Should the Yankees move Cano up in the order?

(AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Despite down years from Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees still boasted one of the game’s best offenses in 2010. In fact, they led the league in OBP (.350, by nine points), wOBA (.347), and wRC+ (115), leading to an MLB-leading 859 runs scored, so yeah, I guess we should just come out and say they were the best offense in the game in 2010. That’s thanks in part to an MVP caliber effort from Robbie Cano, who at age 27 hit .319/.381/.534 with 41 doubles and 29 homers, good for a .389 wOBA and a 145 wRC+.

Cano did all that after the team issued a challenge in Spring Training, giving him a bit more responsibility by moving him to the fifth spot in the order rather than the sixth or seventh he’d been hitting for the last half-decade. No longer was he considered a complementary piece, the Yankees wanted to Cano to step up and become one of their cornerstones. He obviously responded quite well and now maybe it’s time to issue another challenge: should he be moved up again?

No, I’m not talking about batting him cleanup or even third, I mean letting him hit second in 2011. Mark Teixeira and/or Alex Rodriguez would not be displaced in this alignment, not that they should have any control over the matter. This of course assumes that Derek Jeter will leadoff, and frankly we have no reason to suspect he won’t right now. Just like everything else, there are both pros and cons for moving Cano up to the two-hole, so let’s go through them both…

The Case For

Perhaps the biggest reason to move Cano up to second is to simply get him more at-bats. Last year American League number two hitters came to the plate 10,376 times compared to 9,638 times for number five hitters. That’s a 7.7% difference, and although it sounds small, it’s the difference between getting Cano 600 plate appearances and 646 plate appearances. Yankees’ number two hitters received 9.5% more plate appearances than number five hitters in 2010, so the difference is even more substantial on a team-specific level. Robbie’s clearly one of the team’s best hitters, so you want him to come to the plate as often as possible.

"I'm this many times better than every other second baseman." (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Another reason is to “optimize the lineup,” so to speak. Traditionally, the number two hitter is supposed to be someone that can “handle the bat” while number three hitter is supposed to be the best hitter on the team, however The Book showed that the best hitter should actually bat second. The reason is that the number two hitter comes to the plate in situations that are just as important as the number three hitter’s, but he does so with greater frequency. Another reason is because the number two hitter tends to bat with the bases empty more often than the three-hole hitter, so he can help start rallies by batting earlier. The Yankees are fortunate enough to have several fantastic hitters, so moving Cano into the two-hole creates more opportunities for Tex and A-Rod to drive in runs. With Brett Gardner (presumably) batting ninth and Jeter first, Robbie will still have a ton of RBI opportunities himself.

A lesser benefit is that it splits up the lefties at the bottom of the order, something Joe Girardi always tries to do. Separating Cano and Curtis Granderson by one batter is one thing, since the opposing team could always have their lefty specialist walk the righty batter sandwiched between them, but with three or four hitters between them it’s a different story. Maybe this doesn’t matter since Cano traditionally kills lefties (.366 wOBA vs. LHP over the last four years), but anything that makes life more difficult for the opposing manager is okay in my book.

The Case Against

The case against moving Cano up in the order is pretty simple: if it ain’t broke, why fix it? He was an MVP candidate while hitting fifth in 2010, so why screw around with it and potentially ruin a good thing? Well, it’s a very simplistic view, because Cano was also extremely productive as (primarily) a seventh place hitter in 2009, but moving him up made him even better. Sticking him between Gardner and Jeter on the front end with Tex and Alex behind him could bring about another level production, who knows. If it doesn’t work out, moving Robbie back to fifth is as easy as writing a name on a lineup card.

Another thing to consider is protection for A-Rod, but this probably won’t be much of an issue. At least not as much as it is made out to be, anyway. The Yankees could simply plug Nick Swisher or Jorge Posada or Granderson into that five-hole and nary miss a beat. Personally I’d go with Swish in that spot, but that’s just me. No, they won’t produce like Cano did in 2010, but they’re not going to embarrass themselves back there.

The double play component can’t be ignored either. Cano has grounded into no fewer than 18 double plays in his five full seasons, including 19 last year. Only Miguel Tejada, Albert Pujols, Michael Young, Yadier Molina, Derek Jeter, and Carlos Lee have more GIDP’s over the last five years. Hitting second will give Robbie the opportunity to kill just as many rallies as he can extend, which is more than he would be able to as a five-hole hitter.

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The thing to remember is that the batting order really doesn’t have as big of an impact as we think it does, unless the manager does something stupid like bat his two worst hitters first and second and his two best eighth and ninth. As I said earlier, the Yankees have enough great hitters than Joe Girardi could pick the batting order out of a hat and still trot out one of the best offenses in the game, so Cano’s spot isn’t of paramount importance. A little optimization never hurt anyone though, and sliding Robbie up so that’s he’s starting rallies for Tex and A-Rod instead of cleaning up their leftovers is most likely what’s best for the team over the course of 162 games, and I’m for all for it.

Report: Yankees “stepping up” pursuit of Duchscherer

(Elaine Thompson/AP)

It appears as though the Yankees have found a target to help fill one of their pitching vacancies. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Yankees “are stepping up their pursuit” of right-hander Justin Duchscherer. We’ve seen the Yankees and Duchscherer connected before, at the 2009 trade deadline and then again last off-season. With a couple of questionable spots in the rotation, plus the perpetual need for bullpen arms, Duchscherer could fill a number of roles on the 2011 Yankees.

Duchscherer established himself as a quality relief pitcher from 2004 through 2007, when he produced a 3.69 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 256 innings. The A’s then decided to try him in the rotation, and it was for the most part a success. In 2008 he made 22 starts and pitched 141.2 innings to a 2.54 ERA (3.69 FIP). Unfortunately, that’s when injuries started to take hold.

During the 2008 season Duchscherer missed 62 days due to injury, 21 with a biceps strain and 41 with a right hip strain. The hip was the most problematic issue, since he had missed much of the 2007 issue after undergoing surgery on his labrum (similar to Alex Rodriguez). Duchscherer then missed the entire 2009 season after having bone spurs removed from his elbow. He returned to open the 2010 season in the A’s rotation, but after five starts he again needed hip surgery, this time on the left side.

Because of the injuries, and particularly because of his hip issues, it’s hard to imagine Duchscherer making much of an impact in 2011. While he has experience in the bullpen he apparently prefers to start, though for good reason. He suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and finds that the uncertainty of bullpen life worsens the condition. Considering his physical issues with starting, I’m not sure how well he fits here. Then again, with his combination of issues I’m not sure how well he fits anywhere.

We’ve yet to see anything regarding terms of a potential deal, but I’ll echo Larry from Yankeeist: there is no way this comes in a dime higher than the $1.75 million Duchscherer made last year, and could certainly be a split minor league/major league deal. I like Duchscherer and I think if healthy he can be an effective fourth starter on the team. But that’s a rather large if. The Yanks have the money, so they might as well go ahead, but I wouldn’t expect much from this move, much as I want to.

Jones v. Thames: The fourth outfielder battle

This won't make Great Moments in Yankee History. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Game 1 of the 1996 World Series was a shocking one for the Yanks and their fans. After a 15-year wait, the Bombers were back in the Fall Classic, but the Braves knocked around Andy Pettitte. Some 19-year-old kid named Andruw Jones stole the show as he belted a two-run home run in the second inning and added a three-run shot off of Brian Boehringer in the third. The Yanks would go on to lose the game 12-1, and with his glove and bat, Jones earned himself comparisons to both Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

Over the years, Jones almost lived up to his potential, but he never took baseball as seriously as he should have. In his age 28 and age 29 seasons, he hit 51 and 41 home runs respectively, and after 10 full seasons in the league, he had a .267/.345/.505 triple slash line with 342 home runs and over 1,000 RBIs. Those are the makings of a Hall of Fame-like career.

Since then, though, Jones’ production has dropped precipitously. He signed a two-year, $36.2 million contract with the Dodgers and couldn’t last in Los Angeles. Over the past four seasons, he’s averaged 104 games with a slash line of just .212/.312/.412 and has managed to add just 65 home runs to his total since then. He’ll turn 34 shortly after Opening Day, and he remains a free agent.

Throughout the winter, the Yankees have been intrigued by Andruw Jones. They realize his defense has declined along with his bat, and in fact, his once-mighty UZR now ranks him as merely an average player in the field. Yet, they see one number that intrigues them. In 102 plate appearances against lefties, Jones hit eight home runs in 2010 and sported a nifty .402 wOBA. With Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner vulnerable to lefties, the Yanks want a power right-handed bat who can play the field if need be. Jones, on their radar in 2009, might once again be there man, and the team is strongly interested in him.

Should Thames return in 2011? (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

But what of the incumbent? Another 34-year-old with suspect defense held down the righty bat/fourth outfielder spot last year with mixed results. He certainly couldn’t play the field, but Marcus Thames broke out the boomstick at the right time. He hit .288/.350/.491 with 12 home runs in 237 plate appearances, and his .365 wOBA was just .005 off his career high. Against lefties, though, his numbers dipped. He hit just five home runs in 142 plate appearances and sported a .354 wOBA.

So now, as the Yanks look to fill in the blanks before Spring Training, the question becomes “who would you rather?” After running down these numbers, it might be tempting to lean toward Thames. He was productive against both lefties and righties last year and put up a career year, but his .248/.311/.491 body of work suggest that he’s not in line to do it again. They don’t call ’em career years for nothing. We also don’t need to know Thames’ -4.3 UZR to know he was a disaster in the outfield. That game against the Red Sox during which he just flat-out dropped a pop-up is good enough for me.

Perhaps then Jones with his .261/.361/.501 career line against lefties is the Yanks’ man. He can play a passable outfield for a few innings and can still flash the power. But salary demands are a concern. He’ll want way more than the $500,000 he earned in 2010, but Thames will want a raise from the $900,000 he earned. It seems that Jones will be the more expensive sure thing while Thames has the good will of 2010 going for them. With the Yanks’ money to spend, I’d err toward Jones. Would you?


Steinbrenner statement on the passing of Christina Green

As the tragic and horrific events of Saturday unfolded, we heard of a Yankee tie early on. ESPN’s Keith Law reported that Christina Green, the nine-year-old who died in the attack, was Dallas Green’s granddaughter, and on Sunday, the one-time Yankee manager opened up to Mike Lupica. Today, the Yankees issued their own statement in support of Green and his family. “The Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees organization join the entire nation in mourning Christina and send our deepest condolences to Dallas Green and his family as they deal with this tremendous loss,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “This is a tragedy that is beyond words and our thoughts and prayers are with the Green family, as well as all of the affected families.”

Open Thread: So long, Sax

Melido! (AP Photo/James A. Finley)

My new thing is looking back at historical transactions, so sue me. Anyway, 18 years ago today the Yankees traded Steve Sax to the White Sox for three players: Melido Perez, Bob Wickman, and Domingo Jean. Sax’s three seasons in New York were productive (102 OPS+, two All Star Games), but he was on the downside of his career at (soon-to-be) age 32. Sure enough, he played full-time for just one more season (71 OPS+) before fading off into obscurity.

Perez, just 25 at the time, spent the 1991 season as Chicago’s swingman, but he moved right into the Yanks’ rotation in ’92. He threw 247.2 IP that year, easily the best season of his career (138 ERA+). Three seasons later (another 383.2 IP with a 92 ERA+) he was out of baseball. Wickman was a middling prospect that pitched to a 106 ERA+ in 419.1 IP in pinstripes, and was traded to the Brewers in August of ’96 for what amounted to Graeme Lloyd. He had himself a nice long big leaguer career, banking over $42M with five different teams. Jean was just an A-ball prospect at the time, but he reached the big leagues in 1993 and pitched to a 94 ERA+ in 40.1 IP for the Yanks. That was the only major league action of his career, and he was traded to the Astros after the season for Xavier Hernandez.

The Yankees were the big winners of this swap, though from what I remember people either absolutely loved Steve Sax or hated him with a passion. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember there being much of a middle ground.

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Here’s tonight’s open thread. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in action, but the National Championship game (Oregon-Auburn) is on ESPN at 8:30pm ET. I’m going to pick the Ducks just because it’s a cooler mascot than a lame old tiger. Chat about whatever, enjoy.

Putting a dollar value on the Yankees farm system

Prospects are great, we all love to follow their progress and stuff, but it’s always tough to gauge their value. It’s even tougher to gauge the value of a team’s farm system as a whole. Doug Gray at Reds Minor Leagues did just that however, using Victor Wang’s research and John Sickels’ latest round of farm system rankings to put a dollar value on each team’s far system. The Yankees check in at $140.8M, the sixth highest in the game. Interestingly, it’s split almost evenly between pitching and hitting, at $71.5M and $69.3M, respectively. Jesus Montero really has that much value, at least compared to his peers historically.

Unsurprisingly, the Royals top the list at a ridiculous $245.3M. The Rays are a distant second at $184.2M, but that doesn’t include the haul from the recent Matt Garza trade. I just wrote about the fantasy impact of Kansas City’s system at RotoGraphs, and it’s probably the best farm system I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve been doing this minor league thing long, but damn. It’s that good.

The RAB Radio Show: January 10, 2011

Today we’re taking my post on the Yankees and Red Sox free agency spending and expanding on it a bit. I left a couple of items out, including posting fees, so Mike and I discuss those issues and others. The best part, of course, is why the Yankees have spent so much more in free agency over the last five years.

To keep up with the news, we revisit the Rafael Soriano topic for the millionth time. It seems as though people are trying to concoct different ways to get him on the team. Mike and I wonder, do they even want him in the first place?

Podcast run time 22:40

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