Tuesday, April 26, 2005


That's Not Wright

I've never been too good at coming up with titles, although I didn't mind the R&J&CP from a few days back....

Anyway, I was thinking about it last night, and I realized, for the first time in years, the Yankees don't have a backup plan for a starting pitcher. There's no 6th starter on the roster, no David Cone in the bullpen or Orlando Hernandez or Ramiro Mendoza. There's nothing. It's looking like Chien-Ming Wang will get his spot in the rotation. (Current stats are here).

CMW (as I will refer to him for the rest of this article) is a control guy in the minors who John Sickels gave a B-. I like minor league control pitchers, and CMW's figures are exceptional. The highest BB/9 that he allowed was back in 2003, and it was a 2.36. CMW could probably use one more year of development, but in 10 career AAA outings, he's posted a 4:1 K:BB ratio. A guy like CMW probably will have some value in the bigs at some point, but I doubt it'll be with the Yanks.

CMW opened some eyes in spring training this year, with 9 solid innings (only 1 run allowed and 3 walks). For the time being, CMW would have to completely fall apart to hurt the Yankees as much as Wright was.

4/8 - BAL: 4 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 4 K
4/13 - BOS: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 2 K, 97 PIT (his one OK outing)
4/18 - TB: 5.3 IP, 11 H, 8 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 4 K
4/23 - TEX: 5.3 IP, 11 H, 6 R (4 ER), 1 B, 3 K

For a change, a won-loss record actually helps describe why this isn't going to hurt the Yanks too much. They're 2-2 in these starts, 3 of which were absolutely abysmal, and none of which even qualified for the 6 IP, 3 ER "quality start" threshold.

The Jaret Wright signing, in retrospect and as many said at the time, was stupid. Brian Cashman even admitted to misreading the market for pitching when he didn't pick up the option on Leiber, who would have been cheaper than Wright and ended up getting a similar contract in Philly (and is now 4-0 and one of the few reasons that Philly is hovering around .500 at this point). Wright has only had one very good season, and throughout his career has been plagued with arm troubles. Exactly the kind of guy you shouldn't want to give $21 million to.

The Yankee lineup, at this point:

1. Jeter (SS) .361/.478/.514
2. Williams (CF) .258/.359/.333
3. Sheffield (RF) .324/.391/.473
4. Matsui (LF) .297/.365/.486
5. A-Rod (3B) .280/.330/.488
6. Giambi (DH) .218/.394/.400
7. Posada (C) .286/.366/.381
8. Martinez (1B) .200/.310/.360
9. Womack (2B) .250/.304/.297, 2 SB, 50% success rate

I put Womack's steal rate because if he's not stealing bases, he's completely useless, as opposed to just "useless."

I don't like relying on PECOTA to analyze things, but just for perspective:

1. Jeter (SS) .294/.360/.451
2. Williams (CF) .273/.369/.435
3. Sheffield (RF) .292/.392/.518
4. Matsui (LF) .287/.377/.484
5. A-Rod (3B) .289/.383/.551
6. Giambi (DH) (I view these as unpredictable because of the injuries and such).
7. Posada (C) .269/.393/.479
8. Martinez (1B) .267/.350/.444
9. Womack (2B) .261/.303/.353, 73.7% steals rate

Jeter's the only Yankee who is blowing away his projections in the early going, and he will regress at some point. Others, like Posada, have underachieved in the power department, and nothing in his previous years indicate a major decline in order (over the last 5 years, Posada's isolated power has falled in a range of .198-.240, with last year's .209 falling in the middle of those). The point of this exercise is to demonstrate how formidable the Yankee lineup is, even with quite a few "errors" in offseason management (I will get there in a minute).

So far, this year, the Yankees have 5.53 R/G. This is in tune with the past few years:

2002: 5.57
2003: 5.38
2004: 5.54

Let's peg the Yanks to do a weighted average of those three for this year (this is highly imprecise, but the specifics for this aren't all that important). So they'll score, hypothetically, 5.50 R/G, which translates to around 891 runs. That's high. I expect it to be around there by the end of the season.

So what are we saying here? The Yankees are obviously going to score a lot of runs. But where did they go wrong? Why are they struggling early on? Is there hope?

1. Losing Jaret Wright and having him replaced by CMW is the least of the Yankee worries at this point. CMW will be serviceable in the bigs. It's possible that he'll be a slight downgrade from Wright, but considering how poorly Wright pitched in his first 4 starts, just about anything would be better.
2. They haven't gone wrong yet. They're still a prolific offensive team, and Mussina's got another year left in the tank (nagging injuries got the best of him last year, I think, and, if I recall correctly, he was outstanding down the stretch).
3. I feel free to Monday-morning quarterback at this point, so here's an offseason plan that would have worked out a bit better for the Yanks, IMO:

- The players that the Yankees added this offseason will be making, on average (across their contract), $19 million, + Randy Johnson. (per Hardball Dollars).
- I'll go on record as saying I disagree with the Randy Johnson deal. As fantastic a pitcher as he is, using those resources to sign Carlos Beltran would have been a better fit for this team, if not in 2005, then certainly in '06 and beyond.

Pretend, hypothetically, that the Yanks did have Beltran. Beltran's plate apperances would come from the DH slot (Giambi) or the 1B slot (Tino) or the CF slot (Bernie).

So I played around with some PECOTA. Assuming 325 PAs for Bernie's production and 325 PAs for Tino's production....(and 650 for Beltran), Beltran provided 19.5 more XRB (basic XR, which is the best I could do with the stat set that I had). PECOTA essentially disagrees with me, but the Tino and Bernie predictions were both fairly optimistic, I thought, and the way that Giambi is hitting, his plate appearances might be tapped into. I'll say that Beltran would have added 20 runs on the season, which translates to 2 or 3 wins, depending on the pitching, at that point.

Beltran's greater value would be after this season, when Bernie and Tino won't be there to salvage those plate appearances. Planning for the future, however, is not an option under the current administration.

In any case, it's April 25 and the Yankees are 8-11 and only 4 out. I'd still peg the Yanks for around 95 wins and to be extremely competitive for the division.

Losing Jaret Wright won't kill 'em, and if losing Jaret Wright would kill anyone, that team isn't good enough to be in the playoffs, anyway.

Beltran's bat would add 2-3 wins, but if I remember correctly, Bernie Williams defense (or lack thereof) in 2004 cost the Yankees 5 wins. So if Beltran played league average defense, he would have been an upgrade of 7-8 games...since he's a great defensive player, we can value him closer to 10 for the Yankees. Beltran's WARP1 score from last year was 8.9, and his WARP3 score was 10.0...what if he continues to improve as he has thus far in his career? I can say without looking back that what the Yankees did with their dollars in the offseason not just bordered on absurd, but completely boggles me. I can usually see the purpose behind most things, whether I agree with it or not, and arrogance and inadequate scouting don't count as purpose.
Yeah, the defensive aspect is a good point; Beltran's gold glove-caliber defense would help the pitching staff, too.
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