A full view of Girardi’s rotating DH plan

The two LOOGY problem
Game Four: Just Win
Ball *in* the glove, Nunez. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Once the Yankees traded Jesus Montero in January, it became fairly clear that they were going to approach the DH spot differently than they had in the previous few years. For so many years they employed, or planned to employ, a full-time DH. From Hideki Matsui to Nick Johnson to Jorge Posada, it was a plan that seemed to work for the high-powered Yankees’ offense. Raul Ibanez, however, is no full-time DH. That works well for the Yankees plans though, as they have a number of bench players they want to work into more regular roles.

During opening weekend we got a glimpse of what is to come. It started on Friday, when we learned that Eduardo Nunez would start in the field on Saturday against lefty David Price. That afforded Derek Jeter a half-day at DH. On Sunday Girardi went with his regular lineup, but placed Raul Ibanez in right field while using Nick Swisher as the DH. Both times the irregular player committed costly mistakes, but we shouldn’t judge the system based on individual plays. Is this something the Yankees can sustain throughout the season?

In favor of the rotation DH

It is clear that the Yankees are intent on using the DH spot to give a half-day rest to players who need it. Alex Rodriguez figures to be a beneficiary; he’s spent time on the DL in each of the last four seasons and could use the small break that DHing affords him. Jeter, who missed about a week in camp with calf issues, can probably also use the break every now and then. In the outfield the Yankees can mask Brett Gardner‘s relative weaknesses against lefties with Andruw Jones‘s strength. Additionally, as we saw yesterday, they can use this to give a break to the slightly wounded. Remember, Swisher missed time during the spring with a pair of groin injuries, so using him as the DH sometimes early in the season seems like a reasonable idea.

The problem with a rotation DH is that in many cases, it means inserting an inferior bench player into a lineup spot that could go to a more powerful hitter. For the Yankees this isn’t exactly the case. Jones ranks among baseball’s best fourth outfielders, so using him in place of Gardner, or even Swisher, isn’t a huge drop-off. In fact, in the case of Gardner it can create a net advantage. In the infield Nunez clearly isn’t at the level of Jeter or Rodriguez. But the Yankees have been vocal in their desire to get him more playing time, and as Mike said on Friday this seems like the most sensible way to do so.

Absent a DH in the mold of Hideki Matsui circa 2009, this might be the best way for the Yankees to fill the DH spot. It lets them take advantage of Jones’s skills, and also provides an opportunity to get a better read on Nunez. At the same time, they can manage the physical toll on more fragile players, such as Rodriguez, and players who have minor ailments, such as Jeter and Swisher. That kind of flexibility is always useful during the course of a six-month MLB season.

Against the rotating DH

While, as I said above, we shouldn’t judge anything based on a few individual plays, it’s difficult to get the images of Nunez’s and Ibanez’s blunders out of our heads. They were just so egregious. And, in a way, they were to be expected. Ibanez is a notoriously poor defender in the outfield; his misplay yesterday resembled so many plays from his recent past. Nunez, as we saw, committed 20 errors last year in just 753 infield innings — roughly one every four games. That takes away many of the rotating DH’s advantages.

At The Captain’s Blog, William Julano covers the dark side of Girardi’s scheme. It’s not so much about the idea itself, but rather the personnel. Yes, the Yankees can perhaps keep everyone healthier by employing the rotating DH, but at the same time they’re hurting their pitchers by trotting out inferior defenders behind them. As we saw on Saturday and Sunday, those plays can be costly.

Working out the kinks

The good news is that the Yankees have a few options. First and foremost, they can refuse to play Ibanez in the field unless absolutely necessary. They’re paying him just $1 million, so he’s not a guy they have to trot out there against every single right-handed pitcher. If they want to give Swisher a half-day off to keep him fresh — something that will likely happen less frequently as the season wears on — they can simply use Andruw Jones out there. Since 2009 he does have a 101 wRC+ against right-handers, so he’s not completely useless. Given Ibanez’s nonexistent defense, he’ll provide a net positive in those situations.

In the infield the situation is a bit tougher. Nunez will continue to get playing time when Rodriguez and Jeter DH, and for now that’s fine. It might cost them a few runs in the short term, but it will give them a better idea of what Nunez can bring to the table in a more regular role. If by mid-season they judge that he’s not the prospect they’ve made him out to be, they can swing a trade for someone who fits more appropriately. There is, of course, always the possibility that Nunez settles in, cuts down his errors, and adds a little value with his bat vs. left-handed pitching. But the Yanks won’t know until they try.

The idea of a rotating DH is nothing new. Teams have tried it, but because of limited resources it rarely works out as expected. That is, bench players are bench players for a reason. Subbing one of them in and using a starter at DH takes away a spot from someone who can actually hit. The Yankees are in a position, however, where they can give it a whirl for an extended period. They have high-quality hitters in their lineup, and at least one of their rotation guys is a solid, above-average hitter. They might have some growing pains with Nunez, and they’ll have to keep Ibanez out of the outfield. But in the far view of a 162-game season, this could work out for the Yankees.

The two LOOGY problem
Game Four: Just Win
  • jsbrendog

    bench players are bench players for a reason. fact.

    however, young cost controlled prospects who are blocked by full time high paid stars or declining stars are not necessarily bench players just because they’re relegated to the bench due to personnel issues. nunez could end up being an ml caliber ss/3b. this is the only way the rotating dh works, when a team has a component like this that is just waiting for his shot.

    fingers crossed.

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      I have no problem with giving him a chance but his defense has to improve or he’ll become unplayable.

      He has some skills with the bat and speed on the bases but so far whatever he’s given the Yankees, he’s taken away with his glove.

    • voice of reason

      Nunez takes Swisher’s place in RF after this season? He’d probably be a better hitter with regular playing time and perhaps wouldn’t do as much defensive damage Out There.

      • Havok9120

        A better hitter? If Nunez turns out to be a better offensive player than Nick Swisher, we’re all badly underestimating him. Or you just mean he’d improve, not that he’d be better than Swish. I can’t really tell.

      • Fin

        Nunez has the potential to be a good hitting short stop. I’m as big of a Nunez supporter as you will find, but in no way has he shown he can be an even acceptable hitter as a right fielder. The only way Nunez becomes a starting major leaguer seems to be if he can become a consistent fielder at short stop and continue to improve his hitting. He doesnt seem to have the potential to hit well enough to play full time anywhere else.

  • Beamish

    Wouldn’t Chavez be the 3B when ARod gets the half-day at DH?

    Why does it have to be Nunez?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

      I guess it depends on who’s pitching. Against a LHP it’s Nunez. Against RHP it’ll be Chavez, I guess. But the Yanks have prioritized getting Nunez playing time, so I presume it will be him most of the time.

    • Johnny

      I say use Chavez as a utility man. The guy’s a great fielder; always has been. Third is the toughest infield spot and he plays it brilliantly. If Miguel Cabrera launched a shot into orbit, Chavez would go out there and get it and come back to tag Cabrera out trying for a triple. Chavez is that good. That good.

      The only problem is that tomorrow he’ll saunter up to the plate in his first at-bat, stumble on the bag while running to first, and tear his Achilles. Out for the rest of the season.

      • MannyGeee

        having a guy of Chavez’ caliber along with someone of Nunez’ caliber behind him, all while playing depth roles behind one of the best ball-players of our generation…

        That is what we like to call one of those “good problems”…

      • JMK

        How is shortstop not the toughest infield spot to play?

        • https://twitter.com/#!/StumpWoodley Mick

          I think you can make an argument either way between SS & 3B. I was a SS/3B in high school and always preferred SS due seeing the ball a fraction longer and generally having a shorter throwing distance to first.

          • Fin

            I dont think its even a contest. Short stop takes more athletic ability to play do to the range required on ground balls and pop flys. I found short stop easier to play as well for the reasons you listed, but I had the range to play it. If I didnt have the range, I would have had to play 3b. Its not the skill that makes short stop harder, but the athletic ability required. Jeter is a fine example, he still has the skill to play short, but his athletic ability (range) has deteriorated to the point where he is almost becoming unacceptable at the position.

            • Fin

              On a side note, the strength of Arods arm, to be able to make the throws from 3b to first side arm is astounding. When I had to play 3b, in HS or as I got older, in softball, I had to change my throwing motion. At ss you need to throw sidearm or 3/4 do to the angles and distance allowing it. At third because of how far the throw is, requiring carry its amazing he gets it done without coming straight over the top or 3/4. Being able to generate that kind of distance and velocity side arm without a 5 foot break on his ball, is freakish. Ive seen him make throws from the foul side of 3b to first side arm and I dont think I’ve ever seen anyone else in mlb be able to do that.

  • Jerkface

    The rotating DH won’t work for the Yankees because Girardi seems to not look close enough at the games. He seems to just decide on specific days for certain players, willy nilly.

    How else could a guy with 3 ground ball types on staff decide that Hughes start is the one to get Ibanez in the field? Or putting Nunez in the field with a ground baller on the mound?

  • Jerkface

    He seems to be matching up his bench players purely on handedness of opposing pitcher, rather than using multiple criteria to decide the best matchups.

  • Johnny

    They might have some growing pains with Nunez, and they’ll have to keep Ibanez out of the outfield.

    I just don’t trust Girardi to implement his scheme level-headedly. I’m still trying to figure out whether the front office was lying or whether it was just plain stupidity when they said they thought Ibanez could “play” the outfield.

    So, the evidence shows that Jones is weaker against right-handed pitching, but I would take his fielding prowess any day over the chance of some other character getting a few hits. Stick Jones in right field if your binder says Swisher is totally done two days into the season, and have Ibanez play DH. Yes, Jones mightn’t hit all that much against right-handers, but I’d rather have his good defense than Ibanez going 1-4 with 2 runs allowed. This very notion seems self-evident to me, so much so that it’s not even worth leaving this comment, but I’m going to hit submit anyway.

  • Jerkface

    I think its pretty clear that the superior offensive/defensive alignment is everyone playing normally, Jones or Ibanez at DH. Girardi seems content to never trot this lineup out there.

    • Havok9120

      He never plays in 3 days straight on turf. Ever. Nor should he.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I think rotating DH is the way to go offensively, but there needs to be a way to get Ibanez out of the field. This might even take us back to “Dickerson instead of second LOOGY” if it means avoiding the experiment that is “what happens when a below-average defensive outfielder turns 40?”

    I said this in one of the last threads. In order to Eduardo Nunez to fulfill his role on this team, he has to play better defense. Period. If he’s not going to do that, call and see if there’s any teams left who feel he’s a starting-caliber SS. Having a guy who fills in a couple of times a week at 3B and SS, but is prone to making an error a week while filling in, isn’t going to cut, no matter how decent that bat may be.

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    I see the advantages with the rotating DH to give old guys a rest and keeping bench players sharp but call me old fashioned, I prefer to have a big slugger like a Giambi or an Ortiz who can be the regular DH.

    Swisher’s off days or half off days need to come against lefties so Jones can play RF. I had flashbacks of Marcus Thames watching Ibanez butcher RF the other day. Hell, the Yankees would be better off using the extra infielder/2 outfielder alignment they employed in the 9th inning of opening day rather than using Ibanez in RF.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Let’s not go too crazy over the results of the weekend.

    Nunez needs playing time. Simple as that. He’s too young and Jeter’s not enough of a long term certainty to not get Nunez some ABs.

    Ibanez should never play outfield, ever. He was never that good at it when he was younger. I get trying to give Swisher some rest due to his not playing a ton in the preseason, but you can’t let Ibanez play any defensive position.

    I wanted the Yankees to bring Dickerson instead of Ibanez for this exact reason. He could be your RF vs RHP if you want to rest or half-day Swisher. He’s a better athlete and defender and provides far more versatility.

    Nunez, Chavez, Dickerson and Jones as your bench/empty slot filler would be my optimal reserves.

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      You may think that Nunez needs ABs but he’s got to shore up his defense or else he doesn’t deserve to get those ABs.

      He had a .313 wOBA last year so his bat certainly doesn’t make up for his horrific fielding.

      • MannyGeee

        counterpoint: if he gets the reps defensively to the point where he is now, is the .313 wOBA acceptable then? so how does he get et the defensive reps without actually playing? Chicken and the egg….

        I commend the ballclub for sticking it out with Nunez, as King George woulda traded him for Alfonso Soriano already…you cant grow home-grown players without taking these lumps…

        • Fin

          What I find funny about the Nunez situation, is that all Yankee fans want young players to be given a chance on the Major league team, until they are given a chance and dont perform like all stars from their first game. Nunez clearly has potential to be a valuable part of the team, if not as a starter as a super utility guy. The only way he is going to get better and the Yankees are going to find out what he can do is by playing him. Yet, for a lot of Yankee fans giving him a chance is just too much as he has already been written off as a failure after ~100 mlb games.

          • Manny’s BanWagon

            No one is saying Nunez should be forever banished because he didn’t come out of the shoot a superstar but as a SS or third baseman, he can’t continue to be horrific in the field either.

            Last year his UZR at SS was like -30 and at 3B -20. Granted its small sample size but there’s no way around the fact that he has been absolutely brutal in the field and if he can’t make routine plays, the Yankees would be better off playing an all glove no bat guy like Ramiro Pena.

            • Fin

              This I agree with. However, to start complaining about his D in the second game is way too premature. It was Jeter that botched an easy play against Detroit that cost the Yankees the playoff game last year, it can happen to anyone. If after a half season of consistent playing time, Nunez doesnt show improvement I would have no problem diminishing his role. Its too early in his career and his playing time in the field has been too limited and sporadic to make a decisions yet.
              In the end, if he cant improve at the MLB level it may be worth a demotion for a month or two to get him everyday playing time at AAA and try to work it out.

  • craig

    I think Girardi is being given a bit of hard time after this weekend. He has shown the ability to adapt and learn from from his mistakes to be a better manager in the future. I believe that he will learn from this weekend and this will all be a minor point by the AS break.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Never mistake the complaining of a suffering few for actual reality.

      He made dumb calls. He’s made dumb calls before. He’ll make dumb calls again. We think he makes more dumb calls than other managers. Other cities think their guy makes more dumb calls.

      What would the headline in Tampa read had the Rays lost the night Maddon had Molina attempt a squeeze bunt with two strikes?

      • jjyank

        This. And Maddon did it twice! Mike said this a few days ago in some post, but all managers are infuriating if you watch them long enough. Fact of life.

  • antone

    Ibanez should not be in the field ever. Point blank. Worst fielding OF’s the past 5 seasons:

    Name Team Pos Inn RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
    Jermaine Dye CHW OF 3589.1 -53.1 2 -64.2 -23.3
    Delmon Young – – – OF 5779.1 -54 -1.6 -54.4 -12.5
    Raul Ibanez – – – OF 6068.2 -51.7 3.1 -48.6 -11.1
    Bobby Abreu – – – OF 5188.1 -54.1 -1.4 -44.2 -10.4
    Jason Bay – – – OF 5735 -41 2.4 -43.3 -9.9

    • antone

      This looks better than the mess I posted above:

      Name UZR
      Jermaine Dye -64.2
      Delmon Young -54.4
      Raul Ibanez -48.6
      Bobby Abreu -44.2
      Jason Bay -43.3

      • MannyGeee

        I am starting to wonder if Damon woulda been a better bet in the field… at least his routes to the ball and speed would have made up for the lack of pop. Noodle arm not withstanding

        • Fin

          I think most of us thought Damon would be a better bet in the field and at the plate. He said he offered to play for the Yankees for a million, Cashman never refuted that. It would seem the Yankees either disagree with us and feel Ibanez is truly the better all around player at this point, or there is more to the story that we dont know about, such as Cashman having some sort of grudge regarding Damon.

    • MannyGeee

      and FWIW, wOBA for Ibanez vs RHP in 2011 was .322, for Jones was .316…

      I will deal with the slight dip in playing Jones v RHP in the outfield over Ibanez’ horrid defense.

      (*disclaimer – I know, numbers aren’t everything… but goddamit is Ibanez a horrible defender)

  • Bil

    Any plan with Nunez in it is very bad!

  • David Ortizs Dealer

    If Nunez can’t catch the ball, can Pena come back atleast he could catch and throw.

    • fin

      Yep time to give up on Nunez, he has had his chance. He’s had 70 or so major league games and no one ever improves after that large of a sample size.

  • fin

    Getting Ibanez, because he could field always scared me. I knew they were going to play him more than any of us wanted to see. I never dreamed he would be out there this early in the season. I however, do not blame Girardi for this. I think it was an organizational decision and plan as it was Cashman that said they got him because of his ability to field.

    I think the Nunez situation is very interesting. I think they are hoping that he can steal time from Jeter. It was interesting they had Jeter DH and not Arod who is the bigger injury risk, especially on turf with all of Alex’s serious lower body issues. I think Jeter’s statue like performance at ss has the Yankees hoping Nunez forces them to play him at short more. His D has to improve for this to happen though, he cant keep screwing up give me plays.

  • RetroRob

    Of all the moves that were questioned over the weekend, the one I really didn’t have an issue with was Nunez playing short in game 2. Don’t wait for the player to be tired, build a plan from day one where the player is getting regular rest and stick to the plan. Don’t implement it a month or two into the season. So have Jeter and A-Rod get their “half-days” of rest and start it right away so they remain, hopefully, healthy through the season. And, yes, the second part will have them not playing at all in some games so they’re getting a full day of rest.

  • Annie Oakley

    This was the fallacy in believing that Ibanez could play the field. No he can’t. They wouldn’t play Hideki out there and they shouldn’t play Ibanez. And you don’t need to DH these guys in the 2nd and 3rd games of the season. It’s not even the 12th game and he’s giving these guys half days off. Play Gardner in left even against lefties and DH Andruw. Problem solved.

  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    ARod DHing tonight, fair enough…but why is Nunez at 3rd (error or no error on Saturday)? Why even have Chavez on the lineup?

    • Needed Pitching


      • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

        point, larusso.

        didn’t even check the matchup.

    • Annie Oakley

      This is ridiculous. Wait a week at least, Girardi. Nunez at 3rd with the groundball Nova on the mound is a recipie for disaster. Good thing we’re facing Brian Matusz.

  • Mike HC

    We all know Tropicana Field is a joke. Ibanez and Nunez are not good defenders, but I will give them a pass having to open the season in Tampa.

    I can’t wait to watch the game tonight at Camden Yards (my favorite ballpark).

  • Thanks for all the fish!

    Now that Mitre’s gone, Nunez is Joe G.’s latest hard-on guy.

    Fuck winning, it’s all about getting his guy in the lineup.

  • Thanks for all the fish!

    New rule for Girardi: before making any managerial decisions, he must ask himself, “What would Jim Leyland do?”

  • Voice of Reason

    The unifying feature of these rotating DH lineups seems to be that Gardner will not play against lefties. Just DHing Jones instead of Ibanez is plenty, but instead he’s essentially replacing Gardner in LF against lefties with Nunez at SS. If Girardi fails to recognize that that’s a clear net loss then he is an irredeemable moron and the front office should really step in and tell him what’s what.