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July 24, 2006

How to Play Like Crap
by SG

It's not really a newsflash that the Yankees have stunk over their last five games. On July 18, after winning nine of ten games, the Yankees were .5 games out of first place and seemingly surging. Since then, they've lost four of five games, culminating in today's 15-3 13-5 thrashing at the hands of the Blue Jays, and have dropped two more games in the standing.

I realize that the popular opinion among many is to blame this all on Alex Rodriguez, who had a horrendous week (particularly defensively), but looking at the five game stats shows an entire team in a slump.

So the whole team is hitting like RLYW's favorite whipping boy Tony Womack right now. Derek Jeter is hitting decently, but when the team is struggling to get any offense, I really wish he'd eschew the stupid bunts that he is so fond of, especially when there is no one else on the team that is hitting. I've been touting Andy Phillips due to his minor league performance and his glove, but his offense has gotten to the point where he is hurting the team, regardless of his glove being an upgrade over Giambi. I don't think the team can afford to keep running him out there at this point. He's not a passable first baseman right now. I don't know that Carlos Pena is any great bet, but I'd have to think he'd outperform Phillips right now, and I was not very confident in that before.

I'm hoping we've seen the last of Ponson and Wilson. Proctor's been upping his K rate as the season has progressed, which is a good sign going forward. He's looked nasty since the break.

So, back to Rodriguez and his horrible defense, here is a look at just how bad he was by the numbers. As I've mentioned before, I've been trying to track defense weekly by saving ZR and fielding stats every week. Here's the story of Rodriguez's season on defense so far this year.

Focusing on his play since the All Star Break, Rodriguez has had 23 balls hit into his zone. The average 3B in the AL would have converted 17 of these chances into outs. Rodriguez has only converted 11. I find Rodriguez's defensive problems to be really mind-boggling, because he was very good in his first year at 3B (around +9 runs over average) and was previously a very good shortstop. Hitters all have slumps, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect more defensive consistency than Rodriguez has given the team over the last 1.5 seasons. Hopefully it gets better.

Anyway, the team's playing like crap but are still only 2.5 games out, and a few days closer to having some reinforcements back, although who will be back and when appear to still be open questions. If Hideki Matsui's progress continues, it'll be interesting to see how the Yankees handle Melky Cabrera. Cabrera's had a decent season to this point, although still below average on offense and defense for a corner OF. He's shown good potential in a variety of areas including the best throwing arm the Yankees have had in the OF in a few years, and has played better than Bernie Williams or Bubba Crosby. The one area where Melky can make the biggest difference is on defense, a sore spot for the Yankees. Melky's Zone Rating is still below average in LF, but the trend is very encouraging, as you can see by the numbers below.

If you break Melky's season into two halves, you can see the stark difference in his defensive numbers. A zone rating of .890 in LF would make a player about nine runs better than average over a full season. Again, we're dealing with defensive metrics which are imperfect and we're also dealing with extremely small sample sizes, so none of this should be considered to be anything more than some information that you may or may not find useful. If he can maintain an above average ZR with his plus arm, he'll be an asset in RF. My fear is that Melky's going to ride the pine for Bernie when he is a better option. Getting Matsui back will be a big plus, whether he replaces Melky or Bernie, but it'll be a bigger plus if he replaces Bernie.

Incidentally, remember when Joe Torre said he was going to "platoon Bernie and Aaron Guiel"? What kind of platoon has Bernie playing against every freaking righty and lefty in the league?

The Yanks are off to Texas, a place they've always seemed to play poorly in. Maybe they can bring back Wayne Franklin for old-time's sake. Yeah, I'm still annoyed about that. Randy Johnson (10-8, 4.88) takes on Kevin Millwood (10-5, 4.61) in the opener. We'll see if I was right not to be worried about Johnson throwing around 130 pitches last time out.

By the way, there's a new feature on the left under the Hardball Times and Yankees World Series DVD links. You can cast your vote for whom the Yankees should DFA next and that person will be the next person put on watch. I'll leave voting open all week.