A few days ago, the creatively-named online sportsbook SportsBook.com released its most recent set of odds for the 2009 baseball season. Unsurprisingly, the Yankees came out on top. Our hometown team is the 5/2 favorite to capture the title. Someone tell Mayor Bloomberg to save the date for the parade. · (23) ·
Oh, Derek Jeter, what ever will the Yanks do with you in 20 months when you’re long-awaited and long-dreaded free agency rolls around? The Yanks will be saddled with a popular player past his prime and not very good at defense coming off of a contract in which he was overpaid. Someone has the upper hand in that bargaining session. I’m just not sure which side.
But that is a conversation for next season. For now, we get to talk about Derek the short stop, also one of everyone’s favorite topics. Christina Kahrl got the party started with a Baseball Prospectus piece (hosted on ESPN.com) about how Derek should move to center field. Her argument:
Crying over last year’s spilled Melky won’t help them catch up to the Rays and Red Sox, but signing Orlando Cabrera would provide the team with a useful-enough hitter, and a slick-fielding asset at short could make a small but important difference to a bad defensive ballclub. Last season’s Yankees ranked 25th in the major leagues in defensive efficiency (their ability to convert balls in play into outs) and park-adjusted defensive efficiency, and no positions see more chances than the middle infield. For all his defensive warts, Jeter has a strong arm and has always earned praise for his ability to track bloopers and pop-ups. These skills should both translate in center field. And simply by providing his usual dose of high OBP, he’d be a much better option than running Melky Cabrera out to center for 117 games, which the Yankees did last year.
Swapping Jeter out at short to address the team’s need for a center fielder would be the sort of win-win move that can let the Yankees return to the top of the standings while breaking in their new stadium, and it does nothing to damage the Captain’s place in franchise history. If Yount or Ripken, MVP winners and top stars in their day, could agree to help their teams and themselves to make these switches, you need to ask yourself why Jeter should be any different, especially when the need has gone from debatable to obvious.
Okay. So that’s a pretty convincing argument on its face. Kahrl, however, opted against using any metrics to evaluate how Jeter might do in center field and how the Yanks would fare with Orlando Cabrera at short. Enter Driveline Mechanics.
David Golebiewski analyzed Kahrl’s proposal and came up with a statistical answer to my questions. The analysis is rigorous. The conclusion:
We have little idea of how good or bad of a center fielder Derek Jeter would be, but even if we assume that Jeter would be lousy (costing his team -12.5 runs with the leather), the projected WAR of an Orlando Cabrera/Derek Jeter duo (4.79 WAR) trumps that of a Jeter/Melky Cabrera alignment (3.89 WAR) by nearly a win. If Jeter isn’t quite so bad, that advantage grows even further, perhaps nearer 2 wins if Jeter is only kind of bad in center.
Rob Neyer had a take on this as well. He hears what Kahrl and Golebiewski had to say and doesn’t feel that the two-win differential is worth the experiment. Neyer wants to see Brett Gardner win the job, get on base enough and steal. Whether he can do it is anyone’s guess.
Neyer, by no stretch of the imagination a Yankee fan, suggests that the Yanks should cut Jeter loose after 2010. I doubt that they will, and I sentimentally hope they don’t. But for now, just like his defense, it is just an issue lurking around the corner, and it won’t go away until the Yanks have to confront it head on.
On March 3, the United States’ representatives to the World Baseball Classic will square off against the Yankees in Tampa. While it won’t be weird to see most of the U.S. team on the other side of the ball, it will be quite strange to see Derek Jeter facing his own team. The Yanks’ captain will be battling his teammates, and while Derek hopes none of the Yanks’ hurlers bust him up and in, he better watch out for that Jorge Posada character behind the plate. · (25) ·
The RAB Open Thread gods blessed us this evening, sending down this gem of a post from the Times’ Tyler Kepner about 25 random facts about 25 random Yankees. Here’s my favorites, with worthless commentary added:
Enrique Wilson – Used to love the science fiction anime DragonBall Z. He had these little characters he’d put up on the shelf of his locker at home and on the road.
And people say A-Rod does weird stuff.
Matt Smith – Was physically unable to straighten his pitching elbow.
That’s pretty crazy.
Rondell White – Had a great sense of humor about himself, admitting that he was injured so often his nickname should be “Ron-D.L.”
That’s great. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re not trying.
Chris Hammond – One of the first guys to give out his email address. One night in Oakland he was warming up in the bullpen and a colleague in the press box noted that Hammond was also on Instant Messenger at the same time. I’m sure it was a family member, but still pretty funny.
I love it.
So how’s that for some good ol’ open threadiness? The Islanders are the only local team in action tonight, and Mexico is taking on Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series at 9pm on the MLB Network. The games have been exciting, very low scoring for the most part. Best of all, none of the players have any plate disciple, so everyone swings at the first pitch and the innings just fly by. Talk about whatever you like, just be nice.
Oh, and for you video game aficionados, the demo for The Show 09 came out today. Give that shizz a download.
Apparently, Andruw Jones thinks some team is going to give him a major league contract. He’s been courted by a number of teams, including the Braves, the Phillies, the Rangers, and yes, the Yankees. According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees offered the struggling center fielder a non-roster invite to Spring Training, but were rejected. Jones will probably wait out the market until he can get a Major League deal. Speculation points to Texas right now. Jones would obviously be worth a look if there’s no guarantee involved, but I don’t think it’s worth it to DFA another player for him. · (31) ·
Via Adam McCalvy & TR Sullivan, free agent righty Ben Sheet may need surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his throwing elbow, which is different from Tommy John surgery. Apparently the Rangers and Sheets had agreed to a two year deal last week, but the elbow issue popped up and prevented the deal from being finalized. In a somewhat ironic twist, the Brewers may be on the hook for the medical costs of the surgery, which Sheets is contemplating. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. Roy Firestone of Orioles Hangout beat everyone to the story this morning.
Update (4:46pm): Sheets will have the surgery and hopes to be ready for the second half of 2009. (h/t Yanke1010) · (75) ·
When Mike and I were talking about the show earlier in the week, we didn’t think there would be much to talk about. Silly us. If Mike Francessa can jabber on about sports for six hours a day, surely Mike and I can talk about Yankees baseball for an hour a week. Sure enough, we had plenty to talk about.
It started off with the Chase Wright trade which landed us Eric Fryer and which sent Wright to Milwaukee. We wish Chase the best of luck out there, and hope he can crack the Brewers weak rotation.
The show mostly consists of us answering reader questions. These were thought provoking, certainly not material we’d think of on our own, so a big thank you goes to anyone who sent something in. We’re going to need the material in the coming weeks, since baseball is in a lull right now, and it won’t get much better once pitchers and catchers report.
Onto the podcast. It is available in a number of formats. You can download it here by right clicking on that link and selecting Save As. If you want to play it in your browser, just left click the link. You can also subscribe to the podcast feed, which will send it to you every Thursday. You can also subscribe in iTunes. Finally, we have the embedded audio player below.
We appreciate any feedback. You can leave it in the comments or email either of us.
For the past half hour I’ve been looking for something Yankee related to riff on, but there’s just nothing turning up. We’ve hit a real lull in terms of news, and that has us focusing on topics around the league. I did stumble across this Matt Gagne article in the Daily News (does he pronounce it like Eric or Greg?), which isn’t much, but it’s something to talk about as we await the RAB Radio Show this afternoon.
Gagne talked to some Yankees fans at Joe Torre’s book signing regarding their faith in Joe Girardi compared to the old skipper. The way Gagne presents it, most fans only trust Torre to take this team to the playoffs. Some selected quotes:
“It would be as close to a guarantee as you could get,” said Tammy Weinrib, 33, incredulous that Torre no longer wears pinstripes. “I’m still furious by what happened….He was the best coach they ever had.”
“I don’t think the Yankees are going to make the playoffs this year,” said Brandon Cohen, 35, of South Amboy, N.J. “I don’t know if Girardi can get all these guys together. With Torre, no question. They wouldn’t necessarily win the World Series, but they’d get there.”
This is a bunch of baloney. Dislike Girardi if you will, but to say that Torre can take this team to the Series and Girardi can’t is giving way too much credit to Torre and way too little to Girardi. These specific fans, and fans who think like this, are viewing the issue at only the surface level: Torre made the playoffs every year from ’96 through ’07, and in Girardi’s first year on the job he broke the streak. Ergo, Torre can do it and Girardi can’t.
Say what you will about a manager’s effect on a baseball team, but I don’t think Girardi was at the center of the issue last year. The Yanks had poor timing. They got some quality outings from their starters early in the season but couldn’t score runs. Then they picked up the offensive production, but dropped off in the pitching department when Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner took the spots of Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.
As Mike showed, the Yankees runs scored vs. runs against was about even for the first half. They made some separation at the end of July, but in August the numbers grew closer again, and that’s what prevented the Yankees from making the playoffs. You can make proclamations about how it all came back to Girardi, but I can’t agree with that. Injuries did a number on the team.
I have full faith that Joe Girardi can lead this team to the playoffs. Maybe Joe Torre could have, too. I don’t think there’s any real way to say, though, without getting into total anecdotal speculation.
We’re a little stretched for podcast content today because it’s the slow time of year (unless you count that Chase Wright blockbuster), so the more questions the better. Email in your question to Joe or myself via the links on the left.
Oh, and FYI, we’re not going to talk about the Torre book, so don’t even bother asking. Thanks. · (8) ·
For the bulk of last month and all of this month, much of the talk in Yankeeland has revolved around the bench. The conversation tends to tip this way in the winter months, after the big signings have been made and the team is in what Brian Cashman calls “nonroster invitee mode.” This is actually good news for the bench, since teams can find undervalued players who can take on a utility role. These are no-risk moves that can bring decent rewards if the player pans out and can handle a part-time role. Yet there’s one name I can’t help but notice on the free agent list, who likely wouldn’t take a non-roster invite deal, but could immensely improve the Yankees bench.
Not only has Mark Grudzielanek not signed yet, but I can’t remember hearing his name mentioned this winter, at least since he rejected the Royals offer of arbitration. This is actually a bit strange, since he’d probably sign at a reasonable salary, and provides good defense and a decent bat for a middle infielder. Plus, he doesn’t cost the signing team a draft pick. If there are any teams actually interested in Orlando Hudson, I don’t know why they wouldn’t look to Grudz first.
The downsides of Grudz seem to wash with the upsides. He will be 39 in June, meaning he’s susceptible to decline. He also missed the last two months of the season with a torn deltoid ligament in his right ankle. Yet in the later stages of his career he’s put up fine numbers for a second baseman, and according to his UZR, he’s been at least a decent defender since they started tracking the stat. Not sure how he’d do at shortstop at this stage, but he can probably play it in a pinch. He might even be able to play it as well as Angel Berroa.
Why would Grudzielanek, a starter his entire career, want to back up the Yankees infield? He wants to win. The Yankees present him an excellent chance to do just that. It would come at the sacrifice of playing time, so it’s a matter of whether that’s worth it to Grudz or not.
At this point he’s probably still waiting around for an offer to start comes around, but as we get closer to Spring Training he might change his tune. If he was willing to play for a mediocre team he could have just accepted arbitration from the Royals and took home at least $4.5 million. Maybe Philly makes him an offer and he goes there because of their uncertainty with Chase Utley early on and Pedro Feliz all the time. But if he ends up signing as someone’s utility infielder, I’d prefer it be with the Yankees.
Photo: Getty Images