Sunday, June 27, 2010
1. Mark Teixeira -- If you have played fantasy baseball at all in the past few years, you know what Teix is capable of doing after the all-star break (which is coming up on July 12). In 2009, he hit .313 after the break and raised both his on-base and slugging percentages significantly. In 2008, the first- and second-half differences were even more dramatic -- he went from batting .271 to .366; slugged nearly 200 points higher (.656 vs. 484) and raised his OBP from .373 to .464. Now is the time to make a play for Teix -- and you are hoping his owner can't take another day of his .230 average so far this season.
2. Derrek Lee -- Lee had an enormous second half last season; and while he is only batting .233 right now (not nearly as good as the .280 first half he posted last season), he posted a .336 average with a .656 slug and .436 OBP after the break in 2009. His current BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) is just .275 -- well below his career mark of .321. So, has Lee just been a bit unlucky this season, or has his career turned the downhill corner? My guess is the former. Buy.
3. Mark Reynolds -- Reynolds has improved in the second half in two of the last three seasons, and his career second-half batting average is 10 points higher than first-half. He is another player whose BABIP this season is way below his career mark (currently he is at .271, and his career number is .333). Give his second-half improvement in past years, I would expect his luck to change.
4. Jorge Cantu -- After a red-hot start to the season, Cantu has been plugging along at a snail's pace in the RBI and batting average department. He is batting .210 in June with just 9 RBIs -- just for comparison's sake, he had a .311 average and 23 RBI in April. And yeah, his slugging has fallen dramatically in that span, from .567 at the end of April to the .432 it stands at today. The good news is that Cantu improved slightly in the second half in 2009, and I think a shake-up a the helm in Florida is going to spur him on for the second half this year. This one is more of a gut-feeling pick than the others that are based more in numbers; however, Cantu's BABIP is 21 points below his career average -- so there's that.
5. Adam Lind -- It is much more difficult to predict players that haven't been around all that long. His career splits indicate that he is a much better second-half player, but most of that was determined by the enormous season he posted last year. So what is Lind, who has a .205 BA, just 9 HR and 34 RBI doing wrong? Well first of all, he just may have been pressing -- really hard -- in the first half, trying to reproduce the magic of last season. Toronto has tried to ease the pressure by moving Lind down in the lineup (this week), and he responded by hitting his first homer since May. Cito Gaston says Lind and fellow struggling teammate Aaron Hill (who was moved to sixth in the order) will stay down there until they get hot. His BABIP is .244 so far as opposed to the .323 he had last season -- there must be some middle ground to be had here. It might be risky, but it is probably a cheap enough chance to take.
Honorable Mention: Matt Wieters -- I can't use the numbers to back me up, since he is only in his second season, but his second half last year was awesome. He is only hitting .203 in June, so his slump is for real -- let's see if his second half last year was too.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Last year the very best players were CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Mark Teixeira. It should be noted that these players took the roster spots of players whose massive contracts had finally expired – Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Carl Pavano, and so forth. The depth in the system had also made trades for Nick Swisher, Damaso Marte, and Xavier Nady possible. Now that depth may result in the acquisition of Roy Halladay and the level of hatred for all things Yankees would certainly reach new heights. However, it makes some sense. George King of the New York Post calls the Yankees and Red Sox favorites for Halladay because of their ability to part with major league ready talent (or close enough) and to provide Halladay with the Sabathia-like contract he is certain to demand.
Meanwhile, the Yankees could be losing two key players to free agency. Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettitte are free agents. Pettitte is not as likely to leave for another team, as he is to retire. However, Damon and Matsui look like prime targets for teams seeking outfielders but unwilling or unable to meet the contract demands of players like Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Ironically, if the Yankees do lose both Damon and Matsui, it increases the chance that they will go after a Holliday or a Bay. Despite their willingness to include young players in the mix, it is unlikely that the Yankees would go into the season with Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, and Melkey Cabrera starting in the outfield.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
After Alex Rodriguez’s gutsy season, he has won quite a bit of respect from me. After a pre-season that included accusations of (and later admitting) PED use, a tell-all book from Selena Roberts, and surgery to repair a muscle tear in his hip, I had no faith that A-Rod would perform. But he did. He had some help. Derek Jeter turning back the clock and Mark Teixeira providing an MVP quality season took away much of the unwanted attention. For the first time since coming to New York, Rodriguez just played baseball. In just 124 games, he managed to hit 30 homers and collect 100 RBI.
However, there are still some questions to answer. Does he need further surgery on his hip and how will that affect his play offensively and defensively? Do you believe his story about quitting PED use after the 2003 season? If not, how will he react? If he is only stopping their use now, how much will his performance degrade? Right now, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I believe many players stopped their PED use after the 2003 season with serious testing implemented. There are many rumors that A-Rod may not even need the more invasive version of the hip surgery. In any case, Chase Utley’s season provides a ton of reasons to hope for the best. I think A-Rod belongs back in the first round. He needs to prove some things before he returns to the Top 5, but Top 10 is a lock.
Phil Hughes, RHP and Joba Chamberlain, RHP
After the General Manager meetings, the New York media swarmed onto GM Brian Cashman with questions about the direction the team would take in 2010. One of the revelations was that Cashman and the Yankees had not yet made a decision about the starting/relieving status of either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. Cashman indicated that he thought of both players as starters who could also pitch in relief. Both will be part of a large group of starting candidates in Spring Training. The acquisition of Roy Halladay would almost certainly cost the Yankees one of the two pitchers. In that scenario, I believe that the remaining young player would be in the rotation with Sabathia, Burnett, Halladay, and Chien-Ming Wang or Andy Pettitte.
Phil Hughes had a great season for the Yankees. Fans tend to forget just how highly the Yankees think of Phil Hughes. When Wang went down to injury, Hughes stepped up and performed in the rotation. He was not untouchable as a starter but his talent was on obvious display and it would have been nice to see him stay there. However, when Wang returned (it was a short-lived return) Hughes campaigned to stay and pitch in the bullpen. He not only pitched well there but he may have been the MVP of the pitching staff by bridging the gap between the starters and Mariano Rivera.
Hughes finished the season with excellent fantasy stats including an 8-3 record, 3 saves (3BS), 3.03 ERA (3.22 FIP), 1.12 WHIP, and 10.05 K9. Looking a little deeper, Hughes had solid control (2.93 BB9), kept the ball in the park (0.84 HR9) – the Homerun rate may look on the lucky side but he has been displaying that ability his entire career despite being a flyball pitcher. One of the skills that Hughes seems to have is inducing infield flyballs, which obviously do much less damage than the other sort does. Hughes did not seem to have his previously excellent curveball this season. However, in the bullpen it wasn’t needed. His fastball was excellent and his cutter was a solid pitch. If Hughes can rediscover his curve I believe he will be an excellent starter and is worthy of fantasy consideration. If only one of the two is in the rotation, I believe it will be Hughes.
Joba Chamberlain seems to pitch better in the bullpen because he does not attempt to conserve his energy to make it through multiple innings. However, that is not the only reason he looked better as a reliever in 2009. In the first half of the 2009 season, Chamberlain pitched like an average major league starter (with excellent potential) which is just fine for a young player in his first season in a major league rotation. It is even more impressive when you consider that Chamberlain spent just one season in the minors has pitched just 364.3 innings since being drafted. Even for a college player that is a miniscule amount. Now consider that this young and inexperienced pitcher was skipped whenever it was possible in the first half as part of the attempt to limit his innings. Then in the second half, the Yankees hit on a plan to give him 8-10 days between starts. This quickly proved to be a disastrous idea. The Yankees adjusted the plan to allowing him to pitch regularly in the rotation but with a ridiculously low pitch count that made it difficult for Joba to escape even the third inning. The second half was a disaster.
Chamberlain has excellent stuff and if he works on developing his other pitches, he can be a very good starter. There is little point in going into the numbers. He was below average and way off his previous career marks in almost every category. The Yankees still see Chamberlain as a starter but they may not have a spot for him in the rotation in 2010. He will have to earn it. Keeper League owners whose rosters allow Joba to be benched indefinitely should definitely consider holding onto him. With experience, Joba still projects to be an impressive pitcher. However, those in year-to-year leagues are cautioned to avoid Chamberlain as a starter. He will experience ups and down consistent with young pitchers. If Chamberlain in a reliever he should be treated as a very good set-up reliever and next in line for saves should anything happen to Mariano Rivera (knock on wood). In fact he should probably be considered next in line even if he spends the season starting.
Searching for Sleepers
David Robertson, RHP
The most underrated player on the Yankees is probably David Robertson. Illustrated beautifully by the way manager Joe Girardi ignored him during the playoffs. Despite a high walk rate (4.74), Robertson earned a 3.30 ERA and 3.05 FIP. He seems to strikeout batters (12.98 K9) almost at will and despite being a groundball pitcher he keeps the ball in the park, which looked like quite the feat at times this season. He has the stuff to close and probably should become next in line for saves should Joba be established as a starter when Rivera retires.
Francisco Cervelli, C
It is strange the way the Yankees have used Cervelli. He played at four different levels in 2008 and then played at four different levels again in 2009. The Yankees obviously like him as a defensive catcher and he looks like the favorite to backup to Jorge Posada in 2010. Posada is bad enough defensively that I can easily see the Yankees giving Posada lots of at-bats at designated hitter, especially if they do not re-sign Hideki Matsui. If that happens, I believe that Cervelli would make a fine one-dollar catcher. However, this is where the Yankees strange usage makes it hard to predict what he’s capable of doing with consistent at-bats. I think he will make solid contact and hit for a good average but without any real power. Batting in the Yankees lineup on a regular basis should be good for his Run and RBI totals, making him of use in AL-only leagues.
Best Team Blogs for the New York Yankees:
YanksBlog.com - http://www.yanksblog.com/`
Replacement Level Yankees Weblog - http://www.replacementlevel.com/
Was Watching - http://waswatching.com/
Respect Jeter’s Gangster - http://respectjetersgangster.blogspot.com/
Bronx Banter - http://www.bronxbanterblog.com/
LoHud Yankees Blog - http://yankees.lhblogs.com/
River Ave Blues - http://riveraveblues.com/
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Before the Mark Teixeira deal we were fairly certain that Nick Swisher would be playing everyday at first base. This made predicting the Yankees outfield fairly simple (before any new trades or free agent signings). Johnny Damon would be the regular left fielder, Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera would share center field, and Xavier Nady would play right field. Hideki Matsui will be the everyday designated hitter and an extra outfielder. That gave the Yankees five outfielders which is the number that most teams carry on their 25-man rosters.
Upgrading the Defense
Teixeira is now the first basemman. This means Nick Swisher must get most of his at-bats as an outfielder. Swisher has played center field in the past but his defense there leaves much to be desired. One of the under reported aspects of the changes the Yankees are making this offseason is the improvement to the team defense which was not very good during the 2008 season as measured by UZR. The 2008 Yankees defense was -39.4 runs as measured by UZR, 28th in baseball. Two large factors in that measurement are no longer on the team - former right fielder Bobby Abreu (-25.9) and former first baseman Jason Giambi ( -2.5 ). Giambi has been replaced by Teixeira who was the best first baseman by UZR/150 at +10.1 in 2008. The Yankees also want to upgrade their outfield defense.
Johnny Damon LF (19.9 ) CF ( -3.0 )
Xavier Nady LF (-1.2) CF ( -41.0) RF (0.5)
Nick Swisher LF ( 6.3 ) CF ( -10.3 ) RF ( 14.2 )
Melky Cabrera CF ( -11.3 )
Brett Gardner LF (24.3) CF ( 40.2)
Hideki Matsui LF (-15.2 )
This makes the best possible defensive outfield for the Yankees -- Johnny Damon in left field (19.9), Brett Gardner in center field (40.2) and Nick Swisher in right field (14.2). But obviously the Yankees also need to consider offense which was not what they were expecting in 2008.
Johnny Damon (.373 wOBA in 2008, .349 wOBA career)
Xavier Nady (.374 wOBA in 2008, .342 wOBA career)
Nick Swisher (.325 wOBA in 2008, .347 wOBA career)
Melky Cabrera (.285 wOBA in 2008, .311 wOBA career)
Brett Gardner (career .358 wOBA in the minors, .380 wOBA 2008 at AAA, and .282 wOBA MLB)
Hideki Matsui (.348 wOBA in 2008, .366 wOBA career)
The Best of Both Worlds
Since Matsui is likely the DH is any case we'll place him there and take him out of this part of the discussion. Johnny Damon is clearly the best candidate for left field when we combine his offense and defense and his likely role as the Yankees leadoff hitter. Melky Cabrera's track record of lousy offense should remove him from the conversation as well. His defense just isn't good enough to justify an everyday role while contributing zero to the offense. Xavier Nady's defense in center is much worse than Gardner's and Swisher's so he is not a candidate to play center field. Brett Gardner's offensive potential and superior defense makes him clearly the best possible center fielder for the Yankees. This creates a battle for right field between Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady.
The Battle for Right Field
To this point most have assumed that the Yankees' most like Spring Training battle would be between Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner for center field. I think it isn't a contest. By the numbers, Gardner is the far superior option. This makes the biggest battle of the spring between Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady. Swisher seems clearly the better defensive option but Nady is not a detriment in right field. The real question is what is the true offensive level of both players. If we believe that Nady's gains in 2008 are for real then Nady gains an edge on Swisher. However, if both revert to their career levels of performance Swisher becomes a slightly better option especially when defense is considered.
Both Swisher and Nady have demonstrated the ability to play multiple positions. Nady is competent at first base, and both corner outfield positions and Swisher adds center field to his versatility. Nady has an .863 OPS against lefties during the last three seasons and an .810 OPS versus right-handers. Swisher also is better against left-handers with a .864 OPS and a .799 OPS against right-handers. So a platoon doesn't make much sense.
Feelings from Deep Down in the Guts
I believe that Xavier Nady's 2008 gains are for real. I get the impression that the Yankees also believe that those gains are real. I also believe that Nick Swisher will bounce back to at least his career levels and very possibly higher. I have followed the Yankees for years and unfortunately they tend to sacrifice defense for offense, especially when it means playing a veteran over an untested younger player. But I think manager Joe Girardi will break from this trend in 2009. So what does this mean? Here is what my gut and my examination of the context is telling me:
- Unless Melky Cabrera is absolutely amazing in Spring Training he will not be on the major league team to start the season.
- Xavier Nady will be the regular right fielder.
- Brett Gardner will start in center field unless he is attrocious in Spring Training.
- Nick Swisher will utilize his versatility to find 350-400 at-bats rotating between left field, center field, right field, first base, and designated hitter.
- If Hideki Matsui is not the designated hitter, he will not be in the lineup.
The rumors of Manny Ramirez also coming to the Bronx are still out there but I think this is an unlikely development. Much more likely is that the Yankees complete their much rumored trade for Mike Cameron. Cameron would start in center field and throw everything off again.
The other very strong possibility is that the Yankees do what they usually do and begin the season with the veteran Nick Swisher in center field. In this scenario Brett Gardner would be the reserve outfielder to start the season. Even if this is the case I believe that (to use a battered cliche) the cream will rise to the top and Gardner will be the regular center fielder by the all-star break. Gardner is simply too talented too remain on the bench in favor of inferior defensive (and potentially offensive) options based on nothing but veteran status.
Brett Gardner is one of my favorite sleepers for the 2009 season. I will be posting my complete evaluation of his skills in the series of sleeper articles that should appear in the next few weeks.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...and to Yankees fans it looks like Christmas, New Years, birthdays and Mothers Day all wrapped together with a bright red bow.
The New York Yankees just committed $180 million over eight years to first baseman Mark Teixeira. Teixeira was negotiating with several teams including the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox until late last week when both teams dropped out of the bidding. The Yankees didn't even make an offer until Tuesday morning but it was quickly accepted. I'm guessing that LA and Bostn were trying to get a recession discount because this is pretty close to the asking price all along.
Teixeira is a fantastic hitter with plate discipline, patience and power. He should be an excellent fit in New York's lineup. He should have no problem scoring runs in front of Alex rodriguez and driving them in behind Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon. Teixeira is a solid early round pick in mixed leagues and a top selection in deeper AL-only leagues.