Pinch hitting: SM Rosenberg • 02.16.15
With spring training only a few days away, we’ll bring in a Pinch Hitter who’s a regular for this series. Sarah Meira (SM) Rosenberg just graduated from the Automotive Technician program at New York Automotive and Diesel Institute, and she will begin looking for an entry level job in the auto mechanic industry in a couple of weeks. “So if anyone wants to hire her,” she wrote, “she also has a degree in Creative Writing from the Macaulay Honors Program at Brooklyn College and is a lively conversationalist with her own tool set.” SM blogs about her experience as a girl in automotive school and her “various other quarter-life crisis misadventures” on her blog, and her fiction is available on her Amazon page. She wrote that she’s always “ready to bash the Red Sox and has never dated Derek Jeter.”
That last part matters because her post is all about the former Yankees captain.
I’ll always remember that request. It was given to me by a boyfriend (now ex) who knew next to nothing about baseball, when we were still in that barely-knowing-each-other phase, trying to find a comfort zone and topics of conversations that would provide us each a window into the other. I think I’d become a bit withdrawn for whatever reason, and he, eager to bring me out again, offered this on a silver platter.
“Explain Derek Jeter.”
I’m sure I fumbled for something in the beginning, all “I don’t even know where to start” and “you can’t explain someone like Jeter” — there are so many factors contributing to his image, his reputation, whatever that “Jeterness” is, completely aside from whatever his skill level may be on the baseball field. Derek Jeter the Phenomenon is something separate, or at least in addition to, Derek Jeter the Player, and requires its own explanation.
This past season, being Jeter’s last and thus subject to a retirement tour ala Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera, brought out the vitriolic minority who hate him and have internet access to express themselves. And I’ll admit that sometimes it made me a little bit angry, and a little bit sad, because I don’t particularly like seeing this side of humanity, this tendency to tear people down just because they’ve been elevated.
I should start by saying that Jeter has never been my favorite player.
I became a serious fan in the early 2000s — because of the 2001 World Series, to be exact — and a pattern that I’ve noticed in young fans including myself is that we latch onto the guys that start their careers around the same time that we start following the game. For people who started following in the mid-to-late 90s, that was often Jeter, sometimes Mariano Rivera, sometimes Jorge Posada, sometimes Andy Pettitte — or as they came to be known, the “Core Four.”
Since I was a late bloomer who only became obsessed with baseball when I was in 6th grade in 2001-02, my guy was Alfonso Soriano. He was young and explosive and did everything with flash and flair. He struck out too much, he hardly ever walked, sometimes he didn’t run out his ground balls, sometimes he stood too long at the plate admiring his home runs before remembering to actually round the bases, and he wasn’t consistent defensively.
But when he was on, he could hit for average, he could hit for power, he could steal bases, he could make spectacular defensive plays — he made everything exciting.
The first time I ever saw him hit, he sacrificed to advance the runner. Little SM was confused and disappointed because Little SM expected home runs every time at bat from the great Derek Jeter.
Little SM didn’t know that Jeter rarely hits home runs, and definitely not with the frequency of a Barry Bonds-type slugger.
Jeter doesn’t hit for crazy-high average like a Tony Gwynn.
Jeter doesn’t steal a ridiculous number of bases like a Rickey Henderson.
Jeter doesn’t play defense like an Ozzie Smith or an Omar Vizquel. (There is a never-ending debate over how bad his defense really, truly is that I’m sure will continue well after his retirement.)
He doesn’t do any one thing on the field extraordinarily well. The Jeter brand of excellence isn’t to dazzle you with extremes the way Soriano of his prime did. It is simply to be very good at many things, and work hard to stay that way, quietly piling up numbers that almost never lead the league in any individual seasons but add up to impressive career totals.
I’ve seen comparisons to Craig Biggio in terms of playing ability, and it’s a very apt comparison — just google their statistics. Biggio deserved to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer just like Jeter certainly will be, but he wasn’t, and the uproar was relatively small, and that’s because of all those other factors that surround Jeter that Biggio — not necessarily through any fault of his own — does not have.
“Explain Derek Jeter.”
A lot of it is the Yankee thing, plain and simple. The media firestorm that surrounds this team and all its players and amps them up to preposterous volumes. Come to New York, hit one important home run, and you’re a legend forever. Just ask Aaron Boone. Play in New York for two decades, have an entire season’s worth of playoff games, win five World Series championships, be good looking, have a hell of a smile, and get the magic Hall-of-Fame-guaranteeing 3000 hits? JESUS. (Being biracial in such a multicultural market doesn’t hurt either. Though I wonder how different things would be if his coloring were more like President Obama’s. Somewhere in a parallel universe is a Derek Jeter who would never be able to pass as white. I’d like to see that.)
And while I said earlier that Jeter is the opposite of early-2000s Soriano in that he does not make everything exciting all the time, he has a definite flair for the dramatic. He has playoff moments that have become immortalized, thanks to the nature of playoffs and of being a New York Yankee — the famous “Jeter flip” where he managed to be in the exact right spot at the exact right time to get a game-saving out and preserve a 1-0 lead; his game-ending walk-off home run in extra innings in the 2001 World Series after midnight had pushed the game into the month of November, and thus Jeter became “Mr. November.”
He has famously dramatic non-playoff moments too, of course — leading off numerous games with home runs, diving into the stands to catch a Manny Ramirez foul ball and coming up bloody but successful, breaking an 0-for-32 slump with a home run, going 5-for-5 and hitting a home run for his 3000th hit. And of course, his recent 2-for-2 showing at his last All-Star Game, and his walk-off and RBI hits in his final Yankee Stadium at bat and final final at bat, despite having a mediocre season overall.
But he never toots his own horn about any of it; he’s self-deprecating and, yes, classy, as all the haters hate to hear. I heard him asked about diving into the stands and he laughed about hitting his face on a seat, “50,000 people in the stadium and I picked the spot where nobody was.” And I’ve heard him interviewed about the “Flip” and he gives all the credit to Jorge Posada, the catcher, for making the tag on the runner, and shrugs off his own role.
You see, what’s truly exceptional about Jeter, what I am fully prepared to say is his actual extraordinary ability, is that he is the most media-savvy athlete I have ever seen. I recently watched the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game with my older brother (who became a fan during the Core Four 90s era), and both times Jeter was interviewed, we both just wound up looking at each other with big grins on our faces, because it’s hilarious how perfect he is at interviews. He knows exactly what to say, exactly how to say it, he knows when to crack a joke and when to be serious, he pays attention to the questions, he gives thorough, matter-of-fact answers to everything he’s asked, he keeps everything strictly baseball-focused, and he never says anything wrong. Ever.
And that’s part of the appeal that I think gets glossed over by a lot of people — the fact that Jeter is really frikin’ smart. Not in the scholarly, intellectual giant kind of way, but in the self-awareness and people-handling kind of way. He knows how to represent himself. He has navigated 20 years in the spotlight, starting at such a young age, and all this with minimal scandal, despite having dated Mariah Carey, Jessica Biel, Minka Kelly, and a whole bunch of other models, actresses, and celebrities, not to mention whatever one night stands between relationships.
It’s fairly common knowledge that the lack of scandal is largely due to how his parents raised him: from the time he was very young, his baseball-playing was conditional, dependent upon factors such as finishing his schoolwork, no alcohol or drugs, and treating girls respectfully. There was a contract written up that he had to sign every year. Tip of the hat to Jeter’s parents; they had their priorities straight, and that’s evident in their son’s behavior. (There was a brief dustup some years back when the late George Steinbrenner, the Yankees volatile owner, accused Jeter of partying too hard, but that was quickly dismissed with a commercial that they did together, with Steinbrenner famously asking Jeter something like, “How can you afford to party all the time??” and Jeter flashing his Visa card. Classic.)
I’ve never wanted to date Derek Jeter; I’ve never wanted to sleep with him; I’ve never even contemplated meeting him until I sat down to write this piece and thought about that angle. Because I don’t think we’d have much to talk about, but you know what I do think? I have no idea what we’d talk about, but whatever it is, he’d be warm and engaging and attentive and respectful and we’d probably laugh a lot. That’s the impression I get, because that’s the persona he’s crafted for himself.
And yes, of course it’s a persona, and I have no freaking clue who the man actually is, what he likes, dislikes, how he sees the world and what he wants from life. But he chose to craft that persona, and those ideals are what people respect and admire about him and why parents feel comfortable saying to their kids, “sure, go ahead, copy Derek Jeter.” Because being warm and engaging and attentive and respectful and having a sense of humor and fun are all wonderful qualities, and they’re undeniably magnetic to men and women alike, hence Jeter’s outrageous popularity, even among non-Yankee fans. I’ve met people who hate the Yankees with a fiery passion but admit that they respect Jeter and would even love to have a beer with him.
Managers and players talk all the time about Jeter’s “intangibles,” the things he brings to the table beyond just his skill level, and the haters hate that, of course, because it’s so amorphous. And obviously I can’t say that it has any impact whatsoever regarding Derek Jeter the Player, but Derek Jeter the Phenomenon definitely benefits from it. During the Steroid Era, I heard people say that if Derek Jeter was ever found to have taken steroids, baseball might as well close up shop, because Jeter is the Last Bastion of Integrity. He represents clean, professional baseball, with no off-field crap. Not a bad symbol to be.
One of my favorite little facts about Jeter is that in his high school yearbook, he was voted “Most Likely to Play Shortstop for the New York Yankees.” And maybe it’s my favorite partly because it’s funny, and partly because it represents his most compelling intangible: that Jeter seems able to make things happen by sheer force of will. He doesn’t hit the most home runs, he doesn’t steal the most bases, he doesn’t get the most hits — and yet he sets his mind to things and makes them happen. Certainly not all the time, and obviously team accomplishments are not Jeter’s alone, but he has had a long and successful career and is living his dream, and is never ungrateful for it. He’s a symbol for that too. And sure, symbolism isn’t reality, but I adore the things Derek Jeter symbolizes, and while I don’t worship at the altar of the Jeter, I’m glad someone like him exists.
“Explain Derek Jeter.”
I can’t. I just can’t.
Associated Press photos
Pinch hitting: Shailen Shah • 02.14.15
Today’s Pinch Hitter is Shailen Shah, a sophomore undergraduate student at American University in Washington, D.C. Originally from New Jersey, he’s been a Yankee fan “from birth.” He’s visited 20 Major League stadiums and hopes to work in baseball after school.
The key to his post is this fact: Shailen’s never lived a day in his life when a member of the Core Four was not a part of the Yankees organization.
Four young stars were independently called up from Triple-A Columbus to get a taste of the big leagues. A tall southpaw from Texas was first. A skinny starting pitcher from Panama was second. A few short days later, a young kid from Michigan go the call. A fiery catcher for Puerto Rico was the last.
Separately, each one had an incredible career. Together, they were the backbone of a dynasty and organizational staples for most of two decades. Affectionately, Yankees fans know these men as the Core Four.
This will be the first year since ’95 that the Yankees will not have at least one of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte on their roster. The dynamic of the team will be different, yet the marks those four left on the franchise and the game of baseball will remain eternal. What separates these individuals from the other great players of their generation is their desire to win above all else, and their respect for the game.
January is always an exciting month for baseball fans because there is so much discussion about the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yankee fans in particular are eager for the near future years when members of the Core Four become eligible for Cooperstown. In 2019 and 2020, Yankees fans know exactly what to expect when Rivera and Jeter undoubtedly become first-ballot electees. The more interesting cases lie with their other two long-time teammates.
What can Yankee fans expect?
A teary-eyed Posada walked out of the Yankees’ clubhouse for a final time in 2011. A season that saw the former all-star catcher move to the designated hitter spot, ended with a tremendous individual postseason against the Detroit Tigers. Posada was a leader in the Yankees’ clubhouse for 17 seasons. His fiery personality was a contrast to the quiet leadership of Yankees captain Jeter. Posada didn’t walk into 2011 knowing it would be his final season. He actually didn’t make a formal retirement announcement until 2012. Yankee fans never got the opportunity to say goodbye to their beloved catcher. However, fans can expect that Posada will soon have his day at the Stadium with his number likely being retired.
Posada is a borderline Hall of Famer. His strongest cases will be made on the premise that many of his statistics (doubles, OPS, OBP, home runs, walks) rank in the top 10 among catchers. His five all-star selections and five Silver Slugger awards don’t hurt his case either. Unquestionably, he was also a leader in the clubhouse and an integral part of five championship teams.
The case against Posada is that he was never the best catcher of his time. His statistics, particularly his batting average, don’t pass the eye-test for Cooperstown. When the time comes, the decision will ultimately be left to the members of the BBWAA whether to permit Posada into the halls of Cooperstown.
Pettitte, the winningest pitcher in postseason history with 19 wins, stepped off the mound for the final time in 2013 along with his longtime friend and teammate Rivera. Pettitte, unlike the other three members of the Core Four, didn’t play his entire career with the Yankees. Pettitte spent some time in Houston, came back to New York and left the game following the 2010 season only to return in 2012 after feeling an “itch” to pitch again. He ultimately announced he was going to retire with just over a week left in the 2013 season. While the Yankees got a brief chance to thank Pettitte during the final week of the 2013 season, one week is certainly insufficient. For this, we can expect that Pettitte too will have his own special day at Yankee Stadium. He will likely have his number retired, too.
Much like his longtime battery-mate Posada, Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Famer. His postseason success and his 256 regular season victories provide Pettitte’s strongest case. Pettitte never pitched a season with a losing record and was also a three-time all-star. That said, Pettitte was never the best pitcher of his time and his appearance on the Mitchell Report could certainly hurt his cause, particularly given the negative reception other players linked to PEDs have received in the Cooperstown discussion.
On a sunny Sunday at Fenway Park this past September, this era in Yankees history ended. A quartet of friends, teammates and Yankee greats have sealed their fates in the hearts of Yankees fans and likely on the walls of Monument Park. Fans have started wondering what the new core of the team will be. Perhaps a combination of Rob Refsnyder, Luis Severino, John Ryan Murphy and Aaron Judge? Out of respect for what the Core Four accomplished, Yankees fans must realize and accept that there likely won’t be another “core four” in the near future — and that’s OK!
That doesn’t mean there won’t be other leaders on the team. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be another crop of solid homegrown players. It just means that four homegrown players playing together for so long and winning so many games is not likely in today’s game.
We can however, be grateful for what the Core Four meant to the Yankees franchise. Maybe one day, the Core Four will once again be reunited in the halls of Cooperstown.
Associated Press photos
A few mid-day notes on this Friday afternoon:
• Bob Klapisch wrote about the difficult position of Joe Girardi, who’s once again stuck in the middle of the Yankees’ tension with Alex Rodriguez. I tend to think Girardi’s been terrific at handling that middle ground in the past. The part of Klapisch’s column that stands out, though, is this: “This isn’t the first time Girardi has been caught in the crossfire. Sources say he was in favor of dropping Derek Jeter in the batting order last year, but was overruled by ownership. Girardi understood how explosive the issue was, especially because, according to those same sources, Jeter made it known he wanted to remain in the No. 2 spot.”
• Speaking of Jeter, The Associated Press reports that the retired Yankees shortstop missed his induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame because of “serious plane issues.” That’s according to Hall of Fame officials. An inductee must be present to be inducted, so Jeter will now enter the Michigan Hall with the 2016 class. The Free Press says he has already committed to attending next year’s ceremony.
• New Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi is already in Tampa working with Larry Rothschild. Considering Eovaldi already throws extremely hard but has relatively modest strikeout numbers, it’s little surprise he says offspeed pitches have been his primary focus with Rothschild. “I controlled my walks (last season),” Eovaldi told Dan Martin, “but my ERA was a lot higher than I’d like it to have been. And I gave up too many hits.” Michael Pineda is also already in Tampa, focused on staying healthy (and staying away from the pine tar).
• Although he’s apparently not yet in Tampa, Brian McCann spoke to Ken Davidoff about trying to beat the shift that so thoroughly crushed his batting average last season. McCann said he went into this offseason recognizing “it’s time for me to make that adjustment.” One interesting idea McCann mentioned: He suggested to the Yankees that Brett Gardner shift from left field to right field any time there’s a left-handed pull hitter at the plate.
• As you probably already know, Yoan Moncada is expected to pick a team within a week or so. His agent has said Moncada would like to sign by February 23. At this point, it seems all of baseball agrees on his talent, it’s only a question of which team will be willing to commit an incredible amount of money on such a young, relatively inexperienced player. The Yankees, of course, are heavily in that mix. For now the Yankees seem less involved in another Cuban infielder, Hector Olivera, who’s older and would presumably open this season in the big leagues as either a second baseman or third baseman. The Yankees have not regularly popped up as an Olivera favorite like they have with Moncada.
Associated Press photo
Pinch hitting: Tyler Patterson • 02.13.15
Quick and to the point, today’s Pinch Hitter sent a one-line bio: “Tyler is a life-long Yankee fan and an attorney in Washington, D.C.” That’s Tyler Patterson in an incredibly small nutshell. Perhaps he kept the bio so short because he was saving so many words for his actual post.
As for his post, he calls it: “The 2015 Yankees and Elite Team Defense.”
Inspired by Ruth, Gehrig, and many, many others, the Yankees at their best are an offensive juggernaut. Not to mitigate the team’s past pitching accomplishments (indeed, some old-time Yankee pitchers are criminally underrated) but success for the Yankees has been predominantly associated with the organization’s offensive prowess over the years. Such is the case for the teams that the organization has fielded since 1995, the first year I, like many other millennials, began watching the team.
I challenge anyone to name me a Yankee club since the 1995 season that has been known for its defense (in a positive manner). I know I can’t do it. Not that the Yankees haven’t fielded stout defensive teams since 1995, but the point is that defense is just not what the Yankees are ever known for. And when you look past player reputations and at the numbers, it is not difficult to understand why.
For example, recently retired Yankees legend Derek Jeter is easily one of the greatest shortstops in MLB history and one of the greatest Yankees of all time. However, none of that was due to his defense. For his career, Jeter had a TZ of -129, a DRS of -159 and a UZR/150 of -7.1. If you do not know what any of these stats are, that’s fine. As you might guess, all those negatives indicate Jeter was not a strong fielder. This jives with the traditional eye-test as well, the jump-throws and Gold Glove awards aside.
The same can be said about many other Yankees since 1995 (Williams, Posada, Giambi, O’Neill, Soriano, Sheffield). None of these players was an especially good fielder, and the list goes on. Very few Yankees since 1995 were great (or in most cases, even average) fielders. In fact, from 1995 through the 2014 season, the Yankees ranked dead last in all of baseball with a Def rating of -440.8 (Def, as calculated by FanGraphs, is a combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average [fielding runs] and positional value relative to other positions [positional adjustment]). The next worst club, the Cubs, had a Def of -308.5.
Since 1995, the Yankees cumulatively have been far and away the worst defensive squad in all of baseball.
That being said, the Yankees have showed marked improvement in team defense in the past several seasons. For example, the Yankees’ Def in 2013 was 21.4 and in 2014, 10.8.
This trend should continue in 2015, a season in which the Yankees might easily field their best defensive team since 1995.
The Yankees have made a conscious effort to get younger and cheaper wherever they can, and in baseball’s current suppressed run environment, the Yankees have realized that it is easier to upgrade the roster defensively rather than offensively. That is not to say there is not offensive upside to some of the Yankees’ offseason acquisitions, but improved team defense has certainly been on the mind of the front office, especially during the last two offseasons.
Let us run through the 2014 squad position by position and compare it to the projected team for the upcoming season. It is clear that the 2015 squad projects to be fantastic defensively, perhaps the best defensive team since 1995.
McCann is the Yankees’ catcher for the foreseeable future after the team signed him to a five-year deal following the 2013 season. He saw the bulk of the work behind the plate in 2014 and did not disappoint, at least defensively. McCann is a world-class defender and one of the best defensive backstops in baseball. His Def of 11.5 in 2014 was exactly what the Yankees signed up for, as was his pitch-framing performance (11.4 Runs Above Average, good for 11th in MLB. This represents a “down” year for McCann, who is consistently top 10 in MLB every season in this category). Long story short, McCann is an elite defensive backstop, and he projects to continue to be so, as his 2015 projected Def of 8.8 illustrates.
Backing up McCann will presumably be Murphy, who anyone will tell you is an above average defender behind the plate. The Yankees have been emphasizing catcher defense for some time now, and with Murphy (and McCann for that matter) the Yankees continue the trend. It is not actually settled who will be the Yankee backup catcher, as Austin Romine will also be “competing” for the role in spring training, but my money is on Murphy with Romine being dealt or placed on waivers. Murphy is clearly the better player, both defensively and offensively.
Obviously, Teixeira will be the Yankees’ first baseman in 2015, at least until the obligatory injury. Unlike last year, the Yankees have a back-up first baseman on their roster in Jones, although his defensive abilities leave a lot to be desired. First base, like catcher, is a position where I do not put too much stock in advanced statistics because, at least in my experience, the stats do not measure up to the eye test. Teixeira is a perfect example of this. Teixeira has had a pretty consistent negative Def rating throughout his career, and last season was no different, as his -3.6 shows. His UZR/150, however, was 7.1 last season and has been consistently positive in his career. That jives more with my perception of Teixeira and my experience watching him pretty regularly since 2009, but it is also obvious confirmation bias.
Either way, I’m not the only one who will tell you Tex is at least an average defender at first, and probably slightly above average. I expect no different in 2015, so long as he can stay on the field (a BIG if in his age-35 season). If injured, the aforementioned Jones figures to man first base. He is projected for a -9.1 Def, which is not very good, and unlike Teixeira, the eye-test does not save Jones; he has never been thought of as a strong defender, and the stats back that up. Let’s hope Teixeira remains healthy. Or, if not, that Greg Bird is mauling in Trenton and gets a call. Unlikely, but I can dream.
Offensively, second base was a mess for the Yankees last season until they dealt for Martin Prado, who was fantastic in his 37 games for the Yankees (his true value was as trade bait, allowing the Yankees to obtain Jones and Nathan Eovaldi). Defensively, however, the myriad of players the Yankees played at second combined for a -1.9 Def, which is not awful but not great either. A carryover from last season, Drew, was signed to a no-risk, one-year, $5-million deal to hold second base down until Refsnyder is ready to permanently take over (or until the Yankees gain another year of team control by manipulating Refsnyder’s service time).
Drew’s calling card in his career has been his defense at short, which has always been excellent. There is no reason to think that, save for a minor adjustment period, he will not be able to excel at the less-demanding second base position. A legitimate reason why the Yankees may not, as of this moment, be comfortable opening the 2015 season with Refsnyder as their everyday second basemen is his defense. A converted outfielder, Refsnyder has taken to second base well, but there is certainly room for improvement. The scouting reports peg Refsnyder as an average defensive second baseman at best, but combined with Drew’s projected performance, as well as Brendan Ryan’s skill as the infield backup, the team’s second base defense should be at least as good as it was last year, and probably much better. Backing up either of these players will be Ryan, a world-class defensive infielder.
We have already discussed Jeter’s defensive shortcomings, and last season was no different as he compiled a -4.0 Def, a -12.5 UZR/150, and a -12 DRS. By any measure Jeter was a very, very bad fielder last season. His replacement this season will be Gregorius, who projects to compile a 4.3 Def, a huge improvement over 2014 Jeter.
Gregorius has a reputation as being a strong defender with excellent range and a cannon for an arm, and let’s hope we see that in 2015. Under team control for the next several seasons, the position is Gregorius’s to lose (at least until Jorge Mateo is ready to take over) and the Yankees will give him every opportunity to be their everyday shortstop for the foreseeable future. Having Chase Headley manning third base will also make his job much easier, allowing Gregorius to shade up the middle more so than he normally would.
The Yankees opened 2014 with Kelly Johnson as their starting third baseman, and the position was a mess until Headley was acquired before the trade deadline. Signed to a four-year deal this offseason (at a below market rate), Headley is the Yankees’ third basemen moving forward. From a defensive standpoint, the Yankees are set. In only 58 games with the team last year, Headley compiled a 12.4 Def and has been an absolute defensive stud throughout his career.
Combined with Gregorius, the defense on the left side of the infield will be among the best in baseball. Like second base, third base was not as bad defensively as I thought it was in 2014 (thanks mainly to Headley), but with Headley in pinstripes for an entire season, third-base defense will be an absolute strength for the 2015 squad. Headley is among the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball, and it will be fun watching him man the hot corner for the Yankees in 2015 and beyond.
Gardner was signed to a team-friendly four-year deal that begins this season, and barring a trade (which I do not think is out of the question) he will be the Yankees’ left fielder in 2015 and for the foreseeable future. Gardner is a superb defender in any outfield position, and left field is no different. It is important for the Yankees to man left field with a strong defender given the stadium’s dimensions, and Gardner handles it about as well as a player can. Because of this, he has more value to the Yankees than most other (if not all) teams.
Look for Gardner to continue his defensive excellence, giving the Yankees another above-average defended position. He also serves as a backup to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, further adding to Gardner’s value.
In the second year of a seven-year deal he signed prior to the 2014 season, Ellsbury will once again man center field. There is not much to say here, as Ellsbury has always been a very strong defensive center fielder, and 2015 projects to be no different.
This gives the Yankees yet another position fielded by an above-average defender.
Right field is the only position on the diamond I believe the Yankees will field below-average defenders in 2015. Last season, Beltran projected to be the everyday right fielder. Long gone are the years when Beltran was an elite defender in center field. Since 2009, Beltran has been a below-average fielder wherever he has played, mainly in right, and 2015 projects to be no different. Beltran suffered a myriad of injuries in 2014, and the Yankees were forced to play multiple players in right as a result. I expect the Yankees to DH Beltran quite a bit this season due to his age and the fact that he can still hit plenty when healthy. That will leave Young to get plenty of reps in right in 2015, especially against lefties as he is a career 116 wRC+ hitter against them.
Projection wise, Beltran sits at a -11.8 Def for 2015, while Young sits at a -2.2 Def. It is important to note that there is not a lot of room in right field in Yankee stadium, so bad defense in right for the Yankees is far less detrimental than it would be to, say, the Athletics or Padres. This is also a reason why I tend to shy away from advanced defensive statistics for Yankees’ right fielders, but I digress. The stats back up the eye tests for both Beltran and Young.
I am not going to analyze Ryan or Young any more than I already have because the backup infielder and fourth outfielder positions are very fluid on every team in baseball and it would not be a shock if Ryan and/or Young end the 2015 season off the active roster. That being said, the Yankees project to field an exceptional defensive squad in 2015 and, save for right field, will have at least an average fielder at every position.
In an era where run scoring is down significantly due mainly to an ever-expanding strike zone, it is far easier to upgrade pitching and defense. The Yankees have done a very, very good job upgrading team defense the past two offseasons, and it should be fun to watch.
Associated Press photos
Almost eight years later, I still remember standing in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre clubhouse talking to Brett Gardner about farming.
He was a pretty big deal on that 2007 Triple-A roster — a legitimate prospect brought up from Double-A in the middle of the season — and although I didn’t really know him at all, I knew I’d have to write about him a lot, so I went looking for a connection.
Brett grew up on a family farm in South Carolina. I grew up on a family farm in Missouri. It was perfect, enough of a connection to start a conversation that wouldn’t feel like an interview.
I think all of us look for connections like that, anything that bridges the gap between two completely different people. We do it at work, we do it in our friendships, and we do it as fans. Common ground matters, and as that common ground gets more and more specific, its significance seems to grow. Gardner and I grew up driving tractors. David Phelps and I are from Missouri. Russell Martin and I share a mutual friend. Mark Teixeira and I once talked extensively about a band we both liked in college. I was Derek Jeter’s best friend for about two seconds one spring when he overheard me tell someone I’d picked Michigan to advance to the Final Four.
We fist bumped. That’s how Jeter bonds over a shared hope for the Wolverines.
The common ground Will wrote about in last week’s Pinch Hitter post about Rob Refsnyder — the one about the connection he finds in watching an Asian-American ballplayer — might be different, but I’m not sure it’s all that different. It’s still a shared connection, a bit of familiarity between strangers; in Will’s case between a 36-year-old attorney and a 23-year-old second baseman.
And that instant familiarity is one reason it matters that Refsnyder — or some other homegrown prospect — eventually shows some staying power with the Yankees. Because at some point, players like that develop universal common ground; they create the kind of connection Alex wrote about this morning.
Connections between strangers is not always so easy to find. Will wrote about a connection that he found quickly between himself and Refsnyder, and it’s a connection that carries significant weight for him personally. But what’s his connection to CC Sabathia or Chase Headley or Carlos Beltran? Unless they share some high school connection or a favorite restaurant I don’t know about, their strongest connection is probably through the Yankees. The longer a player sticks with a one particular team, the stronger his connection to that fan base becomes.
Longevity is surely a big reason Bernie Williams became so instantly familiar and beloved in New York. Williams played 16 seasons at Yankee Stadium, and fans — in their own way — shared those games with him. It’s a kind of common ground, the kind that makes a guy like Alex — from all the way in California — feel connected to his favorite player.
Homegrown players have an obvious financial impact on a baseball team, and successful player development is surely the easiest way to build a roster without having to enter the murky waters of free agency. But beyond all that, homegrown players who stick around build common ground with the fan base. They create an easy connection. They spark loyalty.
I have friend whose fiance is a huge Yankees fan. She’s from New Jersey, has never set foot in a corn field as far as I know, but her favorite player is Gardner. Their shared connection? I have no idea. I think she just likes him, thinks he’s a nice player and probably a good guy, and he’s been playing for her favorite team for seven years now.
The Yankees can build more connections like that if this latest youth movement has staying power. Gardner’s already locked up long term. Refsnyder has a chance to break into the big leagues this season. Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Luis Severino could be next. Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Dellin Betances and Didi Gregorius could become fixtures of the next decade.
We all look for connections, and the Yankees are trying to build some new connections of their own.
Associated Press photo
A few things worth having on your radar this Wednesday afternoon.
• According to Jon Morosi, James Shields is expected to pick a team by the end of this week. While Morosi mentions the Yankees as a team recently connected to Shields, there’s no real indication that the Yankees are a favorite or even heavily in the mix. Signing Shields would certainly represent a change of course for the Yankees this offseason, though it’s easy enough to make a case for such a signing, especially if Shields’ market has dipped his contract demands into the three-year range. He’s been really good the past four years.
• Not sure it means much, but it’s interesting: There’s a report out of Buffalo that during the 2014 season, Derek Jeter looked into purchasing the Buffalo Bills. It’s well known that Jeter would like to become a team owner some day, though it’s been assumed that he would like to own a baseball team and not a football team. Might have been little more than an opportunity he wanted to explore. Jeter’s also reportedly going to appear on the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary show later this month. So in Jeter’s first few months of retirement he’s going to be an online publisher, a comedy performer, and he was never a football owner. It’s a weird world, folks.
• Until Yoan Moncada signs somewhere, be prepared for plenty of stories about teams that are interested and teams that might be favorites. Basically any team with money to spend will be involved because it seems there’s not a team out there that doesn’t think of Moncada as an overwhelming talent. Last night, Buster Olney singled out the Dodgers. This morning, Peter Gammons mentioned the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox along with the Tigers. Also, it’s worth mentioning that two other Cuban players seem to have defected this week during the Caribbean Series.
• Looking elsewhere in baseball, Josh Hamilton needs shoulder surgery and could miss Opening Day. That contract with the Angels has been quite the mess.
• A quick heads up on two baseball-related charity events: First, tonight in Manhattan, MLB Network’s Matt Vasgersian will be a guest bartender at Foley’s (18 W. 33rd St.). He’s helping raise money for Welcome Back Veterans, a non-profit organization that provides PTSD treatment to military veterans and their families. Second, the Baseball United Foundation is hosting a lunch fundraiser with former Yankees and Mets starter Doc Gooden. It’s happening February 21 in White Plains, and they’re calling it — simply enough — Lunch With Doc, and you can get tickets at lunchwithdoc.com. Baseball United is working to promote the game of baseball in Ireland.
Associated Press photo
Pinch hitting: Neil Van Dyke • 01.21.15
Today’s Pinch Hitter was born in New York City. Although Neil Van Dyke was the second baseman and captain of his high school baseball team — wearing No. 20 in honor of Horace Clarke — he was cut during tryouts for his college freshman team. Neil wrote that he likes to blame the end of his baseball career on having to hit against classmate Jim Beattie during tryouts (as you might know, Beattie went on to have a nine-year career in the big leagues).
Neil now lives in Red Sox country in Vermont. He works in public safety, and for his post, Neil looked at the Yankees roster to find one thing that’s clearly missing.
In 1961, I was 7 years old growing up in New York City and just starting to follow Major League Baseball. I didn’t really understand or appreciate the frenzy that accompanied the reporting of the American League home run race that year, nor did I truly suffer the agonizing disappointment of Game 7 of the World Series.
The Yankees were the only game in town, so I latched onto them as a fan, but it wasn’t until 1962 that I attended any games at the Stadium including my first (and only) World Series contest. I was hooked.
My career as a Yankee fan started with the end of the Mantle/Berra/Ford era.
With Derek Jeter’s retirement this year it occurred to me that 2015 will be the first Yankees team in the 50-plus years that I have cheered for them that they will not have what I would consider to be an “iconic” Yankee on their roster. In fact, with the “before my time” succession of Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio leading up to Berra and Mantle, one could say it has been closer to 95 years since the Yankees were without an icon!
I won’t come up with a scientific definition of what the qualifications for such a player entails, but they would certainly have played most or all of their career for the Yanks, never been a star for another team, likely have come up through the farm system (if not, then joined the organization early in their career), were a cornerstone of the team, and will be forever and unquestionably linked with the Yankees.
These iconic players don’t have to be superstars – a player like Roy White being just one example. At the end of the day, I think Yankees fans know an iconic Yankee when they see one.
Bobby Murcer, yes.
Ricky Henderson, no.
Through the years, Mantle and company transitioned to Stottlemyre, Murcer, White, Munson, Randolph, Guidry, Mattingly, Williams, and you know the rest. Every season would have at least one of these Yankee touchstones on the squad.
Nobody on the current roster has this pedigree, and it just feels a bit strange and slightly unsettling. Who knows, maybe 10 years from now with the perspective of hindsight, this will all seem irrelevant as all-time Yankees greats Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances turn out to be mainstays who go on to long, successful Yankees careers. Or maybe not. Maybe it will be remembered as the beginning of a different type of Yankees team, one on which players come and go with far greater frequency.
If that’s the case, I for one will miss my Yankees icons – win or lose.
Associated Press photo
From Jim Armstrong of The Associated Press:
Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP, attended a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday to promote the event on March 21 at Tokyo Dome.
“(Derek) will make an enormous contribution to this event,” Matsui said. “He is a tremendous human being and was a great teammate and I’m sure the kids will be thrilled to see someone of his stature.”
The event will include over 600 participants, including a group of baseball players from the Tohoku region that was devastated by the March 11, 2011, disaster that killed 16,000 people.
Profits will be used to help children from the region.
The event will include a baseball clinic and a home run derby between Matsui and Jeter, who retired in 2014 after a 20-year career with the Yankees.
Matsui would not be drawn on speculation connecting him with a coaching job either with the Yankees or his former team in Japan the Yomiuri Giants.
“That isn’t related to this event so I’ll leave that for another time,” Matsui said when asked about becoming a coach.
Associated Press photo
While most of the baseball world was focused on San Diego, former Yankees captain Derek Jeter made a fairly quiet trip to Hamilton College on Wednesday to join their Great Names at Hamilton guest speaker series. Jeter participated with his friend Harold Reynolds, the former second baseman who now works as an analyst for MLB Network.
Consider it a bit of a distraction at the end of a busy week (or not at all busy week, depending on your perspective).
• Asked about handling the media in New York, Jeter said: “There’s two things you can always say to the media: one is, you have no comment. There’s no follow-up to that. The second thing I think most people get in trouble with, they’re afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ If you ask me a question and I say, ‘I don’t know,’ how are you going to follow it up?”
• Asked about his professional life after baseball, Jeter said: “In some sense, it’s like the minor leagues again. I’m very good at knowing what I don’t know, if that makes sense. And I try to surround myself with people who are smarter than me, which is not hard to do. I continue to learn. … I’m the first to say there’s a lot of things I need to learn. I’m not afraid to look stupid or sound stupid.”
• Asked about his personal life after baseball, Jeter said: “I’ve always had another dream, actually, of having a son or daughter and coaching their Little League baseball or softball. I don’t know enough about the other sports to do it, but baseball or softball and picking all the worst kids in the league and putting them on my team and just making sure they have fun.”
• With this link, you can check out video of Jeter’s pre-event press conference at Hamilton.
Associated Press photos
As details of the Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval deals filtered through the internet yesterday, a friend sent this text message: “Remember when the Red Sox went (overboard) in the winter 2010? Traded for Adrian Gonzalez? Got (Carl) Crawford? Yankees responded with…”
The ellipsis was his own, essentially a stand-in for a question mark. His point was this: What exactly did the Yankees do the last time the Red Sox got incredibly aggressive during an offseason?
So lets flash back to the winter of 2010-11…
What the Red Sox did: Most notably, they traded young talent for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year deal. Those two additions were in place before the end of the Winter Meetings (kind of like the Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval deals this offseason). The Red Sox also signed Jason Varitek to one last contract, and they brought in Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to add bullpen depth (in a relatively minor move at the time, they also signed Andrew Miller).
What others thought: At the time, the Red Sox seemed to have built a powerhouse. They seemed deep in the lineup, in the rotation and in the bullpen. Sports Illustrated picked them to win the World Series. Of course, we now know that the end result was a total mess, but at the time, it looked like the Red Sox were building a juggernaut and the Yankees would have to keep up.
What the Yankees did: It was actually a pretty busy winter for the Yankees. Trading Juan Miranda to the Diamondbacks was only the beginning! The biggest moves, though, weren’t necessarily additions and it’s hard to classify any of these moves as direct reactions to the Red Sox (except maybe one unexpected splash for a player who seemed completely off the radar until he was suddenly on the roster).
These were the Yankees major moves in the winter of 2010-11, the last time the Red Sox went on an offseason spending spree:
1. Re-sign Derek Jeter — This was essentially The Captain’s final contract. It was a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year (rather than exercise that option, Jeter technically signed a new deal for 2014, but it comes down to the same thing). Coming off a bad 2010, Jeter was given four more seasons. He gave the Yankees a solid 2011, a very good 2012, an injured 2013 and a disappointing but memorable 2014.
2. Re-sign Mariano Rivera — This was supposed to be Rivera’s final contract. He signed a two-year deal that would take him through his age-42 season (which seemed perfect for the game’s final No. 42), but after injuring his knee in 2012, Rivera decided to come back for a farewell season. Without the injury, the two-year deal signed in December of 2010 would have been a success. Rivera was as good as ever in 2011 and was off to a strong start in 2012.
3. Sign Russell Martin — This was the initial one-year deal, with the Yankees having Martin under team control for a second year because of arbitration eligibility. Martin had an OK season. He was an all-star and hit for power, but his batting average was down. The Yankees brought him back for one more season, his average dipped even more, and Martin left for Pittsburgh.
4. Sign Pedro Feliciano — This was a total mess. Coming off three straight seasons in which he led the league in games pitched, Feliciano landed a two-year deal with the Yankees, who needed left-handed help in the bullpen. Feliciano was, of course, injured by the time the Yankees broke camp and he never pitched a single inning for the team. Boone Logan, instead, emerged as the go-to lefty.
5. Sign Rafael Soriano — I remember this one quite well because I’m the one who happened to be on the phone with Brian Cashman when he finally seemed to lose his patience with all of the questions about possibly signing Soriano. “I will not lose our No. 1 draft pick,” Cashman told me. “I would have for Cliff Lee. I won’t lose our No. 1 draft pick for anyone else.” Within a few days, Cashman was overruled, a draft pick was gone, and Soriano was in the Yankees bullpen.
6. Sign Bartolo Colon/Freddy Garcia — Two separate signings based on the same idea. The Yankees knew they needed additional rotation depth, and they went looking for it in unlikely places. Colon hadn’t pitched in the big leagues in more than a year, and Garcia had been extremely limited in three of the previous four seasons. Of course, both wound up pitching well that year, with Colon in particular launching a stunning career resurgence.
7. Sign Eric Chavez — Once a star player in Oakland, Chavez had been hurt so often that there were questions about whether he could even handle a part-time role at this point. The Yankees took a shot and got a decent but predictably injury shortened year off the bench. It was the next year that Chavez returned to the Yankees and delivered a truly impressive bounce-back season.
8. Sign Andruw Jones — His second year with the Yankees was kind of a mess, which makes it easy to forget that Jones was actually really good in his first year. The Yankees didn’t finalize their deal with Jones until spring training — he had a locker before he officially had a spot on the roster — and he delivered a .286/.384/.540 slash line against lefties.
Nine fairly significant signings — even if one of them never actually got on the field — but it’s hard to label any one of them a direct reaction to the Red Sox maneuvering. Certainly re-signing Jeter and Rivera had nothing to do with Boston, signing Martin had more to do with internal concerns about Jorge Posada, the Soriano signing didn’t happen until more than a month after the Red Sox big additions, and the other deals were basically attempts at bargain hunting. Seems likely we’ll see more of the same this offseason as the Yankees seem poised to stick with their original plan rather than spend recklessly based on the Red Sox signing two players the Yankees were never really after in the first place.
Associated Press and USA Today photos