Game 73: Then & Now

Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello, AP

Yeah yeah yeah. Joe Torre, Don Mattingly, blah blah blah. I know all about that stuff. You know what I like least about this series? Manny frickin’ Ramirez. I just stopped having nightmares about the guy, and even though my therapist thinks I should avoid this series because it might cancel out all the progress I’ve made since he was traded to the NL in mid-2008, I’m going to gut it out anyway. Friggin’ Manny, just can’t get away from that guy.

Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Swisher, RF
Gardner, LF
Sabathia, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 10:10pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Open Thread: The RAB Mailbag

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP

We’re going to try something new here, the RAB Mailbag. It’s exactly what you think it is. Send us questions either via email or through the Submit the Tip box under The Montero Watch, and we’ll pick the best and answer them once a week or whatever it ends up being. It’s a trial and error thing, we’ll figure it out as we go. If some questions require a longer, in-depth post, we can certainly do that too.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing the Twins, and there’s another game on MLB Network, but who you see depends on where you live. Clemson and South Carolina play at 9pm ET (on ESPN2) in the College World Series; it’s an elimination game for USC, and if Clemson wins they advance to the finals. UCLA and TCU are finishing up their game (on ESPN2 as well) as we speak. If UCLA wins, they go to the finals. The regular game thread will be up later, so kick it here until then.

Olney: Non-Cliff Lee pieces are a good fit for the Yankees

The trade rumor circuit is starting to pick up the pace, but as much as we might want to see Cliff Lee in pinstripes, Buster Olney says the Yankees just aren’t focusing on him right now. Despite Javy Vazquez‘s early season suckiness and A.J. Burnett‘s more recent suckiness, the Yanks’ starters have still pitched to a 4.22 xFIP this season, the third best mark in the league. Their ERA is even shinier at 3.82. At this point, Lee is nothing more than a luxury. Another bullpen arm and some bench help should be higher up on the priority list.

Link Dump: Yanks-Dodgers, Hughes, Torre

Just a few things to get you by while Mike chats the afternoon away.

More Yanks-Dodgers World Series

As we highlighted yesterday, Matt Bouffard at Fack Youk is running down the Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchups. He continues that today, picking up with the 1953 series. He then continues to 1955, and 1956. All are excellent reads.

Phil Hughes working in favorable counts

Moshe points to a Hardball Times article that breaks down counts into ones that favor the hitter and ones that favor the pitcher. They’re all pretty intuitive, and they pass the numbers test too. While the first pitch remains neutral, pitchers have 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, 0-1, and 1-1, while hitters have 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, 2-0, 3-1, and 3-0. It turns out that while Cliff Lee has seen the most favorable counts this year, Phil Hughes comes in right behind him. He’s had the count in his favor in 53.9 percent of his plate appearances. It’s no wonder he’s pitching so well.

Torre moments and the divorce

At, Bronx Banter’s Cliff Corcoran lists 10 signature Torre moments. The last three are not pretty, I’ll warn you, though the first few make up for them. Meanwhile, over at the four-letter, Buster Olney explains the Yankees’ rift with Torre. It comes down to the book, it seems. The Yankees think he’s a hypocrite. It seems like no reunion is forthcoming, but we know that can change. This front office won’t be in place forever, and chances are when regimes change so will the organizational stance towards Torre. He meant too much to the organization over the years for them to forever snub him.

RAB Live Chat

Possible trade target: David DeJesus

The Yankees boast a .361 OBP and a .355 wOBA as a team, the best and second best marks in baseball, respectively, but they still seem to be one bat short. Part of the problem is the underperforming Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, but Nick Johnson‘s absence (.388 OBP before getting hurt) hurts as well. There have been rumors that the Yanks will look to acquire another hitter before next month’s trade deadline, and that it could be a versatile outfielder. We’ve already looked at a pair of possible bench options in Jeff Keppinger and Ty Wigginton, and now it’s time to look at a potential every day player: David DeJesus.

Photo Credit: Nick Wass, AP

Over the last two seasons, perhaps no player has been linked to the Yankees in speculative rumors more than DeJesus, and I’ve never quite figured out why. He was born in Brooklyn but raised in New Jersey, and I remember him having a pretty big series in the Bronx a few seasons back, but that’s pretty much the only connection I can find. Then again, the Yankees were in need of a young and productive outfielder for quite a few years there, so he made sense.

The 30-year-old DeJesus is enjoying the finest season of his career this year, already racking up 2.3 WAR in the team’s first 73 games (five win pace). His .325/.394/.482 batting line (.383 wOBA) represents career highs across the board and not not by small margins either, though a BABIP 41 points over his established career baseline is certainly helping things out. DeJesus has shown a pretty significant platoon split in his career (.319 wOBA vs. LHP, .358 vs. RHP), though it’s not as pronounced as say, Curtis Granderson‘s. For what it’s worth, ZiPS rest of the projection calls for a .297/.369/.451 batting line (.360 wOBA) the rest of the way, which represents a career year.

Defensively, DeJesus can play all three outfield spots, though he’s at his best in left (+18.9 UZR/150 career) and is basically average in center (-1.2) and right (+0.1). This year is the first time he’s played right on basically an every day basis, though he doesn’t really have the arm strength typically associated with the position. Regardless, he’s no worst than a league average defensive outfielder on a full-time basis.

Baserunning is a different matter, because DeJesus is a shockingly bad basestealer. He’s not Robbie Cano bad, but bad enough. He’s just 18-for-38 in stolen base attempts over the last three years, which is an unacceptable 47.4% success rate. I know some people don’t like the word unacceptable, but I think it absolutely applies in this situation. If you aren’t a good basestealer, you simply stop trying to steal bases. Easy fix, end of story. The good news is that DeJesus is a very good baserunner in all other baserunning situations (moving up on grounders, going first-to-third, etc.), having been worth 8.34 runs above average in those spots since 2008.

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga, AP

As for the cash money, DeJesus is owed about $2.6M the rest of this season, and there’s a $6M option for his services in 2011 with a $500,000 buyout. He’s currently projected to be a Type-B free agent, but he’s very close to Type-A status (exactly one point away) and could conceivably play his way there in the second half. Remember that every dollar the Yankees spend is actually $1.40 because of the luxury tax, so the $3.1M he’s guaranteed becomes a $4.34M expense for the Yanks. If they pick up the option, it becomes more than a $12M expense. Hal Steinbrenner put his foot down with the budget last year, refusing to approve a trade for Mike Cameron because it would have added $5M to the payroll, and so far there hasn’t been any indication that he will budge this year.

The problem with DeJesus isn’t production, far from it. The money is an issue that the brain trust will have to consider, but there’s also the question of where exactly does he fit with the team? The Yankees already boast a tremendously productive starting outfield in Brett Gardner (2.0 WAR), Nick Swisher (2.3), and Granderson (1.4), so it’s not like DeJesus is going to come in and take one of those guys’ job. The designated hitter’s spot is, for all intents and purposes, open for the rest of the year because you can’t count on Johnson a) returning anytime soon, and b) staying healthy when he does return. I suppose a five headed outfield/designated hitter platoon monster of Gardner, Granderson, Swisher, DeJesus, and Marcus Thames could be employed, but when is the last time a team tried something crazy like that and it actually worked?

We still don’t know what the Royals will ask for in exchange their best outfielder, but they’re not going to just give him away given his age, production, and salary. Assuming the option is picked up, Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator pegs DeJesus’ trade value at $26.5M, which Victor Wang’s research says is basically equivalent to a top hitting prospect, or a top pitching prospect and a lesser prospect. If you want to start piecing together Grade-B and C prospects, you’re talking three players minimum. If Kansas City were to kick in any money in the deal, that’s just more you’d have to surrender in terms of young players.

This post isn’t intended to say whether or not the Yankees should look to go out and acquire DeJesus, I’m just presenting the information and explaining what the situation is. There’s no denying that he’s an above average every day player, but there are very real cost issues – in terms of both money and players – that need to be addressed, plus the entire playing time situation.

The Yanks sure can hit lefties

It seems like 10 years ago, but it hasn’t been so long since the Yankees’ offense had trouble against left-handed pitching. In fact, it was one of the defining characteristics of the late-00s teams. As the years passed and the pitching staffs got worse, the problem got worse. In 2004, for example, the team allowed almost five runs per game, but the offense was good enough to bludgeon opponents. While they had a .798 OPS against righties, they excelled against lefties, an .843 OPS.

In 2006 that started to change. While the team hit lefties very well, an .800 OPS, they hit righties better. This wasn’t a huge deal, mainly because of the high mark against lefties. Yet it was strange that they had hit righties better. They hadn’t done that in three years. Matters got worse in 2007, when they posted a .789 OPS against lefties against a .844 mark against righties. This was good, in that they killed the pitchers they faced most often. But those times facing lefties, 27 percent of the season’s plate appearances, they just didn’t fare as well.

The issue came to a head in 2008. The offense was down in general, a .769 OPS for the season. Yet against lefties they hit very poor, a .734 team OPS. They also faced lefties more often, in 30 percent of the season’s plate appearances. This was made worse because the two prominent left-handed hitters in the lineup, Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, both hit lefties very well. It was everyone else who flailed and faltered against them. Yet at season’s end neither was asked to come back.

Despite featuring many of the worst culprits of the lefty deficit in 2009, the Yankees as a team hit them much better. Not only that they hit them better than righties. Yankees hitters again faced lefties in 30 percent of their plate appearances, posting a .846 OPS. They had a .837 mark against righties last season. No longer could teams line up their middling lefties to face the Yankees and expect dominance. With a lineup featuring four switch-hitters and two lefty-killing left-handed hitters, the Yankees were up to the task.

This year we’re seeing more of the same. The Yanks are down to three switch-hitters in the starting lineup, and actually started the season with four left-handed hitters. Despite that, they’ve posted an .814 OPS against lefties in 33 percent of their plate appearances. The mark against righties isn’t great, .796, but considering the league-wide offensive drought that’s still a very good mark. The AL as a whole has a .748 OPS against righties and a .723 mark against lefties. Part of the Yankees’ offensive success this year, it seems, is taking advantage when facing a lefty.

By 2009 the stereotype of the Yankees not hitting lefties had gotten old. We’d been hearing it for at least a couple of years, and it was frustrating by that point not only because we’d heard it so often, but because it was true. That all changed last year. The new additions hit lefties very well, and continue to do so. It might not seem of great importance, since it covers around 30 percent of plate appearances, but considering how much better than the league the Yankees hit lefties, I think it is definitely an important part of the offense.