Is Andruw Jones really a lefty masher?

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Aside from starting pitching, the Yankees had just a few glaring needs this offseason. The most obvious of the bunch was the need for a right-handed hitting outfielder to give Joe Girardi some flexibility and thump against left-handed starters. Marcus Thames did the job perfectly last season, tagging lefties for a .354 wOBA and even chipping in far more than expected against righties (.382 wOBA). As well as he performed, it was Thames’ best offensive season in five years, an effort he was unlikely to repeat at age 34. Given his defensive shortcomings, it was easy for the Yankees to move on. That led them to Andruw Jones.

Jones, the guy that tormented Yankees fans back in 1996, fit the job description perfectly. He’s a right-handed bat with power and he can play some defense. No, he’s not the all-World defender he was in his prime, but he’s considerably better than Thames and probably closer to average more than anything. Add in his low cost ($2M) and long track record, and there are plenty of reasons to like the move. But is he really all he’s cracked up to be offensively?

The Yankees brought Jones in the hit left-handed pitching and that’s exactly what he did last year, when he tattooed southpaws to the tune of a .402 wOBA. Unfortunately, that’s in an incredibly small sample size, just 102 plate appearances. If you take out his 2008 season, when a knee injury kept him on the disabled list for close to three months, it’s his fewest attempts against lefties since 2002. In 2007 and 2009, when Andruw’s career really started to slip, he put a .336 wOBA in 368 plate appearances against left-handers (it was .289 in 86 PA in 2008). Granted, that’s still respectable, but it’s hardly jaw-dropping.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

If you go back a little further, to Jones’ monster seasons in Atlanta (2004-2006), he had a .373 wOBA against lefties (473 PA), which is obviously outstanding. Unfortunately that was a baseball lifetime ago, when he was still in his mid-to-late 20’s and in the prime of a borderline Hall of Fame career. There’s little reason is expect Jones to repeat that effort going forward, into his mid-30’s. So what we have a bunch of wildly divergent data, each with it’s own red flag. Last year’s performance didn’t come over an extended period of time, but was it really a rebound from the three prior years in the career  toilet? The stuff he did with Atlanta happened too long ago for it to mean anything today. There’s no reliable recent track record here, so that makes it a gamble.

And just to be clear, his awful Spring Training performance (.171.261/.293 in 46 PA before yesterday’s 1-for-3) means little to me. Thames had an awful spring last season and I ended up writing a very similar article about him, rather foolishly when I look back at it. Jones’ track record as a guy capable of giving the Yankees what the need – someone to pounded lefties – isn’t very good in the recent past when you look past last year’s small sample size results. I guess the good news is that the Yankees have alternatives this year, namely in the form of Justin Maxwell. Thames’ primary competition last year was Jamie Hoffmann, who ended up back with the Dodgers before the spring ended. At least Maxwell will be stashed in Triple-A to provide actual insurance.

It’s pretty clear that the Yankees did well by not bringing Thames back, and Jones was one of the best options on the market given their specific needs. That said, he’s no guarantee to give them what they’re looking for, but at least he’ll still be able to provide some value with his defense and occasional homers.

MLB creates new seven-day disabled list for concussions

Via Mark Feinsand, Major League Baseball announced new protocols for concussions today, including the creation of the seven-day disabled list. It will be implemented on a trial basis this season, and is only available for players dealing with concussions. Anyone on the 7-day DL for more than 14 days will automatically and retroactively be transferred to the 15-day DL. Last month we heard about the team’s concern for Jorge Posada‘s long-term mental health, so it’s good to see MLB make some progress on this front.

Open Thread: Regular Season Reminder

With the final Grapefruit League game in the books and the team on their way back to New York, all we have left to do is countdown the 40 or so hours until the 2011 regular season gets under way. Now’s as good a time as any to remind you about all the different ways you can access our fine blogging establishment, some of which you may find easier than others.

Before we get into that, make sure you review our commenting guidelines. Emotions run high during the season, especially when a team with a $190M+ payroll has a patchwork rotation, but we have to make sure we maintain some sort of civility in the comments. Please review them, even if it’s just a fresher.

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If you want, you can also follow the three of us on our personal accounts: @bkabak, @joepawl, and @mikeaxisa. I can’t promise everything we tweet about will be about the Yankees, or even baseball for that matter, but you won’t regret it.

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Believe it or not, the three of us use our blogging superpowers for good elsewhere as well. I contribute to MLB Trade Rumors and RotoGraphs while Joe contributes to FanGraphs. Curious about the NYC subway system? Ben’s got you covered there at Second Ave. Sagas. He’s gained some notoriety through the site, so check it out.

So, you got all that? Good, now use this as your open thread for the night. The Twins and Braves are on MLB Network (live), plus the Nets are on as well. Oh, and CC Sabathia will be on Letterman tonight, so that’s cool. Oops, that’s tomorrow. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

Food For Thought: Nick Swisher

It’s been more than two years since I implored the Yankees to look into Nick Swisher as a potential buy-low option, but of course I was talking about adding him as a first baseman since it looked unlikely that Mark Teixeira was coming to New York at the time. Anyways, you all know what happened next; Swish has gone on the enjoy two tremendously productive seasons with the Yankees since then, but just how productive compared to the rest of his career?

Bill Petti of Beyond The Box Score examined Swisher’s year-by-year park adjusted OPS totals (which is what you see above), and showed that the Yankees’ right fielder hasn’t really taken his offensive game to another level over the last two seasons. He just rebounded from his hideous 2008 season with the ChiSox to perform like he had with the Athletics in 2006 and 2007. Go figure.

OPS, even adjusted, isn’t the best metric, but for quick and dirty stuff like this it’s perfectly fine. Swisher has posted a .376 wOBA with 7.4 fWAR over the last two years compared to a .364 wOBA with 7.2 fWAR with Oakland from 2006-2007, so the difference is negligible once you consider just how inexact some of this stuff is. It’s pretty obvious that his 2008 season was nothing more than an unfortunate fluke, but I still blame Ozzie Guillen.

Bean counter or ballplayer?

(From the CUA archives)

You might not recognize the man pictured to the right. Two and a half decades after this snapshot, he hardly looks like the same person. Were he to wear a baseball cap, there wouldn’t be any hair protruding. He also wouldn’t be wearing a uniform, since his current job is more administrative. The only familiar aspect, really, is the same haven’t-slept-in-weeks look. Yes, the man to the right is Brian Cashman, from his ball playing days at Catholic University of America.

At CUA’s campus newspaper, The Tower, Douglas K. Barclay reminisces on Cashman’s time at the university. While he is often chided for not being a baseball guy — he never played professionally at any level — Cashman’s decision to attend Catholic was centered solely on baseball. “The Catholic decision…was pure baseball,” he said.

Really, this post is just an excuse to display an image of Cashman that might catch people off-guard. It’s certainly not how we’re used to seeing him. But make sure you read the entire article. It’s a quick one, and it provides us with a little more insight about the man making the decisions for the Yankees.

Feliciano to be shut down for ten days

Via Wally Matthews, the Yankees are shutting down lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano for ten days in an effort to battle an injury now described as soreness in a muscle behind his left shoulder. He won’t pick up a ball in that time, so it seems like it’ll be at least three weeks before he returns to the big league team. As for his replacement, right now it’s a toss up between Steve Garrison and Luis Ayala, though I imagine the former is the favorite since he’s a fellow lefty and on the 40-man. Let’s hope the ten days does the trick and Feliciano makes it back before the end of the April.

The RAB Radio Show: March 29, 2011

In two days there won’t be an RAB Radio Show in this time slot. That’s because the Yankees will be playing their first game of the season. It will be a welcome change when we stop dissecting the minutiae of spring training and start dissecting the minutiae of games that count.

For today we’re talking about some of the oddities regarding the final few roster spots. In particular, we’re looking at how Pedro Feliciano’s injury will affect the Opening Day roster, and what it means for Eduardo Nunez.

Podcast run time 25:29

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.