Tuesday, November 01, 2005

2005 Off-Season, Part II: What You Got?

Yes, I realize that most Yankees fans (and especially ones who would be reading this here site) know the players that remain under contract for the 2006 season. So listing them by position and noting the gaps wouldn’t be all that productive, right? I certainly hope not, because more or less, that’s what I’m aiming at today.

What I’m trying to prove today is what the Yankees need to complete the puzzle, where “what” is 100 percent ambiguous. No names, no ideas on specific players to fill the holes. This way, when I go over the list of free agents tomorrow, I can take the players and try to fit them in the mold. And finally, on Thursday, filling in the rest of the pieces via fantasy GM trades (I’ll try to stay as reasonable as possible).

Just a quick word on the pitching staff before I launch into two through ten. This is the first year in which the Yankees won’t be scouring the starting pitching market, seeing as they have six (supposedly) capable arms to start games: RJ, Moose, Pavano, Chacon, Wang, Wright – and you can throw in Small there, though he’ll more than likely be placed in the bullpen. Accordingly, I’m not going to go over the state of the starting pitching, since it’s probably set and not subject to free agent signings.

On to the second half of the battery. At catcher, Jorge Posada is entrenched in his position. There have been cries that his drop in productivity is hurting the team, and that they need to bring in a guy like Ramon Hernandez or Bengie Molina to actually get production out of the backstop. This talk is patently ridiculous. I want to begin by pointing out that Jorge was fourth in the AL in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), but I’m not quite sure how that number is calculated (still new to this sabermetrics thing). But he did rank fifth in the AL among catchers in OBP (none of which are Molina, while Hernandez ranks 10th in the NL).

He also ranks fifth in the AL for Isolated Power (Slugging minus BA). Once again, Bengie Molina is not one of the top five (Barajas, Varitek, Lopez, and Victor Martinez top the list). In essence, the only thing Molina did well this year is hit for average, something he’s done in the past but never consistently. Throwing money at him would not only mean reduced playing time for Jorge – who by all means is still a top catcher in the AL – but it would guarantee him as the starting catcher on Opening Day 2007 at the age of 32. Jorge was 33 this year.

See, there I go, mentioning free agent names right after I state that I don’t want to do that. I’m justifying it by the fact that I needed a comparison here to prove that Jorge should be our guy in 2006. If he takes a few more pitches (his number of pitches per plate appearance was the worst of his career in ’05), he should continue to be productive, probably more so than 2005.

Making the 90-foot jog, we have Jason Giambi stretching for throws from Jeter at first. This position is the subject of some controversy, as the general consensus is that Giambi is an inadequate first baseman. There are a couple of flaws with this line of thinking, beginning with the fact that he’s not a bad first baseman. Sure, he has Rube Baker Syndrome and can’t deliver a ball from his hand to a teammate’s mitt, but being at first base, that’s not as magnified a problem since he’s at first base, one of the least physically demanding positions on the diamond.

The other flaw is that he is a vastly superior hitter while playing the field. I don’t quite know how to explain this, but the numbers surely speak for themselves: .319/.471/.664, a homer every 10 at bats while playing the field, .209/.404/.367, a homer every 22 at bats while DHing. That was just for 2005, but his composite stats from 2002-2004 speak just as loud: .274/.427/.563, a homer ever 12 at bats as a first baseman, .217/.384/.414, a homer ever 18 at bats as a DH. Quite simply: we need Jason playing first base. The DH we can worry about later.

Now we get to Robbie Cano, who some fans want to see playing for the Twins next year (not going to mention his name, not going to mention his name). To these people I ask: please keep whatever you’re huffing to yourself, because it causes completely irrational thoughts. Sure, Robbie had a few mental lapses over the course of the year (some quite visibly), but once again, the kid is a rookie. Hell, I’m a full half year older than him, if that counts for anything (it doesn’t). These were merely mistakes that rookies are half-expected to make (how can you half expect something?).

The part of his .297/.320/.458 rookie line that jumps out the most is the .320 OBP, which is only poor because of the .297 batting average attached to it. It is a much debated question whether plate discipline is inherent or developed, and Robbie may be a true test of it. He walked only 16 times over 522 at bats, and saw just 3.03 pitches per plate appearance in 2005, proving that he is easily among the least disciplined hitters in the league. If he can just cut down on those first pitch pop outs, he’ll easily have an improved year in 2006.

So there’s one free swinger so far in the lineup. Thankfully, he’s really the only returning player who has such tendencies. I’ve already pointed out Jorge’s on base prowess among catchers, and Jason Giambi could potentially lead the league in OBP for the next 17 years. The four other returning starters – Jeter, A-Rod, Sheff and Matsui – also understand the strike zone. I’m going to forego doing blurbs on these four, since we all know what they bring to the table.

If you have been reading this site lately (and why wouldn’t you be?), you know that I’m trying to tinker with traditional statistics to make them a bit more efficient. The first is on base percentage, which I thought should rather be non-out percentage. The difference is simple: if you are to be credited for a high percentage of getting on base, you should be penalized for being caught stealing (it negates your single, double, or walk) and for grounding into a double play (you took someone else off base).

The other stat I’ve been tinkering with is Slugging percentage, which measures total bases (singles * 1, doubles * 2, triples * 3, homers * 4) divided by at bats. But, if walks truly are important, then they should count as singles, and the total should be divided by total plate appearances. This, in my opinion, should take the place of OPS, which lopsidedly slaps together OBP and Slugging. Also, since stealing a base gives a runner a free bag, I’ve decided that the statistic would be more efficient if the difference between stolen bases and caught stealing were added in. I have also subtracted out double plays, but the more I think about it, the more that seems foolish. Why screw with a guy’s total bases because he hit a grounder with a guy on base? By the way, I’m calling this stat Efficiency Rating.

These are the stats that I’m going to use to evaluate free-agent talent, so they’re the stats I’m going to use to assess the Yankees. People may not agree with them, but I believe that they are more efficient in piecing together a team than the traditional stats. I also recognize that these stats may have flaws of their own; no one said Bill James got it right on the first try.

The Yankees Non-Out Percentages, listed from greatest to least:
.428, .401, .360, .359, .341, .337, .299, .288, .281

Removed will be the .299 (Tino) and .288 (Bernie).

The Yankees Efficiency Rating, listed from greatest to least:
.664, .607, .570, .533, .505, .497, .496, .459, .421

Removed will be .497 (Tino) and .421 (Bernie). Also take note that much of Tino’s success was had over that 10-day stretch in May.

Ideally, the .299/.497 of Tino and the .288/.421 of Bernie can be replaced with more efficient players, whether through free agency or trades. It’s not like they have to replace the .401/.664 of A-Rod or the .428/.607 of Giambi. The Yankees merely have to fill the bottom portions of the spectrum, which presents a positive possibility: replacing Bernie with defense.

It’s not all that difficult to replace a .288 non-out percentage and a .421 Efficiency Rating. In fact, a solid defensive center fielder can more than likely be found who can put up BETTER numbers than that. Since the Yankees did finish first, and since they did have the best offense in the AL according to NOP and ER, they can afford to plug in some defense.

Replacing Tino may be a bit more difficult, since finding a backup first baseman who hits .299/.497 may be a bit more difficult. The solution: find a first baseman who is willing to DH most of the time. This only problem with this is that it wouldn’t allow for Torre to substitute a defensive glove at first in the late innings for Giambi, since the first baseman would already be in the lineup as the DH. The off-season: conundrums abound.

The other solution is to nab a true DH with some minimal fielding skills (so he’s more productive in the field than David Ortiz) and a fielding first baseman as a backup. Any way the search ends up, the main goal is going to be to better Tino’s numbers from last year, which once again isn’t the most difficult task.

I’m going on 1,700 words, so I’ll cut this short before going to the bullpen. The reason is simple: we all know that the Yanks need a totally revamped bullpen. Who to fill those spots, though? Well, that’s the point of tomorrow’s column: Filling the Void.