Archive for Nick Johnson
After the Yanks got through seven innings with a 6-1 lead, I thought I’d rest my eyes for the last couple of innings. Unfortunately, the speculation about Andy Pettitte‘s early exit raged, and it kept my attention. I was both glad that I saw the action, but enraged because the Yanks bullpen let Baltimore back into the game. When Al Aceves recorded the final out the O’s had the tying run on base.
Biggest Hit: Johnson gets it started
In a game where one team takes a big lead early, we typically don’t see much fluctuation on the WPA leader board. There was no definitive play in this game, no at-bat that turned things around. The Yanks’ offense got going from the beginning, and Nick Johnson started it all. He got all of David Hernandez’s second offering, sending it all the way into the second deck. The ball left in a hurry, too. It might have been the hardest hit ball by any Yankee this year.
Johnson went 3 for 3 on the day while drawing two walks. He got thrown out at the plate on a close play in the third, but did score in the fourth on Mark Teixeira‘s two-RBI double. It’s too early to say that Johnson has shed his slump, but a day like this can be nothing but encouraging.
Honorable Mentions: Swisher’s jack, Teixeira’s double
While Nick Johnson wasted no time in pulverizing a Hernandez pitch, the other half of the New York Nicks characteristically took his time. He watched the first four pitches, leading to a 3-1 count. Hernandez threw a fastball on the outside edge, but Swisher got all of it, rocketing it into the right field seats for the Yankees second run of the game.
Mark Hendrickson came in to relieve Hernandez with two outs in the fourth, which flipped Teixeira to the right side. Hendrickson opened with a curveball that missed high, and then threw another one that crossed the middle of the plate. Tex crushed it to right center, out of the range of fill-in center fielder Lou Montanez. Since there were two outs both Jeter and Johnson scored, which put the Yanks ahead 6-1. At that point they had scored in each of the first four innings.
Biggest Pitch: Pettitte walks in a run
Elbow issues can wreak havoc on a pitcher’s control. Only 46 of Pettitte’s 77 pitches were strikes, 60 percent. That’s below where usually sits. It resulted in only two walks, though they both proved costly. With one out in the fourth Pettitte battled through an at-bat with Garrett Atkins, throwing seven pitches. The last was a misplaced cutter for ball four. That loaded the bases. It was the first time in 2010 that Pettitte faced a bases loaded situation.
Pettitte then went to work on Matt Wieters, dropping a curve on the low-outside corner for strike one. He then came back with an inside fastball which Wieters fouled off, putting him in an 0-2 hole. After a fastball out of the zone and a fouled-off cutter, Pettitte delivered a fastball up and in, and Wieters couldn’t hold up. Like Burnett the night before, Pettitte had struck out a batter at a crucial moment, with a runner on third and less than two outs.
Nolan Reimold then came to the plate, and Pettitte started him off the same way as Wieters, with a curveball on the low-outside corner for a called strike one. He missed with his next two pitches, both fastballs, before getting a called strike on a low and away fastball. After a foul on and up and in fastball, Pettitte missed low with his next two pitches, a cutter then a fastball, to walk in the Orioles first run. He came right back to finish the Orioles there, and then induced a ground ball double play to end the fifth. He might have been a bit off, but it didn’t seem like anything serious…
Gardner just keeps hitting
Heading into the season many were uneasy with the prospect of Brett Gardner starting in left field. That tends to happen with small guys who don’t hit for power. We’ve seen so many of them flop that we’ve come to expect it. I can’t tell you how many emails I got this winter saying that Gardner was nothing more than a fourth outfielder, and he’d be lucky to stick in that role for a few years. So far, though, Gardner has done nothing but silence his critics.
After his 1 for 3 performance today, which included a walk, Gardner is hitting .346/.430/.432. Of the 40 times he’s been on base he’s attempted 14 steals and has been successful 13 times. He’s cut down on his strikeouts, a good sign for a guy who was overpowered at times last year, and is walking more. He won’t keep hitting at this level, but even if he cools off a bit he’ll be an immensely valuable player for the Yankees this season.
Oh, and he leads AL left fielders in wOBA.
Bullpen meltdown averted
The worst part of this game, clearly, came at the end, when the Yankees’ bullpen allowed four runs in the final two innings. Sergio Mitre, in his third inning of work, left two sinkers up in the zone, and Ty Wigginton crushed the second for a two-run homer. That’ll happen. Mitre isn’t exactly stretched out at this point, at least in terms of endurance. That happens when the pitching staff rarely needs a long man. The damage was minimal, though. Girardi immediately changed pitchers. Marte and Robertson finished off the inning.
Robertson came out to start the ninth, a move I applauded at the time. He hasn’t gotten a chance for consistent work this season, and it shows in the results. With a 7-3 lead and just three outs to go, it seemed like a perfect situation. He retired Garrett Atkins on three pitches to start the inning, but then came trouble. With Matt Wieters batting from his strong side, Robertson delivered six straight fastballs. Why he didn’t go with a breaking ball at any point I have no idea. The last one was thigh high across the middle of the plate, so of course Wieters deposited it in the second deck in right.
The next batter, Nolan Reimold, saw six pitches, five of which were fastballs. The lone curveball was actually a decent offering, dropping low and outside but just below the zone. Robertson then got Reimold to chase a high-inside pitch for strike two, missed high with a fastball for ball three, and then actually ran a pitch off the plate inside. Reimold got out in front of it, though, and crushed it off the foul pole in left. That was it for Robertson, but Al Aceves came on to finish the game.
Were you worried? The graph says we shouldn’t have been worried. I was worried for a bit, though.
The team gets an off-day tomorrow before heading up to Boston. Who the hell approves these schedules? First, second, and last Yanks-Sox series are in Boston. Anyway, it’ll be on YES at 7 p.m. Friday evening. Phil Hughes vs. Josh Beckett.
Despite his early struggles, Nick Johnson remains an on-base machine. He hasn’t fared well on balls in play, as just nine of 44 have dropped in for hits. That amounts to a .182 BABIP, an unsustainably low mark. That’s part of the good news. The bad news is that while his BABIP projects much higher, it appears as though he’ll have to make a few adjustments in order to recover. There appears to be a bit more at play than mere bad luck on balls in play.
From 2001 through 2006 Johnson put the ball in play in 62 percent of his plate appearances. He then missed all of 2007 and most of 2008. When he came back in 2009 he put the ball in play 64 percent of the time. This season he has managed to make fair contact in just 48 percent of his plate appearances. He’s putting many of those in the air, 19 fly balls to 16 ground balls and 10 line drives. Two of those 19 have been infield pop ups. Previously in his career Johnson has put more balls on the ground.
On batted ball types, though, we have a pretty small sample. Again, he’s put the ball in play just 44 times in 91 PA. What does he do the rest of the time? Walk and strike out. Both rates are at the highest they’ve ever been in his career. In 24.2 percent of his plate appearances Johnson has drawn a walk, a mark that has helped him avoid making outs while slumping. If Mark Teixeira didn’t slump throughout April and Alex Rodriguez wasn’t going through a mini slump himself, perhaps Johnson would have scored more than 10 runs so far.
His strikeout rate presents a bit of a concern. It sits at 32.8 percent*, the highest mark in the AL. He hasn’t been within 10 percent of that mark since 2004. What strikes me here isn’t the high strikeout rate so much as the breakdown. Of his 22 strikeouts, 15 have been looking. It’s not as if he’s overmatched and can’t get his bat around, or else is fooled by the pitcher. He’s just being extremely selective with two strikes and is paying the price. The latter seems more correctable, so that’s a positive sign. Still, he’s not helping the team by looking at so many strike threes.
*Note: FanGraphs bases K% on AB and BB% on PA. Not sure why, but that’s what I’m working with right now.
Looking at his swing data, we see more troubling signs. He has seen fewer pitches in the zone than at any point in his career, which shows up in his walk rate. Yet his walk rate could actually be higher. He has swung at 18.9 percent of pitches outside the zone, again a high water mark for his career. He’s making contact with these pitches at an unprecedented rate as well, which usually translates to bad contact. That likely factors into his BABIP. He’s swinging at fewer pitches inside the zone, too, though he’s making excellent contact when he does swing at those. Finally, he’s seen by far more first-pitch strikes this year, so perhaps pitchers are taking advantage of his selective nature. He’s either seen an 0-1 count or put the ball in play in 53 of his 91 PA.
It’s tough to put this all together, since there’s so much going on. He’s seeing more strikes than ever before, but is swinging at fewer of them, leading to a high strikeout rate based on strike threes looking. He’s chasing more pitches outside the zone and making more contact on them, which in all likelihood leads to bad outcomes. I’m willing to bet that his slightly increased fly ball rate results from the out-of-zone swinging. His saving grace is that he’s taking walks and therefore not making outs as frequently as others hitting under .200. He ranks 29th in the AL in OBP, and has the lowest average among the top 35 by more than .100.
We can look at Johnson’s BABIP and say he’s due for a correction, and in a way that’s true. In this case, however, there are many more factors to consider. Kevin Long talked about helping Johnson make adjustments, especially on the inside pitch. Is Johnson just taking time to get into a groove? Or is there something going on that just doesn’t work for him? He’s getting on base enough to justify a spot in the lineup, so perhaps he’ll settle in and work things out. Perhaps a move downward wouldn’t be the worst idea at this point.
Through the season’s first 18 games the Yankees’ offense, as a unit, has performed around expectations. The team has scored 5.33 runs per game, second in the AL to the Rays. Yet when looking at the AL rankings, something stands out. The Yankees have a 124 OPS+, which leads the league by a decent margin. Why, then, do they not lead the league in runs scored? The answer lies atop the lineup.
Derek Jeter has done his job this season. Through 80 PA he’s hitting .316/.350/.474. It’s not up to his career standards, particularly in the OBP department, that will likely change as we get further into the season. His OBP sat at .363 through 80 PA last season, and was as low as .333 in 138 PA. It’s the man who follows him, Nick Johnson, who has been struggling. Through 72 PA he’s hitting .135, though his frequent walks boost his OBP to .375. While no one is happy with Johnson’s BA, it’s not a huge concern. That will surely rise as the season progresses. Meanwhile, his main task is to get on base for Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and so far he has done an admirable job.
Why, then, has Johnson scored only seven runs if he has been on base 27 times? For that we need a bit more context, which comes from Mark Teixeira’s poor start. Like Johnson, Teixeira is currently taking a cruise down the interstate. His .119 through 82 PA is nothing short of a disaster. Again, this is something we probably have to get used to. Through 134 PA last year he was hitting .191. We know, however, that the payoff will prove worthy. From May 13 through the end of the season Teixeira hit .315/.396/.597 and was an integral part of the Yankees’ mid-season burst.
In addition to their poor batting averages, Teixeira and Johnson have also hit for little power. Teixeira’s ISO sits at .134, Johnson’s at .096. Of the other seven regulars, only Brett Gardner ranks below them. This obviously decreases their run-producing potential. Both Gardner and Jeter have gotten on base at an above-average clip, but with the two hitters behind them not producing base hits, and also not hitting for power, they’re not coming around to score as often. Likewise, even though Johnson is getting on base via the walk, Teixeira is making enough outs that he’s leaving Johnson stranded. Unsurprisingly, Johnson ranks second to last on the Yanks with a 23 percent run scored rate. Only Nick Swisher, the No. 8 hitter, ranks lower. Teixeira, on the other hand, has A-Rod hitting behind him, and despite getting on base far less frequently than Johnson, has scored 38 percent of the time.
Once the top of the order starts hitting, we could see the Yankees offense take off just like it did last season. Other factors will obviously change along the way: Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner will surely settle down, but their decreased production won’t nearly off-set the gains we should soon see from Teixeira and Johnson. No one wants to hear “just be patient” when players on their favorite team have struggled, but that’s the only thing to do right now. This is a clear case of a slow start. The payoff will be worth the wait.
The Yankees won convincingly with their regular designated hitter and number two hitter on the bench yesterday, but they thought they would have him back in the lineup today. Turns out that Nick Johnson‘s stiff back was a little worse than he originally let on, and he’s going to be out of the lineup until Tuesday’s series opener in Baltimore. Apparently he thought a little whirlpool action would loosen things up, but alas.
Johnson isn’t concerned about this being a long-term issue, but everyone’s going to hold their breath when dealing with a guy with his injury history. He’s stuck in a little 1-for-23 slump (the hit came Friday), but NJ has also drawn nine walks and gotten hit by a pitch during that time, so he’s still getting on base.
What does a team do when its designated hitter isn’t fulfilling the second half of his job description? That’s the question many who watch the Yankees have been asking themselves lately as Nick Johnson, the team’s DH, has struggled to hit.
After an 0-for-4 performance yesterday, Johnson is now hitting .125 with a still-robust .382 on-base percentage and a very low .229 slugging mark. Frustration seemed to be creeping into Johnson’s approach too as the usually patient lefty saw just 16 pitches in four plate appearances, a bit off his 4.6 pitches per PA mark. At least he leads the league with 18 walks, but the team was hoping for more offensive production from its two hitter.
As Nick has scuffled with the stick, reporters have asked Joe Girardi his take on the DH’s slow start, and the Yanks’ skipper defended Johnson. “I don’t think anyone is complaining about how much he’s on base,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you look at his batting average and you think that he’s really struggling and maybe not helping the team, but you look at how much he’s been on base, and he’s helping us.”
It’s certainly true that Nick Johnson is helping the team. Getting on base 38.2 percent of the time is a remarkable figure even for players who hit .300. That Johnson is doing it while racking up just one hit every eight at-bats is a testament to his value to the team. It comes across in his wOBA as well. At .327 prior to yesterday’s game, Johnson’s wOBA speaks of a player struggling less than it may seem.
Other factors too suggest an impending course correction. Johnson has struck out 36.4 percent of time this season, and his career mark is 20.9 percent. Perhaps he’s finding it a bit difficult at first to adjust to the American League after spending parts of six seasons in the Senior Circuit. As that number dips, he’ll be putting more balls in play which brings me to Johnson’s BABIP. Again prior to yesterday, Johnson’s batting average on balls in play was a woeful .185. While Johnson isn’t putting the ball in play during 53 percent of his plate appearances, the ball just isn’t falling.
There is, however, one stat that does concern me in addition to the strike outs. Johnson’s line drive percentage is a robust 25, but his ground ball and fly ball rates are backwards. He’s hitting grounders 25 percent of the time and fly balls 50 percent of the time. I know he and Kevin Long worked on elevating the ball during Spring Training to take advantage of the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, and it’s possible that in the early goings, this change is taking its toll. However, small sample size warnings apply.
Much as Austin Jackson’s .500 BABIP won’t last, Johnson’s low marks will be a thing of the past soon enough. He’s a .310 BABIP player for his career, and as he both cuts down on the strike outs and continues to put the ball in play, eventually, the hits will pile up. Marcus Thames has done nothing but hit each time the Yanks have opted to play him, but Johnson will and should remain the DH. The balls will fall, and the production will soon increase. It’s just the nature of the game as April wears on.
Derek Jeter said it best: “It feels like the season doesn’t get started until we play the home opener.” While the past week of baseball has provided nothing but enjoyment, the man has a point. Getting off the 4 train, walking to the Stadium among fellow die-hards, ascending the staircase to the grandstands — it made baseball seem real again. It helped that the Yankees continued their hot start, slapping around the Angels, at least for the first eight innings, en route to their fifth win of the season.
Biggest Hit: Nick Johnson‘s solo shot
As he’s done so many times since moving to the leadoff spot, Derek Jeter swung at the first pitch of the game, a 92 mph fastball from Ervin Santana. He pulled the inside pitch to Brandon Wood at third, who tossed the ball across the diamond to Kendry Morales for the first out. The Yankee Stadium speakers then played an odd tune for a ballgame, “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. It was the at-bat music for the No. 2 hitter, Nick Johnson, who had chosen it because of his daughter.
Hopefully he changes it tomorrow.
It appeared that Santana and catcher Jeff Mathis had a plan. The first, a fastball, hit the outside corner for called strike one. They went back outside on the second pitch, but that one missed considerably, evening the count at 1-1. Again Santana went for the outside fastball, but this one caught a bit too much of the plate. Johnson laid into it, crushing it into the right field bleachers for the first home run in his return to the Yankees. It boosted the Yankees’ chances of winning by 9.5 percent, a good shift for the first inning.
Honorable Mention: Jeter to the pen
After retiring Jeter on just one pitch in the first, Ervin Santana fell behind 2-0 during their second battle. He missed with a fastball high for ball one, and then couldn’t catch the inside corner with a backdoor slider. The next pitch he served up, a 91 mph fastball down the middle. Jeter put a pretty swing on it, and put the Yankees up 2-0. That one, according to WPA, was worth just slightly less than Johnson’s shot, a 9.2 percent increase. With Andy rolling through three, the second solo homer of the game was a good base for the Yanks.
Biggest Pitch: Juan Rivera singles in the sixth / Wood walks
I bet you weren’t expecting that. Most people, I’m willing to bet, would have rated Bobby Abreu’s ninth-inning grand slam off David Robertson as the biggest hit for the Angels. This presents an opportunity to explain the underpinnings of WPA. Even though Abreu’s home run put more runs on the board than any other Angels’ hit, it didn’t necessarily bring them any closer to winning the game. After he hit it, his team was still down by two runs and had the bases empty with just two outs remaining. The odds of them winning at that point, in other words, were not that good.
In the fifth inning, however, thanks to some missed opportunities, the Yankees held just a 3-0 lead. Jeff Mathis singled to lead off the inning. When the next batter, Brandon Wood, walked, the Angels brought the tying run to the plate. This represented a 6.4 percent gain in WPA, because it brought the Angels closer to tying the game. Similarly, in the sixth inning Juan Rivera singled, advancing Howie Kendrick to third. That again brought the tying run to the plate, and was also a 6.4 percent gain in WPA.
Both of those hits brought the tying run to the plate. Abreu’s did not. It might have put the Angels in a better position to come back, but it did not directly lead to a game-tying opportunity. Wood’s and Rivera’s at-bats did. That is why they were credited with a 6.4 percent gain in WPA, while Abreu’s homer brought the Angles just 2.6 percent. The odds of them scoring two more runs with the bases empty and one out were just not that high.
Thank you, Mr. Kendrick
As described above, Juan Rivera singled with one out in the sixth to bring the tying run, Howie Kendrick, to the plate. Pettitte got ahead with a cutter, but missed the zone with his next three pitches, tipping the count in Kendrick’s favor. Pettitte delivered his second straight fastball, a hittable pitch about thigh high and over the plate, and Kendrick grounded it right to Jeter. He flipped to Cano, who threw to first to complete the double play and end the minor threat.
Looking back on the at-bat in Gameday, it could have turned out much worse. Kendrick is a dead fastball hitter. Pettitte delivered a pretty hittable fastball in a hitter’s count. It could have been a turning point for the Angels. Instead, it was the biggest negative WPA swing on offense for them.
Andy’s strikeout rate
Andy Pettitte does not look like a strikeout pitcher. His fastball hits low 90s at times, but he works mostly off his secondary stuff — the cutter/slider, the curve, the change. He uses it effectively, tough, keeping hitter off-balance by mixing his pitches well. Of his 100 pitches, only 52 were fastballs. He mixed in 25 cutters, 14 curveballs, and eight changeups — plus one unclassified pitch. He did allow eight baserunners in the game, five hits and three walks, but he helped stifle them by striking out six. It was all part of another quality start by Pettitte.
Things that made me smile
Matsui’s ovation, obviously. The fans cheered him when he received his World Series ring, but the biggest ovation came when he came to bat in the first inning. We all miss Matsui, though with the way the team’s playing right now I’m not sure many people particularly care. That, of course, will change, and then change back, multiples times during the season. Have I mentioned that I love baseball?
Posada just continues to destroy the baseball. He went 3 for 4 yesterday with two doubles, raising his season average to .429. It won’t last all season, obviously, but it’s a nice opening statement from a guy who had a few question marks heading into the season.
Robinson Cano also has been hammering the ball out of the gate.
Also, Chan Ho’s outing was nice as well. The home run was a bit annoying, but it was Kendry Morales and he’ll do that sometimes. Otherwise, Park looked strong again.
Things that annoyed me
The ninth inning, obviously. It really couldn’t have been worse for Robertson. He actually got a gift, in that Kendrick did not score from second on Brandon Wood’s single. He then struck out Erick Aybar, a good sign. The Yankees could afford the run if Robertson needed to trade one for an out. Instead he threw two fastballs to Abreu, both around the same spot, and watched the ball fly out into the right field stands. Again, it didn’t really bring the Angels a ton closer to winning, especially since the home run brought on the save situation. Still, highly annoying.
The Yankees also failed to cash in some baserunners early in the game. Had Andy run into trouble that would have been even more annoying. They did rack up seven runs on 13 hits, though, so I guess it balanced itself by game’s end.
As always, to FanGraphs with you for the full WPA breakdown, play log, and box score.
It’s another day game tomorrow, Javy Vazquez vs. groundball machine Joel Pineiro.
The Yankees suffered a rash of minor injuries in the final week of camp, but they’ll have everyone available when the season begins tomorrow night. To put it succinctly, Jorge Posada‘s stiff neck is fine, Nick Johnson‘s bruised knee is better, Damaso Marte‘s shoulder isn’t cranky, and Al Aceves lower back is a-okay. Frankie Cervelli‘s sore hamstring is good to go as well, and he’ll be available off the bench. Thankfully everyone’s healthy, and the Yanks can start the season with everyone intact.
Earlier today we found out that Damaso Marte has a cranky shoulder, but that’s not the extent of the Yankees’ injury woes. Nick Johnson left today’s game in the first inning after fouling a pitch of his right knee, and has been diagnosed with a bone bruise. He won’t do anything tomorrow, but is confident that he’ll be in the lineup Sunday night against the Red Sox. After battling a sore lower back, Al Aceves threw an inning in a minor league game today and felt fine, but the team is going to wait and see how he feels tomorrow before determining his status for the regular season opener.
Last but certainly not least, the Yankees’ top three catchers all appear to be on the mend. Jorge Posada‘s stiff neck is doing well and there’s a chance he’ll play tomorrow, while Frankie Cervelli‘s hamstring feels better. He won’t play tomorrow, but caught in the bullpen and took some swings in batting practice today. Third string Mike Rivera started today for the first time in two weeks after dealing with a hamstring of his own, and he even picked up a hit to raise his spring average to .167. Minor bumps and bruises all around, let’s just be thankful it’s nothing more serious.
Yesterday I listed Brian Cashman’s three most lopsided trades. Those, of course, all fell in his favor. Yet he’s not immune from the bad trade. His blunders aren’t as great as his successes — it’s tough to make up the wins he gained by acquiring Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, and Nick Swisher — but he’s still lost on a number of deals. Here are the trades that cost the Yankees the most in terms of WAR.
(Note: Since many of the deals happened before 2002, I’ll use the historical WAR database to determine the values.)
When thinking about Cashman’s worst trades, the first that came to mind was Mike Lowell. In 1999 he shipped Lowell to Florida for a package that featured Ed Yarnall, long coveted by the Yankees. Chances are Lowell wouldn’t have gotten the 339 plate appearances he did for the Marlins in 1999, because Scott Brosius would have been coming off a career year. Still, we can’t try to figure out when a player’s clock would have started. We’re still going with first six years, though his 339 plate appearances indicate that he’d have a seventh year before free agency.
From 1999 through 2005 Lowell was worth 16.4 WAR. Ed Yarnall was worth 0.3 in 1999 and -0.3 in 2000, leaving his overall WAR at zero. Mark J. Johnson was worth -0.6, and Todd Noel never made the majors. This certainly ranks as Cashman’s biggest blunder.
Loss: 17 WAR
Photo credit: Alan Diaz/AP
Not even a half season after signing him as a free agent, the Yankees traded lefty reliever Damaso Marte to the Pirates for Enrique Wilson. Apparently he hit well against Pedro Martinez, which is a perfectly acceptable reason to make a trade. Sarcasm aside, I don’t remember much of this trade, and so it likely went uncriticized in the press. Marte, at the time, had pitched just 8.2 major league innings. Upon his call-up to the Pirates he got hit around a bit in 36.1 innings and was worth 0 WAR. That would quickly change.
Over the next six years Marte was worth 7.9 WAR. Wilson actually cost the Yankees wins, as he was worth -2.2 WAR. It seems odd that such a minor trade would carry double-digit win implications, but this was the case with Wilson and Marte.
Loss: 10.1 WAR
Photo credit: Steve Nesius/AP
Thankfully, Ted Lilly was the only player of note the Yankees traded for Jeff Weaver. I remember the concern at the time that trading John-Ford Griffin could come back to bite them. He had hit very well at Staten Island during his debut in 2001, and was having a fairly decent, Austin Jackson-like surge upon his promotion to AA in 2002. He was also the No. 76 prospect in the game headed into that season. Yet it was Lilly whom the Yankees could have used in the following years.
As we well know, Ted Lilly qualified for free agency after the 2006 season. From the point the Yankees traded him in 2002 he was worth 9.7 WAR. Weaver, during his season and a half with the Yankees, was worth 1.1 WAR. That breaks down to 1.4 WAR in the second half of 2002 and -0.3 WAR in 2003. They still had him under team control for a few years, but instead packaged him in a deal for Kevin Brown. Brown was worth 2.5 wins in 2005, but -0.9 in 2004. Even if we count that, which we won’t, it doesn’t come close to balancing out Lilly’s 9.7 WAR.
Loss: 8.6 WAR
Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP
Nick Johnson, Randy Choate, Juan Rivera
After the losses of David Wells, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees clearly had to reload their rotation. One measure they took was to acquire Javy Vazquez from the Expos. He didn’t come cheap, of course. At the time he was just 28 years old and was coming off four straight seasons pitching more than 200 innings. It cost the Yankees Nick Johnson, who was blocked by Jason Giambi, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate. Considering the Yankees kept Vazquez for just one year, it certainly cost them.
During his sole pinstriped season Vazquez was worth 2.3 WAR. He added another 4.6 WAR over the next two seasons, the terms of his contract with the Yankees. They traded him for Randy Johnson, who was worth 5.8 WAR as a Yankee. That helps soften the blow, but doesn’t completely erase it (especially since we’re not counting it). Johnson currently has nine years’ of service time, so he would have been eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. From 2004 through 2006 he was worth 8.9 WAR. Juan Rivera would have been under team control through 2008, during which time he produced 1.8 WAR for the Expos and Angels. I have no idea how long Choate would have been under control, but he was 0.4 in 2004, -0.4 in 2005, and 0.0 in 2006 and 2007, so he’s a wash in any case.
Loss: 8.4 WAR
Photo credit: H. Rumph, Jr./AP
In 2005 the Yankees desperately needed rotation help. It seemed everyone was getting hurt. They turned to an unknown minor league lifer named Aaron Small to fill a spot, and right around the trade deadline they acquired Shawn Chacon from the Rockies in exchange for two relievers, Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez. Having been solidly in my blogging days, I researched these guys but didn’t find much. The need, at the time, for starting pitching was too great to think about two minor league relievers.
Fortunately, Chacon helped the Yankees make the playoffs that year. Unfortunately, that was about the extent of his value to the team. Meanwhile, Ramirez pitched well for the Rockies, Royals, and Red Sox following the trade. He has been worth 4.0 WAR in his four major league seasons. Chacon helped enormously with his 2.7 WAR in 2005, but negated much of that with a -1.2 number in 2006, making his total 1.5. That’s only a 3.5 WAR loss, so no big deal, right? The problem is that Ramirez is still under team control for three more years, and could continue to widen that gap.
Loss: 3.5 WAR and counting
Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP
On a team loaded with older players and bloated contracts, the designated hitter position was one the Yankees often used to hide a particularly decrepit player during the mid-aughts. Hideki Matsui fit that bill in 2009, though unlike many of his predecessors, he was tremendously productive with the bat. However, with his ticking time-bomb knees now residing in Orange County, the Yanks to turned to a familiar face to be their DH, and are also asking him to do something different than be a lumbering run-producer, in the traditional sense of the term.
As a group, Yankee DH’s hit .269-.362-.497 with a .371 wOBA last season, with Matsui receiving approximately three-fourths of the playing time at the position. Among players who came to the plate at least 400 times as a DH, Godzilla hit the most homers (27), was second in RBI (86), batting average (.270), and slugging percentage (.506), and was third in doubles (20), on-base percentage (.361), and OPS (.866). On top of all that, he was the World Series MVP after a .615-.643-1.385 (.815 wOBA) performance against the Phillies. But instead of replacing him with another middle of the order thumper to bat behind Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the Yanks grabbed a player to hit in front of them.
Nick Johnson, the former Yankee third round pick, was brought back to town on a one-year deal worth $5.75M (plus some incentives and a mutual option) with the idea of deploying his supreme on-base skills in front of Tex and A-Rod. Johnson is one of just 11 players with an OBP of .400 or better since he made his big league debut in the second half of 2001, yet he’s the only one of the group to never appear in an All-Star Game or earn eight figures in a single season. Like Matsui, the lefty swinging Johnson can more than hold his own against southpaws (.290-.423-.427, .386 wOBA career) and has shown the ability to produce in high leverage situations (.290-.434-.482, another.386 wOBA). With more walks (432) than strikeouts (410) since 2003 and the ability to murder fastballs, Johnson seems like an ideal two-hole hitter for a lineup designed to work the count and grind the opposing starter into a fine powder by the fifth inning.
But there’s a catch. Johnson’s military-style plate discipline and lack of a platoon split and relatively cheap contract comes with the caveat of questionable health. He’s missed 557 of 1,098 possible days (50.7%) due to injury since the Yankees traded him away after the 2003 season, including all of 2007 and most of 2008 with a broken leg and wrist issues. Joe chronicled all of Johnson’s health issues a few months ago, and thankfully it appears most of his ailments were flukes. However, with an injury history that long, it’s impossible to feel comfortable with the idea of Johnson playing 150 games and getting 650 plate appearances next year. The Yankees hope that keeping Johnson away from the rigors of playing the field will help keep them healthy, which sounds great in theory.
That wrist injury from 2008, a torn sheath tendon suffered on a swing that required surgery, could be the culprit behind Johnson’s lack of power in 2009. His eight homers were the fewest he’s ever hit in a season in which he came to plate at least 300 times, majors or minors, and his .114 isolated power was the same as notable noodle-bats Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Sweeney. It’s not uncommon for a player to lose some power for a year or so following wrist surgery, and the Yankees are going to have to hope Johnson regains some pop as he gets further and further away from the injury.
Here’s what the projection systems have in store for Johnson…
We have some variation amongst the systems regarding playing time, obviously the result of Johnson’s sketchy medical history. Luckily, they see his power rebounding to essentially league average (.151 IsoP), and his overall .273-.408-.424, .377 wOBA performance is well above average. Combine that with zero defense and -3.0 runs on the bases (Johnson’s average during his three seasons of at least 500 plate appearances), and you’ve essentially got a two win player (1.9 WAR, to be exact). If he managed another 100 or so plate appearances, he’d be worth 2.4 WAR. Remember that DH’s get docked big time because of the complete lack of positional value.
Now, if Johnson were to miss significant time due to injury, his likely replacement would be Triple-A masher Juan Miranda. CHONE projects a .340 wOBA for Miranda in 460 plate appearances, which is above average but not by much. I’ve already said that I don’t think he would be much of a DH option for 2010, and I’m sticking to it. Another name that is sure to pop up is that of superprospect Jesus Montero. CHONE projects over 300 plate appearances of .314 wOBA hitting from the 20-year-old next year, but I can’t see the Yankees rushing him up to occupy a very easy to fill spot when it would be in his and the organization’s best interest to play every day and work on his defense in Triple-A. Montero’s a possibility, but he shouldn’t be considered anything more than an outside one.
The Yankees could have gone a number of ways when filling their vacant DH spot. They could have re-signed Matsui and his chronically bad knees, or they could signed one of the many slugging DH types perpetually available on the open market, or they could have used it as a revolving door to keep some of the older players on their roster fresh. Instead, they opted to bring in a player who’s skill set can help maximize the already immense production of their 3-4 hitters by setting the table near the top of the lineup. Now they just need him to stay healthy.
Photo Credit: Antonelli, NY Daily News