Prospect Profile: Rob Refsnyder

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Rob Refsnyder | 2B

Background
Refsnyder, who will turn 24 in Spring Training, was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Orange County when he was only three months old. He played football and basketball in addition to baseball at Laguna Hills High School and was named Pacific Coast League MVP in baseball as a senior and twice in football. Despite all that, Refsnyder was not much of a pro prospect — Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him among 190 California prospects for the 2009 draft — so he followed through on his commitment to Arizona after going undrafted out of high school.

As a freshman, Refsnyder stepped right into the starting lineup and played everyday for the Wildcats, and immediately became one of the team’s best hitters. He hit .344/.397/.440 with nine doubles, two homers, 14 walks, and 31 strikeouts in 57 games that spring while playing some second and third base but mostly left field. Refsnyder went 4-for-10 in three games as Arizona was knocked out of the postseason in the Regionals, though he was named to the All-Region Team. The overall performance earned him an All-Pac 10 Team Honorable Mention as a freshman.

Refsnyder played in all 60 of the team’s game as a sophomore — almost all of them in right field — and hit .320/.371/.498 with 13 doubles, six homers, 16 walks, and 31 strikeouts. Although the Wildcats were again eliminated in the Regionals, Refsnyder was named to the All-Pac 10 First Team and ABCA West Regional First Team. He played for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League that summer and hit .308/.406/.436 with nine doubles, four triples, 17 walks, and 26 strikeouts in 39 games.

Refsnyder was one of the best players in the country as a junior, putting up a .364/.453/.562 batting line with 19 doubles, eight homers, 14 steals, 34 walks, and only 26 strikeouts in 65 games. He again spent most of his time in right field. Arizona blew through the Regionals and Super Regionals — they went 5-0 and outscored their opponents 61-20 — to advance to the College World Series. Arizona won all five of their games in the CWS to win the National Championship. Refsnyder homered in the first game of the CWS and went 10-for-21 (.476) in the five games overall, which earned him the College World Series Most Outstanding Player Award.

Baseball America ranked Refsnyder as the 369th best prospect in the 2012 draft class that spring. The Yankees selected him in the fifth round, with the 187th overall selection, and he signed quickly for the full slot $205,900 bonus.

Pro Career
Although they had plans to move him from the outfield back to second base (his high school position), the Yankees let Refsnyder play out the 2012 season in the outfield after signing. They sent him straight to Low-A Charleston after the draft and he hit .241/.319/.364 (91 wRC+) with four homers and eleven stolen bases in 46 games for the River Dogs.

The Yankees moved Refsnyder to second base and sent him back to Low-A Charleston to start the 2013 season, though he was quickly bumped him up to High-A Tampa after hitting .370/.452/.481 (173 wRC+) with seven steals in 13 games for the River Dogs. Refsnyder put up a .283/.408/.404 (140 wRC+) line with six homers and 16 steals in 117 games for Tampa after the promotion. All told, he hit .293/.413/.413 (143 wRC+) with 32 doubles, six homers, 23 steals in 29 attempts, 84 walks, and 82 strikeouts between the two levels in 2013.

Refsnyder started the 2014 season with Double-A Trenton and hit .342/.385/.548 (~159 wRC+) with 19 doubles and six homers in 60 games before the organization moved him up to Triple-A Scranton. In 77 games with the RailRiders, Refsnyder hit .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) with 19 doubles and eight homers. His combined batting line for the 2014 season was .318/.387/.497 (~146 wRC+) with 37 doubles, 14 homers, nine steals in 18 attempts, 55 walks, and 105 strikeouts.

Scouting Report
Refsnyder is listed at 6-foor-1 and 205 lbs., and he stands out for his simple and balanced setup at the plate. He knows the strike zone and his combination of hand-eye coordination and level swing allow him to spray line drives to all fields. Refsnyder, a right-handed hitter, did focus on going the other way in college and during his first full year as a pro, though this past season he did a better job of pulling the ball with authority when he got a pitch to drive. Here are his 2013 (on the left) and 2014 (on the right) spray charts, courtesy of MLB Farm:

Rob Refsnyder Spray Charts-001

Refsnyder has some power but most of it figures to be into the gaps for doubles at the next level. He isn’t much of a runner either despite the nice pre-2014 stolen base totals and success rate. He’s a high-contact hitter who knows how to get on base, which fits the traditional number two hitter mold rather well. Here’s some video:

In the field, Refsnyder remains rough at second base but he has improved since turning pro, particularly around the bag and on double play pivots. His movements in the field are choppy and he still shows some indecisiveness when it comes to charging a ground ball or waiting back. Some of that is simply due to a lack of experience, though Refsnyder isn’t particularly quick on his feet.

Refsnyder draws high marks for his makeup and work ethic, and others like Robinson Cano and Chase Utley worked their way to become above-average defenders at second after being below-average elsewhere early in their careers. That’s not to say Refsnyder will definitely turn himself into an asset in the field, just that it has happened in the past when it looked like it wouldn’t.

2015 Outlook
Perhaps moreso than any non-reliever prospect I’ve profiled over the years, Refsnyder’s landing spot at the start of next year will depend heavily on what the big league team does this offseason. If the Yankees manage to bring in a second or third baseman this winter, Refsnyder will go back to Triple-A and wait for a call-up. If the Yankees don’t bring in a second or third baseman, then Refsnyder will compete for the second base job in Spring Training (Martin Prado would presumably play third) with someone like Jose Pirela and/or some non-roster invitees. Either way, it seems like Refsnyder will make his Major League debut at some point in 2015, perhaps as soon as Opening Day.

My Take
I really like Refsnyder and want the Yankees to give him a chance to be their everyday second baseman at some point next summer, but I also think the hype has gotten out of control at this point. That’s not to say I don’t think he’ll be a quality big leaguer — there a lot between future star and future bust, you know — just that I’m not sure how much of an impact he can have a low-power hitter and below-average defender at second, especially when he first makes the jump to MLB. There’s a lot to like about Refsnyder, particularly his potential to hit for a high average with a good on-base percentage. He’ll have to make some big strides to contribute anything more than that though.

A Guide to Possible SS Target: Jung-Ho Kang

(Richard Heathcote/Getty)
(Richard Heathcote/Getty)

It’s safe to say the the Yankees have a glaring hole at the shortstop position following Derek Jeter’s retirement. There are options in free agency (Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, etc.) and in trades (Didi Gregorious? Starlin Castro? Elvis Andrus?) to fill the position. However, there is an intriguing unknown commodity that can arise as an option: SS Jung-Ho Kang of the Nexen Heroes in the Korean Baseball Organization.

Reports have indicated Kang will not be posted until “after the Winter Meetings,” which are next week. Two Korean pitchers have already been posted to the big league teams — LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim and LHP Hyeon-Jong Yang — and it looks like the Kang market is not in a huge rush. In fact, with two of the big infield names (Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez) gone in the free agent market, Kang will get more attention from teams that will look to bolster their infield.

The shortstop has been interested in moving over to majors for awhile. In an article from Newsis from Dec. 2013, Kang expressed desire to face pitchers “like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman,” saying “I am confident in the power versus power matchup.” The article also mentions that Kang’s favorite players are Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera, two Major League infielders who are known for their power displays — something Kang aspires to be in the majors.

Speculation of the Yankees looking at Kang isn’t surprising given their positional need and the team’s history of tapping into Asian talents. Just like Masahiro Tanaka, Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, Kang would be expected to be ready to contribute to the ML team. However, Kang differs in that he is a positional player. There definitely have been hitters that enjoyed immense (Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui) to considerable (Norichika Aoki) success coming from their nation’s league to MLB, but the track record of Asian infielders in MLB isn’t too pretty.

In past few years, two of the top Japanese infielders went stateside — Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hiroyuki Nakajima — and neither lived up to the hype. Nishioka, who had hit .346/.423/.482 in 2010 for Chiba Lotte of NPB before signing with the Twins, totaled an awful .503 OPS in 233 AB in two years with Minnesota. Hiroyuki Nakajima, an eight-time NPB All-Star with the Saitama Seibu Lions, never played in majors during his two-year contract with the Athletics that just terminated, hitting a total of .682 OPS in Triple-A and Double-A. In the past, other Japanese infielders like Kaz Matsui, who once hit for a 1.006 OPS in the 2002 season, also did not perform as expected. One player who turned out to be a solid contributor was 2B Tadahito Iguchi, who played for the World Series Champs 2005 White Sox and posted a solid 3.5 fWAR that year. But the overall history of Asian infielders in U.S. is too shaky to feel confident about Kang’s success as a major leaguer.

Kang is the best position player in Korean Baseball Organization right now. As the starting shortstop for the Nexen Heroes (based in Seoul), Kang demolished pitching in 2014. In 117 games, Kang put up a .356/.461/.739 slash line, good for a whopping 1.200 OPS. He also had 78 extra base hits, with 40 of them being homers. Many consider KBO to be lesser in talent than NPB, but those are still very impressive numbers. Here are his career stats:

Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2006 19 Hyundai 10 21 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 8 .150 .150 .200 .350
2007 20 Hyundai 20 15 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .133 .133 .133 .267
2008 21 Woori 116 408 36 98 18 1 8 47 3 1 31 65 .271 .334 .392 .726
2009 22 Woori 133 538 73 136 33 2 23 81 3 2 45 81 .286 .349 .508 .857
2010 23 Nexen 133 522 60 135 30 2 12 58 2 2 61 87 .301 .391 .457 .848
2011 24 Nexen 123 504 53 125 22 2 9 63 4 6 43 62 .282 .353 .401 .754
2012 25 Nexen 124 519 77 137 32 0 25 82 21 5 71 78 .314 .413 .560 .973
2013 26 Nexen 126 532 67 131 21 1 22 96 15 8 68 109 .291 .387 .489 .876
2014 27 Nexen 116 497 102 147 36 2 39 115 3 3 67 106 .354 .457 .733 1.189
9 Seasons 901 3556 469 914 193 10 138 543 51 28 386 601 .298 .382 .502 .885
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/2/2014.

As you may notice, he has power. According to Keith Law, who ranked Kang as the No. 15 free agent in his top 50 free agents list, the shortstop has a “swing that will generate legit plus power.” Law also notes that Kang’s swing is more of a “power swing” than for contact. Here’s a video of all of his 40 regular-season homers from this season. A lot of his dingers are pulled but there are some that go to dead center or to right. He has good enough power to hit home runs to any part of the field, and that is what makes him desirable to scouts and fans.

How will Kang hit in the majors? While the shortstop did hit for a high .356 average, he also struck out 106 times in 117 games, the third most in the league. His BABIP in 2014 is .398 — a rate that certainly shouldn’t be expected when he transitions to MLB. He also shows a league above-average plate discipline — his 13.6 BB% ranks eighth in league. I expect that to go down and strikeout rate (21.2%) to go up as he moves to the majors. How much? I’d say it depends on how well he adapts on seeing Major League-caliber pitches.

Relatively high strikeout rates and a high batting average tells me that he has an aggressive power swing approach most of the time — while he can be fooled by certain pitches, his bat speed and control is good enough to be deadly when he makes contacts. It is a plus that he’s been able to draw walks as well. The challenge for him in majors will be laying off more advanced secondary pitches, challenging faster and more difficult fastballs, facing more advanced set of pitches overall, etc.

In 2014, only one qualified shortstop put up an OPS higher than .800 (Hanley Ramirez with .817) with two between .750 and .800 (Jhonny Peralta at .779 and Starlin Castro at .777). If Kang can put up one around .750, barring a league-wide offensive explosion, he could be considered as one of the top hitting shortstops in ML, which would be deemed quite valuable in the market. Can Kang hit well against Major-League caliber pitchers? A 1.200 OPS to .750-ish is quite a sink, but keep in mind a good amount of Asian hitters never became competent on hitting ML-level fastballs and breaking balls and completely tanked. Also, it should be noted that not all ML scouts think his power will translate in states. According to Joel Sherman, MLB executives aren’t sure how his power will do in states considering that “competition in Korea is inferior to even that in Japan.” The only way to find out how he will do in majors is for him to actually play over stateside and see the results.

Kang’s defense has been a topic of ambivalence for the scouts. As I have mentioned, the history of Asian infielders in ML is not great. The history of Asian shortstops, by the way, is even worse. The aforementioned Nishioka and Nakajima have been failed projects. Kaz Matsui, who won four Mitsui Gold Glove Awards in Japan, became such a defensive liability that the Mets converted him to second base. Munenori Kawasaki has been a solid ML shortstop, but he has suffered with hitting. Kang, while possessing a strong arm, has gathered doubts with range. Law wrote that Kang is “not as fleet foot as you would want a shortstop to be.”

The Korean infielder’s homefield, the Mokdong Stadium, uses artificial turf, which makes fielding grounders easier due to the smooth surface. Unfortunately, there are no in-depth fielding data from Korean Baseball Organization a la Ultimate Zone Rating to give more analysis for his range. The consensus is that he is not the most mobile shortstop but he gets a good read of ball off the bat and has a strong arm. It also remains to be seen if Major League teams see him something other than shortstop. Third base and second base are definite possibilities, as Kang has played in those two spots before becoming the starting shortstop for the Heroes.

Another factor to consider: Kang has been quite durable. Since becoming a regular in 2008, he never missed a significant amount of playing time due to injuries, though he will have to play a chunk of more games in a ML season (128 games per season in KBO). What also works to his advantage is that he is younger than most of the infielders named in the trade and free agent markets. The infielder will turn 28 this upcoming April. If his tools translate well into the majors, a team that signs him may enjoy the best years of his career. But then again, it is a big “if.”

Two other Korean players posted this winter — the lefties Kim and Yang — did not garner as much of a posting fee as their respective teams had hoped. The Padres bid $2 million for Kim, and though the high bid for Yang is not yet reported, it is speculated to be less than that since the Kia Tigers decided not to let the pitcher go. While Kim and Yang are not the same caliber of pitcher as Hyun-Jin Ryu (whom the Dodgers bid $25 million to the Hanhwa Eagles for), the amounts were quite low for the teams to confidently let go of their top pitchers. But it does speak for the scouts’ opinion of how well they would survive in the majors.

As for Kang, I do think that the Nexen Heroes will get more than the Tigers and Wyverns for their pitchers. First off, there’s the pedigree of an infielder with power being in the prime time of his career. With Hanley and Sandoval off the market, two of the biggest bats and infielders are out, which makes Kang an attractive non-trade option for teams that are willing to gamble some money. While the scouts don’t love him ubiquitously, I bet some do see him as a Major League starter talent.

While the Kang posting will not be a subject to a $20 million cap as it applies to NPB players, I don’t think teams will have to break serious bank to win. Nakajima, who hit for .300 average and 20 HR power in NPB, gathered only a $2 million posting fee for the Seibu Lions (from the Yankees, actually. But they didn’t sign him). Nishioka, who had a breakout 2010 with the Chiba Lotte Marines by hitting a .346/.423/.482, garnered a $5.32 million bid from the Twins, not a small amount but not intriguing either.

Of course, Kang is a different player than those two. But given that the top hitters in NPB were not treated top-notch, I don’t know if Kang, from KBO (considered in a lower level of play than NPB by many), would garner much more. Also, I assume many Major League scouts and teams are aware that KBO had a high-octane offense season.  His 40 homers are very impressive — especially as a shortstop — but before this past season, his career-high was 25 in 2012. Did he actually tap into his true power potential or is it a by-product of the bat-heavy KBO season?

C.J. Nitkowski of FOX Sports, who played with Kang in the second half of the 2010 season, is calling for a range of $5-8 million in posting with a “reasonable big league contract” to acquire Kang. Ryan Sadowski, another former major leaguer who played in Korea, wrote for Global Sporting Integration that he expects around $6-9 million range, citing that Kang has the “raw power necessary” despite the offensive outburst in the league. Sadowski also notes taht the Yankees probably monitored on Kang while looking at the IFA signee, SS Hyo-Jun Park.

I’d say I agree with both Nitkowski and Sadowski’s outlook. Kang’s salary for 2014 was around $378,000, which is less than the MLB minimum of $500,000. Nishioka (3 yr, $9.25 million) and Nakajima (2 yr, $6.5 million) both got a ML contact around $3 million per year and that would be a huge raise over Kang’s KBO salary. For comparison’s sake, the highest paid player in KBO, 1B Tae-Kyun Kim, was paid around $1.35 million in 2014. It is possible that Kang may get a figure quite different than Nakajima or Nishioka’s, but I don’t think he’ll get any close to Ryu’s 6 year, $36 million contract.

Assuming that Kang is willing to settle for a two or three-year contract, the possible amount of total money to get the shortstop, including the posting fee, could be anywhere between $12 million to $20 million. If Kang turns out to be a middle infielder that can hit in the neighborhood of .750 OPS and provide an acceptable defense for two or three years, it will be a good investment. I don’t think money would be a problem for the Yankees to get Kang. But are they willing to invest much on a KBO shortstop that has seen zero Major League action? We shall see. My bet at this moment is that the team will work the hardest towards acquiring a shortstop that’s already in the Major League market, whether it be via trade or free agency. If the Yanks can get a known commodity that is sure to produce in 2015 and beyond, great! If New York don’t acquire anyone until the posting starts, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to monitor if the team will bid on Kang.

Yankees non-tender Slade Heathcott, Jose Campos, and David Huff

Heathcott before he crashed into someone, probably. (Presswire)
Heathcott before he crashed into someone, probably. (Presswire)

3:16pm: The Yankees have announced the three non-tenders, so they’re official. Officially official.

12:27am: The Yankees non-tendered outfielder Slade Heathcott, right-hander Jose Campos, and left-hander David Huff prior to Tuesday’s midnight deadline, according to Joel Sherman. All of the team’s other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players received a contract tender, it appears. The Yankees now have 36 players on the 40-man roster.

Heathcott, 24, was limited to only nine games with Double-A Trenton this past season due to knee surgery. He’s had a ton of shoulder and knee problems — including multiple surgeries on each — throughout his career and has only played in 309 minor league games since being the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft, the pick the Yankees receive as compensation for not signing Gerrit Cole in 2008.

The 22-year-old Campos missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. He missed most of the 2012 season with elbow problems as well. Campos was the second player New York received in the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, though he’s only thrown 111.2 innings since the deal, all in Low Class-A. Like Heathcott, he was added to the 40-man roster last winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

I’m guessing the Yankees will try to re-sign both Heathcott and Campos to minor league contracts if they didn’t work out deals ahead of time. Non-tendering them is the easiest way to get them off the 40-man roster since they don’t have to pass through waivers, which they would have to do if they were released or outrighted. Despite their injuries, Heathcott and Campos are young enough that they would probably get plucked off waivers.

Huff, 30, had a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 39 innings for New York after being re-acquired from the Giants at midseason, which is pretty good by “last guy in the bullpen” standards. MLBTR projected Huff to earn only $700k through arbitration in 2015, though the Yankees have built up quite a bit of upper level lefty bullpen depth in Justin Wilson, Jose DePaula, Jacob Lindgren, and Tyler Webb. Huff’s 40-man spot is better used elsewhere.

Report: Yankees avoid arbitration with Esmil Rogers

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

7:50pm: Jon Heyman reports the one-year deal is worth $1.48M with only $750k guaranteed. So they reduced Esmil’s salary as much as allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and only half of it is guaranteed. I’m still surprised they didn’t non-tender him though.

7:20pm: The Yankees have agreed to a contract with right-hander Esmil Rogers to avoid arbitration, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith. Terms of the deal are unknown at this point. This is surprising. Rogers was a pretty obvious non-tender candidate, though apparently the Yankees felt like he was worth keeping around.

Rogers earned $1.85M this past season and was projected to earn $1.9M through arbitration in 2015 by MLBTR. I’m guessing he agreed to a lower salary, otherwise the team would have non-tendered him. By rule, a player can not sign for less than 80% of his previous year’s salary, so the contract with Rogers won’t be for less than $1.48M.

It’s worth noting these one-year contracts for pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players are not guaranteed. The Yankees could release Rogers any time before mid-March and only have to pay him 30 days termination pay. If they release him after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years back.

Rogers, 29, had a 5.72 ERA (4.73 FIP) in 45.2 innings split between the Yankees and Blue Jays in 2014. That includes a 4.68 ERA (4.17 FIP) with an 8.28 K/9 (21.7 K%) in 25 innings with New York after being claimed off waivers on trade deadline day. Rogers does have a nice fastball/slider combo, so I guess he’ll remain in the mix as a depth arm.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today, Buster Olney (subs. req’d) posted his list of the top ten relievers in baseball. Craig Kimbrel unsurprisingly claimed the top spot, and was followed in order by Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis. Yankees free agent target Andrew Miller ranks fourth, current Yankee Dellin Betances ranks fifth, and potential ex-Yankee David Robertson ranks sixth. I can’t help but dream about seeing all three of those guys in pinstripes next year, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Sure would be cool though.

This is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Nets are playing each other and both the Devils and Islanders are in action as well. There’s also the usual slate of college basketball. Talk about anything and everything here.

Quiz!: Here’s a fun quiz to kill some time. You have to name every player who spent at least five seasons as Derek Jeter‘s teammate. I got 27 of 32 and missed one that was fairly obvious. Not super obvious, but I should have gotten it. Enjoy!

2014 Season Review: Importing a Rival

Jacoby Ellsbury
(AP Photo)

The Yankees absolutely needed to add at least one outfielder last offseason, but Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t seem to fit the bill. Brett Gardner had just finished his first full season as center fielder, and it was the best of his career. Why add a player with a similar skill set when other players could have added a different dynamic?

Specifically, Shin-Soo Choo made the most sense. While he and Ellsbury were both atop the outfielder free agent market, Choo hit for power. Outside of 2011, Ellsbury never had. Since the 2013 Yankees hit the second fewest home runs in the AL, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012, it seemed as though they’d have benefited from a player with a career .177 ISO over one with a .142 ISO (and much lower outside of 2011’s fluke .231 ISO).

While the Yankees did consider both players, they preferred Ellsbury and landed him with an aggressive offer. That didn’t end their pursuit of Choo, though, as they did make him a seven-year, $140 million offer. But he rebuffed them. And that was a good thing.

After signing with the Rangers, Choo got off to a scorching start, producing a 1.054 OPS in his first 120 PA. Way to go, Yanks, right? But then he started to experience ankle problems. From that 1.054 apex he fell precipitously, producing a .621 OPS in his next 409 PA, his season ultimately ending because of bone spurs in his elbow. He had surgery to remove them, and then surgery to repair his ankle.

It almost seems as though the Yankees dodged a bullet. In his very first season after signing a huge contract, Choo produced the worst full season of his career.

Ellsbury, for his part, produced decently in line with expectations. What he lacked in batting average he made up for with power. Everything else, from walks to stolen bases, is pretty much what we expected from him given his career numbers. It’s difficult to find someone disappointed with Ellsbury’s first season in pinstripes.

At the same time, he certainly didn’t produce to the level you expect from a guy who signs that big a contract. According to FanGraphs’s offensive runs above average, Ellsbury produced 10.6 runs, which ranked 60th in the majors — right next to Marcell Ozuna, if you’re among the 10 percent of our readership who even recognizes the name. Only 4.9 of those runs came from the plate (the other 5.7 were on the bases). Those 4.9 batting runs above average ranked 77th in MLB.

Ellsbury does provide value on defense, and I’m not sure any reasonable eyeball test could have rated him negatively in 2014. The fielding stats with bias* were a bit scattered on his performance. Total Zone credited him with 5 runs above average, 15th in MLB (4th in the AL) among center fielders. Defensive Runs Saved goes in the opposite direction, -5 runs, 12th in MLB. UZR credits him with a half run above average, 9th in the majors. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average, which does not use biased data, credited him with 12 runs above average (though I’m not sure where that ranks).

*Fielding stats with bias, meaning that they are influenced by a human stringer. These stringers judge the type of batted ball, among other factors. Colin Wyers wrote a neat little article explaining the flaws with current metrics.

If you give Ellsbury the benefit of the best defensive statistic, his season does look a bit better, about 4.6 WAR. With average defense he had 3.6 WAR. The difference is pretty stark: 3.6 WAR ranked 48th, while 4.6 would have ranked in the top 30.

So depending on how you view defense, Ellsbury had anywhere from a pretty good season to a damn fine one. Yet his shortcomings on offense, even compared to last year, were certainly disappointing. The hope was that he’d maintain his ~.350 OBP while adding a bit of power thanks to Yankee Stadium. While the latter happened, the former didn’t. Had they come together with elite defense, Ellsbury at $21.1 million would have been a steal.

I have to admit, when starting this I expected to describe a damn good season, a success in the first year of a long-term deal. Yet when looking a bit more closely at Ellsbury’s production, it really wasn’t up to expectations. Perhaps the common view of Ellsbury’s season has more to do with the failings of everyone else on offense rather than the expectations for him heading into this season and contract.

Caldera: Yankees haven’t shown much interest in Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Pete Caldera, free agent infielders Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera have “not gained much traction” with the Yankees this offseason. The winter has actually been rather quiet for both Lowrie and Cabrera so far even though most of the top free agent bats are already off the board. Neither player received a qualifying offer, by the way.

Lowrie, 30, hit only .249/.321/.355 (93 wRC+) with six homers in 566 plate appearances for the Athletics this past season. He had a great April (154 wRC+) but only mustered a 77 wRC+ the rest of the way. Lowrie is a switch-hitter who has been much better against righties the last three or four years, and he seems to have gotten over the injury problems that plagued him earlier in his career.

Cabrera put up a .241/.307/.387 (97 wRC+) batting line with 14 homers and ten steals in 616 plate appearances for the Indians and Nationals in 2014. He’s younger than you may realize — Cabrera turned 29 just last month — and, unlike Lowrie, he’s a switch-hitter with no significant platoon split the last few seasons. In two of the last three years, Lowrie and Asdrubal have been roughly equal at the plate:


Source: FanGraphsJed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera

Now, the thing is neither Lowrie nor Cabrera is a shortstop these days. They’re both below-average defensively — Cabrera has a knack for flashy highlight reel plays that has inflated the perception of his defense — and better suited for second base at third point of their careers. Cabrera played second for Washington at the end of the season and Lowrie did it a whole bunch earlier in his career.

For what it’s worth, the FanGraphs Crowdsourcing results peg Lowrie and Cabrera for essentially identical three-year contracts worth $30M or so. Neither is a perfect solution for the Yankees but they need infielders badly. If the trade market comes up empty — that’s where it appears they are focused at the moment — and the team’s unwillingness to give Chase Headley more than three years pushes him out of town, these two guys are probably the best of what’s left. Yuck.