Year in Review: LF/C
It’s come that time time to look back at the club and assess the good, bad and the ugly. Unfortunately we don’t have to put this off until November, but it is what it is. I can however avoid typing this with a heavy heart, as last night the Big Panda wiped the smirk off of Justin Verlander’s face and too-many-homered his way to beating the Tigers in game one of the WS. I’ll admit I carry a bit of bias towards SF after my stint in the Bay Area, and a slice of redemption tasted rather good after watching the Tigers take advantage of my stone cold Yankees and some incompetent umpires. Rant over, on with the show.
We’ll start out in left field, which was a microcosm of the SWB Yankees, in that it was a revolving circus for much of the year. Raul Ibanez’ PS heroics and Andruw Jones’ past gold gloves aside, it was indeed Barnum and Bailey when it came to defense out there. I suppose it doesn’t help when you’re following up a guy who lapped the field in defensive metrics the previous two seasons and ran away with the Fielding Bible Awards, but I digress. First up is Andruw Jones; a shell of his former glorious self. There was a time that Andruw was one of the absolute best defenders in baseball history at his position. Alas, those days are well behind him, and this year his bat went on hiatus as well. Andruw ended the year with a slash line of .188/.291/.422/.712 Yikes. Granted those numbers were on the back of a .181 BABIP, but when you hit nothing but fly balls and roll over on weak grounders your average on balls in play is going to stink. The only saving grace for Andruw is that when he does get ahold of one it’s a no doubt see ya later bomb. Unfortunately there weren’t many of those and over the course of a full season he would have challenged Kurtis Kranderson for the leader in K’s. It recently came out that he was ailing from a lingering injury to his hand, but please, if he wants to play another four years let it be somewhere else.
On to Raul Ibanez; who was our hero many times over this October. While I will never forget his amazing efforts to keep us in the series’, there were some flaws to his game. To be fair to both Raul and Andruw, these guys weren’t hired to be the platoon LF’er, and it started to look as if the time in the field may have taken it’s toll on them. Raul started to fall off the map in the second half as well until some guy named Ichiro showed up in the Bronx. A second half swoon isn’t all that surprising from a 40 year old that had put up a decent workload, and if we could have kept him off the field his overall numbers might have looked a little better. Either way, a final line of .228/.302/.414/.716 was pretty bleak, but he managed quite a few timely hits both in the beginning of the year and of course to cap it all off. He’ll go down as putting up one of the greatest post-season performances of all time (5th highest in PS history per WPA) and he had the stadium rocking like crazy, but I would call it his swan song in NY.
Last up for the major LF contributors is Ichiro! One of the biggest surprise trades of the year, Ichiro was revived after a long and fruitless career in Seattle. His speed and defense were a breath of fresh air; something we had been certainly missing since the loss of Gardner. His splits in Yankee Stadium had always been strong, and in spite of falling numbers the last two seasons there was some hope that a change of scenery and the hope of October baseball would put a spring back in his step. Ichi did come around, and ended the second half with a .311/.332/.382/.694 slash line. His BABIP did jump over 50 points, so you could chalk his spike in performance up to a bit of luck, but results are results no matter how they come. As far as bringing the rockstar back, my contention is that he’d make a great fourth OF’er; a guy who could sub any OF position, start once in a while and come in for a defensive upgrade assuming the new RF’er was more bat than glove.
Now on to the catcher position. Starting off with the backup Chris Stewart, who came to NY via San Francisco. I’ll admit i’m not much of a fan of trading a viable bullpen arm for a position that we already have filled, but that’s for another day. Even as a mere backup Stewart never really impressed me. By the eye test his defense was OK but nothing spectacular. On the offensive side I swore he was trotting around with a horseshoe in his pocket. Where Martin had given the finger to the BABIP gods, Stewart was apparently sacrificing chickens in the locker room for them. Hit after hit was finding holes and bouncing off of infielders gloves. Occasionally he’d run into one and get it into the OF but those times were few and far between. His final line of .241/.292/.319/.611 is a bit above his limited career totals and not very promising. As far as a return to the BX, I suppose i’d bring him to camp and see what happens. Really it hinges on Romine, who missed most of 2012 with back injuries and is now playing in the AFL to get some work in. If he’s healthy then Stewart should be traded/released. Not sure what, if any return could be had there but I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.
This leaves us with our starting catcher. The Russ bus started out the season chugging along at his usual pace, at one point ranked in the top third of AL catchers in wOBA, but the wheels came off getting deeper into the season and his average plummeted below the Mendoza line. Russ did manage to turn things around down the stretch; at that point recovering his BA was not in the cards but getting some big hits and driving in runs was enough for some of us anyway. In spite of a lack of hits, he still took his walks and hit for a career high HR total. He ended up with a .211/.311/.403/.713 line and an OPS+ of 92, a bit below league average for all hitters. In terms of wOBA ranked against AL catchers only, Martin came in with a .316 mark and a 95 wRC+. That leaves him ranked 10th in the AL, which in spite of slugging over 20 HR’s is still on the worng side of average. The good news is that he’s pretty solid behind the dish, and the Yanks ended up as one of the best teams in terms of actual vs. expected strikes. This all has to do with pitch framing, a subject that Mike Fast first covered and recently Jeff sullivan over at fangraphs expanded on in his article “Getting and not getting the calls”. Getting ten extra strikes per 1000 pitches may not seem like much, but they do add up over the course of a season with ~26K pitches thrown, and when you consider the difference between your pitcher having to get three outs an inning vs. four, it can easily mean the difference between a win and a loss. Overall Martin was underwhelming, but that may allow the Yankees to buy low on a one year deal hoping that Russ will want to try and get his value up fora multi-year contract. It would give the Yankees time to evaluate guys like Romine and even allow JR Murphy another year to adjust to AA and possibly push his way to Scranton. I wouldn’t be opposed to a one year offer that gives us a buffer, but anything more than that is pushing it.