Thursday, February 09, 2006

Question No. 8: Will Sheff's Decline Continue in 2006?

It’s tough to levy criticism upon Gary Sheffield. Sure, he’s got a short fuse and a questionable character, but for the most part he’s kept that separate from his on field affairs. Unfortunately, those on field affairs have seen a relative decline since his arrival in the Bronx. This makes sense, since he is 37 years old and all. But one look at his ferocious demeanor and equally intimidating stance/swing has everyone thinking, “wow, this guy probably isn’t going to slow up, even in old age.”

Sheffield could probably continue hitting singles until he’s 50. His penchant for solid contact isn’t in question, but rather his power and discipline. Have a looksee at his isolated numbers in 2003 with Atlanta compared with those from the past two years with New York.

2003 Atlanta

2004 Yankees

2005 Yankees

Even though his isolated discipline increased in 2004, his strikeouts did as well. Maybe it’s the American League, but pitchers have been having a relatively easier time missing Sheffield’s bat in the Bronx. I theorize that this is in direct relation to his declining power numbers. If he’s not hitting the ball as hard as in the recent past, he’s probably overswinging to compensate, thus missing more pitches. He’s also probably swinging at more borderline pitches because he wants to smash the ball. He has no such problem proving his discipline, since we all know he can draw a walk.

Considering these relatively consistent trends and his age, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Sheff may lose even more off his game in 2006. We as Yankees fans may not want to admit it, because these have been a fun two years. Just don’t be shocked in August if you see a .285/.355/.445 mark.

Then again, this is technically a contract year for Sheffield should he wish to continue playing in 2007. The Yankees have a $13 million option for him next year, and it’s quite possible that Sheff will step it up as to make the decision easy for Brian Cashman.

Here’s the conundrum, though. Realistically, if Sheff wants to play next year, it will be with the Yankees. No team out there is going to dole out $13 mil for a 39-year-old loose cannon. Ain’t happenin’. If Cashman picks up Sheff’s option early on, he may not be playing with the fury of a guy in a contract year. On the other hand, if Sheff’s option isn’t exercised early in the year, he may begin mailing in games out of spite. After threatening to “not show up” if traded last season, anything’s possible for this guy when he doesn’t get his way.

All of this does not make forecasting Sheffield’s 2006 performance easy. That is, unless you think that punching numbers into a computer is an adequate tool. I’ll likely end up revisiting this topic sometime in March, after the media has daily access to Sheffield and he has a chance to speak his oh so provocative mind. That actually gives me a good idea: the Sheffield quote of the week. Sam Borden (of the Daily News), I’m counting on you to deliver me some juicy Sheffield material.

(I would just like to note that I don’t have anything against ZiPS and PECOTA forecasts in a professional sense. If guys get their jollies off by trying to use past numbers to predict the future, then that’s their thing. And if they command respect for it, even better. However, I still liken baseball forecasters to weathermen, however, whom I don’t usually trust until the day before.)