Mar
16

2010 Season Preview: Designated table-setter

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On a team loaded with older players and bloated contracts, the designated hitter position was one the Yankees often used to hide a particularly decrepit player during the mid-aughts. Hideki Matsui fit that bill in 2009, though unlike many of his predecessors, he was tremendously productive with the bat. However, with his ticking time-bomb knees now residing in Orange County, the Yanks to turned to a familiar face to be their DH, and are also asking him to do something different than be a lumbering run-producer, in the traditional sense of the term.

As a group, Yankee DH’s hit .269-.362-.497 with a .371 wOBA last season, with Matsui receiving approximately three-fourths of the playing time at the position. Among players who came to the plate at least 400 times as a DH, Godzilla hit the most homers (27), was second in RBI (86), batting average (.270), and slugging percentage (.506), and was third in doubles (20), on-base percentage (.361), and OPS (.866). On top of all that, he was the World Series MVP after a .615-.643-1.385 (.815 wOBA) performance against the Phillies. But instead of replacing him with another middle of the order thumper to bat behind Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the Yanks grabbed a player to hit in front of them.

Nick Johnson, the former Yankee third round pick, was brought back to town on a one-year deal worth $5.75M (plus some incentives and a mutual option) with the idea of deploying his supreme on-base skills in front of Tex and A-Rod. Johnson is one of just 11 players with an OBP of .400 or better since he made his big league debut in the second half of 2001, yet he’s the only one of the group to never appear in an All-Star Game or earn eight figures in a single season. Like Matsui, the lefty swinging Johnson can more than hold his own against southpaws (.290-.423-.427, .386 wOBA career) and has shown the ability to produce in high leverage situations (.290-.434-.482, another.386 wOBA). With more walks (432) than strikeouts (410) since 2003 and the ability to murder fastballs, Johnson seems like an ideal two-hole hitter for a lineup designed to work the count and grind the opposing starter into a fine powder by the fifth inning.

But there’s a catch. Johnson’s military-style plate discipline and lack of a platoon split and relatively cheap contract comes with the caveat of questionable health. He’s missed 557 of 1,098 possible days (50.7%) due to injury since the Yankees traded him away after the 2003 season, including all of 2007 and most of 2008 with a broken leg and wrist issues. Joe chronicled all of Johnson’s health issues a few months ago, and thankfully it appears most of his ailments were flukes. However, with an injury history that long, it’s impossible to feel comfortable with the idea of Johnson playing 150 games and getting 650 plate appearances next year. The Yankees hope that keeping Johnson away from the rigors of playing the field will help keep them healthy, which sounds great in theory.

That wrist injury from 2008, a torn sheath tendon suffered on a swing that required surgery, could be the culprit behind Johnson’s lack of power in 2009. His eight homers were the fewest he’s ever hit in a season in which he came to plate at least 300 times, majors or minors, and his .114 isolated power was the same as notable noodle-bats Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Sweeney. It’s not uncommon for a player to lose some power for a year or so following wrist surgery, and the Yankees are going to have to hope Johnson regains some pop as he gets further and further away from the injury.

Here’s what the projection systems have in store for Johnson…

We have some variation amongst the systems regarding playing time, obviously the result of Johnson’s sketchy medical history. Luckily, they see his power rebounding to essentially league average (.151 IsoP), and his overall .273-.408-.424, .377 wOBA performance is well above average. Combine that with zero defense and -3.0 runs on the bases (Johnson’s average during his three seasons of at least 500 plate appearances), and you’ve essentially got a two win player (1.9 WAR, to be exact). If he managed another 100 or so plate appearances, he’d be worth 2.4 WAR. Remember that DH’s get docked big time because of the complete lack of positional value.

Now, if Johnson were to miss significant time due to injury, his likely replacement would be Triple-A masher Juan Miranda. CHONE projects a .340 wOBA for Miranda in 460 plate appearances, which is above average but not by much. I’ve already said that I don’t think he would be much of a DH option for 2010, and I’m sticking to it. Another name that is sure to pop up is that of superprospect Jesus Montero. CHONE projects over 300 plate appearances of .314 wOBA hitting from the 20-year-old next year, but I can’t see the Yankees rushing him up to occupy a very easy to fill spot when it would be in his and the organization’s best interest to play every day and work on his defense in Triple-A. Montero’s a possibility, but he shouldn’t be considered anything more than an outside one.

The Yankees could have gone a number of ways when filling their vacant DH spot. They could have re-signed Matsui and his chronically bad knees, or they could signed one of the many slugging DH types perpetually available on the open market, or they could have used it as a revolving door to keep some of the older players on their roster fresh. Instead, they opted to bring in a player who’s skill set can help maximize the already immense production of their 3-4 hitters by setting the table near the top of the lineup. Now they just need him to stay healthy.

Photo Credit: Antonelli, NY Daily News

Categories : Players
  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    I just want 140 games out of the Stick. You know he’ll be on base and the power is likely to come back. Even if the power doesn’t come all the way back, if he’s getting on base almost 2x a game hitting in front of A-Rod and Tex, he’s doing his job.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

    The 2010 New York HighSock’n Yankees.

    I love it.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

    But instead of replacing him with another middle of the order thumper to bat behind Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the Yanks grabbed a player to hit in front of them.

    … aaaaaaaaaaaand, that’s because they had already acquired a middle of the order thumper to bat behind them. His name is Curtis Granderson.

    Just getting that on the record again, preemptively. You’re welcome, America.

    • CS Yankee

      No doubt!

      Plus 2 of the 11 400+ OBP since 2001 are retired.

      NJ is an artist with the bat and was on the cheap…I feel better having them (NJ & CG) than having Johnny “come lately” Damon & Godzilla (w/o knees)

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

    Now, if Johnson were to miss significant time due to injury, his likely replacement would be Triple-A masher Juan Miranda. CHONE projects a .340 wOBA for Miranda in 460 plate appearances, which is above average but not by much. I’ve already said that I don’t think he would be much of a DH option for 2010, and I’m sticking to it.

    Revisiting Joe’s midnight post about the final roster issues to be addressed this spring (the 5th starter spot and the Hoffmann/Thames 25th man spot), I wonder if Nick’s injury question and the fact that Juan Miranda and Jorge Vazquez are Nick’s main backups works in Marcus Thames’s favor to push that battle more towards him.

    Hoffmann may provide more surplus value over Thames in that he can actually play all three OF spots well and provide speed off the bench, but Thames’s bat may make him a more desirable 25th man to serve as a backup DH option, considering how thin we are there.

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      But is Thames worth keeping around to have him DH one time a week against a LHP if Johnson has a long term injury? I’d rather go with Miranda DH’ing against RHP, then when they face a LHP, give Jeter/A-Rod/Posada the day at DH and play a Pena or Cervelli. Thames fills such a tiny hole (TWSS), that I don’t think he’s worth the roster spot.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

        In the abstract, no, he’s probably not worth keeping around. When judged against Jamie Hoffmann, who would probably also not get a lot of PT, yeah, he might be worth keeping around.

        Both choices have pluses and minuses. It’s a tossup, IMO.

      • Thomas

        Couldn’t you argue though that Hoffmann fill just as small of a hole as Thames?

        He will only be on the team in order to be a backup defensive outfielder for four average or better defensive OF or maybe to provide speed. Thus, he probably wouldn’t even get 9 innings a week. Also, if you want that type of player, couldn’t the Yankees just call up Greg Golson or sign Freddy Guzman, both who are faster and at least his equal defensively?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

          Also, if you want that type of player, couldn’t the Yankees just call up Greg Golson or sign Freddy Guzman, both who are faster and at least his equal defensively?

          Well, Guzman’s not in the org, but your point stands. I like Hoffmann’s upside, but he may not really be THAT much better than Golson, Colin Curtis, Reid Gorecki, etc. as a 5th outfielder. Greg Golson is perfectly capable of being a 25th man on a big league roster at this point.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

            Eh, maybe I’m understating the Hoffmann/Golson gap. Hoffman’s got a much better contact/discipline/OBP skill.

            Fun Facts time:

            Hoffman, MiL career:
            5 years, 596 games, 2499 PA, .283/.355/.401, 36 HR, 413/240 K/BB, 91/43 SB/CS

            Golson, MiL career:
            6 years, 634 games, 2780 PA, .263/.308/.395, 48 HR, 737/152 K/BB, 140/38 SB/CS

            • Thomas

              Hoffmann is a better batter, but most people don’t think he’ll get many PAs, since he is going to be a defensive replacement and pinch runner. For example, if you think Hoffmann will get one PA every 5 games, he will end with 32.4 PAs. Choosing between 32 PAs for Hoffmann or 32 PAs for Golson, who cares? The batting aspect is almost irrelevant.

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

                Still, though, while it’s only 32 PA, giving Golson 32 PA may be just like throwing them away altogether.

                A .308 minor league OBP? Yeesh.

                • Rick in Boston

                  Golson is a much better candidate to be an emergency callup or LIDR/pinch runner come September. I’d trust Hoffmann to swing the bat a bit more than Golson – not much, but enough that I’d take Hoffmann to NY in April.

                • Thomas

                  I can agree with these. I’d say Golson has about equal/greater value to Hoffmann in a September/October situation, where you wouldn’t expect him to hit at all. Whereas, Hoffmann has more value throughout the regular season.

  • Geek

    Is Nick Johnson fragile? The answer to that is no. Has he had a number of bad luck injuries, yes.

    Yes Johnson is slow on the bases but yes he is talented and can play the game. There is no reason to believe that Johnson will be a reliable and productive player unless you believe in bad luck and curses.

    • Accent Shallow

      Wouldn’t him taking an inordinate amount of time to recuperate from those injuries mean that he’s fragile?

    • radnom


      Is Nick Johnson fragile? The answer to that is no. Has he had a number of bad luck injuries, yes.

      I am as big a NJ fan as you will find, but this is a little ridiculous.
      Broken cheakbone? Bad luck.
      Broken leg? Bad luck.

      But to say he isn’t fragile is just putting on the blinders man. You really can’t just attribute his multiple wrist injuries plus his back to ‘bad luck’. Eight years, nearly 600 games missed due to injury. Even if you think Johnson’s grandmother pissed off god and you want to attribute it all to bad luck, you would have to think that having had some of the major injuries/surgeries he has had puts him at elevated risk going forward.

      Hopefully being a full time DH will help him stay on the field.

      • http://www.audiencesounds.com/ Templeton “Brendog” Peck

        ju ju curse.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

        Even if you think Johnson’s grandmother pissed off god and you want to attribute it all to bad luck…

        What if I don’t want to attribute it to either a god that I may not believe in or luck that may be a false concept? What if I just want to say I believe in no divine hands or unseen forces or fate or luck or mojo, I just believe the world is full of radnom random chance and some people get more injuries than others; that it’s not a pattern, and that it’s not predictive?

        you would have to think that having had some of the major injuries/surgeries he has had puts him at elevated risk going forward.

        Why? What evidence is there that the type of injuries Nick’s had make him more injury prone going forward? That’s the point of listing his specific injuries; none of them are of the chronic or degenerative variety. Not all injuries are identical.

        • whozat

          I cite the well-established precedent set by the Marshall Supreme Court in “Smoke v Fire”

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

            Correlation ALWAYS implies causation.

            ALWAYS.

            • Hughesus Christo

              I would say there’s a good amount of luck involved, but I would also guess that NJ’s genetic soup is a bit to blame as well. Writing off either is a little much.

              I have never broken a bone, but I get sinus infections like a Mitre. Am I unluckily breathing the wrong air at the wrong time, but lucky to have every fall/collision center on just the right spots? Or am I genetically predisposed to these outcomes? Yes to both.

        • radnom


          Why? What evidence is there that the type of injuries Nick’s had make him more injury prone going forward?

          None, I’m purely speculating as non medical professional and this was secondary to my main point. I didn’t mean his injuries were degenerative like Matsui’s knees at this point, I was simply noting that you often see new injuries pop up in athletes as a result of older injuries (e.g. a buildup of scar tissue from a past surgery, or a guy changing his mechanics due to one injury, leading to another (Wang)). Not to say this will happen to Johnson, but he has spent more time rehabbing than the majority of players his age. Plus his hands/wrists have been an issue since he was coming up with the Yanks. Could be a coincidence, who knows.

      • OldYanksFan

        I don’t think he’s fragile… however, even a moderately bad bad is problematic, and wrist injuries are career killers for elite hitters (see Garciaparra, Nomah and others).

        However, I love the guy and am happy to take my chances. But if he does miss a lot of games, I can’t pretend to be surprised. If he weren’t an injury risk, he gets a much better contract then 1/$6.

        Plus the guy is a born’n’bred’ Yankee and I have to think he is thrilled to be back. So roll them dice and hope they don’t come up craps!

    • http://www.audiencesounds.com/ Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      from the rest of your post ia ssume you left out the “not” in that last sentence. if so i agree.

    • pete

      the thing is – having a number of “bad luck” injuries CONTRIBUTES to his being more fragile now. Not to say that it’s assumed that he’ll get injured this year, but do i think Nick Johnson is more likely to re-injure his wrist or back or even leg than most players, even if only by a little? Of course.

      Bones don’t typically heal to a point of complete strength after being broken, and most injuries, regardless of being chronic or not, do generate a little more risk of future re-injury, because the area is generally just a wee bit weaker than it was originally. For instance, I broke my C2 at the end of seventh grade, but was absurdly lucky and missed a spinal chord injury by about 2mm, and the fracture had healed completely by the end of the summer. Still, my doctor told me that I couldn’t play football a year later when i got to HS because my neck was still at a slightly greater (and therefore fairly substantial, due to the nature of football) risk than for most players.

      In this same vein, while it may not have been fragility that initially caused NJ’s slew of injuries, but rather, as you said, bad luck, if your job is to hit baseballs and you’ve had a back injury and a wrist injury in the last ten years, i think it’s safe to say that you are at more risk than your average player to re-injure one of those areas. Same goes for the leg I suppose, but breaking a leg, even if it is weakened from a prior break, is just not a likely injury in baseball, so there’s really no reason to worry about that one at all.

  • miketotheg

    wow man. no love for godzilla? even if he is stumpy he came to win a ring with the yanks and did so.

    what’s the over/under on how many games nick johnson will play this year?

    • whozat

      Among players who came to the plate at least 400 times as a DH, Godzilla hit the most homers (27), was second in RBI (86), batting average (.270), and slugging percentage (.506), and was third in doubles (20), on-base percentage (.361), and OPS (.866). On top of all that, he was the World Series MVP after a .615-.643-1.385 (.815 wOBA) performance against the Phillies. But instead of replacing him with another middle of the order thumper

      No love?

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      I loved Hideki Matsui on the 2009 Yankees. I much prefer Nick Johnson on the 2010 Yankees.

      • Accent Shallow

        I was iffy on swapping NJ for Godzilla until the story came out the first week of ST that Matsui’s knees still weren’t 100%.

        Great guy, good player for a number of years, but at that point you just wave goodbye and wish him well.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

          I was iffy on swapping NJ for Godzilla until the story came out the first week of ST that Matsui’s knees still weren’t 100% I remembered that NJ wasn’t swapped for Godzilla, Granderson was swapped for Matsui.

          Fixed.

          • Accent Shallow

            Regardless of how you parse roles, the Yankees could have matched Matsui’s offer and not moved on NJ, without affecting the Granderson acquisition.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

              No, the parsing of roles is important.

              Cashman began the offseason with Matsui the #5 hitter and Damon the #2 hitter as free agents. He quickly moved to trade for Curtis Granderson, and then immediately told Matsui in not so many words that he wouldn’t be re-signed and was free to ply his wares elsewhere.

              Cashman than entered into simultaneous negotiations with Damon and Nick and told Boras that the offer he extended to Johnny was contingent on them taking the deal first. They didn’t, so the offer was pulled.

              It’s quite clear how the org looked at it. Matsui was a desirable option only until his replacement was acquired (Granderson). Damon was a desirable option only until his replacement was acquired (Johnson). Simple as that.

            • Jose

              Why would they take Matsui? Nick Johnson is the better offensive player. He will produce more than Matsui this year.

  • OldYanksFan

    BR says ARod has a .390 OBP, not .399, and Helton with a .427, not .433, and Chipper at .406, not .414, and Walker at .400, not .418.

    Is On Base Average the same as OBP? Or wOBA maybe?

    But… Barry Bonds? .538? Just SICK!
    2 guys from Coors field in there.
    Bobby’s there, but may not be in 2 years.
    Manny the Monster. Best right handed OPS of this generation?

    Anyway, that’s some pretty elite company for NJ.

    • Thomas

      The numbers are since Johnson’s major league debut, so from 2001 to the present.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

      All those listed numbers in that link are from the midpoint of the 2001 season to the present, not total career.

      As stated in the post:

      Johnson is one of just 11 players with an OBP of .400 or better since he made his big league debut in the second half of 2001, yet he’s the only one of the group to never appear in an All-Star Game or earn eight figures in a single season.

      ARod’s career OBP is 390, but his 2001-2009 OBP is .399.

      • OldYanksFan

        Got it. But why call it On Base Average when On Base Percentage is a pretty well established term… and there is a wOBA stat? Just a bit confusing.

        • Jose

          OBP is not really represented as a percent and has a format more similar to BA. So sometimes it is written as OBA. wOBA is based on more complex math to scale like OBP but tell more about offensive production.

          OBP=OBA. wOBA a representation of offense scaled like OBP.

  • YankeesJunkie

    I am really excited to see Johnson to bat in the #2 spot. He is going to get a lot of pitches to hit hard and he is going to get on base a lot for Tex, A-Rod, and everyone else in the lineup. Johnson is going to be a huge run scorer for the Yankees if he stays healthy and will prove a lot of people wrong.

  • bexarama

    Nick clearly feels fine.

    I love this move, provided he stays healthy. Even if he doesn’t, it was a good move that just didn’t work out. Also, I notice a couple of people that were on here making fun of Nick Johnson sitting out because of that back thing and making jokes about the turf have disappeared ever since he came back and absolutely raked in ST (not that it matters, it’s ST), plus Johnny Damon sat out a game with “turf toe.” Hmmm.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Everybody is dealing with SSS and logic. Matsui and Damon both had amazing years last year and it was a pleasure watching them both. Seeing them leave is sad, but the chances of them repeating that sort of season after the age of 35 and declining health rather than Nick Johnson who is still in his prime years and is only on a one year contract. Also, people remember Damon stealing two bases and Matsui’s six ribbies in Game 6 and not Matsui getting his knees drained and Damon barely being able to play LF.

  • http://twitter.com/themanchine Bruno (The Manchine)

    Now, if Johnson were to miss significant time due to injury,

    MAYBE Cash gets a catcher and Jorge DH’s, like it or not.

    I still would’ve preferred this option in the offseason….but it is what it is.