Chris Dickerson’s Possible Role

The search for a DH is essentially in wait-and-see mode at the moment, meaning the Yankees are waiting to see who drops their prices before getting serious about a move. I still think it’ll be Johnny Damon, but you’re welcome to disagree. If it’s not Damon (or anyone else) and the Yankees wind up going into Spring Training or even the regular season without a set DH, then Chris Dickerson’s chances of making the roster are pretty good. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either.

Dickerson, 30 in April, is actually Eric Dickerson’s cousin for all you NFL fans out there. He fell short of qualifying as a Super Two by a matter of days this offseason, and that might have saved his 40-man roster spot. Had he qualified as a Super Two and been arbitration-eligible, there’s a chance the Yankees would have non-tendered him rather than increase his salary by 200% or so. Anyway, he’s still on the team and is actually a useful player, albeit a limited one.

First, let’s talk about what Dickerson does well, starting with his athleticism and everything that comes with it. He has a reputation of being a strong defender in all three outfield spots, though he doesn’t have enough big league time for the advanced metrics to tell us anything meaningful. You’ll have to take my word for it.. Dickerson also has some speed and has been a highly efficient base-runner at the upper levels, swiping 24 bags in 30 tries in the majors (80%) and 75 bags in 92 tries at Triple-A over the years (81.6%). Defense and base-running are classic fourth outfielder traits, though Dickerson can hit a little, especially against right-handers.

More than 80% of his career plate appearances in the show have come against righties (490 of 582), and he’s tagged them for a .270/.355/.415 batting line, which works out to a .341 wOBA. Most of his power is into the gaps (21 doubles and seven triples) rather than over the fence (nine homers), and his 11.2% walk rate is very good. In 846 Triple-A plate appearances against righties, he’s hit .286/.387/.443 with 13.9% walks. That’s over 1,300 plate appearances at the two highest levels of baseball with better than average production against pitchers of the opposite hand. Against left-handers though, it’s a different story.

Dickerson hasn’t hit southpaws at all in the bigs (.292 wOBA in 92 plate appearances), and his 247 Triple-A plate appearances against lefties have resulted in a .246/.345/.339 batting line. The OBP looks solid enough, but it’s also inflated a bit by eight hit-by-pitches, six or which came more than three years ago. He’s a platoon player, and that’s fine since he’s on the dominant side of the platoon (unlike Justin Maxwell). Dickerson does strike out quite a bit, even against righties (26.3% in the bigs, 27.2% in Triple-A), though that can be partially explained by his walk rate. When you work deep counts, you’re going to strike out, it’s inevitable. That said, a whiff rate that high is a knock against him.

Aside from striking out a bit too much and not being able to hit lefties, Dickerson’s biggest drawback doesn’t even have anything to do with him as a player. He’s out of minor league options, meaning he can’t be sent back to Triple-A without first clearing waivers. Given his defense, base-running, and ability to not embarrass himself against righties, he’s also most certain to be claimed. An NL club (the Mets!) will gobble him right up for a bench spot. Being out of options alone shouldn’t be a reason to give him a spot on the 25-man roster, but it could serve as a tiebreaker if not one stands out from the crowd.

The Yankees do have two position player roster spots to fill at the moment: a DH and one on the bench (Eric Chavez‘s spot). If they end up carrying Dickerson on the roster to open the season, I assume he would take the DH spot and the Yankees would bring in another backup infielder/utility type (like Bill Hall). That doesn’t mean he has to DH though, and frankly it would be a waste of his defense. They could use him in right field against righties and let Nick Swisher DH those days, or they could let Swisher play first to give Mark Teixeira a day at DH. Point is, he’d give them more flexibility than a traditional DH-type like Damon, Raul Ibanez, or whoever else is out there to be had.

Dickerson has what amounts to one full big league season under his belt, though his 582 plate appearances are spread across four years. He did spend all of 2009 with the Reds as a platoon bat/fourth outfielder before an ankle injury effectively ended his season in late-August, but otherwise it’s been a bunch of up-and-down stuff. He could be a Quad-A hitter than will get exposed with regular at-bats, but his defense and speed figure to keep him valuable in some capacity, even if it’s not in New York. The Yankees have to figure out what they’re going to do with Dickerson one way or the other, and it’s not out of this world insane to think he might end up on the roster come Opening Day.

What remains on the Yankees’ shopping list?

The answer to the headline question might seem obvious. For the past few weeks we’ve discussed the Yankees’ new situation, which mainly involves filling one starting role. Jesus Montero‘s departure and Jorge Posada‘s retirement left vacant the regular DH role for 2012. Yet it’s not that simple. While we’ve seen the Yankees enter the past five seasons, at least, with a regular presence at DH, that likely won’t be the case this year. They already have the makings of a part-time DH on the roster.

Andruw Jones represents the first component of the 2012 DH spot. While he’s typically seen as a platoon partner with Brett Gardner and, to a lesser extent, Curtis Granderson, that probably won’t be his only role this season. During the Winter Meetings, Joel Sherman reported that Jones sought a larger role. “The friend also revealed that following offseason knee surgery that Jones has said if he comes back to the Yankees, he is coming in the kind of shape with the idea of winning a corner outfield job, not just accepting a back-up position.” Additionally, ESPN NY’s Wally Matthews talked to a source who said that Jones “took less money to return to the Yankees.” That could mean he’s expecting an expanded role.

While Jones worked out well last season, he played less frequently than he had in the previous two seasons. With Texas in 2009 he came to the plate 331 times, and with Chicago in 2010 it was 328 PA. Last season he was limited to 222 PA. He could instantly pick up more PA by DHing when Gardner starts in LF against a left-handed pitcher. He might also pick up some at-bats at DH against righties. He didn’t hit them particularly well last year, batting .172/.303/.406 against them in 76 PA, but he did flash good power (.234 ISO, just .020 lower than his ISO against LHP), and he maintained a solid 14.5 percent walk rate. In the last three seasons, Jones has produced average numbers against right-handed pitching (101 wRC+). It won’t give him a full-time job, but he could pick up some at-bats vs. righties as the DH.

Alex Rodriguez could also pick up at-bats from the DH spot in 2012. While he’s still penciled in as the starting third baseman, it’s difficult to see him playing there every day all season long. He hasn’t reached the 140-game mark since 2007, and played in just 99 last season. While he could return to form following a platelet-spinning procedure, it’s not something the Yankees can count on. Additionally, the Yankees want to play Eduardo Nunez more often this season, so subbing him for Rodriguez, while the latter fills the DH role, remains a possibility.

It is conceivable, then, that Rodriguez and Jones play up to 60 games combined at DH. That leaves around 100 games for others, though there will certainly be days when Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and even Robinson Cano take a half-day off. These accommodations render the DH a part-time position. Additionally, since both Rodriguez and Jones could fill the spot against right-handed pitchers, and since the DH spot will be open when Jones plays the outfield in place of Gardner against left-handed pitchers, a strict platoon isn’t necessarily the answer.

The Yankees can approach this situation in one of two ways. The most likely route is filling their remaining bench spots with veterans who can handle a part-time role. They might need some versatility, especially if one of the two players doesn’t play a position (ahem, Raul Ibanez). This might be one reason the Yankees are pursuing Bill Hall; he can handle both the infield and the outfield, and is also best suited for reps against left-handed pitching. Ibanez, on the other hand, can take the remaining reps at DH against right-handed pitching. A combination such as this could fit the Yankees needs well.

The other option is to fill the empty spots with young or flawed players. We’ve heard Jorge Vazquez’s name bandied, and there’s a chance he could take those reps at DH against LHP when Jones is in the outfield. There’s also Justin Maxwell for a similar role, though he has the added benefit of playing the field as well. Chris Dickerson, as Mike will discuss in more detail later, could be another fit, playing right field against some right-handed pitchers while Nick Swisher occupies the DH spot. Alternatively, the Yankees could swing a trade for a more versatile player who can provide a role similar to Maxwell or Dickerson (or Hall or Ibanez).

Immediately following the Jesus Montero trade, it appeared the Yankees were in the market for a full-time DH in his stead. But given the way their roster breaks down, they need something less than that. If they were so inclined, they could have half a season’s worth of DH at-bats already on the roster. Given the slow-moving market, they are right in taking their time in finding the right players to fill those last two roster spots. They can go in a number of directions, with each one having its plusses and minuses.

Waiting For Montero

Oh, sorry. Did you think I was talking about someone else? (Greg Fiume/Getty)

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Yankees’ long-term catching situation, which now revolves around Russell Martin and Austin Romine following the trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners. Martin can become a free agent after the season, though Romine may not be ready to step on a full-time basis in 2013. At least not for a contending team anyway. Catchers always take a little longer to adjust to big league life, it’s a tough transition.

Those two aren’t the only potential long-term solutions behind the plate, however. I don’t think many of us seriously consider Frankie Cervelli an everyday guy, and the duo of J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez are still years away from serious consideration. There is always the free agent market though, and while we all know how stocked the free agent pitching pool will be next offseason, a gem of a catcher may also be available: Miguel Montero of the Diamondbacks.

No relation to Jesus despite also being Venezuelan (or maybe they are related and we just don’t know it), Miguel turned 28 in July and produced a .282/.351/.469 batting line (.351 wOBA) with 18 homers in 553 plate appearances last year. A knee injury that required surgery kept him on the shelf for more than two months in 2010 (.333 wOBA in 331 plate appearances), but in 2009 he hit .294/.355/.478 (.357 wOBA) with 16 homers in 470 plate appearances. That looks an awful lot like his 2011 showing. Over the last three seasons, his .348 wOBA is sixth among all catchers (min. 1,000 plate appearances).

Catcher defense is a very tough thing to quantify, though all indications are that Montero is a solid gloveman. He threw out a whopping 32 of 80 attempted base stealers last season (40.0%), a ridiculously good number that sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of his career (62-for-241, 25.7%). I would expect that to come down next year even if he has improved his throwing since 40.0% is pretty close to unsustainable. Mike Fast’s work on catcher framing says Montero saved the seventh most runs (33) with his pitch framing ability over the last five seasons, and Matt Klaassan’s catcher defense rankings say he saved the second most runs (7.8) in 2011 in terms of stolen bases, passed balls, wild pitches, etc. I don’t feel comfortable putting a number on a catcher’s defensive value, but all the evidence suggests that he’s not a butcher back there.

As a left-handed hitting catcher with patience, power, and some amount of defensive value, Montero is poised for a serious payday next winter if he stays healthy in 2012 and performs as he’s capable. Other than the knee injury (suffered running to first base) and the various dings and dents associated with catching, he’s been durable throughout his career, and that only heightens his value. Above average everyday catchers just do not hit free agency in the prime of their career, with only Martin and Ramon Hernandez able to make that claim over the last five or six years. Catchers have a high attrition rate, and whenever a team does get a hold of good young one, they have a tendency to lock them up long before free agency becomes an issue

An extension is obviously very possible for Montero and the Diamondbacks, though they agreed to terms on a contract for next season minutes before a scheduled arbitration hearing this morning. He filed for $6.8M and the team countered with $5.4M. That’s a relatively small gap, and you can make the argument that the two sides don’t really agree about his value if it took this long to split the difference. The D’Backs are contenders and figure to remain that way for the foreseeable future — plus they have no catching coming up through the farm system at all — so it would behoove them to figure out a multi-year contract with Montero at some point in the next nine months or so. If they don’t, the Yankees are in a position to pounce.

The timing works out perfectly as far as they’re concerned. Martin will be a free agent after the season, and while Romine could develop into the catcher of the future, he’s unlikely to turn into the player Montero is right now. The Yankees are all about winning now, and Montero fits their mold as a patient, left-handed bat with power. If Arizona winds up extending himm, then no big deal. The Yankees can stick with Martin for a few more years if they want, or go in another direction to help ease Romine into the bigs. If Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova establish themselves as above average starters next year, there will be less urgency to pursue a Cole Hamels-type after the season, freeing up some cash for a catching upgrade.

I have no idea what kind of contract Montero would require on the open market, but I have to think it would be significant. Something in the four years, $40-52M range seems not insane. A fifth guaranteed year might be what it takes to put someone over the top. Like I said, above average catchers don’t hit the open market often, so we don’t have many recent comparables. The Yankees have the money — especially if their young arms step up this coming season — and will presumably have a need, so it’s tough not to look ahead a bit. He’s not the Montero we’d all hoped to see behind the plate for the next few years, but Miguel is a worthy heir to the Montero throne.

The Obligatory Casey Kotchman Post

We’ve spent a good portion of the last two weeks writing about potential DH options for the 2012 Yankees, and most of them have been older players trying to hang on for one last chance at a ring or for love of the game. Or money, that’s important too. One player we haven’t talked about yet is a 28-year-old free agent in the prime of his career, the same guy who led all currently unsigned free agents in OBP (.378), wOBA (.351), and fWAR (2.8) in 2011. It’s not particularly close either. That player is Casey Kotchman. So why haven’t we talk about him yet? It’s simple: I don’t think he can do it again.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Once upon a time, Kotchman was supposed to be a star. Baseball America considered him the sixth best prospect in the game before the 2005 season, saying he “projects to hit at least 20-25 homers annually” and “is a future Gold Glover” in their Angels Top 10 List (subs. req’d). Needless to say, it never worked out like that. Kotchman hit a decent .274/.337/.426 (99 OPS+) with 31 total homers in 1,265 plate appearances for the Halos before being traded to the Braves for Mark Teixeira in 2008. He spend time in Atlanta, Boston, and Seattle before resurfacing with the Rays in 2011.

Called up when Manny Ramirez abruptly retired in mid-April, Kotchman was a .259/.326/.392 career hitter (91 OPS) in over 2,300 plate appearances coming into the year. He went on to hit .306/.378/.422 in 563 plate appearances for Tampa Bay last season, a 128 OPS+ and by far the best single season of his career. The results were much better, but as you can see in the chart below, his underlying performance wasn’t all that different…

PA BB% K% HR%* ISO LD% GB% FB% IFFB%**
2004-2010 2,328 8.2% 9.6% 2.6% 0.133 17.6% 52.7% 29.7% 3.7%
2011 563 8.5% 11.7% 2.3% 0.116 18.3% 55.8% 25.9% 3.0%

* HR% is homers per plate appearances with contact (so removing walks, strikeouts, etc.).
** IFFB% is true infield fly ball rate, so FB% x IFFB% on FanGraphs.

His walk rate is essentially identical, a 2.1% more strikeouts is nothing (an extra dozen whiffs per 600 plate appearances. His batted ball profile is relatively unchanged, give or take a few percent that can easily be attributed to bias and human error during the data collection process. Here’s his batting ball data in graphical form, with green being ground balls, red being line drives, and blue being plain old fly balls…

Kotchman has become more of a ground ball hitter over the last three or four years, but nothing insane. Despite the similar batted ball profiles, he enjoyed a .335 BABIP last season compared to .277 for the first six-plus years of his career. A 58-point difference is not insignificant, though it’s worth noting that xBABIP (expected BABIP based on batted ball profile) says he should have had a .318 BABIP (using Chris Dutton’s Quick Calculator). The 0.017 difference between BABIP and xBABIP means he lucked into about ten extra hits over the course of his 563 plate appearances. Assuming they were all singles, his expected batting line in 2011 was .286/.361/.402. A .763 OPS would have been a 104 OPS+, so just a touch above league average.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being a bit better than average, it’s better than what the Yankees got out of their DHs last season (99 OPS+). It is fair to question whether or not Kotchman can do it again though, especially since the first six-plus of his career were pretty awful. He’s a slow ground ball hitter, so it’s easy to be skeptical of his ability to continue to turn those ground balls into base hits. Kotchman never developed the power Baseball America thought he would, and although Yankee Stadium figures to help him out a bit in that department, let’s not act like the short porch is a cure-all. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Deep Fly Ball To Right last year (via Texas Leaguers)…

Remember, the dots are where the ball was fielded, not where it landed.

Kotchman grounded into a double play in 15% of his opportunities last year (league average was 10%), one of the highest marks in the game. He only took the extra base 35% of the time as well (league average was 41%), so we’re talking about a guy that needs three singles to score from first. In fairness, that applies to most DH-types. His glovework — while very good — is a non-factor at DH, though I do appreciate a DH that can take the field once in a while and not embarrass himself. Essentially, we’re talking about a singles hitter — a singles hitter with contact skills and enough discipline to get on-base at a respectable clip — and the proverbial “one good year.”

You can definitely make the argument that Kotchman will continue to get better given his age, or at least that the odds of him improving are greater than the odds of Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, et al. not declining. I have to think that he’s looking to parlay his strong season into as much a) money, and b) opportunity as possible. Being a platoon DH and seventh-hole hitter for the Yankees might not be what he wants, since he’s at an age where proving he’s a legitimate starting first baseman in the big leagues can turn into a handsome payday. Kotchman may very well be the best man for the job, but I’m not convinced of it. There’s just too much evidence suggesting last year’s results are not indicative of his true talent.

In Boston, a move toward digital ticketing

I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the last time I had a real ticket for a Yankee game. It might have been toward the end of 2010 when a friend of mine scored a pair in a corporate giveaway, and before that, who knows? The tickets I get through StubHub are all of the digital variety, and the few I’ve ordered straight from the source come as PDF files as well.

These 21st Century e-tickets, though, bring with them a decidedly 20th Century problem: You need a printer. Usually, when I’m going to a game with some friends, we spend the afternoon figuring out who has access to a printer and who’s printing which ticket. These are some serious First World problems, I know, but it’s something technological innovation should have figured out by now.

Up in Boston, the Red Sox seemingly have but with some twists. For Upper Bleacher seats at Fenway, the Sox will now be offering digital tickets. Instead of scrambling to find a printer with ink cartridges, the Sox are going to allow entry via the swipe of the credit card that originally was used to purchase the tickets. No more printing — and no more selling these seats on the secondary market.

“Over the past 10 years, we have intentionally held the price of the Upper Bleacher seating category at $12 per seat in order to provide family-friendly pricing options for Red Sox fans,” Red Sox SVP/Ticketing Ron Bumgarner explained. “The downside of keeping these low price points is that these tickets sometimes end up on the secondary ticketing market at significantly marked up prices. By requiring the primary purchaser of the tickets to attend the game through this Digital Ticketing Initiative, our hope is to gradually eliminate those purchasing these specific tickets solely for the purpose of resale, and instead get these tickets into the hands of fans and families all over New England.”

On the one hand, this move adds a level of convenience to purchasing tickets. On the other, it may skirt scalping and resale laws by limiting what one who purchases a ticket is allowed to do with the ticket. They don’t, however, plan on offering these types of tickets for every game. Certainly, the Red Sox should be applauded for trying to keep seat prices at a reasonable level, and I would imagine more teams will follow suit if this effort is successful.

Ultimately, Major League Baseball should be eying a move toward digital ticketing that some airlines are using. Most people carry around Internet-enabled phones that can display scannable bar codes. With such technology in place, we’ll never need a ticket — printed or otherwise — again. We’re not there yet though.

Yankees sign Future NL Closerâ„¢ Manny Delcarmen

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have signed Future NL Closerâ„¢ and former Red Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen. It’s a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. We can only assume that if they trade him, it’ll be for a significant bat.

Delcarmen turns 30 in about two weeks, and he hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2010. He split last year in the Rangers’ and Mariners’ farm systems, pitching to a 5.59 ERA in 38.2 IP. He owns a 3.97 ERA and a 4.01 FIP in just about 300 big league innings, most coming with Boston. It’s nothing more than a depth move for Triple-A Scranton, and he’ll join former teammate Hideki Okajima in the minors while the Yankees employ good pitchers in MLB.

Open Thread: Roger Clemens

It was another tough day of computer problems here, but I think I got it all sorted out. Thankfully I didn’t have any hardware problems, but apparently part of my operating system was corrupt. No idea how that happened, but I sincerely hope it never happens again.

Anyway, the video above is from this past Saturday, and features a 49-year-old Roger Clemens throwing a perfect inning in the Texas alumni game. He struck out two and got a fly ball, and that split sure does look pretty nasty. Clemens goes on to talk about the Hall of Fame and how much it would mean to be inducted, but I didn’t really bother to listen. You’re more than welcome to, however. Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in action tonight, so you’re on your own for entertainment.