In the past two days we’ve been introduced to the newest bunch of New York Yankees. While the team has sat in first place since mid-June, there are always opportunities to improve. The Yankees took advantage of that by acquiring Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood for Mark Melancon, Jimmy Paredes, two players to be named later, and partial payment of the players’ remaining salaries. If that sounds like a haul, well, it is — and not just because the three carry name value. They’re all upgrades over the in-house alternative.
In essence, Berkman replaced Juan Miranda as the DH against right-handed pitchers (I assume Marcus Thames will continue to get at least some starts at DH against LHP), Kearns replaced Colin Curtis, and Wood replaced Chan Ho Park. Again, the upgrades are clear just by looking at the names. Just how much difference will they make? Let’s take a look at the in-house player and his replacement using ZiPS rest of season projections.
Berkman over Miranda
With Nick Johnson out, the Yanks have had to make a few adjustments with the DH spot in the lineup. For a while Jorge Posada was playing there, but after his foot was declared fully healthy he slid back in behind the plate, where his bat provides more value. That left a vacancy at DH against right-handed pitching, since Marcus Thames had it covered against lefties. Juan Miranda was the obvious choice, a lefty with a questionable glove and some pop. He appeared at the plate just 67 times this year, so it’s tough to get a gauge of what he can really do. The Yanks, apparently, were not willing to have a look and see.
In those 67 PA Miranda produced a .323 wOBA, mostly because of his .213 ISO. His OBP was .299, which is never productive for a DH. ZiPS actually had him a bit worse the rest of the way, a .242/.313/.392 line that amounts to a .313 wOBA. That’s not the stuff of a DH. Even if you want to adjust it upward, thinking that he’ll face almost no LHP, I don’t think you could get even to league average with the adjustment. Juan Miranda just wasn’t the answer at DH.
The most important part of the Berkman trade, I think, is how he’s improved every month since undergoing knee surgery in March. That should make for a more optimistic rest-of-season projection, and ZiPS doesn’t fail us there. It projects him to hit .265/.385/.488 the rest of the way, or a .384 wOBA. That’s more DH-like production. Even if he produces a bit less than that, say a .370 wOBA, it’s still a significant upgrade over the in-house options. It will look even better if that .384 projection includes his numbers against LHP. Replace those with Marcus Thames, and that’s a strong DH platoon.
*Though I’m not entirely certain they’ll employ a platoon. Tough to tell a player of Berkman’s caliber that he’s sitting against lefties.
Kearns over Curtis
Surprisingly, I found a few Yanks fans who weren’t so hot on this deal. I couldn’t figure out why. Colin Curtis is nice and all, and his mid-at-bat pinch-hit home run last month remains one of my favorite memories of 2010. As a useful player, though, give me Kearns every time. He can play defense at the corners and can get on base at a decent clip. Despite a few down years he still has a .353 career OBP.
ZiPS does not cover Curtis, since he didn’t factor into the Yanks’ roster during the off-season. We can safely assume that he wouldn’t produce a .337 wOBA, which is what ZiPS projects for Kearns the rest of the way. For a fourth outfielder that’s rather impressive. It will also give the Yanks the option to sit Curtis Granderson against the tougher lefties in the league, which will not only remove his production against lefties, but also perhaps help Kearns’s numbers since he’d be facing mostly opposite-handed pitchers. Colin Curtis would not afford them that opportunity.
Wood over Park
The idea behind acquiring Kerry Wood is that he can provide the Yankees an additional option in the late-innings — the Bridge to Mariano if you will. Maybe he’ll be that good, maybe he won’t. Yet in terms of direct value, he is probably an excellent upgrade over Chan Ho Park, the pitcher the Yankees removed from the roster after acquiring Wood.
Despite a good season out of the pen for Park in 2009, ZiPS isn’t so high on him for the rest of the season. I fully expected to see something like a 3.90 ERA projection, but instead ZiPS sees Park as we fans do, as someone who can’t get the job done. It projects a 5.59 ERA with a 4.84 FIP for the final two months. Clearly the Yanks can do better than that, even if they chose to go in-house.
ZiPS projects Wood a bit more favorably, a 4.50 ERA and 3.80 FIP, including 10.13 K/9 and an acceptable home run rate. That’s not the stuff of a primary setup man, but it’s certainly better than Park. Plus, the idea behind this acquisition was pure upside. The Yanks know that Wood can beat those projections if everything is working. They’re hoping, in other words, that they get the 2008 version of Wood, the guy who struck out 11.40 per nine, kept his walk rate below 2.50, and kept the ball in the park.
But even if he doesn’t, he’s still one of the better options in the bullpen.