The Fix

nationals_275_061909.jpgPreisler@jeromepreisler.com
It would be tough to pin the Yankees’ home series loss to the Washington Nationals, who are mostly known for being MLB’s current answer to the Bad News Bears, on any particular member of the team. Basically they played lousy in general.
 
If you watched that series, though, and then consider that the Yanks really should have lost two out of three home games to a depleted Mets squad last weekend, and were swept by the Boston Red Sox at Fenway before that — a stretch of nine games during which they’ve stumbled from being one game up on the Sox to three behind them for the AL East division lead — it’s hard not to think that the team needs some fixing.

I’ve been trying to figure out what the fix or fixes might be. And the more I think about it, the more I keep coming back to the deficiencies in right field represented by Nick Swisher, and the spot in the starting rotation occupied by Joba Chamberlain.

Of course, Swisher isn’t responsible for the team’s collective offensive slump. I think that has more to do with Alex Rodriguez not hitting right now than anything. His bat is supposed to be the major noisemaker in the middle of their batting order. When it is silent, the aggregate thunder in Yankee bats goes from a loud roar to isolated rumbles.

Rodriguez has a long track record as one of the most prolific run producers in baseball. You can’t point to age or general physical condition as reasons for his struggles. But he is recovering from serious hip surgery and has played every game since his hurried return. Based on what we’ve seen of him, it’s reasonable to think that with some rest, and recovery time, he’ll round into form.

Or at any rate, he’d better for the sake of his team. He isn’t going anywhere.

Likewise based on track record, however, Swisher is a problem that won’t go away until he does, at least as an everyday player. In a sense it isn’t his fault. With the acquisition of Mark Teixeira, he was supposed to be half of a right field platoon that included Xavier Nady. But Nady got injured, and remains injured, and that has left Swisher a regular starting member of the lineup whose historical weaknesses have become increasingly apparent.

His career numbers aren’t the worst you’ll ever see, but they aren’t good. In 2004, his first year in the Majors, he hit .250. The next year he averaged .236. The next year he hit .254. His best BA was .262 in 2007. His worst was .219 in 2008. He’s now batting .244, a career average.

Yes, I know about the walks. The pitches taken. The slugging and on-base percentages. I’ve read all sorts of numbers.

In fact, I was reading this analysis of Swisher by a hardcore Sabermetrics guy named Peter Bendix. It was written in June 2008 when Swisher was with the Chicago White Sox. A year ago, Bendix wrote how Swisher’s failure to deliver was basically just bad luck. Bendix’s calculations indicated a sharp upturn in his performance was in the offing.

Wrote Bendix of last year’s Nick: “To begin with, Swisher has been very unlucky on balls in play. His 22.5% line-drive percentage produces an expected BABIP of .345. However, his actual BABIP is a miserable .244. If we adjust his batting line to account for the hits he should have, his line becomes .271/.371/.359.”

I looked up the meaning of BAPIP last night, not being familiar with the statistic. A stat-head website called the Hardball Times defines it as Batting Average on Balls in Play, “a measure of the number of batted balls that safely fall in for a hit (not including home runs). The exact formula we use is (H-HR)/(AB-K-HR+SF) This is similar to DER, but from the batter’s perspective.”

I didn’t look up DER. I haven’t checked Swisher’s VORP or PECOTA or any of that stuff. I don’t mean to sound disparaging of the numbers game. Bill James has certainly helped the Boston Red Sox find players who can hit the ball well at their park.
But I have to go with my observational and analytical strengths. For better or worse, I rely on what I see with my eyes and more basic statistics. And when I see Swisher play, I see a guy who plays with a lot of energy, but too often allows that energy to drive him when it his job to harness it. He runs the bases recklessly. He seems to be largely unaware of cutoff men. In clutch situations, he tends to swing for the fences when he simply needs to get on base.

And he’s hitting .244.

I like Swisher on the bench. I’ll take his hustle and energy in small doses and think there are situations when he can be useful to the team.

But the Yanks need to figure out what they are going to get out of Nady this season. My guess is that their expectations are minimal. If that’s the case, they need another solution to the right field problem.

That’s the Swisher part. Chamberlain is next.

I’m weary of the Joba fight. Those who lean toward numbers guys will point to his 3.89 ERA and argue that five innings of that every fifth day is preferable to one or two innings of relief several times a week.

joba_250_061909.jpgMy response is that watching Joba pitch as a starter has become excruciating. He gets into deep counts, he walks batters, he allows droves of them on base,and he depletes the bullpen by failing to give length. He puts his defense on its heels and gives teams like the Washington Nationals the sense that they have a fighting chance.

Opposing teams don’t fear Chamberlain right now, nor should they. Where is his power fastball? His slider? His velocity is now fairly average. It largely has been for a while. The lightning in his fingertips has become erratic, and it’s anyone’s guess whether it will return with any constancy.

Chamberlain has no proven track record as a starting pitcher. Chien-Ming Wang does. Yet Wang is given ultimatums while the Yankee hierarchy continues to disregard Chamberlain’s falling effectiveness and send him out to pitch as a member of the rotation.

Meanwhile, Wang continues to improve and make a case that he should remain in the rotation. And Phil Hughes continues to throw multiple innings of relief with snap and efficiency that suggest he warrants another shot at starting.

If Wang looks good after another start or two, Chamberlain should go to the bullpen. The time when innings restrictions will put him there is approaching anyway, so why wait? Maybe he’ll regain his lightning as a reliever. Maybe next season, with some work, he will become the winning starter the Yankees envision.

Right now the Yankees should be looking to win in 2009 and think about giving Hughes his shot.

We can go by the numbers (assuming they’re being interpreted without skew). Or we can use them wisely to inform what we see. I’d suggest the latter.
 
A lot of us can follow recipes, but that doesn’t make us master chefs.

20 Comments

Finally, someone who makes sense. The yankees either need to get a quality OF or give CF to Gardner & RF to Melky and see how that works out. Right now Hughes looks like the 3rd best pitcher they have and they are wasting him in the BP. Whoever is making these decisions need to be replaced.

Finally, someone else wh sees the stupid Joba/starter experiment exactly that way I see it. The idiot “brainless” trust of the Yankees have turned one of the most intimidating pitchers into a typical #5 starter who rarely gets past the fifth inning, throws too many pitches, walks too many, and gives up too many hits to .230 hitters with his often hanging, and spinning breaking pitches, which he is forced to throw as a starter!

Chase Utley had the same injury and the same or similar surgery as Choke-Rod. Why not the same discusision about Utley. Oh, because he’s not hitting .212! I’m sick of hearing how the Yankees got going when he came back. Coincidence. Tex was abound to get back to normal, and the pitchers began pitching better. Choke-Rod has been his usual disastrous self in the clutch. He must think it’s the playoffs! Why is he still batting cleanup? He’s killing the team. It’s ridiculous.

Even on televsion (big screen HD) you can see how tense he is in clutch situations, especially late in the game. He appeared to be thrilled to have gotten that walk in the 9th inning against the Nats.

Hughes should be a starter.

Another well written and thought out column Jerome.

I cannot imagine how the Yankees powers to be are blind to what’s right in front of them. Joba wanted to be a starter and they gave him his chance. Why can’t they see it didn’t work out and put him where he belongs as a setup for Mariano and maybe eventually taking over the closer spot in time. Right now he’s just another mediocre pitcher that no team fears anymore. And who is making the big mistake of keeping a kid who can be a top power ace (Hughes) in the bullpen. I never thought I would say this but the Yankees that I’ve loved for 65 years are now just another middle of the league team. They pulled Wang back too soon and I also think A-Rod needed more “spring” help before coming back to clean-up. As much as I like Swisher, he is really a bench guy not an every day RF in the lineup. Wake up guys! Bring back the great Yankee teams of old.

If…Matsui was healthy enough soon to start 2-3 times a week in RF and the team held onto Cervelli & Molina (if he comes back healthy) it would offer Posada at least 2-3 starts a week at DH, sending Swisher to the switch hitting energetic pinch hitter role (improving the bench), and improve the defense in that even a slightly hobbled Matsui would be more “fundamentally sound” i.e. hitting the cutoff man occasionally than Swisher. The 3 catcher system and added bench depth would allow Posada some deserved rest behind the plate and overexposure to aggressive baserunning clubs. Keeping the energetic Cervelli with the big league club provides more benefit than the Pena/Berroa/Gardner bench that currently exists.

The difference between Utley and A-Rod is that Utley had the winter to recover. A-Rod needs further surgery, he rushed back, and it shows. He may need more time on the D/L eventually. The bullpen is being burned every time Joba starts. He belongs in the bullpen, I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I can see it with my own eyes, right from the beginning. He will be Mariano’s eventual successor. I can’t stand watching him try to nibble on the corners, running his pitch count up…..he is a lights out, fireball reliever. He is not the same pitcher when starting. The rotation looks like it is being patched together, with half starts from Wang, the back half of the game from Hughes, seems like a job share. There are arms in the minors that are ready to help. I don’t understand why they are running the same old names out there, and expecting different results. Swisher is a solid bench player. He lets his enthusiasm get the better of him (see stupid baserunning tricks), is not consistent enough at bat to keep the line moving (even with the walks), and would be more of an asset in a part time role where he can do some damage. Please lose Barroa, he is a waste of roster space, and bring up a power hitting outfielder (Duncan?) with an arm to replace Swisher in the outfield. Good that they cut Veras, demoted Rameriz, but they need a reliable long man for Joba’s starts not named Tomko. Hughes actually likes the bullpen, maybe he is better suited for the 7th or 8th inning for the time being. I see the look in his eyes in relief, he is also not the same guy when he starts. Rent Mark Derossa (with a longer term signing) for a super utility guy, who would give them more flexibility. Keep Cervelli and make Molina a coach when he gets back from the D/L. Also, looks like Matsui is coming to the end of the line. If the Yanks want to get younger and more athletic, it is time to either try to trade him or cut him loose and take a look at outfielders that can help. Tex has been a real find. Cashman says he is satisfied with the way the team has been constructed? I don’t think so. Very streaky team.

In his first year in the majors, Pedro was a reliever, a setup man. He pitched 99.6 innings of relief that year, giving up 65 hits, striking out 113, with an ERA 2.25. The next year he began to start. He started 23 games, pitched 144 innings, giving up 115 hits, striking out 142, with an ERA of 3.44. His ERA rose by more than a run, his K/9 dropped by over 1 and H/9 increased by more than one. They took a dominant relief man and shoehorned him into the rotation with diminished results. Crazy!

Now let’s compare Joba’s early starting statistics (just the basic ones) to Pedro’s. Over his two years as a starter Joba has pitched 25 games (compared to the 23 started by Pedro in his first year), Joba pitched 134.6 innings to Pedro’s 144, gave up 123 hits to Pedro’s 115, struck out 138 to Pedro’s 142, and had an ERA of 3.34 to Pedro’s 3.44 (and Pedro was in the NL). K/9: Joba – 9.2 Pedro – 8.9; H/9 Joba – 8.2 Pedro – 7.2.

I’m not suggesting that Joba is certain to turn out to be as good as Pedro was, but Joba’s early starting stats (again, just the basic ones) are certainly in the same neighborhood with Pedro’s.

The arguments that Joba belongs in the bullpen are based upon 24 innings in 2007 and 35 more in 2008 that were not at the same level as the 24 in 2007.

This year Joba has 7 starts where he went at least 6 innings and gave up 3 runs or less. C.C. only 6. C.C. has certainly been more valuable that Joba as a starter this year, but Joba has made more quality starts than not.

I am 58 years old. Been a Yankee fan since I was 8.

Brian Cashman wake up, Your team is 8 games over .500 and you say you okay with this group.

Jerome is 100% correct. The 2009 Yankees are a streaky club. They have been treading water since the Boston series. The Nats did them in this week like the Red Sox last week.

A Rod needs a rest. Play Pena and have Alex DH.

Also, keep Cervelli in the majors, he’s a player. If you can’t keep 3 catchers get rid of Berroa and put him in the infield.
He played there before. Also you can rest Posoda and Molina more.

Swisher is a good grab off the bench not an everyday player.

Forget about Nady, swallow his contact and be done with him.

Go out and get a legit right fielder via trade. Stop the bull that you are satisfied.

Pitching situation. Keep Wang in the rotation. Get Joba out.
Hughes belongs as a starter. Sabathia, Burnett, Petite, Wang, Hughes. Not a bad combo.

He is your 8 inning guy. Burney, Joba, Mariano. Like the champs in the late ’90’s.

I like Aceves as a fill in starter and replacement for Petite in 2010.

Lets wake up and be realistic about how to properly put this team together.

It could be a hell of a lot better. Get the Steinbrenners off their pompous rear ends and do with Dad did.

Kick some rear end….

JP I went on media blackout yesterday very early on . I posted on Kim’s blog that watching Joba is brutal and I’m just a viewer imagine what the players feel. They want to support his desire to be a starter but sometimes it feels like he as AADD. Phil seems to be more focused and can maintain that focus longer than Joba. If Joba wants to hear the chants of Joba Rules….go back to where it was heard the LOUDEST! In the bullpen. Like you said…they need to think about playing to win…not just preventing a loss. Mindset makes so much of a difference. It would be sad if opposing teams can’t wait to face Joba because they know his lapse in how to throw strikes will strike again.

Again, great blog. I just heard A-Rod will rest for two days and I am happy. I am surprised they played him as much as they did after coming back from surgery. He needed more DH opportunities. But what do you do when you have Matsui and Posada already in the DH. And how do you keep up the offense if A-Rod is not there? Finally, fatigued and slumping, they realize he needs to rest. I miss the old A-Rod and want him back and the team needs him. Can’t wait. As for the Joba/Hughes/Wang situation, I completely agree. You have said it all. And for Swisher, I like him a lot, but again, you are right. I find that fans are blindligly loyal to some players, like Joba and now Swisher. Yankee fans make many excuses when it comes to the players they like but when it comes to players they don’t…watch out! I should know. I am an A-Rod fan.

Jerome,

You know I had to jump in here especially about Joba. As you are well aware i have been saying for this year Joba needs to be in the pen, as the Yankees need a solid enough bullpen guy to go along with Bruney. Hughes needs to be in the rotation. Period!

As for Arod I also agree with him needing time off and I believe the second half will be his time. in the mean time as I suggested drop him in the order. move up cano, move around Teixeira, do something…but taking some of the four hole preassure off ARod might just do the trick for a few games. Whatever happens we must not forget tat ARod has a bad hip, which is all about hitting as far as mechanics go. He rushed back and has not found his mojo, but he will. count on that. Weather you like or hate ARod he is an imprtant part of the team and will be for years to come..so stop booing him. That does no good. I see he has finally been given time off..that will help too.

As for Swisher, you know I like his fire but as you so cleanly pointed out with your research he is not really doing much. So i say to that i agree, he would be a great switch hitting bench guy and by all means keep gardner and Melky in center and right until or unless another option presnets itself by way of trade or Nady.

To everyone that posts here, your comments are great! A matching compliment to Jerome’s blog..

Later
Kevin-Tampa, FL

Thanks, all, for the thoughtful comments. I hesitate sometimes to write about the Joba issue because the Yanks appear to have made their decision and it sometimes feels like beating my head against a wall . . . armcbride, my big problem with your argument is that the numbers don’t tell enough of the tale. It’s how Joba’s arrived at his ERA, the length he’s given, how much he’s labored and other factors that tip the scale for me. It’s difficult for me to weigh in on he Pedro analogy because, again, the whole picture is sometimes gleaned between the statistics, and I didn’t see all those early starts. Finally, I’m willing to keep an open mind–or as I privately told my colleague Jon Lane, “eat a dirt sandwich”–with regard to Joba eventually becoming a member of the rotation. But I think that this season, all things considered, the need, and his greater effectiveness, would be in the ‘pen . . . alightningrodfan, if you like Swish, hey, you like Swish! I personally enjoy what he brings to the clubhouse–and occasionally to the field. But it’s an overall production issue with me, and I think that has to be addressed . . . I like payankee’s idea of giving Gardner more playing time in center and moving Melky to left. It’s worth a shot, anyway. If Gardner doesn’t hit, at least we have a clearer idea of what to expect from him . . . finally . . . I think A-Rod needed the rest, but why Berroa versus Pena. In fact, why Berroa versus anyone?

Great weekend, all–JP

Move Melky to right, that is. Sorry.

Hey Kev . . . been wondering where you were!

JP

How long is Nady out?
Say what you want about Swisher but he has a spirit about him, a strong desire to win, that other Yankee players lack. It’s an intangible thing….
Gardner has no bat. Pena just needs more at bats….
Opposing pitchers don’t fear Matsui, or Posada, or A-Rod, or as a matter of fact, everyone in the the Yankees lineup. Which explains the numerous homers….
The Yankees should continue to develop talent through their farm system instead of buying lottery tickets that are more often painful losers….
If you compare the Beans lineup to ours, we may lose every game to them this year because the Beans lineup has a strong desire to win, the intangible thing. Has anybody in our lineup, other than Swisher, Melky, Tex or Pena shown that desire?
For years I’ve listened to local Indian and Tiger fans tell me that it’s too hard to motivate the millionaires. I’m tired of hearing it. Management is doing the best they can. Unfortunately, management is not always making the best decisions….
Yankee fan in Ohio

I have been hearing whispers of Perdo coming to the Bronx. I hope that is nothing more than someone’s silly offhanded idea and it in fact is baseless. If the Yanks wanted a pitcher why not try Dan Haren? I’ve been thinking he’d be a great fit in New York. He’s a terrific pitcher with a microscopic ERA. He only needs a team behind him that can be good with a bat. Just a thought that has been nagging me.

One other thought…Why not put A-Rod in the 3 spot and move Texiera to cleanup? Before A-Rod came back Texiera was awful. Put A-Rod behind him and wow! We have an MVP candidate! Now the opposition is afraid of Texiera. No one is afraid of A-Rod anymore. No one is pitching to Texiera. If he walks who cares? But if A-rod batted ahead of Texiera then he’d get a lot of better pitches to hit because no one wants a man on base with Texiera at the plate.

ljj, do you really think Swisher, Pena, Melky and Tex are the only ones on the team who want to win?

ljj, I agree with aerod500 on this. Specifically regarding Swisher, no one’s questioning his desire. But simply because it’s right on the surface with him doesn’t mean it isn’t a desire shared as strongly by others on the team. I think Swisher has his place on the team, make no mistake, but there’s no shame in being a utility player coming off the bench–the role players inevitably are key to winning championships. I’m not knocking Swisher. A player is the worst judge of his own limitations, and this is where organizational and managerial judgment is essential. Call it poor baseball instincts, overenthusiam, whatever–his deficiencies have cost the Yanks precious wins.

I think it’s important to be patient with Rodriguez before switching him up with Teixeira. That could simply backfire–remember Torre’s horrible move during the playoffs in ’07. Frankly, looked bushed even before Girardi officially announced his “fatigue”.

Mark7ent mentioned DeRosa as a super utility guy. That’s an acquisition I like, and one that probably wouldn’t cost the Yanks much if he becomes available. DeRosa is precisely the sort of player they need this season–if they go shopping around for a big player, it’s a sign the current roster is so badly underperforming, they probably won’t win anyway. Which is to say that if the Yanks can’t win with the current personnel and maybe a few tweaks, they don’t deserve it . . . which may be the subject of a forthcoming entry here, now that I think about it.

Thanks again, all, for the great community discussion. This is what I’d envisioned for DIR all along, and was the reason I’d been pushing for a blog page forever–JP

Jerome, I too am glad you pushed for the blog page. I find the blogs on Yes, and yours in particular, draw some very good discussions. So far, with few exceptions, the blogs on Yes have been able to avoid the bloggers who want to spew anger and even hatred towards the Yankees team and organization. When I watch the games at home, I go on the Yankee website and have very good blogs with the other fans blogging and watching the game. However, once the game goes off and the other major leage games are finished, there is a normal rash of Yankee haters who come on that blog and begin to just kill the discussion with innane input. So, I log off at that time. I hope your blog and others on YES can continue to have good, more thoughtful discussions, and that those who have problems with the Yankees and provide constructive criticism. I assume that may prove to be a challenge as more and more people join in the discussions.

I did not think I would say this but maybe Joba should go back to the pen – also how much better would the Yans be if Cash had picked Bay vs. Nady last year

Jerome,

Been here licking the wounds from the Nationals seriews and now the Marlins. I am just glad we did not waste our time going to the game Saturday like we almost planned.

I have been a Gardner fan sicne day one, mainly becasue of his speed and attitude. I know his bat is not in the .320 average area but if he is on base anything can happen. I am way on bourd wiht the Garnder in center and Melky in right experiment. It is itme to put Swisher where he was supposed to be all along, the bench. I love Swisher and what he has brought to the team as far as chemistry, but man—-I am having trouble watching him of late.

I also am tired of beating my head againts the wall when it comes to Joba…I am not thinking of the pen fgor him forever, just this year. It is very clear we need a really good force in the pen and he is that guy. Next year is a different story, for now. We all know though that the Yankees are not going that route with him even thought the idea is clear as day. I would rather see Hughes in the rotaion.

If the Yanks, or Cashman picked Bay over Nady for one Bay would not have knocked us around in the games played thus far, and we may have been a bit better off considering Nady tossed the ball in from right field on a single and cam up injured. I was at that game here in Tampa and saw him “toss” the ball in and to this day do not understand what the heck happend. In comparison it was like a little kid tossing the ball to his mom or dad in a park.

I like that the Yankees are giving ARod a day off each week for a while. Liek I said he is coming off a speeded up injury rehab.

Jerome, love the blog…really good group of fans here with good ideas and good comments to ponder, agree or disagree.

Excellent Blog. I agree 100% with your assessment of both Joba and Swisher. Right now the Yankees are in definite need of outfield help and agree with Payankee on the Gardner situation; let him play and see what you have.
As far as Chamberlain, I am not even sure if he is the same pitcher he was when he came up. His fastball is consistently in the low 90’s and he has no control whatsoever. The fact is at this point in time Aceves appears that he would be an improvement over Chamberlain. He has similar velocity and more important much better control.
I read the Pedro analysis above and do not give it much credence. Pedro as a starter continued to throw in the mid to upper 90’s. Joba is not and I do not buy the argument that his velocity is down due to his transition as a starter. In addition Pedro’s percentage of innings pitched in his 1st full year as a starter was close to 70%, Joba is at 59% and even throwing out the game where he was hit by a batted ball he is still only at 63%.

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