Saturday, March 28, 2009

Girardi Starting To Come Apart. Again.

According to Pete Abraham over at LoHud , Girardi is thinking of not having a long reliever on the squad, allowing him to keep someone like Albaladejo instead of Aceves, Giese or Tomko.

This may sound like a small deal but it has got me up in arms. This was a bad move Girardi made last year in his disastrous coaching debut with the Yankees and it’s starting to look like he’s just going to go back to his losing ways once again. At the beginning of the season, I had high hopes for Joe. He seemed to realize that he made a lot of mistakes last year, handling the media, handling the players and handling his roster. Most of the reports out of spring seem to show that Joe knew the spotlight was on him and he was ready to make needed changes.

Now this. Yes, it’s just a minor issue, but one that I thought doomed that Yankees for a large chunk of last season. The lack of a long reliever coupled with the complete failures of Kennedy and Hughes along with Mussina’s slow start, strained the bullpen and cost the Yankees quite a few runs and games early in the season. All signs this spring pointed to the team actually carrying a long reliever on the roster, which gave me a lot of hope for avoiding some of last year’s hiccups, and renewed some of my confidence in Girardi.

Taken by itself, this issue is just one bad decision. What really worries me, is that all the other things I was hoping to see a change in will fall by the wayside as well.

As an aside, if you’re wondering who my pick is to fill the reliever spot, I’d give Tomko a chance.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Right Field: Nady vs. Swisher

Joe Girardi came out and announced that Xavier Nady would be the starting right fielder. Nick Swisher said all the right things in response. There has been a bit of discussion about Joe’s decision and many people have opined that Swisher is the strongest candidate.

Doing a quick review myself, Nady seems to have the better bat, with a better average and more power. Swisher is by far the better baserunner. The Bill James Handbook rates Nady as the better defensive fielder. Fans of the Baseball Prospectus will note that they give Swisher a slightly higher projection for 2009 in the VORP and WARP categories.

Just looking at the various stats makes me thing Nady is the best man for the job, with better hitting and better fielding. There’s more to the story than that, however.

We haven’t fully established where these players are going performance-wise. Swisher had an off year last year and it’s up in the air whether he can re-establish the success he had in 2007. Likewise Nady slumped a bit for the Yankees compared to his performance in Pittsburgh. Both of these guys have big question marks as to what direction they are heading. Getting back to the level of play they are capable of or continuing to decline.

The final factor that may get overlooked is the clubhouse effect. From what I gather, Nick has made an impression on the other guys including Girardi, and it would be tough to see him go. This kind of thing doesn’t show up in the stats, but I think really goes a long way to helping a team.

My overall impression is that Nady is probably the better player at the position, but you need to keep Swisher around to platoon at RF and 1B as a solid backup and overall morale booster.

If the right offer comes along, however, don’t be surprised if one of these guys gets moved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Much Can We Tell In Spring?

I get excited when spring training rolls around. I try to catch a few spring games on TV when I can, and always check the box scores to see who is doing well. Then I reach a point where I stop and ask myself, what do these numbers really mean? What can you really tell by watching someone in spring training?

So far this year, I’ve been excited by the performance of a lot of people on the Yankees, especially some of the newer faces. There’s nothing wrong with a little unbridled enthusiasm as a fan, but when I take a step back I start thinking that I’m being a little overly optimistic.

Some of the Yankees best players have had horrible outings. Joba Chamberlain and CC Sabathia each had rough starts. Kei Igawa, on the other hand, has looked absolutely brilliant. Does this mean Igawa is going to be our new ace? The answer is an emphatic “no” but it illustrates the point that spring numbers and the results of a limited number of outings can be very deceiving.

CC and Joba are concentrating on tweaking their delivery, working on mechanics and fine-tuning themselves for the regular season. They’re likely to throw more of their worse pitches in order to work on the weakest parts of their game. These two are also starting the early innings, and facing some of the better hitters. Igawa is likely taking a different approach. He’s likely going out there and throwing everything he’s got at a hitter to try and impress people and show off his stuff. He’s also coming in in the later innings and facing more backups than the starters are.

Hitters vary their approach in spring as well. Some work on different things like bunting more than they normally would. Some will sit on more pitches to get a better feel for a player they will have to face later in the season.

The average fan like me probably misses most of the important stuff that should be looked at in the spring time. More experienced coaches and scouts can pick out particular things that a player is doing well or poorly and can get a better idea of a player’s progression. The numbers in the box score are by and large useless while watching a player firsthand can give some useful information. That doesn’t mean that following every statistic and scrap of information can’t be fun, but we need to put it in perspective.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time for a Trade?

It’s not so much about the positions the Yankees need to fill, but rather about the players that need to go, and soon.

Melky Cabrera is battling for the starting center field spot with Brett Gardner. Right now, Gardner is hitting a bit better than he has in the past and his speed on the bases is making him the early favorite. Scouts seem to think that Cabrera has a higher ceiling, but last year he didn’t deliver. The problem is, Melky is out of options. If he doesn’t make the squad, he’ll likely be picked up on waivers. Is it worth a spot on the roster to keep him around as a back up outfielder? With Swisher, Nady, Damon, Gardner and Matsui there as well, probably not. So if the Yankees give the starting job to Gardner, Melky could be gone. Now might be the time to try and trade him for a prospect.

Ian Kennedy is candidate number two to be traded. He looked good at the end of the year in the minors and in the fall leagues but early results this spring have been poor. My instinct is that the kid could be a number five starter somewhere,  just not in New York. The Yankees might be able to trade Kennedy to a small market team in return for a prospect or possibly pair him with Cabrera in a package for something a little more substantial.

Other than center field, I don’t see a big hole for the Yankees right now and a trade would be more about moving players out than needing to bring someone in. For the record, Cody Ransom will be just fine at third until A-Rod gets back. There is no reason to trade anything of value to get a short term replacement third baseman. In all likelihood, Ransom is just about as good as anyone out there.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cause for Concern

Spring training has only recently begun and most Yankee fans have reason to be worried about the upcoming season. One of the main reasons for last year’s troubles was a plague of injuries and that slowly looks to be happening again this time around.

The biggest news of the pre-season is A-Rods upcoming hip surgery which will take him out 6-9 weeks. The idea is that he’ll have arthroscopic surgery to get him mostly healed and able to play the vast majority of season and then he’ll have another procedure in the offseason. If all goes well, they should only miss him for about 1 month of the actual season. If all goes well.

In the meantime, Cody Ransom is the everyday backup to start in his place and Cashman is probably exploring other options and thinking about making a trade to pick up another third baseman. This would be an unfortunate move if the Yankees had to give up anything significant, which they likely would. Moving Cabrera or Kennedy wouldn’t bother me, but giving up an actual prospect would be a big setback to the depleted Yankee farm system, especially if you’re only acquiring a guy who will likely only see a month or two of work as a Yankee.

The second area of concern is Jorge Posada, who had a bit of shoulder stiffness early in the spring and sat out a while. While his replacement Molina might be a fine defensive backstop, he is an offensive liability. The Yankees surely missed Posada’s bat last year and will do so again if he’s not up to snuff. The idea of DHing Posada doesn’t quite work out because of Matsui.

Which brings up the last area of concern, Hideki Matsui. Yes, he’s looking somewhat healthy this year and is expected to be able to DH, but there’s no talk of him returning to the outfield any time soon. The reason this is a concern is that the Yankees now have 3 guys who may end up being nothing more than DH when the people actually playing the skill positions have significantly lower offensive outputs. If A-Rod can move back to third and Posada can’t throw from behind the plate, the Yankees are going to be in a world of hurt.