Sunday, January 31, 2010

Changing The Game With One Swing

I will continue to reserve full judgement on not bringing Johnny Damon back until we see what he ends up signing for. Though if it is true that the Yankees offered 2/$14 and he turned it down, it's tough to argue with that no matter what he ends up signing for. I doubt he'll get more than that, and I view that as a very competitive and fair offer. I would have been willing to go above market price to keep Damon, but I think anything too much above that will end up being way above market price. That I would not have been willing to do. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

What is clear is that Damon/Cabrera/Matsui/Gardner has now been replaced by Winn/Granderson/Johnson/Gardner. In comparing the two clearly the 2010 group is going to be better defensively, and that's great. But we can all agree that defense - while very important - does not matter as much as offense.

When looking at the offense, it seems like it is essentially a lateral move from a total production standpoint. I'll be the first to admit that is what I care about most, the end and not the means. The end game for offense in baseball is scoring runs. It seems like the 2010 group is pretty comparable to the 2009 group on paper in that regard. I don't think they'll be quite as good as the 2009 group was, but that would be the wrong comparison. The right comparison is the 2010 group against what the 2009 group would do in 2010. Expecting as much from Damon and Matsui as they gave in 2009, while very possible, might be a little much. With that in mind I think the 2009 and 2010 groups would be pretty similar.

With all of that said, there are clearly different ways of arriving at scoring runs. In that way the 2009 and 2010 groups of LF/CF/DH/4th OF are not the same. All three starters in the 2009 group could change the game with one swing, putting a baseball over the fence. The only one of the four without home run hitting power was Brett Gardner. Matsui hit 28, Damon hit 24, and Melky - batting 9th - hit 13. That's 65 home runs between those three positions. Even factoring in a regression for all three, and giving the 2010 projected starters of Granderson, Johnson, and Winn/Gardner a little bump, it's tough to imagine them hitting 65 combined. After all, even with Granderson's 30 all four of them hit only 43 combined, 22 less than the three 2009 starters.

Clearly hitting home runs is not the only thing that matters from an offensive standpoint, let alone a total production standpoint. There are a lot of other things you can do and the 2010 group is full of them. But we've talked before here (TimC mentioned it recently in a very astute comment) about how critical it can be to have bats who can change the game with one swing. A huge strength of the Yankees last year was that every single player in the lineup, 1-9, could do that to you. Cabrera hit 13, Jeter hit 17, and everybody else hit 20 or more. That's out of this world. A big reason why the Yankees had so many comebacks and walk-off wins last year was because they hit so many late homers to tie and win games. 7 of their 15 walk-offs were on the homer, which while impressive doesn't even tell half the story. There were so many homers hit to tie and extend games to set up other walk-offs, and just other big homers hit in general. It seemed like it was happening multiple times per week.

Matsui, Damon, and Cabrera were often in the middle of it. As I wrote about recently, part of that was just the kind of players they were. They came up big late in games. The 2010 group may very well end up being similar in that regard. It would be unfair to judge them on that front yet. What I don't think is unfair, however, is to say that the 2010 group will not be able to change as many games with one swing. With all of the other bats in the Yankees' lineup, you might say a drop off in home runs from these positions isn't a big deal. First, I would say that is not accurate. Every bit of production mattes, especially in a division as competitive as the AL East. Second, the Yankees experienced outstanding health last year, especially after Rodriguez got back from missing the first month of the season. Considering the age of some in the lineup, a drop off in home runs hit would not be surprising. Maybe some will hit more to even it off, but if they don't losing that many homers at the three other positions will hurt that much more.

I think this is just another example of something that may not show itself as much over 162, but will on a game to game basis. Over 162 the Yankees may be just as productive offensively. But game to game maybe they aren't able to change as many games late because they don't have as many bats that can change the game with one swing, which particularly would seem to matter in a potential playoff scenario. Again, I understand that hitting the home run is not the only thing, or even the most important thing. But it is important, and I don't see the 2010 Yankees being anywhere near as scary as the 2009 version in that regard because of the totality of the changes in left, center, and at DH. Not as many guys who can take you out of the park as regularly.


from the bronx said...

not really sure i understand the winn signing, other than it clears the way for carl crawford in 2011. winn can't hit lefties so forget about him being a useful platoon player with gardner and winn actually had fewer home runs last season than gardner did.

Patrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick said...

the winn signing is fine as long as damon wasn't going to sign at a reasonable/near market price (which means they should have signed damon). for $2 million he's not just a good defender, but an outstanding defender at both corners (which is huge since we currently had no legitimate back-up in right field besides hoffman), runs above average/can swipe a bag, and has had very good seasons as recently as 07/08, where he importantly hit lefties quite well, especially for power (slugged .535/.470 respectively against them those two years). he also had the highest line drive percentage of his career last year and a low BABIP, especially against lefties as a righty, and that is often a sign that there was some bad luck and he can bounce back (ala swisher, and as many are noting this appears to be a set of stats cashman is looking at to maybe get a player that is presently undervalued at a low cost with bounce back potential). the power drop off is concerning, but there are signs that he could return closer to his 07/08 levels. but that would just be a bonus, as he's really here to provide some depth and insurance in case gardner can't produce, because we know winn can be at least average. as far as 1 year/$2 million fringe starter/4th OF signings go for depth/insurance purposes, winn is solid and better than most, especially since there is the upside that he could bounce back and provide decent productivity. if there were better options, like damon, then this makes no sense. but if there weren't, then this is a good depth/insurance/flexibility play all considered.