Mailbag: Best Part-Timers

An all-time part-timer. (Allen Kee/Getty Images)

Conor asks: After your post on Darrell Rasner, I started thinking about what the best all-time Yankees’ lineup would be when made up of guys who played less than 162 games or made less than 30 starts for them. Not that Rasner would be on that team, it just got me thinking. Hopefully I get to see what you guys come up with.

Questions like this are why the Baseball-Reference Play Index exists. I used the 162 games/30 starts maximum and sorted by WAR, just because it’s one nice easy number. If you click the links next to each position, they’ll take you to the full Play Index search results, since I know many of you are dying to see them. Some of these guys weren’t actually part-time players, but they all were short-lived Yankees. Here’s the lineup…

Catcher (link)

The leader here is Frank Fernandez, who appeared in 149 games for the Yankees from 1967-1969. He managed to rack up 4.1 WAR during that time, most of it during the 1969 season (2.2 WAR). Interestingly enough, Fernandez hit just .204 in exactly 500 plate appearances with New York, but he had a .372 OBP. He drew 102 walks and had just 80 hits in pinstripes. How about that? The Yankees traded Fernandez to Athletics after 1969, and he played only 136 more games in the show. Russell Martin ranks fourth on this list with 1.3 WAR in 125 games.

First Base (link)

I was hoping it would be Doug Mientkiewicz, but alas, it’s someone named Buddy Hassett. He played 132 games for the 1942 Yankees, mustering 1.2 WAR. That was the final season of his seven-year career, most of which was spent with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Bees. Hassett hit .284/.325/.364 in pinstripes. Mientkiewicz is second on the list at 0.8 WAR, followed by John Olerud (0.7 WAR).

Second Base (link)

I had a feeling this post would consist of a lot of guys I’d never heard of before, and so far we’re 3-for-3. The top second baseman is Jimmie Reese, who was worth 1.2 WAR in 142 games from 1930-1931. He hit .286/.331/.402 in 468 plate appearances during those two years, then was sent to St. Paul of the American Association after the season to complete an earlier deal. Reese resurfaced with the Cardinals later than summer, but it was his final season in baseball. Mariano Duncan is next in line at 1.0 WAR, and I’m guessing most of which comes from his signature phrase: “we play today, we win today, das it.”

Shortstop (link)

Yeah, another guy I haven’t heard of. This one is Willy Miranda, who racked up a whopping 0.8 WAR in 140 games from 1953-1954. He hit just .241/.295/.322 in 194 plate appearances after being purchased from the St. Louis Browns. Miranda was traded to the Orioles with nine (!!!) other players for Don Larsen, Bullet Bob Turley, and five others. Teams need to start making trades like that again. Tony Fernandez, the guy who got Wally Pipp’d by Derek Jeter, is third on the list (0.5 WAR).

Third Base (link)

Playoff performance doesn’t count here, but I have imagine Aaron Boone’s third base leading 1.0 WAR would be higher if we counted his homer in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. He’s the leader at the position by far (0.7 WAR ahead of the next few players), hitting a modest .254/.302/.418 in 208 plate appearances and 54 games. We’ll always have that homerun though.

Left Field (link)

We’re going all the way back to 1935 for the leader in left, Jesse Hill. Mr. Hill hit .293/.362/.390 in 444 plate appearances across 107 games that season, piling up 1.8 WAR. That was his rookie year, and after the season the Yankees traded him to the Washington Senators for a guy named Bump Hadley. That’s awfully close to Perd Hapley. A bunch of recent Yankees rank second (Rondell White), third (Xavier Nady), fourth (Andruw Jones), and fifth (Austin Kearns) on the list.

Center Field (link)

The Yankees officially changed their name from the New York Highlanders in 1913, and that’s how far back we have to go for our center fielder. A gentleman by the name of Harry Wolter accumulated 1.8 WAR in 127 games that season, hitting .254/.377/.339 in 521 plate appearances. We are cheating a bit here, because Wolter had been with the Highlanders since 1910. If we’re disqualifying him, then the leader is another Harry, Harry Rice. He was worth 1.6 WAR in 100 games in 1930. Kenny Lofton is tied for third on the list with 0.7 WAR.

Right Field (link)

The MVP of our team is the father of a seven-time MVP. Bobby Bonds played just one season in New York after being acquired from the Giants in exchange for Bobby Murcer, but during that one season he hit .270/.375/.512 and became the first 30-30 player in Yankees history. That performance was valued at 5.2 WAR in 1975, but he was traded again after the season, this time to the Angels for Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers. Someone named Tim Hendryx racked up 2.6 WAR in 153 games from 1915-1917, finishing a distant second to Bonds on our right field list.

Designated Hitter (link)

The DH pickin’s are pretty slim, but Big Daddy Cecil Fielder managed to crank out 0.7 WAR in 151 games and 653 plate appearances from 1996-1997. He hit 26 homers and put up a .260/.352/.440 batting line. Number two on this list? Some kid named Jesus Montero, who hit .328/.406/.590 and was worth 0.5 WAR in 18 games for the 2011 Yankees. If we include guys that played just half of their games at DH (rather than the 75% I had been using), then Jack Clark’s 1988 season is your leader at the position (3.1 WAR).

One player worth mentioning here is Glenallen Hill. He only played in 40 games for the Yankees, split between DH and left field and pinch-hitting, but he managed to accumulate 1.4 WAR in pinstripes. That’s what happens when you slug 16 homers in 143 plate appearances. That’s rooftop power, as they say.

Starting Pitchers (link)

The starting rotation is surprisingly strong, and led by a former Cy Young Award winner. Black Jack McDowell spent just one year in pinstripes (1995), but he made exactly 30 starts and was worth 4.0 WAR in 217.2 IP. I’ll always remember him for flipping the bird to the Yankee Stadium faithful though. The number two starter might not qualify for this list within the next seven months or so, it’s Freddy Garcia. Sweaty Freddy was worth 3.4 WAR in 26 starts this past season, and there’s still a chance he’ll be back for more in 2012.

McDowell and Garcia are pretty well separated from the rest of the pack, but the mix of guys behind them is quite interesting. We’ve got Larry Gura (2.7 WAR in 28 starts from 1974-1975), Pascual Perez (2.6 WAR in just 17 starts from 1990-1991), and then Don Gullett (30 starts in 1977) and John Candelaria (30 starts from 1988-1989) tied at 2.5 WAR. Bartolo Colon (2.4 WAR in 24 starts this season) and Jon Lieber (2.3 WAR in 23 starts in 2004) are right there as well. Rasner, the inspiration for this post, is 23rd on the list at 0.2 WAR in 29 starts. He’s just behind Denny Neagle (0.2 WAR in 15 starts) and just ahead of Carl Pavano (-0.1 WAR in 26 starts) and Babe Ruth (-0.3 WAR in four starts).

Relief Pitchers (link)

Since Conor didn’t give me any playing time criteria for the relievers, I used a cutoff of 60 appearances. That’s roughly a full season of work for a typical reliever. Our bullpen ace would be Fred Beene, who threw 158.2 IP across 54 appearances from 1972-1974. His 1.99 ERA was good for 2.4 WAR. Number two on the list is Al Aceves, who racked up 2.1 WAR in 59 appearances and 126 IP from 2008-2010. Our two left-handed relievers are Grant Jackson (1.6 WAR in just 21 games in 1976) and Dave LaRoche (1.4 WAR in 52 games from 1981-1983), father of Adam and Andy.

The rest of the bullpen is filled out by the likes of Doug Bird (1.8 WAR in 38 games from 1980-1981) and a bunch of recent Yankees. Kerry Wood managed to be worth 1.5 WAR in his 28 appearances last season, and the duo of Luis Ayala and Cory Wade were worth 1.4 WAR and 1.3 WAR this season, respectively. Our depth pieces are Jeff Robinson (1.3 WAR in 54 games in 1990) and Ray Scarborough (1.2 WAR in 32 games from 1952-1953). Pretty interesting mix of guys, though it’s not surprising many of them have played in a recent past given the continued evolution of the modern bullpen.

Kershaw takes home NL Cy Young Award

Dodgers wunderkind Clayton Kershaw took home the NL Cy Young Award today, receiving 27 of 32 first place votes. The 23-year-old southpaw won the pitching Triple Crown this season, leading the league in wins (21), ERA (2.28), and strikeouts (248). He’s the first Dodger to win the award since Eric Gagne in 2003, and the first Dodgers’ starting pitcher to win since Orel Hershiser in 1988. Roy Halladay finished second in the voting, Cliff Lee in third.

Former Yankee Ian Kennedy finished fourth in the voting, receiving one first place vote. Congrats to him. The full results are up on the BBWAA’s site. The AL MVP Award will be announced Monday at 2pm ET. Curtis Granderson and Robbie Cano figure to get a decent amount of votes.

Preparing for the Rule 5 Draft

It snuck up on me a bit this year, but tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The deadline is usually sometime in the afternoon, 4-5pm ET, but that’s not terribly important. Anyone left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft can be selected by another team, and if that player manages to stick on his new team’s big league roster all season in 2012, they officially become that team’s property. Not a ton of players will stick, but there’s always one or two a year.

Generally speaking, high school players drafted in 2007 (or earlier) and college players drafted in 2008 (or earlier) are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. It’s always tough to figure out who is eligible among the international signees since we don’t really know exactly when they signed, but I believe it’s anyone that signed in 2006 (again, or earlier) this year. The Yankees got a jump on things by calling up both Austin Romine and George Kontos in September, both of whom would have been eligible had they not been added to the 40-man roster.

The Yankees currently have six open spots on their 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use all six to protect prospects. Some of those spots will be used for a new starting pitcher or some bench players or another reliever, players that will contribute to the Major League team in 2012. The only two players that will definitely be added to the 40-man by tomorrow are D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps, two starters with a healthy amount of Triple-A innings under their belt. Guys like that are Rule 5 Draft gold, they wouldn’t last more than the first five picks.

The rest of the crop is pretty sketchy. There’s David Adams (can’t stay healthy), Bradley Suttle (hasn’t done anything worthy of being added), and Dan Brewer (hurt last year, was the Triple-A fourth outfielder on Opening Day). I suspect all three will be left unprotected, it’s hard to see any of them sticking on a 25-man roster all year in 2012. Pat Venditte will be an interesting case, he’s got the results and the ambidextrous thing gets him noticed, but there are serious questions about how his very fringy stuff will translate to the show. If the Yankees don’t protect him, which I don’t think they will, then some team will almost assuredly grab him just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. The novelty is too great to pass up.

Among international free agent signees, I do believe that Zoilo Almonte is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I do think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man. The Greg Golson/Justin Maxwell/Chris Dickerson trio is out-of-options, and there’s a non-zero chance the Yankees could lose all three before the end of Spring Training. If that happens, the outfield depth is suddenly Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. Not good. Almonte, a switch-hitting corner outfielder, had a fine season split between High-A and Double-A this year (.276/.345/.459 with 18 steals and 15 homers).

That’s three players (Mitchell, Phelps, Almonte) I expect to be added to the 40-man roster before tomorrow’s deadline, thought there’s always the possibility of a surprise or two, like Reegie Corona a few years ago. What the hell was that about? Anyway, I don’t see any locks to be selected other than Venditte, there are no Lance Pendleton/middle relief types worth a Spring Training look.

The Anti-Cliff Lee

Nearly a full twelve months after the Yankees watched Cliff Lee spurn New York and depart from Texas for Broad Street in Philadelphia, they find themselves yet again eyeing a big name free agent starting pitcher. This year’s premium talent is lefty C.J. Wilson, and he’s reportedly seeking six years and $120m, a hefty sum for a pitcher with just two years of experience as a starter in the major leagues. Aside from the fact that he’s a lefty from the Rangers seeking big money, Wilson really is the polar opposite of Lee. In a lot of ways, C.J. Wilson is everything that Cliff Lee was not.

The easiest place to start is their performance. Cliff Lee is a savant when it comes to control, while Wilson is one of the most wild starters in baseball. In the last two years, only three people have walked more batters than C.J. Wilson’s total of 167 (Gio Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ryan Dempster). Not even A.J. Burnett has walked as many as Wilson over this span. By comparison, in the two years prior to hitting free agency, Lee walked a mere 61 batters, tied for the lowest amongst any pitcher with at least 200 innings pitched. Their career walk rates (Wilson 3.75 BB/9, Lee 2.15, but not higher than 2.00 since 2007) really drive the point home.

Wilson and Lee are also very different in their personalities and home lives. Based on what I could gather from watching the way Lee handled his negotiations and subsequent press conferences, he seems to be a very laid back guy. He’s from Arkansas, not just geographically but also in the sense that it’s his home. It’s where he’s from. Like a smart husband, Lee also placed a very high premium on the wishes of his wife and family when choosing a new team. The positive experience his wife and kids had in Philadelphia went a long way towards convincing him to stay. By comparison, Wilson is a hipster from California, to put it bluntly. He tweets with the best of them, he’s outspoken on political issues, and he’s gregarious. He’s also not married, a factor which he emphasized when talking about his pending free agency. Wilson’s a free bird, limited only by his suitors.

There’s also the interest factor. It’s hard to know how much Lee really likes New York and would have been happy playing here. Personally, I never got the sense that he was dying to spend his off-days in Central Park and go out to dinner in SoHo, but that’s just post hoc explanation. Like a lot of free agents in high demand, Lee made the Yankees, and several other teams, fly down to Arkansas to pitch him on a new deal. By comparison, Wilson seems to want to play in New York, or at least have the Yankees bid up his price. He even had his agent ask the Yankees if C.J. could come to New York and visit the Yankees to discuss a new contract. After the way the Lee negotiations went, it’s almost refreshing.

But here’s the rub, and here’s where their greatest dissimilarity stands out most prominently. As of this morning, the Yankees still hadn’t gotten back to Wilson’s agent to let him know if they want him to come meet with them. Unlike Cliff Lee, over whom the Yankees front office and fan base nearly salivated, no one in New York seems to want C.J., certainly not at any price. No one seems to be clamoring to open the vault in the Bronx for the Texas lefty. Perhaps this and all the other differences between Wilson and Lee will create a commonality between the two after all: hitting free agency only to end up in a new home other than New York.

The RAB Realignment Plan

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Houston Astros will be an American League club in a near future. It won’t be next season, but they will officially be part of the AL West in 2013. Major League Baseball intends to create two 15-team leagues with three five-team divisions, which unfortunately means interleague play all season long. The league also seems determined to create a playoff system with two wildcard teams.

Realignment proposals have been part of the baseball media scene for years now, as people have tried to figure out a way to punish the big market teams for making more money than everyone else while rewarding the poorer teams. I figured it was my turn to do the impossible, to come up with a way to make everyone happy with baseball’s schedule and competitive balance and all that. Easier said than done doesn’t do this task justice. Let’s dive in…

The Leagues

We’re going to stick with the two 15-team leagues idea, basing the six divisions on simple geography. Here’s the breakdown…

Obviously those divisions don’t look very fair (poor Orioles and Mets), but I’m going to explain why that doesn’t matter in just a second.

The Schedule

With the two distinct leagues, we’re going to completely eliminate interleague play. The only time an MLB East team will meet an MLB West team will be in the World Series, like I think it should be. Those “natural” rivalries Bud Selig tried to create with interleague play (Yankees-Mets, Cubs-White Sox, Giants-Athletics, etc.) still remain intact.

With interleague play out the window, we’re free to balance the schedule. Under this plan, every team would play the other 14 teams in its league 12 times (six games at home, six on the road). That creates a 168-game regular season, so six additional regular season games and three more home dates for owners to line their pockets fans to see their team. This isn’t the NFL trying to expand the season from 16 games to 18 games (a 12.5% increase), the baseball season would be lengthened by less than four percent (3.7% to be exact). The balanced schedule means the division alignments are just for show, so that big bad Northeast division is all talk and no action.

The odd number of teams per league means someone will have to be off everyday, unless they schedule doubleheaders. MLB could make events out of them, think about it. They could have the Red Sox play the Mets in CitiField at noon then the Yankees in Yankee Stadium at 7pm. They could do the same thing with Oakland and San Francisco, or Chavez Revine and Anaheim, or the north and south sides of Chicago. That would be a serious draw. Every team would have to play one doubleheader for every eight series they play to make it work, which is seven doubleheaders per team for the entire season. That’s one per month with an extra one thrown in somewhere, make it September with the expanded rosters.

The Playoffs

Forget this two wildcard teams per league stuff. Since the schedule is nice and balanced, the teams with the four best records in each league qualify for the postseason, regardless of division. Like I said, the divisions are just for show. The one seed plays the four seed and the two seed plays the three seed, with home field advantage going to the club with the better regular season record. Head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker, run differential the second tiebreaker. That goes for the World Series too. All rounds are best-of-seven series with off days for travel only (after Games Two and Five).

The All-Star Game

Since home field advantage in the World Series is determined by regular season records, the All-Star Game goes back to being what it’s supposed to be, a glorified exhibition. It shouldn’t count for anything. With no interleague play, the East vs. West matchup becomes a lot more intriguing because you’re seeing great players you don’t ever see together right there on the same field. That’s how the All-Star Game used to be, it was pretty awesome.

The Homerun Derby has to be overhauled, mostly by actually getting homerun hitters to participate in it. I want to see Mike Stanton and Adam Dunn take their hacks, not Rickie Weeks and Matt Holliday. Also, let’s shorten the thing up please.

Real World Problems

All of this sounds great on paper, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s far from perfect. For one, The Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies are huge draws on the road, and none of the MLB West clubs will ever see them in their ballpark. Those game have a very real financial impact. All of the big market teams are in one league as well, so there’s a total imbalance of power. Great idea on paper, but in practice, trying to schedule all those doubleheaders? Not so much.

* * *

I’m interested and also afraid to see what will happen to baseball 18 months from now, with the constant interleague play and two wildcard teams and whatnot. Then again, Selig could make it all better by abolishing the whole “let pitchers hit” thing to make a) life easier for everyone, and b) the game much more enjoyable. I doubt that will happen, but we can all dream.

Yu Got the Right One, Baby, Uh Huh

The last time the Yankees turned their attention east for a starting pitcher, the club got burned pretty badly. In the wake of the Red Sox’s inking of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Yanks bid $26 million for Kei Igawa, a lefty with good strike out numbers in Japan, and paid him another $20 million over five years. He lasted all of 16 Major League games and was removed from the 40-man roster in 2008, never to return to the Bronx.

For Brian Cashman and the Yanks’ baseball brain trust, Igawa was the mistake that wouldn’t go away. The Yanks never traded him in order to avoid paying luxury taxes on his salary, and Igawa refused to quit or head back to Japan. He toiled away in the minor leagues as the Yanks moved him around based on roster needs before he eventually became the winningest pitcher in Scranton history. That’s some dubious achievement.

This year, the hype over a Japanese pitcher has returned in the form of Yu Darvish. The groundswell of hype hasn’t been this constant or loud since Matsuzaka made the jump, and in fact, we’ve heard about Darvish for years. We know how great he is in Japan, and we’ve heard varying degrees of success predicted for him in the States. He’s different, they say. His goal has been to pitch in the Majors. He knows what it takes. He will not flame-out.

Meanwhile, hesitation rules the air. American baseball fans have seen Japanese pitchers come over with so much hype and fail to meet expectations. Hideki Irabu was the Japanese Nolan Ryan. Daisuke Matsuzaka and his famed gyroball were to be unhittable. Even Hideo Nomo turned into an average-to-below-average pitcher after his first two stellar seasons in the States.

Yet, these past failures (or successes, as in the case of Hiroki Kuroda) tell us nothing about Darvish’s potential, and the Yankees, burned by their desire to snatch up Igawa, seem to recognize this. While speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Hal Steinbrenner spoke about the club’s process. “Every person is different, every player is different,” the Yanks’ Managing General Partner said. “We’re going to look at every single one, we’re going to look at every single option and we’re going to analyze it. We look at each person as an individual, and that” — previously failures with Japanese pitchers — “is not going to be a factor, at least not with me.”

As The Times and others have noted, the Yankees do not figure to be front-runners for Darvish. That status belongs to the Angels and Rangers, two teams engaged in an AL West arms race. But the Yankees will hover on the periphery, aware of what Darvish can do and not afraid of him because of past failures. That’s the kind of process a team that is looking to spend smartly should follow, and it’s a good sign for the long-term future of the club.

Last week, I explored how the Yankees should take aggressive risks with their dollars this year. Even though we still don’t know if Darvish will be posted this year, the Yanks should plan to be among the leaders for his services. They have laid the foundation for a competitive bid, and they have the money to spend. Armed with the right knowledge, it’s a risk worth taking, and the process should tell them as much.

Thanks as always to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic. You can find him on Twitter right here.

Eric Chavez intends to play in 2012

Via Mark Feinsand and Pete Caldera, Eric Chavez‘s agent informed Brian Cashman that his client intends to play next season. Chavez was reportedly giving retirement serious consideration, but he also indicated a willingness to return to New York should he not hang up the spikes.

“I loved everything about him,” said Cashman, who also hedged his bets a bit by saying he wasn’t sure if there was a match between the two sides. The Yankees are going to need a caddy for Alex Rodriguez next season and it’d be nice to have a left-handed bat off the bench, two birds that could be killed with one Chavez stone. I don’t think there will be much a rush here though, I would be surprised if there’s a high demand for his services.