Saturday Open Thread

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

The Yankees got themselves a win as well as a new pitcher today. Carlos Silva isn’t great or even good for that matter, but Phil Hughes has been awful and Kevin Millwood apparently looks like crap in Extended Spring Training, so it’s good to add the depth. Anyway, here’s the open thread for the night. You’ve got baseball all over the place due to the Extra Innings free preview, plus the Islanders are playing their last game of the season. If you feel like scoreboard watching, keep an eye on the Hurricanes and Lightning; anything but a Canes’ win gets the (NY) Rangers into the playoffs. Talk about whatever your heart desire, go nuts.

Site Notes: Please consider participating in our 2011 Pledge Drive … Also, please take our completely anonymous reader demographic survey if you haven’t already … Lastly, please vote for Alex Kresovich’s “The Return” track for the NBA2K12 by clicking “Like” on Facebook. Alex put together the intro music for our podcast.

The Chavez-Rodriguez-Posada connection

One of the downsides to Wednesday’s rainout against Minnesota in New York was that fans were prevented from getting their first glimpse of the new Yankee bench, particularly Eric Chavez. Fortunately Chavez got the nod today at DH and took advantage. As of post time, Chavez was 3 for 4 with two doubles, an RBI and a run. Brian Cashman signed Chavez this offseason to be a backup infielder, and his role on the team is to stay healthy and spell Rodriguez at 3B whenever Alex needs a day off. He can also DH, a role he took on today against Boston. When the Yankees signed Chavez, some criticized the move based on his extensive injury history. It’s hard to argue with these critics. Click here to navigate to Baseball Prospectus’ player card for Chavez (free for non-subscribers), and scroll down to his Injury History. It’s incredible. Regardless, no one can deny the fact that Chavez managed to stay healthy throughout Spring Training and now occupies a role on the 2011 New York Yankees. Indeed, not only is Chavez healthy but Mark Prior is currently healthy as well. Cats, dogs, living together as one. Presuming Chavez can stay healthy enough to play 1 or 2 games a week an interesting question arises: are the Yankees better on the days in which Chavez plays 3B and Rodriguez DHs than they are on the days in which Rodriguez plays 3B and Posada DHs? The answer is no, but it’s probably closer than most realize.

There are two questions that must be answered. The first is how much value the club receives, if any, by replacing Rodriguez on the field with Chavez. Chavez has long had the reputation of being a defensive wizard. As Mike noted when the Yankees brought him to camp on a minor-league deal, his best days in Oakland were days of double-digit UZRs at the hot corner. Now, whether some of this defensive skill has eroded over time due to injury, age or loss of flexibility remains to be seen. It’s logical that he won’t be as agile as he’s been in the past, or have the same arm strength. He at least has the pedigree. Rodriguez, on the other hand, doesn’t grade out particularly well at 3B. He’s shown increased mobility this spring, likely due to his hip injury finally healing all the way, but even before that they only time he showed a positive UZR at 3B was in 2004. Every year since then the grades have been below-average. This isn’t a case in which the defensive metrics disagree with what fans see, like how UZR and fans disagree on Teixeira. Most fans would likely agree that Rodriguez’s defensive pedigree is more or less average. Certainly none would label Rodriguez a plus defender. In the past, Chavez has been a plus defender. If he’s able to regain some of that defensive form at third, it’s likely going to be a bit of a defensive upgrade when Chavez is in the game.

The second question is how much value the club loses, if any, by replacing Posada at the plate with Chavez. In his heyday, Chavez was a very productive hitter. From 2000 to 2004 (arbitrary start/endpoint alert) Chavez hit .280/.357/.513, averaging exactly 30 home runs per year. Unfortunately, his offensive production and his ability to stay healthy started to decline after that. In 2005 and 2006 Chavez put together an OPS of .791. This would be the last time Chavez would play over 100 games, and since then his inconsistent health has prevented him from getting back on solid offensive ground. He is fully healthy, for now, but it remains difficult to know what to expect from him offensively. His playing-time adjusted PECOTA projection is .231/.300/.379, a line that not-coincidentally mirrors his 2010 line of .234/.276/.333. Marcel has him at .237/.292/.365. Given how these systems are constructed, weighting past performance heavily, such a pessimistic projection isn’t at all surprising. Yet, there’s considerable upside there. As Mike put it back in March, the number one question is the health:

His 3-or-3 effort in yesterday’s game bumped his admitted small (18 PA) spring line to .471/.500/.529, and based on the radio broadcasts, many of his outs have been hard hit as well…

Anyway, as good as the early camp stats are, the bat really isn’t the question with Chavez. I mean yeah, it kinda is since he’s hit just .233/.290/.399 in 628 plate appearances spread out over the last four seasons, but the biggest challenge he has to overcome is his health.

Chavez has a gigantic platoon split. In his career against lefties he has batted .237/.305/.392, but he’s hammered righties to the tune of .279/.359/.514. While no one expects him to regain his .875 OPS form, if he’s used exclusively against righties it perhaps wouldn’t be a surprise to see him settle in around .750. For his part, Jorge Posada can likely outproduce that by a decent margin. He’s a lifetime .855 OPS hitter and doesn’t have to bear the physical toll of catching this year. Posada can focus exclusively on his craft. He’s slumping right now, and spent today’s game on the bench, but would anyone be surprised if he cleared his 2010 OPS of .811 in 2011? It’s a reasonable bet that Posada will outproduce Chavez at the plate this year. By how much largely depends on proper usage (Chavez should face only RHP), whether the two of them will stay healthy, and whether Chavez’s lefty swing can take advantage of the dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

Ultimately this is a moot point. It’s not as if Chavez is going to suddenly supplant Rodriguez as the every day third baseman, forcing Rodriguez to the DH position and Posada to a bench role. However, thanks to his past defensive prowess and skill against right-handed pitchers Chavez has the potential to be better than your average defensive replacement. Yankee fans have become accustomed to bench players who either can’t hit (Pena, Nunez) or can’t field (Thames). In Chavez the team has a guy with the potential to do a little of both. Of course, potential has always been and will always be the operative word with Eric Chavez. But hey, hope springs eternal.

Note: I’ve had this post in the hopper all week. As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m well aware that it probably looks like I wrote it in the past hour after Chavez’s big day today. You’ll just have to take my word for it :)

Yankees sign Carlos Silva

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees have signed Carlos Silva to a minor league contract that has an opt-out date. The Cubbies are on the hook for his entire 2011 salary after releasing him ($11.5M), so the only thing the Yankees will have to pay him in the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. The Yanks, says Sherman, will send him down to extended Spring Training in Tampa in an effort to ” get [him] in shape” before shipping him off to a farm club.

Late last month we heard that the team had no plans to pursue the right-hander, but apparently they changed their mind (probably after seeing Phil Hughes‘ awful start to the season). Larry Rothschild was his pitching coach in Chicago, so I’m sure he had some input here. I’m not a Silva fan because of the whole pitch to contact thing, but I’m not going to complain about a deal that costs the team next to nothing. The depth doesn’t hurt.

Game Eight: Super Nova

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yesterday’s loss was frustrating but that’s life. Games like that happen over the course of a season. The Yankees managed to score five runs without the benefit of a homer and non-Phil Hughes/Boone Logan pitchers kept the Red Sox bats at bay. Those are pretty much the only positives.

The ball goes to Ivan Nova today, who is facing most of Boston’s hitters for the first time. He made one start and one relief appearance against the Sox last year, but the only holdovers from those lineups that are starting today are J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, and Jed Lowrie. Like most pitchers, Nova thrives on facing batters than haven’t seen him before, but then again this Boston lineup isn’t filled with normal hitters. Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis … those are stars of the first order, it might not matter that they’ve never seem before.

Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Eric Chavez, DH
Russell Martin, C

Ivan Nova, SP

It’s a 1:10pm ET start, and the game will be broadcast by FOX. Two FOX games in the first two weeks of the season just isn’t cool, man. Try to enjoy the game.

Yankees Attendance No Catastrophe

The following post is written for commenter Ross in Jersey, who told me he would donate $1 for every Tex RBI to the RAB Pledge Drive if I wrote an entire article without periods or ending punctuation and still had it make sense, and I figured  the flame comments I’d get from people lacking in reading comprehension were a small price to pay for helping inner city kids

"It's April, so I can only hit home runs when 40,000 no ones are here" (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

One of the reasons the Yankees are such amazing winners is that they have the financial power to make up for a lacking farm or surround the farm talent with high-powered free agents like CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, and one of the places that that virtually unlimited cash flow comes from are the droves and droves of fans that pour through the gates of Yankee stadium to see these people play – the “Yankee Universe,” as it’s been coined by the Yankees organization, is one of, if not the biggest fan following in professional sports, and plenty of fans are at home ready to shell out cash, hop on a subway, train, car or bus and head to the House that Ruth (or perhaps Jeter, nowadays) Built, and people take notice when the seats aren’t filled in the stadium in the Bronx – no matter what the reason is for that and regardless of the numbers that count or the rest of the stadiums around the country, and quite frankly, the attention that has been drawn to the record-setting lows in the new stadium (sounds scary now, huh?) is pretty absurd

The record-setting low that was set for attendance in Yankee Stadium 3 was 40,267 – only 40,267, really – and that seems like a decent number of fans to turn out for one game in any sport, in any organization, and keep in mind, it doesn’t matter to the Yankees how many people actually show up to a game, just how many people buy tickets, because even if you make the stadium look empty on TV (and on a cold day, Legends needs no help with that, zing), you’re still contributing to the massive Yankees cash flow, and honestly the bottom line is all that matters when we get down to the nitty gritty of the whole thing, because looking embarrasing on TV does not pay Mark Teixeira, but buying a season ticket package and deciding not to go to a game does

Those people with season tickets who decided not to come are not, by default, Yankee haters, nor does that make them terrible fans, especially because a usual April day in New York is chilly, with a cold breeze and often rain and the third game of the year has no leverage for people to brave the weather to show up, such as is the case during Opening Day – that record low was set on a cold (average 49°F, with a low of 41°F), rainy, windy day – just the kind of day no one wants to be outside for an extended period of time for, and if you have season tickets and don’t mind blowing the money, the perfect day to skip a ballgame or StubHub your tickets, and unless you’re desperate to see the Yankees, no one on StubHub is flying to pick up tickets for such a miserable day, and that’s really what it comes down to after all – people go to ballgames to have fun, after all, and sometimes the weather just makes having fun impossible, and so there’s no reason to show up

For a little perspective on the matter, a table:

Obviously, small sample size applies, but all of these teams have played two different teams at home, and I’m fairly sure that the oh-so-terrible showing of 40,267 fans will not lead the Yankees to become bottom feeders or force them to start shedding salary – what matters to the team’s wallet is how many tickets are sold, not how many people show up, and the wallet is the most important part of an organization that uses its massive financial might to help itself win

Moral of the story: no one likes going to a baseball game when it’s miserable out, even if your team is amazing, even fewer people are interested in low-leverage April games that happen to fall on those miserable days, and the Yankees, once again, have the power to make something that means absolutely nothing newsworthy