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March 1, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Hideki Matsui
by SG

On May 10, Hideki Matsui played in his 1,768th consecutive baseball game, spanning his career with Yomiuri and the first 518 games of his Yankee career. Then came May 11. Mark Loretta hit a flare to left and Matsui unsuccessfully tried to make a sliding catch, fracturing his wrist and ending his streak.

Matsui still had the presence of mind to retrieve the ball and throw it in despite being in obvious pain, something that impressed me quite a bit. Matsui underwent surgery the next day, and was out for four months.

2006 was basically a lost season for Matsui. However, it did allow for the emergence of Melky Cabrera, who went from a player with an ininspiring minor league stat line prior to 2006 to a very good fourth outfielder with the possibility of developing into even more.

Back to Matsui, a wrist injury for a hitter is scary, but Matsui's successful return at the end of the year showed that it shouldn't be an issue.

Here's how Matsui projects offensively in 2007.

Matsui projects to be worth about 22 runs above an average hitter over 150 games. However, when you position-adjust his numbers for LF, he loses about nine runs in comparison. So offensively, he's should be about 13 runs better than average.

Matsui has the talent to be better than his offensive projections. Here's how his position adjusted batting runs would translate over 650 plate appearances from 2003 through 2006.

2003: 12
2004: 39
2005: 26
2006: 33

Even considering his age, I think his projections are a little pessimistic, and he should be a bit better, somewhere between his 2005 and 2006 levels. He should hopefully be closer to being 30 runs/three wins above average on offense.

Unfortunately, even more than Derek Jeter, Matsui gives up a lot of his offensive value on defense.

Matsui hasn't adjusted well to LF as a Yankee. His defensive numbers in CF are actually better than his numbers in LF (by zone rating), albeit in a much smaller sample. Those 13 runs above average on offense become only three runs above average when you factor in a projected defensive hit of -10. So Matsui's a touch above the average LF overall, and about 2 wins above a replacement level LF. There's nothing wrong with being average. Hopefully he can DH a little more this season to minimize the defensive hit.

Matsui has a reputation of being very good against lefties for a lefty, mainly because of his identical career average against them of .297. However, in his career he's lost about 70 points of OPS against lefties vs. righties. That's not as extreme as many lefties, but it's probably another indicator that the Yankees should look to rest him once in a while against a lefty, especially now that the streak is over.

Here's Matsui's batted ball data broken down vs. lefties and righties. I took a look at this to see if there was any change in his approach vs. lefties.

He has hit more grounders against lefties and more fly balls against righties, but I don't think it's statistically significant.

There's some question about whether Matsui is any better than Melky Cabrera. Right now, although it's probably not the popular opinion with many Yankee fans, he is. We'll look at how much of a difference there is when I get to Melky's preview.

Update: The Yankees are on TV today, on YES at 1:15 EST. Here's the the link to the full spring training schedule.