Monday, September 29, 2008

Predicting What the Captain Will Do Next Year

Derek Jeter's 2008 season was really a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Captain didn't look all that great. He pulled into the All-Star game, which he started, mostly because of the lack of good offensive SS's in the AL this year with a batting vital of:


From a traditional standpoint, that's pretty damn good for a shortstop. But Derek Jeter isn't a prototypical defense-first, light hitting shortstop. He's an offense first shortstop and has been one of the better hitters in the Majors for his career. So when he put up that line in the first half, I think some of us were disappointed with Mr. Jeter's offensive output.

In the second half, though, Jeter returned to his normal hitting state, putting up this vital from the ASB on:


While the power didn't really show up like I thought it would, the average and on base percentage were right on with his career numbers.

This left me thinking, what would Derek Jeter, one of my favorite players of all time, one of the reasons I love baseball as much as I do, do in his next season? Was this the beginning of the end? Were all those innings from March to late October finally catching up to him?

Obviously, I could rely on projections, like the ones found at but where would the fun be in that? I'd rather just do some number crunching on my own. So what I decided to do was take the ten most similar players on Derek's Baseball-Reference page and see how they did in their age 34 seasons (Derek's 2008) and compare it to how they did in their age 35 seasons.

There are obviously ten players there but I only used seven for a few reasons: Arky Vaughn lost a bunch of years to the war, Bill Doerr retired after his age 33 season and Ryne Sandberg only played 57 games in his age 34 season before missing his age 35 season entirely. The players I did use were: Barry Larkin, Allen Trammell, Ray Durham, Kirby Puckett, Jay Bell, Joe Torre, and Bill Dickey.

I used only the most basic of metrics--AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS/OPS+ for this "study" so bear with me on the numbers. What I did was take those numbers from the comparable players 34/35 seasons and add them together, finding the differences, then added those numbers to DJ's 34 total to "predict" what he'll do in 2009. For brevity's sake, I'll list only the differences by player:

Barry Larkin: AVG: -.016, OBP: -.007, SLG: -.084, OPS: -.091, OPS+: -33

Allen Trammell: AVG: +.054, OBP: +.018, SLG: + .104, OPS: +.122, OPS+: +24

Ray Durham: AVG: -.075, OBP: -.065, SLG: -.165, OPS: -.260, OPS+: -62

Kirby Puckett: AVG: +.003, OBP: +.017, SLG: -.025, OPS: -.008, OPS+: +1

Jay Bell: AVG: -.019, OBP: +.001, SLG: -.037, OPS: -.036, OPS+: -5

Joe Torre: AVG: +.059, OBP: +.041, SLG: +.049, OPS: +.090, OPS+: +32

Bill Dickey: AVG: +.011, OBP: -.014, SLG: -.044, OPS: -.053, OPS+: -1

Averaging out the differences it came to:

AVG: +.002
OBP: -.001
SLG: -.027

So if we add those totals to Derek Jeter's total 2008 of: .300/.363/.408 we would get:


That low of an OPS has not been league average for DJ's entire career. So, if he were to in fact put that up, which I believe is a reasonable projection considering his age and position, for the first time in his career, Jeter's full season OPS+ would be under 100. For the first time, the Captain would truly be a below average hitter.

Obviously, my study is incredibly elementary and doesn't take into consideration more than a few rate stats or adjust player performances for league averages, but it's just a fun little thing to do. Hopefully Derek far outplays my projections and has a fantastic season in the new Yankee Stadium.

Monday, September 15, 2008

There's Always Next Year Part Three

Alright, now that I've sort of tackled the infield issues, I'll move onto what I think should happen in centerfield for the Bombers in the 2009 campaign.

For lack of a better word, centerfield has the potential to be an absolute clusterfuck next year. Melky Cabrera will want to take back his old spot. Brett Gardner will want to prove that he can play (hit) at the Major League level. Austin Jackson may come off a hot playoff run for Trenton, turn it into a great fall in the Arizona Fall League, and in turn, have a great spring and make a case for being on the ML roster.

Okay, the A-Jack prediction is a little lofty, and I don't think he'll be ML ready til mid-2009 at the earliest, but I like to dream.

Coming into spring, the Yankees will have to look long and hard at Melky Cabrera. 2008 was an absolute disaster for him. His hitting regressed like crazy despite good fielding and it culminated with a stint in AAA with Scranton.

Brett Gardner hit poorly in his (limited) playing time with the Yankees, but displayed great speed and good tools at the plate, mostly his eye.

I'm obviously stupid for listening to this, but Steve Philips, genius that he is, suggested last night on Baseball Tonight that the Yankees may inquire about Nate McLouth of the Pirates. Nate had an absolutely fantastic year, but I wouldn't like to trade for him. Yes, I believe in the breakout season, but something about McLouth screams "fluke" to me. That's just me, though--maybe I'm wrong. I guess if a good offer were made, I'd consider it; but if the Pirates want to move McLouth, I'm sure they'll strike while the iron is hot and get too much for him. Basically, on gut reaction, I wouldn't be in support of this move.

So if I'm in charge, if I'm Joe Girardi, my Opening Day center fielder is...the young Brett Gardner. He may not have displayed incredibly flashy numbers this season--save for some game winning hits and a 10/11 SB/CS rate (as of 9:15 PM, EST after his second steal tonight), but the tools are there. His Isolated Power (SLG-BA) isn't exactly where I'd like it (.046), but his Isolated Differential (OBP-BA) is good at .067. That power will start to come around when he learns how to hit at the major league level. I think teaching him that by throwing him in the fire is a good idea.

His arm isn't great but with a CF, I'd rather have good speed and range than a good arm. Gardner has already shown that he can be an effective CF and in limited time, he is 5 Fielding Runs Above Replacement and 4 Above Average. Compare that to Melky Cabrera's 17 FRAR and -2 FRAA and Johnny Damon's 3/-2 totals. Though this is a small sample size, I feel more comfortable with Gardner in center. His arm may not be as strong as Melky's, but he can cover more ground than Cabrera and could probably beat Johnny Damon in a foot race while running backwards.

In closing, Gardner should play center, Melky should either be a fourth outfielder or be in the minors, and Johnny Damon has no business playing the outfield anymore.

That's all for now. Congratulations to the Captain for setting the Stadium hit record--here's to "rebounding" next year and starting off the new Stadium right.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

There's Always Next Year Part Two

Now I'll give my remedy for the future Yankee first base situation and the outfield logjam that would happen if Bobby Abreu remains with the Yankees, which I believe he should.

The obvious choice for replacing Giambi at first is signing a free agent...the free agent: Mark Teixeira. At about mid-season, I wanted this to happen, mostly because I felt Abreu should be gone. Now that I've rethought my position on the latter, my idea about the former has changed as well. Tex is a great player, no doubt, and a switch hitting first baseman who can play good defense is a good thing, but it's not worth 10 years, $200 million. There is a much cheaper way to replace the Giambino at first:

The first base problem can, and should, be solved internally. No, I don't mean Shelley Duncan. He is clearly a AAAA player and should've been traded in the offseason when his value was at its absolute peak. What I mean by an internal solution is using an aging player at first base. The options are Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada. I'll start with Posada.

Using Posada seems to make sense because of the destruction of his shoulder. This can happen if Bobby Abreu is let go. But for all intents and purposes, we'll say that Abreu is staying with the team. If that's the case, Posada needs to stay behind the plate. His shoulder will hopefully be back up to normal strength by Spring Training. He must stay behind the plate because Jose Molina's offense is killing the team. Yes, his defense is absolutely wonderful but his bat hurts the team more than his glove helps. While his defense is at 14 Runs Above Average but his offense is at -16 Runs Above Replacement. So using a rough calculation I'll do from now on when I do comparisons between offense and defense, we'll add the runs together. 14 + (-16) = -2. So basically, defense and offense included Molina has cost the Yankees two runs this year.

Using Posada as the catcher allows Molina to slip back into a role into which he's more comfortable: the backup role. Molina is a fantastic backup catcher and that's where he should stay. Posada behind the plate also allows for greater flexibility in the infield and outfield in a Nady/Abreu inclusive lineup.

For the infield, everything would stay the same except for first base. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, with their diminished outfield skill sets, could transition to first base in the off-season and Spring Training. For Damon, this would eliminate his awful arm from concern for the Yankees. For Matsui,it puts him at a position where he wouldn't have to rely on his aching knees too much. The one who doesn't play first can continue to be the designated hitter.

The outfield alignment would look like this: Nady/CF/Abreu. That leaves the question of who will play centerfield, but we'll get to that later. Leaving CF, that leaves the Yankees looking like thisin the field:

C: Posada
1B: Matsui/Damon
2B: Cano
3B: Rodriguez
SS: Jeter (he can move to first after 2009, when Matsui and Damon both have their contracts expire)
LF: Nady
CF: ??
RF: Abreu

This combination on the diamond gives the Yankees a much better presence at the plate, since both Nady and Abreu can be in the lineup. First base's offensive output might not be as powerful as it was, but Matsui and Damon can both still hit pretty competently.

I'll tackle the issue of centerfield in my next post...


There's Always Next Year

I sit down writing this piece with a strange blend of emotions.

First, I must obviously take note of the date. It's September 11, 2008. Seven years have passed since the most terrifying day in my existence. Nothing will ever come close to touching the amount of fear and heartbreak that I felt that day. I remember the little details about that day and the night before. The night before, I was sitting three rows behind home plate with my Spanish teacher and two friends at Yankee Stadium. On the way to the game, I heard that Incubus song with the line "whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there." Obviously, I thought nothing of it. Looking back now, nothing was more appropriate. The game was rained out. I went home and watched the Giants win Monday Night Football against the Denver Broncos. Ed McCaffery broke his leg. My friend Phil told me what happened in Mr. Epstein's World Themes class. I thought it was just an accident, then he told me it was two planes crashing into the towers and I knew something was wrong. Throughout the day, we got little updates over the loudspeaker or by using a computer. I remember my school's principal, a little elfish looking woman we all loved to make fun of, coming over the loudspeaker when I was in learning center (read: study hall) and telling us that the towers collapsed. Suddenly, my math homework didn't seem too important. I put my head down and began to cry. I remember a tear falling onto the lens of my glasses. I remember going home and seeing the full destruction of what happened. My mother had the day off and went to the beach, since our beaches at home have a fantastic view of the city. It was a beautiful day and everything was clear as could be...except the smoke. She and my sister were out doing some errand at some point. I was sitting outside, tired of seeing the news coverage. I looked at a big oak tree in our yard when they pulled in and pointed to it. "That's all that's left," I said. "Some pieces of metal about that big."

My late grandfather was sitting in traffic on the George Washington Bridge. He was taking his pigeons to the Vince Lombardi Service Station on the New Jersey Turnpike to let them fly back home for training for their race that Saturday. That race didn't happen. Nothing did. I didn't know anyone personally who died, just one of my father's customers. Regardless of that, I'll never forget that moment, that day, that event in which 3,000 people died in a matter of hours. I aspire to teach and I don't quite know how I'll explain to my students what happened on that day. How can someone who was either too young to remember or not born appreciate what happened that day? I liken it to my parents and aunts and uncles trying to tell my generation about what happened when JFK was shot, or my grandparents telling us about when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Maybe we understand that it was a moment of incredible terror, but we don't fully appreciate what happened.

Now, onto baseball....

The Yankees are beyond the point where the final nail is in the coffin. The coffin is six feet under, the dirt is being piled on, and the eulogy is starting. A eulogy is exactly what this final home-stand for Yankees will feel like. It was supposed to be a celebration of greatness, but now it will just be a mourning of mediocrity.

When I think about the prospect of the Yankees missing the playoffs, I think of the Dashboard Confessional song "The Brilliant Dance," specifically the first few lines:

"So this is odd. The painful realization that all has gone wrong."

Everything has gone wrong with the Yankees this season. The young pitchers didn't pitch, the young hitters didn't hit, and even the veterans didn't hit--much. The offense still shows flashes of brilliance, but compared to the juggernaut it was last year, it is nothing. Missing a bunch of players hurts. A lot. But injuries cannot be fully blamed for this year's mishap. So, with a strange feeling, I look forward to the offseason and what I think next year should look like.

First, there is the issue of free-agency. The biggest names for the Yankees who will be free agents are:
Mike Mussina
Andy Pettitte
Ivan Rodriguez
Jason Giambi
Bobby Abreu

Of those, all of them could be gone. And I have advocated that. Why not? The Yankees could use the draft picks from those players to sure up the farm system. The farm system has gotten much better, but it never hurts to have more prospects. However, in recent days, I've been re-thinking my position. While the Yankees are in a situation in which rebuilding might have to be an option, getting picks makes a lot of sense. The first round of the draft could just be the Yankees and Brewers alternating picks. But then it hit me, the Yankees are going to need to keep at least one of these players. Mike Mussina has pitched well enough to earn himself another year with the Yankees, and I think that will happen, despite the fact that it is not incredibly necessary for him to come back. A veteran player in the rotation is nice, but he would just be blocking the spot of some younger player the Yankees could season. I see this no playoffs thing as a trend, not an aberration. If that's going to be the case, why not get some of the young guys to develop in the process? I mean, what's the point of having prospects if we're never going to test them? The longer we wait to to that, the worse off we'll be in the future.

The one player the Yankees need to keep is...Bobby Abreu. Yes his defense is absolutely awful, but his bat is great and it fits the Yankees style of play. When they traded for Xavier Nady, the Yankees were pretty much saying that Bobby Abreu would only be a Yankee for the rest of this season, then it would be so long. I thought along those lines, too. In the last few days, though, I've seen the error in that thinking.

Nady's hot start had us all thinking he was going to mash like this for the rest of the year. Well, no. Xavier Nady has had a great season, no doubt. However, it's been incredibly fluke-ish. His fantastic first week with the Yankees seemed to grant him a grace period, but his last calender month of baseball has been pretty crappy.

Since August 11th, Nady has posted this as his hitting vital:

.257/.303/.434/.737, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 33 SO, 7 BB.

Slumps happen, but a 33/7 K/BB ratio is unacceptable. Why does a bad month mean he shouldn't be the everyday outfielder for the Yankees next year? Why does this justify my feelings that he shouldn't replace Abreu? Well, that alone doesn't; but Xavier Nady's career as a whole does. He's a .282/.337/.462/.799 player for his career. Is that bad? Hardly, his OPS+ comes in at 110. He's had a fantastic season, but his numbers have slowly climbed down from the incredible start he had with the Pirates and with the Yankees. Abreu is a much more solid hitter than Nady.

So instead of picking one or the other, the Yankees really should do both. But, Matt, you say. That leaves a horrible logjam in the outfield. In the words of Lee Corso: not so fast my friend. This post is running long. I'll get into it in my next one, which should come tomorrow.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ding Dong, the Season's Dead

Well, that's it folks. The Yankees have just lost to the Seattle Mariners and are officially in fourth place. Let me say now that I am declaring the season 1,000% over. This baseball team is beyond embarrassing. To have a lineup that includes the players that it does and to score this few runs and win this few games is appalling. Yes there have been a litany of injuries but the Yankees dug their own grave this year with their awful play. This team has been dead in the water for about a month now. Well, Yankee fans, the ship has finally sunk. Here's to next year...More on that in the days to come...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Stop the NL Cy Young Madness

The NL Cy Young madness needs to end. Now. People in the mainstream media and here on the internet need to stop calling Brandon Webb the NL Cy Young Award winner or the favorite to win the award.

Brandon Webb has definitely had a great year but to call him the NL's best pitcher is just ludicrous, especially since he may not even be the best pitcher on his own team.

There is a case to be made that Danny Haren, not Brandon Webb, is the best pitcher on the Arizona Diamondbacks. Webb may boast an impressive 19-6 record compared to Haren's 14-7 but that is one of the only clear cut advantages Mr. Webb has over Mr. haren.

In just about every statistical category, they are close:

IP: Webb: 192.0, Haren: 190.3
H: Webb: 174, Haren: 154
BB: Webb: 51, Haren: 30
WHIP: Webb: 1.172, Haren: 1.091
SO: Webb: 160, Haren: 176
K/BB: Webb: 3.13, Haren: 5.86
K/9: Webb: 7.50, Haren: 8.52
ERA: Webb 3.19, Haren: 3.24
BB/9: Webb: 2.39, Haren: 1.45
H/9: Webb: 8.16, Haren: 8.37
MO/9: Webb: 10.55, Haren: 9.82
AVG: Webb: .241, Haren: .244
OBP: Webb: .296, Haren: .279
SLG: Webb: .335, Haren: .375
OPS: Webb: .631, Haren: .655
BABIP: Webb: .290, Haren: .301

So they're close in just about everything. Webb gets the advantage in innings, hits per nine innings, BAA, SLGA, and OPSA, with Haren taking the rest. It's interesting to note that even though he has a higher SLGA, OPSA, and allows more hits per nine, Danny Haren, he allows fewer base-runners per nine innings than his counterpart, Brandon Webb, 9.82 to 10.55.

As you can see, I used all "traditional" stats, with the exception of one: Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP. I like to use this stat as a sort of crutch to see how lucky a pitcher is getting. WHIP can also be used this way: a pitcher with a low ERA but high WHIP is getting lucky (see: Diasuke Matsuzaka). The average BABIP for the league is about .300. That means that anyone who has a BABIP of or around .300 is essentially "breaking even" in terms of luck. Anything above .300 signifies that a pitcher is getting bad luck and anything below .300 shows that a pitcher is getting good luck. Anyway, it's not a huge variation, but Webb is coming in at a .290 clip on BABIP, whereas Haren comes in at .301, thus breaking even. Webb seems to be getting a little lucky.

Haren's ERA might be a little higher than Webb's, but his lower WHIP, and sweep of the "per-nine" categories makes him the better choice, in my opinion. What's more, Haren leads the league with his 1.45 BB/9 and his 5.86 K/BB. Webb leads in wins and games started--I'll take BB/9 and K/BB over wins and starts.

With how close these are, it's a wonder how anyone can have Webb as the clear cut favorite to win the Cy Young. In my opinion, he doesn't even win his TEAM'S Cy Young Award, much less the entire National League's. It seems that Webb's lofty 19 win total is what's garnering him so much praise. If he had Danny Haren's win total, no one would be saying anything about his Cy Young candidacy. Wins suck.

Who, then, if not Webb, should be the NL Cy Young winner? The answer to that one is Tim Lincecum. He has blossomed into a true pitching star despite his yet-to-hit-puberty frame and funky mechanics and should be rewarded for his absolutely brilliant performance this season on an absolutely awful, awful baseball team.

Here are Tim Linecum's numbers:

IP: 190.3
H: 154
BB: 72
WHIP: 1.187
SO: 210
K/BB: 3.00
K/9: 10.22
ERA: 2.60
BB/9: 3.41
H/9: 7.28
MO/9: 10.66
AVG: .222
OBP: .298
SLG: .316
OPS: .614
BABIP: .306

Webb may have the control edge (BB/9, K/BB, WHIP, OBPA), but Lincecum's .222 BAA and league leading 210 strikeouts are just dominating and neutralize his higher walk total. And despite those walks, his WHIP still comes in at a great 1.187 and he's obviously not letting those runners score, as evidenced by the league leading 2.60 ERA.

What Lincecum doesn't have, like Haren, is the win total to be considered in the running: he only has 15 wins to Webb's 19. A lower win total usually means a lower vote total from the Baseball Writers. The irony here is that Lincecum actually has a better winning percentage than his Arizona counterpart, .833-.760. Lincecum, had he received proper run support, could have 23 wins by now. How is that possible? Well, Tim Lincecum has had EIGHT games this year in which he's recorded a quality start (at least six innings pitched with no more than three earned runs allowed) and gotten nothing for it, with the game resulting in either a no decision or a loss.

In my perfect baseball world, Tim Lincecum is the 2008 NL Cy Young winner. Hopefully, the Baseball Writers see it that way and the Brandon Webb madness stops.