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December 14, 2006

Who's On First?
by SG

Right now the Yankees' roster is apparently short at a position that is traditionally the biggest offensive position in baseball. They have Andy Phillips and drafted Josh Phelps in the Rule 5 draft, but neither one is particularly inspiring. The Yankees have been linked to free agents Doug Mientkiewicz, Shea Hillenbrand, Eduardo Perez, and Craig Wilson. There have also been rumors about the availability of Richie Sexson in trade. One other name I haven't seen mentioned but who is available is Matt Lecroy.

None of these choices really seem all that appealing, but we can try and compare them based on how they project heading into 2007. To do this, I'm going to use the newest kid on the projection block, CHONE, by Sean Smith who runs the great sabermetric blog Anaheim Angels all the way. Smith's one of the guys who got me into zone rating for analyzing defense and does a lot of other interesting work.

So, using Smith's projections for offense and defense, here's how the people listed above compare for 2007.

In the table above, def is the player's projected defensive value in 2007. lw/600 is runs above/below average using linear weights and the projected numbers above for 600 plate appearances.

Richie Sexson's the best projected player going forward, but he'd also be the most expensive to acquire in terms of salary and talent. It's interesting to see that Andy Phillips still projects as the second best option despite his terrible season last year on offense. A lot of that is based on his solid minor league track record, but I don't have much confidence in him matching that projection after watching Phillips hit last year. While I think translating minor league numbers is useful in many cases, it has limitations and someone like Phillips may be an example of those limitations.

It seems that Doug Mientkiewicz would be the best free agent option available, as he makes up for a lackluster -7 offensive projection with +5 defense, which would net out at -2, which is close enough to average. I've been championing Craig Wilson due to his ability to balance out a heavily left-handed lineup, but overall he would project to be about as valuable as Mientkiewicz. Full season numbers in a case like this need to be tempered with the platoon difference in mind. If Wilson makes the Yankees worse overall but better in games started by left-handers, it may change what appears to be a similar full-season contribution, but I have no easy way of quantifying that.

Wilson didn't do much to impress the Yankees during his brief stint in the Bronx, and is supposedly looking for a long-term deal, so I'm not sure he's much of an option.

A little worse than the Phillips/Mientkiewicz/Wilson triumverate is the Matt Lecroy, Eduardo Perez, Josh Phelps, and Shea Hillenbrand group. None are very good defensively by the numbers. Perez and/or Phelps may have some use as lefty mashers who don't see a lot of defensive time. Lecroy is an average hitter but a pretty bad defender, and Shea Hillenbrand brings little to the table as far as I can see on either offense or defense.

So there you have it. A bunch of options, none of whom are that good. It doesn't seem that it matters much whether it's Mientkiewicz, Wilson, Phillips, Phelps or some combination of them. If only the Yankees could get Albert Pujols, who projects at +65 on offense+defense.