Larry Mahnken and SG's

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog

"Hey, it's free!"

The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog has moved!  Our new home is:

Larry Mahnken
Sean McNally
Fabian McNally
John Brattain

This is an awesome FREE site, where you can win money and gift certificates with no skill involved! If you're bored, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out!


Disclaimer: If you think this is the official website of the New York Yankees, you're an idiot. Go away.

September 24, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Hooray for the Wild Card! The Yankees finally finished off the Red Sox last night behind Jose Contreras' eight shutout innings. Of course, 162 games isn't enough to determine who the best team in the division is, you need a seven game series for that. Really, how unfair was the old system, where teams got left out of the playoffs while the team that finished ahead of them in the standings got to go? There is still work to be done, of course, and someday we will have realized the ultimate in fairness, where every team gets into the playoffs, regardless of record. And they play a one-game playoff instead of a seven game playoff, to maximize the randomness. And they play on a neutral site. And they play football instead of baseball.

Anyway, to continue my rundown of the Yankees' likely playoff roster, today I move onto the outfielders.

With the offensive prowess the Yankees feature in their infield, where bats are often hard to find, you'd figure the Yankees would be the highest scoring team in baseball, or at least second highest, since the Red Sox were basically starting with the same infield advantage. You would, of course, be wrong, as the Yankees are fifth in the major leagues in scoring, behind the Red Sox, Blue Jays and two National League teams (you know, the league where pitchers hit), the Braves and Cardinals.

The Yankees have failed to dominate because they've failed to assemble a collection of good hitting outfielders, instead running out a series of average or below average hitters for their positions. Before we start attacking Cashman and the rest of the Yankees' managment for this, let's be sure to remember that the Yankees' outfield was expected to be better than this. Bernie Williams was the best hitting centerfielder in baseball last season, Hideki Matsui was looked upon as the Japanese Brian Giles, and Raul Mondesi...well, Hideki Matsui was looked upon as the Japanese Brian Giles. Sure, the Yankees could have signed Barry Bonds instead of Rondell White in the 2001 offseason. He was sitting around waiting for someone to make him an offer, and while he would have cost them at least $15 million more, they ended up spending it on useless pieces anyway, and if they'd signed him, they'd be flying a brand new World Champions pennant off of the flagpole in Monument Park.

They could have signed Manny Ramirez, they could have traded for Gary Sheffield or Jim Edmonds a couple of years ago. That's not the point of what I'm writing. I'm evaluating the team as it is, and what it is in the outfield is...average. With the Yankees' financial resources, you would have figured they could do better.

The most disappointing performance this season has been by Bernie Williams, who as I said was the best hitting centerfielder in the majors last season. He looked great in April, with a 1.054 OPS for the month, which was especially pleasing because he had never hit much in the early season before. But he ran into the outfield wall in a game against Seattle, tearing cartilige in his knee. His May OPS was only .567 before he finally decided to have surgery, knocking him out of action until mid-July.

Bernie's not going to be fully healthy this year, and he might not even be back at full strength next season. His batting eye is fine and he's still getting on base at an acceptable rate, but he's not hitting for very much power. There's not really anything the Yankees can do about it except move him down in the batting order, which Torre seems to have done, batting him sixth, behind Posada and ahead of Matsui.

Matsui hasn't been bad this season, but he has been a terrible disappointment. Nobody really thought he'd hit 50 HRs in the majors, but we figured he could hit at least 25, and get on base at a .380 clip. What we got is a guy with a .350 OBP, a bunch of doubles, and less than 20 HRs. On it's own, those are acceptable numbers for a left fielder--below average, but acceptable--but when you look at his splits, you notice that a lot of that value came in June, when he had a 1.157 OPS. I don't think that June was entirely an optical illusion, but I don't think we'll see it again this season. Going into 2004, I have hope that he can be something like the hitter we thought we were getting, but going into the postseason, his numbers are, at best, uninspiring. Like Boone, he shouldn't hurt the Yankees, but he shouldn't be expected to help them much, either.

The outfield position the Yankees have gotten the most production out of is the one they expected to get the least out of--right field. Raul Mondesi was red hot in April, but ice cold in May, June and July, and finally got his overpaid ass shipped out of town before the trade deadline. Since then, Torre has used Karim Garcia, Ruben Sierra, Juan Rivera, and David Dellucci, until he was hurt running out a ground ball. It seems to have come down mostly to a platoon with Rivera and Garcia, and it's worked out surprisingly well. Garcia hits far better against righties than lefties, and vice versa for Rivera. Together, they should be able to put up an OPS around .800, which, once again, isn't helping a lot, but it isn't hurting.

Defensively, the Yankees struggle in the outfield just like they've struggled everywhere. Bernie Williams was always overrated defensively--he always took bad routes to fly balls, but his speed made up for it, and on balance he was a pretty good fielder, despite his weak arm. Age, and now his knee injury, has slowed him down, and the poor instincts and bad throws have made him a defensive liability in center. Curiously, they still run him out there, even though they have a better option standing right next to him. Hideki Matsui isn't fast, he doesn't have a great arm, but he's got good instincts, and a decent arm. His effective range is about the same as Bernie's, and his superior arm makes him a better center field option. He won't win any Gold Gloves out there, but when he was filling in for Bernie in the spring and early summer, he did a fine job. And yet, the day Bernie came back, he was right back in center field, like there wasn't anything wrong with his knee at all. Loyalty and respect is one thing, but Torre could have at least tried to sell the switch to Bernie, at least as a part time move. Yeah, maybe he did, but I don't think Bernie is so proud that he would have shot down that option.

Karim Garcia and Juan Rivera aren't great with the glove--Rivera's got pretty good range and an average arm, Garcia's got a strong arm that's a bit wild, and his range is average. Just like their batting, their defense won't hurt the Yankees, but it won't help, either. A flip-flop of Bernie and Matsui would make their outfield defense about average, maybe a little better--I have a feeling that Bernie can be a plus defender in left field.

Overall, the outfield isn't hurting them. I'd rate all three positions a C, but they really could have done better. There are 39 qualified outfielders in MLB with an .800 OPS or higher. None of them are on the Yankees. Sure, that's not enough to go around, especially after considering that a few teams are going to have two guys, and the Braves and Rockies (and, technically, the Diamondbacks and Royals) have three, but you'd expect the Yankees, the 180 million pound gorilla, to be one of the hoarders, not one of the guys shut out.

Well, that's baseball for you. Before the season, I would have sworn the Yankees would get a .900+ OPS out of Bernie and Matsui. Maybe next year. And maybe someone out there will surprise us, and turn it on in October, they do have the talent. You never know.

Tomorrow: the starting rotation.