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March 1, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - Left Field
by SG

Hideki Matsui is a good player who's overpaid. There's certainly the argument that he increases the Yankees' international exposure which makes him worth it, but his performance on the field, while solid, is hurt by poor defense. Based on feedback, I've decided to fight my inherent laziness and not just use last year's defensive numbers any more, but to try and project what can be expected going forward.

To do this, I retroactively rated the defensive values for each starting position player on the Yankees back to 2001, using this method that was posted a few months ago on Baseball Think Factory by Sean Smith. For those who don't feel like clicking on the link, the heart of this defensive system is zone rating, which is the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS reporters. You basically compute the chances a player had to make a play and multiply that times his zone rating. You then compare the same number of plays multiplied against the average zone rating at the same position. The difference between the two is multiplied by a run value estimate (.85 for OF, .75 for IF), and that tells you the difference between that player and the average player. There are further calculations for middle infielders including double plays, as well as for OF assists, and catchers use entirely different stats. If anyone wants the full details, feel free to click on the link.

Anyway, as always, standard disclaimers about defensive metrics apply. Until play by play data is more readily available, there's a lot of estimating and tweaking involved in these numbers, but this system seems to map pretty well to other systems I've seen. For the players I've already given projected WARPs for, I'll go back and recalculate when I wrap up the positional players.

The table below shows Hideki Matsui's Zone Rating runs compared to the average left fielder, pro-rated to 150 games. I am weighing the years with a heavier credit to the most recent seasons to arrive at a projection for 2006, which should handle age-related decline while still smoothing out anomolous seasons. For players with 5 years, I'm weighing with a ratio of 5 times 2005 + 4 times 2004 + 3 times 2003 + 2 times 2002 + 1 times 2001, and dividing by 15. for someone like Matsui with only 3 years of data, I just weighed 3-2-1.

Not so pretty. Matsui's defense is a problem. It projects to cost the Yankees about 12 runs this year. If he hits like he did in 2004, that's ok. However, if he hits like 2003 and 2005, it's a bit of an issue. Matsui's projections for 2006.

In this table, RARP are the projected offensive runs above a replacement left fielder using a linear weights-based formula. I've switched to FRAA, which is fielding runs above an average player, projected over 150 games. For comparison's sake, Matsui was worth 4.0 WARP last year.

ZiPS says Matsui will hit .294/.372/.477 in 2006, with 41 2B and 22 HRs, and would be worth 28 runs over a replacement left fielder.

Marcel is predicting a line of .290/.360/.470, with 35 2B and 20 HRs. This would make Matsui worth 19 RARP.

PECOTA is close to Marcel, predicting Matsui will be worth 20 runs over a replacement left fielder.

Age over 30 + shaky defensive projections indicate a decline by Matsui, somewhere on the order of 1-1.5 wins. He was a 7.5 WARP player in 2004, but given the similarity of 2003 and 2005, 2004 looks like the outlier to me. It'd be nice if the Yankees had a better option to spot in LF and RF from time to time to DH Matsui as well as Sheffield, but right now, they don't.

Matsui's a good player, not a great one, who gets overrated by traditional statistics like RBI. It will be interesting to see who ages better, him or Damon. Then we can compare which one was more overpaid. Fun, fun, fun.

Mark LF down as 1 win downgrade relative to last year for now. Thankfully, the biggest upgrade on the team is up next.

In other assorted odds and ends out of spring traing, Kyle Farnsworth is making a good impression so far, as is Eric Duncan.

In the first intra-squad game of the spring season, Phil Hughes pitched two perfect innings opposing Mike Mussina, who pitched two scoreless himself. Johnny Damon singled and walked in his Yankee debut, and Duncan went 1-3 with 2 walks.

The first spring game of the season will be broadcast on YES Thursday at 1:15 PM EST on YES and on I can't wait to watch Al Leiter and Scott Erickson in their push to make the team.

Speaking of Leiter, he's still waiting for a call from Team USA. And I'm still waiting for a call from Monica Bellucci.

Team USA may not be buying it, but Leiter does have a fan in Joe Torre.

Manager Joe Torre has been impressed so far with the left-hander Al Leiter, who won his trust last season. Even though Leiter is a non-roster player, he seems to have a decent chance of making the team, especially if Carl Pavano opens the season on the disabled list. "I like what I see," Torre said. "When you look at it, there's no room, but when someone makes a case for himself, you have to figure it out."

13 man pitching staff Joe. It makes too much sense not to do it.

Incidentally, for those who like to read up on prospects, Pending Pinstripes and In George We Trust have been doing excellent writeups on some of the Yankees' prospects.

Also, Yanks Blog is running community projections for the Yankees' starting nine. I encourage everyone to chime in and see if there's anything to the old saying about the wisdom of crowds.