The projected improvement of the Yankees

Fan Confidence Poll: August 2nd, 2010
Mike Lowell and a possible return to pinstripes

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

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

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

(AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

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

(AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

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.

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Fan Confidence Poll: August 2nd, 2010
Mike Lowell and a possible return to pinstripes
  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

    Now they just have to find someone better than Ramiro…

    • Slugger27

      i was all district in high school….

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Shave your sideburns and grab a uniform.

        • RichYF

          MATTINGLY! I SAID SHAVE THOSE SIDEBURNS!

    • Steve O.

      Do you think the RedSox/Rays will block any move the Yanks try to make? Even if it is for a utility player? I can see it.

      • Mister Delaware

        I hope so and I hope the end result is KC letting Willie Bloomquist and his half a million or so remaining go to Boston in a Myers/Rios 1-0 trade. That would be awesome.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      GMTA.

      I’m looking for an infielder who can play SS and has a salary of a decent size that his team who is going nowhere would love to foist off on someone else for a non-prospect. I looked through all the sellers and potential sellers (TOR, BAL, DET, KCR, CLE, OAK, LAA, SEA, FLA, NYM, WSN, MIL, CHC, HOU, PIT, COL, LAD, ARI), searching for a match.

      I found… nothing.

      (Well, I found guys like Bobby Crosby and Jayson Nix and Adam Kennedy, but they’re not actually an upgrade on Ramiro Peña, as unfathomable as that concept is.)

      Ramiro Peña’s upgrade is going to have to be Eduardo Nuñez, because there’s no Lance Berkmans or Austin Kearnses that play SS on a non-contender that we can poach this August. All the above teams’ middle infielders are either cheap and under team control or suck balls and aren’t worth our time anyway.

      • Brooklyn Ed

        Joe Inglett of the Brewers would be an upgrade. his .350 career OBP is no fluke, and could still bat for average with limited playing time.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Inglett’s still making peanuts, though. That’s the key ingredient to an August deal for a team in first place; Inglett’s not expensive enough salary-wise that he’d make it all the way through waivers to us (or for Milwaukee to feel the need to trade him in the first place.)

          We need to find a guy who:
          A.) Can play shortstop and third base
          B.) Is a better hitter than Ramiro Peña
          C.) Has a hefty salary for the rest of 2010
          D.) Doesn’t figure in his team’s long-term plans
          E.) Is on a team already out of the race that doesn’t need him for this year and wouldn’t mind getting rid of him for nothing but salary relief and/or a marginal PTBNL

          The list of guys who meet all those conditions is pretty much nobody. I don’t see why the Brewers would move Inglett unless we blew them away (and we wouldn’t), and I don’t see how Inglett doesn’t get claimed by the Rays or Sox or Tigers or Angels or White Sox, etc.

          • Brooklyn Ed

            Inglett was DFA’d twice during the off season by the Jays and the Rangers. I was wondering why Cashman never did calimed him. hmm….

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

              Probably didn’t want to tie up a 40-man spot on him back in January when he was available.

      • Steve O.

        This. I could see the Yankees being cautious of handing Nuñez the job because of the limited experience at third and second. He’s also got 4 errors in 12 games combined at third and second. Not significant, but could factor into the Yankees’ plans.

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        Jamie Carroll

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Hmmm… perhaps. He might work. But being in the other league means that’s another 16 claims he has to pass through first.

          Let’s root for the Dodgers to fall out of it and see, though.

    • Guru Man

      LOL, do any of the writers on this site do any homework? The reason why some of us don’t like Kearns is that the 2 previous years Kearns OPS was about .640! Even if you took his average OPS this year, he has consistently been better against righties so the major need (to hit lefties) is not his strength. yes, he gives a slightly better option than Granderson against a lefty, but not sure the difference in defense makes it worth it. If they gave up anything it was not worth it as any good fielding righty who could produce a .700 OPS against lefties is a better option (that is not hard to find)

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        If they gave up anything it was not worth it as any good fielding righty who could produce a .700 OPS against lefties is a better option (that is not hard to find)

        Name them. Who else could we have picked up for nothing but a little cash and/or a nonprospect PTBNL that was better than Austin Kearns?

      • rbizzler

        Great job ignoring the premise of the post in that Kearns is an upgrade over Curtis. I can’t agree with the hand-wringing over the acquisition of a bench player who will play once a week (and who is better than the player that he is replacing). Not too mention the cost of said acquisition was nearly nothing.

  • http://www.thesubwayconnection.com/ Newbie

    If they can’t acquire anyone through waivers, would Russo or Nunez be anywhere near as bad as Ramiro has been?

    • http://www.thesubwayconnection.com/ Newbie

      oops, meant for that to be a reply.

      • Mister Delaware

        By all accounts, Russo can’t handle SS. Can’t replace Ramiro if you can’t fill in at SS.

        • http://www.thesubwayconnection.com/ Newbie

          Ahh True. Nunez, though, would be better than Ramiro Pena.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            At this point, we may as well try it and see.

    • Steve O.

      Russo is decent, but can’t play short. Nuñez hasn’t played inspired defense at second and third with 4 errors in 12 games combined. I’d rather bring up Nuñez, but I can see why the Yankees would do otherwise.

  • GG2010

    With Kearns in the fold as 4th OF, would (if he became available) Lowell over Thames as the righty-platoon-DH/PH warrant consideration ?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Nah.

      Lowell vs. Thames at the plate against lefties is a wash at best, and probably even be a downgrade. The only reason I’d be interested at all in this idea is if Mike Lowell could play 3B, because having a backup DH who can spell Alex at third is better than having one who can only spell Gardner/Swisher/Kearns in the corners (and badly).

      But I’m not convinced Lowell can play third anymore either.

      Pass. (And the fact we’d have to somehow compensate Boston for him is the final nail in the coffin.)

      • Mister Delaware

        I can only imagine the outrage if we picked Lowell off waivers, he predictibly sucked and Boston used the $$$ savings to sign some 16 year old no one has ever heard of.

        • Zack

          I prefer the outrage to occur when they straight out release him, we sign him for nothing, then he becomes WS MVP.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          That too.

          FWIW, Mike Lowell’s splits v LHP this year: 40 PA, .194/.275/.389 (.179 BABIP)

          Meh. Not worth the gamble over Thames (whom we’d have to DFA instantly upon acquiring Lowell, since our roster is full and Thames is out of options.)

          • Mister Delaware

            Right. And once we expand to 40, Thames is going to be a nice piece off the bench. Always fun to have a guy you know could run into one in the late innings.

      • tony c.

        Lowell is history.If he had anything left,I don’t think that the R.Sox would wanna move him.And why would we wanna take on another high salary,up in age player?We already been down that road & it did’nt work as in R.Winn,M.Thames.The name of the game is to get younger….

    • Chris

      You know who would make a great upgrade over Thames in the righty-platoon-DH/PH role? Manny.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        I agree, but that’s not seriously going to happen.

        • theyankeewarrior

          Maybe not, but imagine what Lupica could write if the Yankees instilled a DH platoon of Manny and Berkman.

          If I were Hal, it might be worth my money just to see the reaction. In fact, I’d even tip Mikey off before the deal got done so he could break the news. I’d wake him up at 2:30 am with a drunken phone call. No, better yet, I’d take my limo party to his house and ring his doorbell while…

          /went too far’d

      • tony c.

        Manny would be a great draw but could the rest of the team put up with his tactics & would Manny be willing to cut off his Dreadlocks???? He”s alway”s said he wanted to be a Yankee!!

  • http://leadernation.com/blog stats newbie

    How do I figure out the league average wOBA for DH?

    • Matt Joyce

      Go to fangraphs.com > leaders > advanced > (wOBA is the last column on the advanced tab) > click DH > you then could do all players who DHd or just the ‘qualified’ DH.

      • Mister Delaware

        But then you still have to do a weighted average or something (and its still not really right since they include guys like Posada on the list). It would be nice to have a tab up top with Leaders/Players/Teams for Averages broken out by league and position.

    • Chris

      It’s easy to find the OPS for that from BaseballReference.

      Average line for a DH in the AL: .247/.325/.422/.747

      That’s worse than the line for 1B, RF and LF.

      • Steve O.

        It hasn’t been a good year from DHs to say the least. 1B production is ridiculous though .270/.355/.459, RF is good also .272/.345/.448.

        • Mister Delaware

          Its actually the continuation of a trend. DH performance has lagged behind 1B since 2007 and RF since 2006.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    I always like to picture in my head the dance these guys do when they get the phone call saying they’ve been traded from the likes of Cleveland to the first place New York Yankees.

    It makes me smile.

    • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno
      • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

        Hey Coney, why don’t CHU have a dance?

      • http://www.thesubwayconnection.com/ Newbie

        I miss Coney in the booth so much, with the fangraphs references and dirty jokes… he was awesome.

        • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

          Yeah, he was. My dream YES booth is Cone, Singleton, and Lorenz. That would be awesome.

          • Ghost of Scott Brosius

            But….but….teh “see ya!”

  • Evan3457

    I think that given the options out there, I’d just stay with Pena. He’s a good glove in all 3 spots, he can pinch-run. If the 3 regulars stay healthy, he might start what, 9 games more this season?

    What’s the loss in runs vs. a backup middle guy who can hit .250/.330/.370 over 9 starts, and maybe 15-20 more AB as a replacement, say, 50 at bats all together? Clint Barmes is kinda that guy; he has 39 runs created in 316 AB, so in 50 AB, he’ll have 6 runs created or so. In the same 50 AB, Pena creates 2-3 runs. So we’re talking about 3-4 runs over the course of the rest of the season, minus whatever defensive runs Ramiro would save, probably a fraction of a run.

    The loss with just keeping Pena where he is is about 2 1/2 runs, as near as I can figure it.
    ==================================
    Now, if one of the 3 infield starters gets hurt, that’s a different matter. Then you either just call Nunez up and hope for the best, or overpay in a trade.

  • Januz

    Things must be pretty good if the main thing we need to worry about is a backup infielder. I really like the trades they made, in particularly the Wood trade. Essentially swapping roster spots with DEAD WOOD Park. Not to mention no more running out NL lineups featuring Cervelli, Curtis or Miranda, and Pena will certainly help as well. It also allows them to rest Posada more often, because you can run out eight professional hitters, along with Cervelli. The main things are to get Andy and Ace back, and stay healthy.

    • tony c.

      You hit the nail right on the head when you said,The main thing is to stay “Healty”.The Yankees have to face reality.Jet.,Pettite,Posada&Rivera not going to be around forever.

  • http://www.thesubwayconnection.com/ Newbie

    Meh I guess that one more month of Ramiro Pena as the primary backup infielder isn’t the worst thing in the world. In one month, Nunez/Russo will be called up when rosters expand, and Pena will never start another game for the Yankees in his life.

  • http://bleacherreport.com Eddie

    What’s the “knock on Wood”

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder
    • tony c.

      Walks & prone to injuries.

  • http://bleacherreport.com Eddie

    Kearns is a “gamer” Great addition

    Berkman is a professional hitter and won’t be intimidated by NY Perfect Fit

    Wood A chance worth taking Didn’t cost much

    • Mister Delaware

      Actually, Wood (definitively stated!) won’t be intimidated by NY either. But he might not be a gamer.

  • B-Rando

    Pena’s glove at all 3 positions is what makes him worthwhile to me. Sure, I expect absolutely nothing out of him when he comes up to the plate, but I also don’t close my eyes and pray everytime the ball is hit his direction.

    • tony c.

      For defense,i have no problem with Pena.Now with his bat,we definitely are hurting.So i would have to agree with you Rando.

  • Rafael

    Well, Wood got a nice 27 K/9 as a Yankee so far.

    • forensicnucchem

      And an ugly 18 BB/9 as a Yankee so far.

  • Virginia Yank

    Its funny that in the pictures here of the three new guys for an encouraging article about expectations, they all look exasperated. What a tough series to break them in.

    • tony c.

      Iagree,tough series but thats the way to do it.Let them get there feet wet.Let them see that its not a catwalk.They were brought in to produce not to slide in on the gravy train.

  • Guru Man

    LOL, do any of the writers on this site do any homework? The reason why some of us don’t like Kearns is that the 2 previous years Kearns OPS was about .640! Even if you took his average OPS this year, he has consistently been better against righties so the major need (to hit lefties) is not his strength. yes, he gives a slightly better option than Granderson against a lefty, but not sure the difference in defense makes it worth it. If they gave up anything it was not worth it as any good fielding righty who could produce a .700 OPS against lefties is a better option (that is not hard to find)

    • tony c.

      Evidently Kearns was the best that they could do.I don’t think any team out there really wants to trade with the Yankees.Now if you compare him with what they got,(Thames)Winn(gone)& whats on the bench,not bad.Yes, there is room for improvement.

  • Guru Man

    I agree that I am fine with Pena and he should be used to rest guys against a righty. While he has hit poorly this year he actually had a good OPS against righties last year (I think it was over .775 if memory serves).

    Pena also could be used as a pinch runner, but if you ask me I would hire an Olympic sprinter to be on my bench…teach him to try and catch balls if needed for something else.

    I was not a fan of signing Park, but he was good against righties even with as poor as he was. he had an OPS against of .699 and if Girardi would have used him better he would have done better. Just being a decent righty specialist would not have been so bad…that being said, once Aceves comes back, there is no need for Park as another guy is going anyway.

  • Colin

    I think the real question is whether Nunez would be an upgrade over Jeter

    • Ghost of Scott Brosius

      Boom.

      I doubt this comment is serious, and obviously he wouldn’t be, but Jeter’s approach has just been awful this season. It’s amazing the offense has been as good as it has with a leadoff hitter who gets on base at such a disappointingly average clip.

      • tony c.

        Im thinking,drop Jetter down to the 2nd.slot,move Gardner to lead-off.What scares me with this is Gardner looks at too many 3rd. strikes.

        • Mike

          Gardner does not look at too many third strikes. If you look at the replay, the problem is that the umpires are calling the pitches strikes when they are actually out of the strike zone. Gardner is one of many players (including Nick Johnson) that have better eyes than most umpires.

  • http://www.cheminfos.com/ Myles Niemi

    success.