense: Nick Swisher”

    What about his sub .250 batting average?!? Or many Ks? 2.00 WHIP? WHAT ABOUT THE TIME HE GOT OUT IN THE PLAYOFFS?!????!!1

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      He certainly doesn’t add hair style to the team.

      OH SNAP. Swishahawk diss.

    • Salty Buggah

      “we tend to harp on a player’s shortcomings while sometimes ignoring what he contributes”

      “We can sometimes let a player’s flaws distort our evaluations of his contributions.”

      I think these two statements perfectly summarize some fans’ perceptions of Swish.

  • ShuutoHeat

    ARod is missing an attribute that only he can bring to the table…”Centaur”.

    • jsbrendog

      amazing way to start my day

  • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

    Prospect evaluator John Sickels often talks about the “seven skills” a position player has in his prospect profiles, yet, a quick Google search has given me zero information; can anyone answer the question of what said skills are?

    • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

      Baserunning and plate discipline seem like the most obvious two, but I can’t really come up with any more. To be honest, I have no idea if they are an extension of the five tools or seven completely different things.

    • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

      An outfielder’s route-taking ability seems like another choice; however, what would be the infielder’s equivalent?

      • DP

        hitting for average
        hitting for power
        strike zone judgment
        baserunning ability
        fielding range
        fielding reliability
        throwing utility


        • http://twitter.com/JamalG_BB Jamal G.

          Why the hell did I not find that when I searched his site? Whatever. Thanks, guy.

    • whozat

      I assume

      instincts? makeup?

      • JGS


        • Tom Zig

          heart, hustle, playing the game the right way.

          by your powers combined…

          • JGS


            • whozat


            • Tom Zig


              • ecksodia

                What does this mean?

                Sorry, new.

                • captain bawls

                  I’m going to assume “this comment was awesome”

  • Carl

    Eric Hinkse

    Power, Pennant

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      Hideki Matsui

      Power, Plate discipline, Porn

      • Bob Stone


  • Bob Stone

    I like the Ted Williams quote. I’ve used it many times myself without even realizing he was the author.

    I was able to watch Williams play in the 1950’s and 1960’s. And, at the time, all we cared about was batting average and home runs on the offense. So Williams’ quote was appropos. Yes, we did occasionally talk about Mickey Mantle’s record breaking strike out rate but we really didn’t care.

    Today, with the spread of Sabermetrics, we find that players are more succesful than we thought. Really good players like Barry Bonds succeed half the time in OBP. And the best players have OPS over 1.000, sometimes way over!(does that mean that those players succeed all the time with home runs, triples and doubles magically erasing stirkeouts and double plays?).

    On defense the best players succeed way over 95% of the time.

    Great starting pitchers succeed over 65% of the time and sometimes much more (Ron Guidry was 25-3 in 1978 for a success rate of 89.29%).

    Great closing pitchers succeed 90% of the time or better (Mariano Rivera’s Career Save to Blown Save rate is 95%).

    It’s amazing how much more successful baseball players have become in fifty years.

    • Bob Stone

      I should have added something at the bottom of my reply:


  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

    Vertical leap and felinicide: Cody Ransom

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

    Appellation and UCL degradation: Xavier Nady

    • JGS

      If you’re going with appellation, you have to call him Xavier Clifford Nady VI

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        I was going for subtlety. I don’t like my jokes to smack you in the face.


        • JGS

          well, Xavier is an awesome name in itself, but VI? That’s king/pope territory

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            Don’t forget, he’s got a son.

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