Injury Updates: A-Rod & Feliciano

The latest from Tampa…

  • Alex Rodriguez continued to increase the intensity of his workouts today, taking 57 swings in a situational hitting batting practice session. There’s still no firm timetable for his return, but there’s a chance he’ll start a minor league rehab assignment this Friday and I have no reason to suspect that’s changed after today.
  • Pedro Feliciano, remember him? He has resumed throwing bullpens after his latest setback and might actually be able to throw batting practice sometime next week. I’ll believe it when I see it, even though I won’t see it and will have to instead rely on people that did see it to tell me it actually happened.

This week’s annotated box score

The Yankees were on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball last night, so that means they’re the subject of this week’s Annotated Box Score by Sam Miller. This week he looked at retired numbers, wondering who the most deserving Yankee at each number would be if they wanted to retire all of them. He also tackled baseball Johnnys and more. Check it out, it’s a great and fun read as always.

Cory Wade, Secret Weapon

(Elsa/Getty Images)

It’s the same story every year. The Yankees start the season with a collection of seven relievers, and inevitably some guys are ineffective and/or get hurt. By the end of the season the bullpen corps looks a lot different than it did in April. Joba Chamberlain threw just 28.2 IP before Tommy John surgery ended his season, and Rafael Soriano threw just 15 IP before landing on the DL with a less severe elbow injury. Luis Ayala spent some time on the DL, and Bartolo Colon went from long-man to number two starter.

Through the first 113 games of the season, the Yankees have cycled through miscellaneous relievers like Buddy Carlyle, Amaury Sanit, Steve Garrison, Kevin Whelan, Jeff Marquez, Sergio Mitre, and Lance Pendleton, but only one has really impressed: Cory Wade. Signed to a minor league deal back in June, Wade surfaced with the big league team soon thereafter and gained Joe Girardi‘s trust in short order. He retired the first eleven men he faced as a Yankee, including six as part of two perfect innings in his second appearance, in extra innings against the Rangers.

Wade’s effectiveness has kept him around longer than the Carlyles and Sanits and Whelans of the world, and he’s turned into a bit of a secret weapon out of the bullpen during the second half. Consider that …

… he’s the new fireman.

In four of his last six appearances (including the last three), Wade has entered the game with at least one man in scoring position and often multiple runners on base. He’s allowed just one of the eight runners he’s inherited in that time to score, and on the season he’s stranded ten of the 11 runs he’s inherited. Wade’s a good fit for that role because he gets ahead of hitters (66.2% first pitch strikes, better than the 59.2% league average) and misses bats (9.6% swings and misses), plus he has a small (reverse) platoon split both this year and for his career. He’s not just a matchup guy. Injuries and hyper-effectiveness have moved David Robertson into a more prominent late-inning role, but Wade has quietly stepped in as Joe Girardi’s get-out-of-jams specialist.

… he’s the relief version of Freddy Garcia.

Like last night’s starter, Wade will lull hitters to sleep with his offspeed stuff because he has a below-average fastball. He’s thrown his heater (which has averaged 88.7 mph this year) just 44.6% of the time this season, instead relying on his low-80’s changeup and high-70’s curveball to do most of the work. We’ve also seen him drop his arm slot to throw a slider. It’s not the greatest arsenal in the world, but it works because Wade doesn’t have to go through the lineup multiple times. Unpredictability is a great thing, especially in short bursts.

… he’s flexible.

The Yankees have the ability to keep Wade around for a while should he continue to perform. The Dodgers non-tendered him after last season because he was having some injury problems, but Wade won’t be eligible for arbitration until after next season. That means he’s under team control for dirt cheap through 2015. As far as I can tell, he also has a minor league option remaining. That last part is unofficial though, so don’t hold me to it. Either way, Wade also gives the Yankees some roster flexibility for the bullpen.

* * *

Middle relievers tend to have very short shelf lives, even good ones. Wade has done a bang-up job for the Yankees so far, but it is only 20 IP and he’s a long way from establishing himself as a bullpen stalwart. For now, the Yankees will enjoy his unexpected production, using him to bridge the gap between the starters and Robertson/Soriano in the late innings.

The new designated hitter platoon

Nope. (AP/Matt Strasen)

Jorge Posada is out. Before last night’s game the Yankees informed Posada of his new role off the bench, paving way for a DH platoon that will involve Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones for the time being. As Mike noted this morning, that leaves the Yankees bench fairly inflexible, especially since it’s only three men deep to begin with. That’s certainly one downside to the issue. But what about the other side? Will the Jones-Chavez tandem significantly outperform Posada for the rest of the season?

Updated projections can give us one sense of expected production. ZiPS updates its numbers constantly, adjusting its full-season and rest-of-season projections as the season progresses. This helps weed out some of the noise we get in partial-season samples. It’s quite optimistic about the final two months of Posada’s 2011, projecting him for a .334 wOBA in 126 PA. That amounts to about two runs above average, though that is below average production for a DH. That projection might seem overly optimistic, since Posada has produced a mere .299 wOBA to date. But he has produced much better against righties, a .341 wOBA (5.1 runs above average). There is a chance, then, that he could hit that .334 projection if given 126 PA exclusively against righties.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Taking over his role as the DH against righties is Eric Chavez. A foot injury has limited him to just 26 games and 76 PA this year, but he’s done a fine job filling in, producing a .368 OBP and a .336 wOBA. ZiPS has him on track for just 36 more PA this season at a .300 wOBA, which would mean below average production. The upshot here is that his ZiPS projection is based on the past few years, in which he played hurt and hardly played in general. There is reason to believe that he’ll beat that production if he remains healthy. Unfortunately, Chavez is a risk to get hurt at any point, making his projection even more difficult. It’s as easy to see him matching Jorge’s .334 projected wOBA the rest of the way as it is to see him produce nothing while on the DL.

For most of the season Jones has played the part of DH against lefties, though as I’ll describe in a moment it hasn’t always been a straight DH role. He’s apparently hitting right in line with his ZiPS projections: his .341 wOBA matches his rest-of-season and full-season projection. At his 87 projected plate appearances the rest of the way, that would work out to 1.9 runs above average. That makes for a decent right-handed part of the platoon, though again it’s not above average for a DH. The caveat is that with that kind of playing time, a couple of extra strikeouts could significantly downgrade his production, just as an extra homer can significantly upgrade it.

Given the projections it would appear that the former platoon of Posada and Jones would work out best. Chavez fits, because he’s hit this season and is expected to continue his current pace, rather than his projected one. But even then, the Yankees are looking at about four runs above average for their DH spot the rest of the season. With that kind of production, combined with the inflexibility that the arrangement causes, should give the Yankees pause. That might work as a quick-term fix, and if Chavez breaks out while getting regular playing time it might stick for a bit longer. But I suspect that this is merely a tide-over while the Yankees let the effects of the Posada benching dissipate.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

When the Yankees announced Jorge’s benching, the one name on everyone’s tongue was Jesus Montero. There has been talk of his promotion for weeks, and with Posada on the bench there appears to be a clear opening. There’s a chance that Chavez and Jones are merely a placeholder so that the Yankees don’t have to bring up Montero as Posada’s replacement, which would create additional and unnecessary tension and drama. Bringing him up to replace the Chavez/Jones platoon might be a bit easier for the organization to handle, though they could be losing out on potential production.

ZiPS projected Montero to produce a .358 wOBA in the 2011 season, a mark greater than any of the current DHs. If we project Montero to get 200 PA the rest of the way — which is in line with Robbie Cano‘s projected remainder — he would produce 7.3 runs above average. That’s nearly double what the platoon would combine to produce. It’s tough, of course, to project a rookie to produce at that kind of level, especially when he hasn’t even produced that well at AAA. But we know what type of talent Montero possesses, and we know he can go on a tear. If he goes on one with the Yanks, he’ll easily be their best DH option the rest of the way.

This DH platoon does afford the Yankees a bit of flexibility, especially after Alex Rodriguez returns from the DL. It will allow Joe Girardi to cycle through his players who might need a half day off, using them as DH and either Jones or Chavez in the field. That stands in contrast to Jorge, who can spell only Mark Teixeira at first. Chavez can do that, as well as handle A-Rod‘s duties at third, while Jones can take over for any of the three outfielders (with Gardner going to center when Granderson gets a day). That should help keep everyone fresh as the Yanks play 30 games in 30 days, including a doubleheader.

While the new DH platoon does pose some risks, it does provide a number of benefits. Chavez, while not projected to hit well, has produced while healthy. Posada has actually produced similar numbers as a left-handed hitter this season, but apparently the Yankees feel that Chavez is the better bet going forward. The gained flexibility is also a major benefit, since the Yankees are rather inflexible as currently constructed. The plan comes with a ready made backup, too, as Montero can slide into that spot if it becomes necessary. This move probably won’t pull the Yankees out of the bottom half of the league in DH production, but it figures to be something of an improvement over the current arrangement.

The Inflexible Roster

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The Yankees continued the long and painful process of phasing Jorge Posada out yesterday, informing their long-time catcher that his playing time will decrease because they need to put their best lineup on the field and he’s not a part of it. “[We’ll] try some different things [at DH],” said Joe Girardi before yesterday’s game, a pretty good indication that they’re going to rotate people in and out of the spot for the next few days and maybe weeks. That’s all well and good, but now the Yankees are working with a roster that offers very little flexibility.

Due to the team’s six-man rotation situation, the Yankees are currently carrying 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster, which means only three bench players. Before yesterday those three guys were Frankie Cervelli, Andruw Jones, and either Eduardo Nunez or Eric Chavez. Now it’s Cervelli, Jones, and Posada, basically a backup catcher/emergency infielder, a platoon outfielder, and a platoon DH. You can’t do anything with that, especially if the Yankees are committed to not playing Posada more than once or maybe twice a week.

“Eventually we will probably get to 12 pitchers,” said Girardi. “That will give our bench more versatility. We are not a club that necessarily pinch-hits a lot, we are not a club that has to make a double switch. The bench in the American League, the versatility isn’t used a ton. Our thought moving forward is that some of our guys’ day off will be DH days.”

I’m in favor of the six-man rotation, at least temporarily to give Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova innings at the big league level while CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia all get a little extra rest heading into the season’s final month and (potentially) the postseason. It’s going to hinder the roster construction but only if the Yankees let it. There’s no reason to carry all three of Hector Noesi, Luis Ayala, and Cory Wade on the roster, so send one down for an extra position player. Noesi is the easy choice there, let him start in Triple-A to build innings and what not. A six-man bullpen isn’t the end of the world.

The Yankees also have the option of using the phantom DL to open a roster, basically coming up with a fake injury. They did this to a certain extent with Lance Berkman last season, though that whole situation started with a legit injury. He hurt his ankle running through first base in Kansas City and was only going to miss a few days, but the Yankees placed him on the DL and kept him there for two weeks until Sept. 1st. Perhaps Jorge will feel something in his back during BP this week and needs some time off. It’s not the most ethical thing in the world, but teams do it all the time and the Yankees should at least consider it.

Roster spots are precious like outs in a game because there is a finite amount of them. The Yankees do a great job of not making outs, but right now their 25-man roster is completely inflexible. They’ve been shooting themselves in the foot by keeping the unproductive Posada around for this long, so they might as well hold onto him until the rosters expand in three weeks. He might still be useful as a veteran pinch-hitter against lefties, but that’s pretty much it. The roster right now is basically the regular starting nine, the rotation, three or four core relievers, and half a dozen 25th men. It’s tough to work with that.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 8th, 2011

Record Last Week: 5-2 (42 RS, 26 RA)
Season Record:
69-44 (603 RS, 436 RA, 74-39 pythag. record), one back of AL East lead, seven up for wildcard
Opponents This Week:
Mon. OFF, vs. Angels (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Rays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

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