Thursday, March 22, 2007

Position Battle Update

The coverage of MLB Spring Training in Japan is virtually non-existent on television, much to my chagrin. The funny thing is, there's more coverage of MLB camps than there is of NPB. Go figure. I feel like I'm in limbo with the lack of visual contact with my favorite club, but I'm following to the best of my ability on-line and via highlights. Soon this will all be remedied when NHK becomes wall-to-wall baseball. That begins today with the Spring Koshien event. Next week will be NPB Opening Day and the MLB explosion to follow. Just hanging in there.....tonight my HDD recorder will be brimming with Koshien!!!

For now, I thought I'd give my thoughts on the position battles in Yankees camp. This is less an analytical post, and more a fan's opinion.

The backup catcher spot is not something that I'm up in arms about, but I think it needs to be resolved in a more satisfactory way than it is being handled now. I don't like any of the options as we prepare to break camp. Part of me wants the aged Todd Pratt, simply because he HAS performed in the past. There is some hope that he could put together a few good weeks to make his spot on the roster a plus, rather than a huge rancid minus. Wil Nieves has shown himself to be the best defensive guy in camp, by most accounts. I don't know by what margin he's been the best defensive catcher in camp, but I can't imagine having him behind the plate everyday if Jorgie were to (God forbid) miss any time. Pratt would be my choice, with two eyes frantically searching the horizon for a better option by June.

First base is a no-brainer to me. Josh Phelps may end up being a complete bust, but he's won the job in camp. Hands down. He's been the best first baseman on the roster, including Giambi, in the Spring. The tragedy is that we will watch Mientkiewicz starting at first. I know that Phelps is in a position to win a platoon with Minky, but I think Mientkiewicz' only real value in 2007 is as a late-inning defensive replacement. His bat is awful. People who support Mientkiewicz point to last year's .283/.359/.411 as an indicator that he can contribute given the chance. As fans, we will have to hope so at this point because he's a lock to start the season at 1st, whatever the ST games have looked like. His splits were even last year, so he may even get the job exclusively until he flops and the Yankees lose a game or two in a low scoring series of games.

I know that people around the Yankees and many optimistic fans point to our stacked lineup and argue that we don't need a superhero bat in every slot. His glove saves runs and therefore is of value to the team. I have to disagree with this line of thinking a bit. Yes, we have plus guys at short and catcher and center field. The left side of the defensive spectrum is full of plus offensive players so we can afford a weak bat at 1st. I have to wonder why we would settle for that though. If I can get analytical for a second, how many Win Shares does Minky earn on defense that would override a league average bat and glove at 1st?

In 2006, Minky was attributed 0.7 Win Shares for his glove. I don't know how accurate this is in evaluating his contributions via the saves on bad throws and diving stops on would-be RBI singles through the infield, etc....but it's one way to look at it. His 0.7 is 18th in the AL and tied with Sean Casey (Detroit version) and Baltimore's Chris Gomez. His bat posted a surprising 8.0 Win Shares in 2006, for 11th place in the AL. The 9 Total Win Shares that Minky2006 managed tied him with Ben Broussard and Chris Shelton. The names above were unavailable to the Yankees and are generally household names. To expand this to the entire Major Leagues, Minky is fairly far down the list and is tied, ironically, with the Pittsburgh version of Craig Wilson. I'm not saying that Mientkiewicz is a bust, but rather that he should never be used as anything but a platoon. If Torre can do this in 2007, maybe it's not so bad after all. If he plays everyday, I will self-immolate by June.

The utility infielder situation is also a funny thing. Chris Basak is the best infielder in camp, everyone included. We all know that he's just hot now, but were it not for Miguel Cairo's 316.32 rating on the TBFG chart, he'd be starting the year in the Bronx. I'd be all for that. By the way, TBFG is only a rough measure of a player's ability. The Torre Belly Full of Guts chart is only designed to rate veterans with more than 37 years of service time. I kid. Cairo has done enough in camp to earn his job, and he'll probably be the good baserunner and solid defender that has kept him around for all these years. I just like the idea of a younger guy with a higher upside getting his chance by winning it in camp.

The starting rotation is up in the air, but I like Igawa for the #4 spot. He's been wild, but that's Kei Igawa. He is lights out good, and can strikeout hitters with the top names in the game, but he walks too many hitters to be a Top 3 guy in the Majors. If he could ever figure out how to stop walking batters, he'd crack that front of the rotation barrier. Pavano stinks. I actually have been cheering for Pavano between wisecracks. I wanted him to come back and earn his teammates respect. If he could be good, we'd be very tough. The thing is, he's never been good. Ever. It's not so much that he's trying to come back and reclaim some great reputation as a top flight pitcher. He's simply trying to come back. He did. He's bad. He should find his way out of town. To this point, he has a 5.63 ERA in 8 innings of work. During that time he's given up 10 hits, walked 5, and only struck out 3. That's a WHIP of 1.875 and a 16.875 baserunners/9 mark! There are better options and I think we should try them.

Pavano will be the #4 starter, I'm guessing. It just works that way in baseball. He'll get his chance for longer than he should because he gets paid a lot, and he is "working hard". I think it will hardly matter though. I would be shocked into a coma if he finished the year with the club, as I'm guessing that both Clemens and Phil Hughes will be on the team by June 30th.

The pen is a funny situation. I like the idea of giving Colter Bean his shot to make the club. If any player in the history of the Yankees has earned a chance to start the season with the big boys, it's Bean. He may be trash in the end, but he's pitched more games in a Columbus uniform than anyone in history and his stats are nutty. Why he can't get a shake at a run with the Major League club is beyond me, but there must be something to it. Still, give him a chance. If he fails, it's over for him. I don't want any part of Villone. Oddly enough, I think Cashman won't keep him on the big club either. Unlike Cairo and Minky, Villone is a disposable guy for the Yankees. I don't think they signed him with the intention that he's got a spot locked up like the aforementioned veterans. Sean Henn has been good, and I bet he gets the job. I'd be happy about that.

Look for my recaps on Koshien at Baseball Japan for the next week+. I'll be here as often as possible, and at Matsuzaka Watch. I'll be at Yuki Saito Watch, Yu Darvish Watch, Koji Uehara Watch, BP......just keep reading and I'll keep writing.


Chris V said...

Couple of interesting things in the news.

"If A-Rod splits, the Yankees will be in need of a right-handed bat and could go after outfielder Andruw Jones, another Scott Boras client. -- New York Post"

So, replace a third baseman outfielder? Who the hell plays third? Phelps? Abreu?

"The Yankees' will be surprised to find that Doug Mientkiewicz's all-world defensive reputation is overdone, according to one National League scout. "He had the yips in 2005 with the Mets. He couldn't turn the 3-6-3 double play, and he wouldn't ever throw home," the scout said." - Jon Heyman (3/23/2007 truth and rumors)

As you know, he has a poor RAA and RATE the past couple of seasons, but if even the scouts are down on him, I wonder what Cashman was thinking. He might have been gambling, like when I picked Jonny Gomes and Mark Mulder at the end of my fantasy draft (although I'd take either one of those two over Minky). I just don't get why he picked up Phelps to compete for first, and Phelps is great, and Minky still gets the job. I guess they're really down on Phelps' defense.

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