Another measure of Teixeira’s defense

(Kathy Willens/AP)

When the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira in December of 2008, it meant two upgrades for the Yankees. The first came on offense, where Teixeira’s bat would represent an improvement over the aging Jason Giambi. In his final two Yankees seasons Giambi’s numbers dropped a bit, and he came to bat only 868 times in those two seasons. Teixeira would bring not only a superior bat, but also durability. But the most significant upgrade came on defense. Giambi was known as a statue before he even signed his $120 million contract. Teixeira was considered one of the game’s premier defensive first basemen. I can’t count the number of times I said, “I sure is nice to have a real first baseman” in 2009.

Defensive metrics did not agree with what Teixeira’s reputation, and what our eyes, told us. In 2009 Teixeira produced a 0.9 UZR, which ranked him 12th in the majors. That might not have been as ridiculous sounding had Miguel Cabrera not finished with a 3.5 UZR, fifth in the majors. Much as our eyes can deceive us, I don’t think that they deceive us to the level it would require for Cabrera to be a better defensive first baseman than Teixeira. After the 2009 season I recall a lot of ill feelings towards UZR, because of Teixeira’s situation specifically. The stats did not match what our eyes told us, and so we blamed the stats.

In 2010 UZR ranked Teixeira a bit worse. He finished with a -2.9 UZR, 14th in the majors. There might have been a number of good defensive first basemen ahead of him, but it’s doubtful that he finished more than a win worse than, for instance, Ike Davis. Maybe Teixeira isn’t the league’s best defensive first basemen, but after watching him for over 150 games in each of the last two years, and watching him frequently enough during his pre-Yankees seasons, I’m fairly confident that he ranks in the top five.

While UZR is still a widely used defensive metric, it does contain flaws. Almost all defensive metrics will, since we’re still figuring out how to best quantify defense. Perhaps the most aggressive in the pursuit of fielding knowledge is Baseball Prospectus’s Colin Wyers. He has spearheaded BP’s effort to create a more effective defensive stat, and after reading a number of his columns on the topic I see his point. With observation stats such as UZR and DRS there can exist significant range bias. Total Zone, the fielding stat used on Baseball Reference, takes the observation out and instead uses the play-by-play logs to determine defensive value. It’s here that Teixeira excels.

FanGraphs just added Total Zone (with location) data for the 2010 season, so we can see where he ranks compared to his peers. Surprisingly to UZR, but unsurprisingly to Yankees fans, Teixeira finished with a 13 TZL, which ranks him second in the majors. The only first baseman to finish better was Daric Barton, and we know he’s a top-notch first baseman. In 2009 he had a 10.1 TZL, which ranked fifth. But instead of sitting behind Miguel Cabrera (-4.4), he was behind only Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Helton, and Lyle Overbay. That’s a list a bit easier to accept.

This isn’t necessarily an indictment of UZR. After all, the correlation between UZR and TZL in 2010 was .75, so they’re pretty close to one another. What it makes me wonder more than anything is why UZR views Tex so differently. Barton, for instance, led the league in both TZL and UZR. Of the players with worse than -1 UZR, all but two — Tex and Todd Helton — also had a negative TZL. What about Tex’s game causes UZR to rate him so poorly relative to what we see? I don’t have an answer, but I do hope that this sheds a little light on current defensive metrics. Maybe UZR isn’t flawed for everyone. Maybe its biases affect different players in different ways.

The Almighty RBI

Amazingly, all 1,831 of A-Rod's career RBI's have come in blowouts. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Runs batted in is one of baseball’s oldest and most sacred stats. It tells us how effective a player is at capitalizing on run scoring opportunities, driving in his teammates when they’re out on the bases like ducks on a pond. Except it doesn’t really do that, at least not with the proper context, anyway. It doesn’t tell us about the situation, how the runner was driven in, how many opportunities a batter has had to drive in a run, nothing. It’s a just a raw counting stat devoid of important information.

If we’re going to resort to using RBI, the best way to do so is with a rate stat, just like batting average or K/9. It’s actually pretty amazing that they used a rate stat for batting average back in the day but not for RBI. I guess it wasn’t easy to keep track of RBI opportunities back then, but it shows that the grandfathers of the sport and statistical record understand that a rate stat was the way to go. Despite that, the stat has remain unchanged for the last century.

The table on the right has RBI opportunities and conversion rate for 2010 Yankees with at least 200 plate appearances, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus. This is the number of times a player drove in one of his teammates, so it doesn’t count the times he drove himself in with a homer. The league average RBI rate among batters with at least 200 plate appearances (345 qualified hitters) was 14.3% in 2010, with a standard deviation of 2.89%. The top RBI man in baseball last year was (wait for it) Ryan Hanigan of the Reds, who drove in 23.3% of runners on base. He only had 243 plate appearances due to injury though, so if we limit it to guys that played essentially a full season, the leader was Carlos Gonzalez at 22.1%. A-Rod was third, and then you had Pedro Alvarez and Delmon Young at 20.1% and 20.0%, respectively. There’s a few players in between A-Rod and those two, but they’re all right at 200 PA.

So this data is great, it’s certainly more useful than straight up RBI, but how stable is it? Does RBI rate fluctuate wildly from year to year like BABIP tends to do, or is a repeatable skill like say, drawing walks. I suspect it’s the former, but let’s look at some more data. Here’s the current Yankees that have played full-time over the last five years…

The rates for the individual players jump around quite a bit from year to year; the smallest gap between highest and lowest percentage is Nick Swisher at 2.4%. This isn’t much of a surprise, RBI’s almost always come on balls in play, so they’re just as prone to BABIP fluctuations as batting average.

Scoring runs and driving them in are obviously quite important, but the idea of an “RBI guy” is a fallacy. The best RBI guys in the game are the best hitters, period. Driving in runs requires the same set of skills – a) not make outs and to a slightly lesser extent, b) hitting for power – as hitting with the bases empty. If you can do those things, you’ll be productive no matter what kind of situations your presented. The Yankees were an above average RBI% team in 2010, and they will be going forward because they have some really awesome hitters in the lineup.

WFAN Breakfast Notes: Jeter, Joba, Andy, Misc.

(Photo Credit: Amanda Rykoff)

Brian Cashman held court at WFAN’s annual “Breakfast with a Champion” this morning, sitting down with Mike Francesa to discuss the state of the Yankees and field questions from the audience. Friend of RAB and espnW’s Amanda Rykoff tweeted the hell out of the breakfast, so I’ve rounded it all up for you. Cashman was tremendously candid and honest with his answers, sometimes brutally. I think we can all appreciate that. Let’s start with the major stuff…

  • Cashman said he’ll be surprised if Derek Jeter sticks at shortstop during all four years of his contract. He sees the Captain winding up in the outfield. If Jeter makes a successful transition to the outfield at his age, I’ll eat my hat.
  • “We’re one starter away from being a World Series contender,” said the GM. It’s hard to argue with that, they were two wins away from the Fall Classic last year and have improved every aspect of the team other than the rotation so far.
  • Ready for a bombshell? Cashman acknowledged that Joba Chamberlain has not been the same since his injury in Texas. It’s the first time anyone involved with the team has publicly discussed the issue even though it was quite obvious. Once again, he said there’s no chance Joba will start.
  • Still nothing new on Andy Pettitte, but Cashman did confirm that the lefty is working out to remain in baseball shape. Cash said his best case rotation scenario at this point has Andy coming back and Ivan Nova sliding down into the fifth starter’s spot.
  • Jorge Posada is the full-time designated hitter, and the starting catcher’s job will be an open competition in Spring Training. I think he means just like the fifth starter job was a competition last year.
  • Cashman said the Red Sox are the better team as of today, but the Yankees have a better bullpen. Part of me thinks that’s a little passive aggressive dig at ownership for Rafael Soriano. Cash called Mariano Rivera “the best Yankee he’s ever seen.”

I’m not so sure about that Jeter stuff, maybe he can fake left field for a year, but I think he’ll wind up at designated hitter if anything. The Joba stuff is pretty groundbreaking, but at least it gives us some closure to the whole “why isn’t he starting” thing. It also tells us that there is some level of concern about Joba’s health going forward.

Here’s the rest, but it’s just a bunch of smaller, miscellaneous items…

  • The Yankees use statistical analysis in combination with scouting reports, but you knew that already.
  • The in-game lineup is Joe Girardi‘s call, but Cashman does discuss it with him. Same deal with Joe Torre back in the day.
  • Cashman called Andruw JonesMarcus Thames with slightly better defense.” Slightly? I think the GM is either underselling Jones or giving Thames too much credit.
  • A.J. Burnett is well aware that his performance was a problem last year and is working hard to correct things.
  • Cash stated the obvious, saying the Yankees have a big advantage over other clubs because they can enjoy a strong farm system while having money to spend on free agents.
  • He also acknowledged that the media coverage in New York can wear you out.
  • “The higher up the tree the monkey climbs, the more you see of his ass.” I’m not quite sure what the means, but it made me laugh.

Options for the final bench spot

Aside from the whole starting pitching thing, the Yankees don’t have many needs left to address this offseason. The Andruw Jones pick up gave them that all important right-handed hitting outfielder, and the bullpen has been shored up and then some. Assuming the team rolls with a seven man bullpen, they’ll have four bench spots to play with and three of them are already accounted for. Jones is the fourth outfielder, Frankie Cervelli is the backup catcher, and either Eduardo Nunez or Ramiro Pena will be the reserve infielder. That last spot could do to a number of players already in-house, like Nunez/Pena, Greg Golson, Kevin Russo, Colin Curtis, or even Jordan Parraz.

If the Yankees honestly feel that Nunez can be an everyday big leaguer like they’ve been saying for the last year, then they should let him play everyday in Triple-A. Sitting on the bench behind that infield all season won’t do a damn thing for his development. That should make Pena the default utility infielder. Golson would bring speed and defense, Russo versatility, while neither Curtis or Parraz have a real standout tool. We’re talking about the 24th or 25th man on the roster, so whoever fills that last bench spot won’t make or break the season. That doesn’t mean the Yanks can’t improve the position, though.

The free agent market is pretty barren these days, so we’re really digging for scraps here. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few players that can help the Yankees though, so let’s look at two…

Augie Augie Augie, Oi Oi Oi! (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Augie Ojeda
Two things stand out about Ojeda: he’s a fantastic defensive player with gobs of experience at the three non-first base infield spots, and he’s a switch-hitting bat control freak, swinging and missing just 4.9% of the time in his career. Although his 2010 campaign was dreadful (.220 wOBA), a concern at age 34, he posted no worse than a .340 OBP from 2007 through 2009, drawing more walks (73) than strikeouts (65) in 713 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks. Ojeda has like, negative power (career .078 ISO) and little basestealing prowess (just seven steals and a 63.6% success rate in 503 career games), but that’s why he’s a bench player. Essentially a better version of Pena, Ojeda’s going to have to hope some team believes his 2010 performance was a 92 plate appearance fluke and not the sign of age-related decline.

And he pitches! (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Joe Inglett
Perhaps my standard for bench players is too low, because Inglett strikes me as a pretty useful player despite his continued unemployment. Over the last three years, a span of 644 plate appearances and 247 games played with the Blue Jays and Brewers, Inglett’s walked in 7.9% of his trips to the plate, including 9.4% last year. His overall power output is blah (career .111 ISO), but he swings from the left side and is an above average hitter against righties (career .336 wOBA vs. RHP). Add in a little speed (13 steals, 91.3% success rate last few years) and a bunch of versatility (lots of experience at second, third, and the corner outfield spots), and Inglett makes for a half-decent bench piece.

* * *

Let’s not forget Willy Aybar and Felipe Lopez, both of whom I’ve written about this offseason. Since Jones, Cervelli, and Nunez are all right-handed hitters (Pena’s a switch-hitter, but the hitter part is being generous), I’m thinking it would be nice to add a lefty batter for no other reason than to have some diversity. All of these guys fit the bill, and I actually like the switch-hitting Aybar the best. He’d give the Yankees some pop from both sides of the plate and a little versatility, plus he’s familiar with the AL East. Inglett makes a smidgen of sense in a limited role, Lopez moreso.

Either way, we’re talking about the last man on the roster, and the Yankees can afford to splurge a little on that spot. The hard part, as always, will be convincing a free agent bench player to sign with a team featuring the kind of regular lineup the Yankees have.

Note: I originally had Jorge Cantu and Andy LaRoche included in this post, but of course they had to sign with the Padres and Athletics last night, respectively. See anyone on the free agent list worth discussing? Cristian Guzman? Ronnie Belliard? Meh.

The days of Jack Clark in pinstripes

Once upon a time, before the Internet, before Twitter, before beat writers with blogs and fans with blogs, before MLB Trade Rumors and even Mike and The Mad Dog, Jack Clark was a member of the Yankees. Now, I personally don’t remember much about Clark’s one-year tenure in the Bronx because I was five and baseball was a thing I watched during the summer and not a 365-day obsession. But Clark holds a special place in my heart because his Starting Lineup figurine was one of the first of my collection.

In a way, Jack Clark is the poster child for strange Yankee moves in the late 1980s. Clark made his debut in 1975 as a 19-year-old rookie for the Giants, and he was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. He spent 13 years in the NL and hit .276/.372/.487 with 229 home runs and seemed to hit free agency at both the right and the wrong time.

For Clark, the winter of 1987/1988 was the right time because of his production. While ankle ligament injuries limited his playing time toward the end of 1987, he finished the season third in the NL MVP race and hit .286 with a league-leading .459 on-base percentage and .597 slugging. He belted 35 home runs and drove in 106 runs in just 131 games. It was though the wrong time because of collision. Owners were colluded to keep prices down, and only the Yankees, with a popular incumbent first baseman, offered Clark a multi-year deal.

The NL Champion Cardinals tried to keep Clark, but the Yankees, who careened from player to player in the late 1980s, moved quickly. He a two-year, $3-million with up to $1 million in performance bonuses and vowed to stay healthy. Notably, the deal came together quickly and with few rumors. No mystery teams were involved, and the Yanks had their hitter.

With Clark on board, the Yankees had certainly spent their riches. The team, with its average salary of $718,670, had the highest payroll in the game, but the fans were skeptical. In reactions to the signing, one wondered if Clark could pitch and another said the Yanks signed the wrong Jack. They needed Morris’ arm and got Clark’s bat.

From the start, it was an odd fit. Yankee Stadium was ill-suited to a right-handed power hitter, and even though the Yanks claimed Clark’s arrival had nothing to do with it, the team moved in the left field fences in 1988. Those dimensions, whether thanks to Jack Clark or not, are still with us today at the new Yankee Stadium. Still, he struggled in the Bronx. Clark hit .242/.381/.433 with 27 home runs in 150 games and struck out 141 while drawing 113 walks.

Yet, more importantly, Clark was unhappy. He didn’t like being the DH, and when the Yanks ill-advisedly traded Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps, Clark didn’t like getting shuffled around in the outfield. He wanted his set role, and he wanted to return to the National League. So he quietly requested a trade, and the Boss seemed happy to oblige.

After obtaining first place as late as July 27, the Yanks slipped to fifth before the season was over, and before October was out, Clark found himself en route to the Padres. The Yanks received Lance McCullers, Jimmy Jones and Stanley Jefferson from San Diego, and the three of them amounted to not much else.

After leaving New York, Clark played two years in San Diego and two in Boston before calling it quits. He posted a .396 OBP over his final four seasons and could still get on base even as his power and health diminished. He ran into financial troubles after his career ended and has bounced around organized baseball since then. His Starting Lineup figure still rests in a shoe box in a closet at my parents’ place, and his time in New York, embedded in the outfield dimensions or not, still stands as a testament to a time when the Yankees had no plan.

Open Thread: Ace

Ewww. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

If you’re reading this site, then there’s little doubt you’re aware of the job Al Aceves did for the Yankees in 2009. He gave the team whatever they needed each time he was called upon, and was probably their most important reliever behind Mariano Rivera. Today’s a bit of an anniversary for Ace, who signed his first professional contract and joined the Blue Jays’ organization ten years ago today. He was 19 at the time. After a year in their system, the Jays sold his rights to the Yucatan Leones of the Mexican League, where he played for the next six seasons before hooking on with the Yanks. As I wrote on Friday, there hasn’t been any update to Aceves’ status this winter since he broke his collarbone in December, but he’ll find a job soon enough. He’s too good not to.

Anyways, here is your open thread for the night. The Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Talk about whatever, enjoy.

Baseball’s Golden Age

I ran across this little number in my Google Reader today, courtesy of Rebecca Glass. It’s a map of baseball’s geography before expansion and the game headed west towards the Pacific, but I’m sure you already figured that out. Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool so I figured I’d pass it along. I love seeing all the New York teams and logos through the years.

(Image via Bill Sports Maps)