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Desperate Measures
2005-05-03 11:00
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

As per the division of labor here at Bronx Banter, now that Alex has hipped you to the changes the Yankees announced after last night's 6-2 victory over the Devil Rays, its my turn to try to figure out what effects they will have on the team's performance.

To begin with, the announced changes occur in three areas, defense, offense, and roster construction:

Defense: Robinson Cano replaces Tony Womack at second who replaces Hideki Matsui in left who replaces Bernie Williams in center.
Offense: Cano replaces Bernie Williams
Roster: Cano replaces Steve Karsay

Let's take them in order.

The Yankees are far and away the worst defensive team in the major leagues according to Baseball Prospectus's Defensive Efficiency stat, which evaluates a team's ability to turn balls in play into outs. As a result they are giving up nearly a half an earned run per game more than they would be with a league average defense as per the Defense-Independent Pitching (DIPS) stats on ESPN. In addition, they've allowed 19 unearned runs thus far, a full 14 percent of the total amount of runs they've allowed this season. By comparison, just seven percent of the runs allowed by last year's team, which was average defensively, were unearned.

The moves announced last night are designed to do something about that. Using Baseball Prospectus's Rate, as an indication of defensive ability, Bernie Williams, the one player being deleted from the defensive picture altogether, has been eight runs (per 100 games) below average thus far this year. In his place the Yankees will play Hideki Matsui, whose only extended exposure as a centerfielder in the United States came during a Williams injury in 2003. In 46 games in center that year, Matsui was six runs below average. Of course, he was seven runs below average in left that season and has shown improvement in each of the past two seasons to the point that he's thus far been a dead average left fielder this season. If he can bring that improvement over to center, the Yankees to stand to see a meaningful improvement there. However, if Matsui's abilities in center and left are not commensurate, the shift will do little to nothing to increase the number of balls hit to center field that are turned into outs.

The one advantage that Matsui does have over Williams in center is the ability to make quick, strong, accurate throws to the infield. Matsui doesn't have a particularly strong arm, but it is at least adequate, and he's particularly adept at getting rid of the ball quickly. Meanwhile, Bernie's arm has gone from poor (in his prime) to awful, the final straw coming on Sunday when Eric Hinske scored from third on a fly out to shallow center and Bernie's throw was so late that it was cut off before it even got to Posada at home. This, according to Cashman and Torre, who point out that Bernie is suffering from tendonitis in his elbow, is the reason they finally decided to get Bernie out of center, and it is the only thing that can undoubtedly be expected to improve with Matsui in center.

In left, where, as I said, Matsui has been playing average defensive thus far this season, the Yankees will install Tony Womack. Womack has played 126 games in the outfield over the course of his career, starting 102 of them. All 102 of those starts came as the Diamondback's regular right fielder in 1999, a season in which he posted a spectacular 110 Rate (ten runs above average) at that position. That's not much of a sample, and Womack has aged five years and undergone one Tommy John surgery since then, but it is reason to believe that Womack could be at least as good if not better defensively in left than Matsui has been thus far. Factoring in Womack's speed and taking a second look at that 110 Rate in his one season as a starting outfielder, one could reasonably expect a defensive upgrade in left. Incidentally, many have already compared Womack's move to left to Chuck Knoblauch's in 2001. I could never understand the complaints I heard about Knoblauch's outfield defense that year and going back to the numbers I still can't. Knoblauch was five runs above average in left field in 2001.

The final defensive change is replacing Womack at second with rookie Robinson Cano. I don't have any statistical evidence to share regarding Cano's defense, as he will be making his major league debut tonight, but I can tell you what he's replacing. Historically, Tony Womack has been a terrible defensive second baseman. In his career year with the Cardinals last year, he was ten runs below average in the field. That was just his third full season as a second baseman (his other three seasons as a starter came at shortstop). In the other two, he was 13 runs below average in the first and 15 runs above average in the second. That above average year appeared to be a major fluke, but Womack has been a staggering 20 runs above average at second thus far this year. While it is incredibly unlikely that Womack would have maintained that level of play, it's even more unlikely that Cano, whose defensive reputation is mixed (he leads the Clippers with four errors), will be able to replace it. That said, Cano looked good in the field this spring, and should be able to play a better second base over the remainder of the season (this based on the misguided assumption that Cano will last that long as the Yankee starter) than Womack would have (assuming Womack would have reverted to form), thus giving the Yankees at the very least (though perhaps also at most) a modest upgrade at all three positions effected by these changes.

Offensively, things are a bit different. Womack and Matsui remain in place, though both will now have the added distraction of learning new positions (though one could argue that the distraction could snap Matsui out of his current 3-for-24 slump). What's more, with Bernie on the bench, Womack will likely be permanently installed in the second spot in the order (though with Womack on a 10 for 25 tear that will actually increase the on-base percentage at that spot in the order), with Cano batting ninth. Most significantly, of course, is the replacement of Bernie's bat with Cano's. After seeing a sharp decline in his production in 2003 and repeating that decreased level of performance in 2004 (.268 GPA both years), Bernie has really been scuffling thus far in 2005, hitting .247/.324/.312 (.224 GPA) in 106 plate appearances and seeing fewer pitches per at-bat than in any season since 1992. Cano, meanwhile, has hit .333/.368/.574 (.309) in 114 plate appearances with Columbus.

I'm not prepared to take Cano's 2005 stats at face value, however. For one thing, he's never shown that sort of power before. He's never slugged above .500 at any level in the minor leagues and this spring just one of his 10 hits went for extra bases. In addition, he's displayed a disconcerting reluctance to draw a walk over his minor league career, taking ball four once every 17.24 plate appearances, which is the exact same rate at which Tony Womack draws walks. As a result, Cano has a .326 career minor league on-base percentage and .047 isolated discipline (again, not far from Womack's .319/.044). Looking at the stats above, his isolated discipline thus far this year has been .035 as he's drawn just six walks in 114 plate appearances (one every 19 PA). Also, these are his numbers at triple-A, and are sure to decrease with a move to the majors (PECOTA projected him at .255/.298/.389 - .231 GPA). Consider the case of Andy Phillips, who posted a .366 career minor league OBP with a .070 ISD by drawing a walk once every 10.6 plate appearances, but has yet to draw a walk in 33 major leagues trips.

I've been suspicious of Cano for a while, but was willing to believe that, as he's just 22, he could emerge as a legitimate candidate for the Yankees second base job in 2006 with one more full year of triple-A seasoning in 2005. He looked to be making the most of that opportunity in Columbus. One could even argue that his surge in slugging (8 doubles, 3 triples and 4 homers in April) is evidence of typically late-developing power. But I fear this knee-jerk call-up will derail his progress rather than give him a chance that could not yet be described as either much-deserved or long-awaited. Meanwhile, it seemed a fair bet to assume that Bernie would be able to right his typically slow-starting ship to produce numbers similar to those he put up over the past two seasons, which were markedly better than Cano's career minor league numbers (.252 GPA).

Of course, if anyone thinks that the changes announced last night are going to be permanent, they may also be interested in this bridge I've been trying to sell. To begin with, the Yankees have a minimum of two more roster moves they need to make during this Devil Rays series alone. Cano replaces Karsay, who was designated for assignment, meaning he was removed from the 40-man roster and placed on waivers, where he is likely to be claimed. That restores order by bringing the Yankees down to eleven pitchers with a five-man bench, but it was also announced that Randy Johnson, despite his protestations, will not make his start on Wednesday due to the tightness in the left side of his groin (his push-side) that emerged in the ninth inning of his duel with Roy Halladay on Friday night. The Yankees don't expect to put Johnson on the DL (and by the way, this injury is minor and not related to his age or his knee, so take your told-you-sos elsewhere), but have said that they will call up double-A starter Sean Henn to make Wednesday's start (more on Henn prior to his start tomorrow).

That means someone else will have to go, the most likely candidates being Bubba Crosby and Andy Phillips, who are made somewhat redundant by Bernie's demotion to the bench. Of course, demoting one of them would return the Yankees to 12 pitchers, and then there's the issue of Tanyon Sturtze being ready to come off the DL. Sturtze could hold off until Thursday, and thus replace Henn on the roster, but that's still 12 pitchers, and then there's the impending return of Ruben Sierra perhaps as early as this weekend.

Sierra brings up another point. With Bernie ruled unfit to play center, Sierra, Giambi and Williams give the Yankees three men on their bench who are unfit to play defense. It had been my hope that Phillips, who can hit with power and play three infield positions, would have made Sierra expendable upon his return, but after his diamond tiara performance last night (5Ks), he's looking less and less ready to step into the roll as the Yankees' go-to bat in close and late situations and spot starts, particularly against lefties (he has a fierce small-sample reverse split right now). Not that I've given up hope. I still believe he'd be a better choice than Sierra over the long haul (note to Andy: take a few walks, you'll get better pitches to hit), but given this his window of opportunity he appears to be failing to convince the Yankees of that. Meanwhile, this is just further evidence of how much Giambi's contract screws up even the slightest attempt by the Yankees at proper team-building and roster construction. Sadly, the albatross status of Giambi's contract likely played a part in the Yankees' decision not to sign Carlos Beltran to a similarly lengthy deal this past offseason. As Alex said, this all could have been avoided.

With all of that said, it is my belief that the changes that are being implemented tonight are the prelude to a trade that will occur between now and the end of May, with the two most tantalizing available players being Placido Polanco and Mike Cameron.

Polanco plays Gold Glove-level defense at second (ten runs above average on his career) and can play equally well at short and third. He's currently struggling for playing time behind the hot-hitting rookie Chase Utley (.327/.387/.545 - .310) at second and the ice-cold David Bell (.207/.258/.310 - .194) at third (only Charlie Manuel knows why). I would happily trade Cano and a reliever or two for the 29-year-old Polanco. I would also give serious thought to playing Andy Phillips at third, moving Alex Rodriguez to shortstop, and installing Derek Jeter in center, with Polanco as a possible replacement at third should Phillips scuffle, which at worst would return the second base situation to it's current state and drastically improve centerfield. Polanco hit like Bernie over the past two years, but for a Gold Glove second baseman (as opposed to a stone statue in center) that's mighty fine.

Mike Cameron, meanwhile, is a less desirable option, but one that would more directly address the centerfield situation. Cameron, currently on the Mets 15-day DL with wrist tendonitis, is getting the old Wally Pipp from 23-year-old Victor Diaz (.275/.412/.507 - .312) and is expected to be shopped once he's activated, which could be as soon as this weekend. Cameron is almost three years older that Polanco, makes more money this season and, whereas Polanco is playing on a one-year arbitration deal having failed to find a suitor as a free agent this offseason [pause for the fire in my belly to subside], is under contract for $8 million next year with a $6.5/0.5 million option for 2007. Cameron is a two-time Gold Glove winner in center who is indeed above average in the field (topping out at ten runs above average in 2003). At the plate, he's more of a mixed bag, and could actually bring about a decrease in production compared to Bernie's last two seasons, particularly if the wrist tendonitis which as him on the DL effects the speed and strength of his swing and the severe decrease of plate discipline that dropped his OBP to .319 last year is reinforced by the fact that he also hit 30 homers for the first time in his career in 2004. Still, his defense just might be worth the gamble on his bat.

Ah, but that's all mere speculation. Hopefully we'll have something concrete to discuss in the near future. In the meanwhile, the Frankenyanks make their debut behind Kevin Brown at the Trop tonight. I can't say I'm eager to see this.

Comments
2005-05-03 11:55:17
1.   monkeypants
If Womack is (was?) actually above average in the (corner) OF because of his speed/range, should the Yankees move him to CF rather than to LF, and leave Matsui where he is?
2005-05-03 12:08:49
2.   Cliff Corcoran
My initial reaction was the same. Speed in center, right? It makes a teensy bit of sense to make sure he can play the OF at all before putting him in the most important defensive outfield position, but if he displays solid instincts in left, I could see them swapping him and Matsui before too long. Then again, I don't expect this experiment to last long enough for that to happen.
2005-05-03 12:19:41
3.   rbj
I was thinking along the same lines too. Rather than essentially having two players learn new positions, it would only be one. Why make things more complicated than necessary. Plus, even if Tony doesn't have a good arm, at least he should get to more balls than Bernie has been.

If Jason really can't play anymore (aside from his arm strainy thing) he should retire. It'd be the decent thing to do.

2005-05-03 12:37:25
4.   rsmith51
The decent thing to do would be to admit to steroid abuse. Of course this goes for all players who have done it.
2005-05-03 12:48:59
5.   markp
Why is Giambi described as an albatross?
His April numbers are right in line with those of 2002-2004 for April. In 2003 he had a 733 April and ended up at 939. He's much healthier this year than he was in 2003.
Using the rationale that a poor April means a player is finished would have gotten Jeter benched in 2004 (and I recall quite a few fans saying he should be last May.)
Giambi wasn't the reason they didn't get Beltran. Randy Johnson, Jared Wright, and Carl Pavano (and to a lesser degree Frod) were the reaon we didn't get Beltran. I know it's fashionable on Yankee blogs to blame everything on Giambi, but he has little or nothing to do with Beltran. (I don't think the Yankee "braintrust" thought he was worth what he was asking, and that may be borne out in 3-4 years.)
2005-05-03 13:10:33
6.   Roger C
Beltran was allegedly willing to take less to sign with the Yanks. Before he signed with the Mets, he was begging for an offer from the Yanks. The Yankee "braintrust" didn't think he was worth what he was asking precisely for the reason they are in the fix they're in now: They didn't recognize, and still don't recognize, the value of infield or outfield defense. Jeter at shortstop, Womack in left, Matsui in Center-- even Sheffield in right-- and the waste of a superior shortstop in A-Rod. What's being borne out right now is that Beltran was worth what he was asking--
and that Wright, Johnson, and Pavano were not. I don't know that Jeter is any more capable of playing the outfield than Womack, but if Duncan has a good year in AA and can maybe make the leap to Triple A, maybe in 2006 Spring Training we can see Duncan at 3rd, Jeter in Center, and A-Rod at Short. That's the core of a contender.
2005-05-03 13:23:46
7.   rbj
It's not so much Giambi being an albatross, but rather the $ per production that's an albatross. I'm still pulling for him to turn it around, my one real beef with him is to stop trying to pull everything!
2005-05-03 13:37:32
8.   Marcus
I've heard the Jeter in CF idea thrown around a lot on the internet lately, but something tells me it's just too wild an idea for it actually to happen. Has anything like this ever happened at this stage in a player's career? Has Jeter played CF at any stage of his career? Would Jeter even consider this idea? It all seems too unlikely.

I think it is an intriguing idea, and one that would be worth it for Jeter and the Yankees to consider. But I highly doubt it will even be seriously considered in the Yankees front office this year unless the Yankees really tank and can't make a trade for a CF.

Does anyone know of any similar situations? I recall a few 3Bs that have moved to the outfield (Chipper Jones, Sheffield), but any SSs moving to CF?

2005-05-03 13:39:53
9.   Cliff Corcoran
Marcus, there's this guy in the Hall of Fame named Robin Yount. Made the SS to CF move quite nicely.

But no, I don't expect it to happen.

2005-05-03 13:51:29
10.   NetShrine
I could swear that I once heard Jeter say that he marvels at OFers because he could never judge a fly ball. Not the best thing to hear in terms of considering him for CF.
2005-05-03 13:52:36
11.   Simone
The attachment to Phillips who is 28 years old and has shown nothing simply boggles the mind. As long as Cashman gets a left fielder soon, I think these moves are okay for the time being.

The reasons that George didn't sign Vlad or Beltran are the contracts of Mussina, Giambi, Jeter, and Rodriguez. These long term contracts are choking the Yankees.

2005-05-03 14:31:20
12.   JohnnyC
As for the notion that Beltran was offering the Yankees a discount at 100 million, consider that Vlad Guerrero, a much better ballplayer, signed with the LA Angels for 5/75. Even with the extra year, that's 25 million more than the 2004 MVP got. While Beltran is a nice player, and certainly the Yankees could use him in CF right now, he'd be one more financial millstone through 2010. Again, Beltran will not be the difference maker...it's pitching, pitching, pitching. As anemic as the Yankee offense has been in the past 4 post-seasons, it was their lack of depth in the bullpen and high-end starters that did 'em in. We can only hope that Messrs. Torre, Stottlemyre, and Cashman can stabilize the current staff so that we have a chance in hell to win it all this Fall...if we get that far.
2005-05-03 14:54:54
13.   rsmith51
I base my feelings on Jeter being a good CF on
1) his speed
2) his ranging for pop ups
3) his strong arm
4) his lack of lateral movement at SS

He would be more valuable as a SS if the 3b wasn't a better SS than he is.

2005-05-03 14:59:12
14.   Frank Yank
Its time for a Trade: Joe for Lou. Back in 1960, Detroit and Cleveland exchanged their managers to shake up their respective teams. Jimmy Dykes was Cleveland's hot headed manager, who in 1959 almost beat out the White Sox for the pennant. The owner of the Indians couldn't stand him though and so, he was swapped for Detroit's manager. In 1961, the Tigers gave the Yanks all they could handle, even for an all-time team! Its time for that to happen here. The only thing wrong with our beloved Yanks is the need to put the fear of _ in them but its not God, or George, we need. Its Sweet Lou. Number 14 can lead us to the Title.
2005-05-03 15:07:32
15.   markp
In 1961 the Tigers were managed by Bob Scheffing. Dykes had been fired the previous season when the Tigers finished 6th.
Detroit's 1961 season had one of the biggest fluke season's ever (Cash), and nobody in their prime on the entire roster had a below average season.

Jeter's value diminishes substantially in the OF. He's a very good hitter for a middle IF, but pretty average in the OF.

2005-05-03 15:21:53
16.   strangeluck
Cliff, I think you're being a little hard on Cano, by looking at his career numbers as a whole instead of on a year by year basis. His plate discipline has improved over the last couple of years, and while he's obviously no Bonds, I don't think 50 walks would be an unreasonable expectation over the course of a full season.
2005-05-03 15:47:35
17.   Murray
It's not a failure by the Yankees to think defense is valuable. On the contrary, the Yankees cited their defensive strength as a reason for their successful run between 1996-2001 all the time. The problem today is that the Yankees don't appear to believe that their current defense is weak (at least not publicly). The Yankees are at the center of the debate between those who rely heavily on statistics to evaluate defense and those who rely mostly on first-hand impressions to evaluate defensive ability. I know that I side with the statistics guys, but I'm not convinced that I'm absolutely right about it.

What's fairer: looking at a month's worth of AAA stats for a guy who's never demonstrated either the ability to hit for power or judge the strike zone as the basis for a wish-fulfillment fantasy that he has turned the developmental corner toward stardom, or the reliance on a few years of performance records to state that although there is hope that the player may have truly improved, it is worthwhile to remain skeptical while awaiting further evidence?

2005-05-03 16:43:39
18.   redshift
I have officially given up on Brown. Maybe he will go punch a wall now so we can be rid of him of a while.
2005-05-03 16:46:59
19.   JeremyM
I'm officially jumping off a bridge. No playoffs this year.
2005-05-03 16:55:14
20.   Marcus
And Kevin Brown reminds everyone that there are far worse problems on this team than just defense.
2005-05-03 17:19:21
21.   weeping for brunnhilde
Caught stealing, down by five?

We've officially entered the twilight zone.

2005-05-03 17:31:28
22.   jalexei
This is somehow more painful given that Extra Innings is sending the Tampa feed.

It pains me to wish ill upon anyone, but as noted above, please, Kevin, punch something. Really hard...

2005-05-03 18:31:35
23.   murphy
hey redshift, i dropped kbrown from my FANTASY team two starts ago. given up? yeah, he's not even good enough for my FAKE baseball team.

on the bright side: jeter hit the team's first triple of the year.

2005-05-03 18:34:25
24.   Nick from Washington Heights
So, Alex, is this the low you're talking about? Or is it going to get worse?
2005-05-03 18:48:23
25.   Simone
On a positive note, Womack is a good left fielder so there may be no need to trade for one. He is quick, gets to ball and has a strong arm. Cano plays a solid 2nd and Matsui is solid center fielder. These defensive changes may work out.

The negative: Brown sucks like rotten eggs. He better be released after this game. What a useless waste of ...

BTW, which one of you hijacked the truck with Yankee caps? I want to buy one. LOL!

2005-05-03 18:51:55
26.   Nick from Washington Heights
I think that this was Brown's last game as a yank. no joke.
2005-05-03 18:56:31
27.   redshift
"I think that this was Brown's last game as a yank. no joke."

We can only hope. I think I can hear an ax falling, we just have to step back and see whose neck gets in the way.

2005-05-03 19:02:23
28.   Simone
I'm taking back Womack having a strong arm. He has an okay arm, but isn't any worse than Matsui, I think.
2005-05-03 19:12:38
29.   brockdc
Truly impressive.

Just when I thought the Yankees couldn't look any more impotent, they get thrashed by a slap-hitting, glorified triple-A club.

Wasn't crazy about Cano's body language tonight. I'd just assume that anyone starting for the Yanks for the first time might be a bit more amped.

I haven't been this indifferent to watching Yankee at-bats since 1983. Their reputation clearly precedes them. Tonight's Devil Rays' announcers keep warning us that the Yankees are poised to explode. If by "explode" they mean "implode," then I agree.

2005-05-03 19:37:02
30.   dtrain
markp, i think it's more than giambi just having a bad april. it's giambi having a horrible april following a horrible entire 2004 campaign following a 2003 campaign in which he was already starting to show signs of decline (power, but very low average by his standards).

Historically, he's supposedly a better hitter when he plays the field. Any thoughts on getting him more time at first to see if that helps jump start his offense?

2005-05-03 19:40:00
31.   dtrain
"I think that this was Brown's last game as a yank. no joke."

what are the yanks' options with this scrub? i can see him possibly getting sent down to the bullpen, but how can we get rid of him altogether?

does anyone else ever wonder why george doesn't just put a hit on him? you can't tell me that george steinbrenner's never had a man killed before...

2005-05-03 20:07:22
32.   Clay Caviness
Last start, a good one, Kevin Brown did his normal warm-up then threw a "simulated inning". I think I heard on the radio that Brown did not think the "simulated inning" did anything and didn't do it this time

Selfish $^%@&*.

2005-05-03 20:25:21
33.   redshift
"i can see him possibly getting sent down to the bullpen, but how can we get rid of him altogether?"

I don't know if having somebody who takes a few innings to get into the swing of things is really suited for relief work.

2005-05-03 21:11:26
34.   Adam B
Call me crazy, but I think there's one more adjustment that needs to be done with the lineup.

What is it you say?

Bat Giambi 2nd.

That's right. Sure he's hitting below .220. Yes, he's barely slugging .350. But you see that OBP? .400 despite all of that. And if he's not going to slug or hit for the Yankees, then atleast maybe he can get on to give Sheff, Matsui and A-Rod someone to drive in. And besides, with him being so slow, I can't see Sojo sending him at the wrong times. And Woe-mack goes to the bottom of the lineup where he belongs. It's a win-win situation in my mind.

2005-05-03 22:05:22
35.   justin
adam b I hear ya.. I've been thinking about the same thing. Plus he won't be clogging the bases ahead of speedsters Sheff and Matsui. When Giambi bats ahead of Tino and Womack, why would any pitchers pitch to him.
2005-05-03 23:12:16
36.   Zack
I really can't remember a Yankee I have disliked as much as Brown in a long time. He is the total package: a jerk, a jerk who sucks, and a jerk who sucks with a really unbearable contract. He's the type of guy I can just picture telling the "new guy" Cano to "F-off Rookie." He has really done nothing to make us even consider rooting for him. What could possibly be the upside of keeping him at this point instead of letting Wang take his place when Wright comes back (if that happens, and not that Wright is much better)? Just cut ties and move on, admit the mistake and let us be rid of his detrimental pitching and attitude. Yuck...
2005-05-04 04:46:05
37.   dtrain
redshift, i wasn't saying that brown would be good in the bullpen, just that i can't see what else they could do with him. they're not going to send him down to the minors with the amount of money they're paying him...are they?

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