Monday, December 21, 2009

Welcome To Winter

At 17:47 GMT today (about quarter to one EDT) the sun reached its southward solstice. Although the days have been short and it has been cold out for quite some time, today is officially the first day of winter. On one hand, it seems as though we are just beginning our descent into the cold and gray, but astronomically speaking, we are already starting to emerge from it.

Like most people who choose to live in the Northeast, I both love and hate this time of year. It's tough to take the shortened days and frigid temperatures that keep outdoor activities to bare minimum. There's not much worse than starting your car in single digit temperatures and waiting for it to warm up, but there are few things I enjoy more than looking outside when I wake up and seeing snow falling under the orange glow of a street light. It's like you're watching the world slow down.

I still remember hardly being able to sleep on nights when there might be a snow day back in elementary school. I could almost sense whether it had snowed or not before I pulled back the curtain to look outside, but that didn't prevent the crushing feeling of gazing upon the naked pavement and brown, frozen grass and knowing that I still had to go into school.

Winter lends itself to a different range of human emotion. I think everyone suffers from some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder; unless you live someplace where it is warm all year round how can you not? Life is better when the weather is nice and you can be outside. It sucks when you finish work and it's already dark outside. Mowing the lawn beats shoveling the driveway. You'd rather wear sandals than sweaters. A cold beer is better than a hot cocoa.

By the same token, some kinds of music seem more appropriate for the winter. They might be a little slower and more acoustically layered. They might sound sadder and more contemplative. Or maybe they just have words like "Winter" or "Ice" in the title. Anyway, here is a cursory collection of tunes that - for one reason or another - sound like winter to me:

The Easiest (And Cheapest) Outfield Solution

It's been almost two weeks since the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson and during that time, their 2010 roster has begun to congeal. Andy Pettitte was re-signed, Jamie Hoffman was acquired via the Rule V Draft, Nick Johnson was signed as a free agent, Hideki Matsui became an Angel and it is widely assumed that Johnny Damon's career as a Yankee has come to a close. However, in the game of musical chairs which will determine the outfield configuration for 2010, it's not even clear that all the participants have been identified. The music is most certainly still playing.

At the moment, the Yankees have 5 outfielders on their 25 man roster: Granderson, Hoffman, Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. The good news is that 4 of them are capable of playing center field. The bad news (aside from the fact that only one of them can do so) is that only two of the five can hit like Major League corner outfielders (Swisher and Granderson).

Even though there has been some sporadic talk about Swish being traded this offseason, let's simplify this by assuming that he will be the Yankees' right fielder come Opening Day. That leaves four players for two starting jobs, one of which will certainly belong to Granderson.

When the Yankees picked up Granderson, I hoped aloud that they would consider putting him in left field and keeping the center field platoon from 2009 intact. Not only would it require no further trades or acquisitions and be relatively inexpensive (~$15M), but it it would result in one of the better defensive outfields in the league. And as they say, "a [run] saved is a [run] earned".

Granderson has been above (+12.9), below (-9.4) and just about average (+1.6) defensively in 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively, according to UZR. Using a 3-4-5 weighted average of those scores, his UZR/150 is approximately +3 over the past three years. Given that he was a slightly better than average center fielder, it would be safe to assume that he would be a significantly better than average left fielder. Left field in Yankee Stadium is plenty large so it's not like stashing a rangy defender there would be a waste.

I'm going to refrain from citing the exact UZRs for the Gardbrera Duo due to small sample sizes, but I'm willing to assume that Brett is a very good fielder while Melky is probably about average or slightly below. Combine them and the Yanks are a tick better than average in CF.

In terms of offense, there are two leaps of faith that I am taking here:
1) Granderson's offensive output will be closer to 2007 and 2008 than to 2009.

2) Cabrera and Gardner will be as good as they were last year or better at the plate.
Neither of those are trivial considerations, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

Granderson's BABIP of .275 is likely to improve from last year given that it is significantly lower than his carreer mark of .322. Bill at the Detroit Tigers Weblog estimated that about half of that drop was due to Granderson's approach and the other half to luck. Hitting in the New Yankee Stadium should also help. Additionally, it would be a lot easier to find a solid hitting right-handed platoon partner for Granderson (like Reed Johnson) who can play LF as opposed to one who can play center.

Melky has already experienced years in which he regressed instead of improving in his young career and there are good reasons why Gardner won't necessarily improve next year. But they are both in their mid-20's and should be able to at least replicate what they did at the plate in '09 barring an injury.

The Yankees have an infield full of star-caliber hitters, a DH with a .400 OBP and a right fielder who hits about 30 HRs as well. They won 103 regular season games (and the World Series) last year with Gardner and Melky splitting CF duty. I think they can afford to configure left and center field in a way that would maximize defensive production while being close to average at the plate. There are other ways to fill those holes, but they would likely cause the Yanks to get older and more expensive in the process.

Lunchtime Links

As Chad Jennings pointed out this morning, it's going to take a lot to top last Monday, but there are a few odds and ends (some from over the weekend) worth checking out.

Over the weekend, E.J. from The Yankee Universe advocated making Brett Gardner the Yankees everyday center fielder.

On the other hand, Joe Pawlikowski from River Ave. Blues compared Gardner to Scott Podsednik, warning against using projections to predict his production in 2010. Unfortunately, the latter of these two posts provides the more realistic assessment.

Mark Carig from the Star-Ledger asked a person who used to do statistical analysis for a major league club for their reaction to the Granderson deal. The first sentence: "What a deal".

According to the Daily News, the Yankees and the Cubs could be trading partners. Gardner or Melky Cabrera are the likely targets since the Cubbies are in need of a center fielder, but it's not clear what the Yankees would want in return. Carlos Zambrano's name was mentioned but the asking price was reportedly "high". Even higher is his salary, so file this one under "Things We Aren't Buying".

Joe Posnanski saw Up In The Air over the weekend and wrote an epic post about movies and travel inspired by it.

This morning, Lar from Wezen-Ball dug up an interview with an ex-Yankee from the well-respected Weekly World News.

Bill Madden says that their agents have left Johnny Damon, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay out in the cold by mis-reading the free agent market. Easy there Bill, it's not even Christmas yet.

The Post says that Cashman is hoping to acquire a starter by New Years and names Jason Marquis, Joel Pineiro and Ben Sheets as targets. MLBTR adds a few more.

Sports Illustrated has an interview with Peter Gammons.

Digging Out From The Weekend

Good morning Fackers. Hopefully you have managed to shovel yourself out from the storm that buried much of the East Coast throughout the day on Saturday and into Sunday morning. Since it was the last weekend for people to roam the malls in search of Christmas gifts, retailers are predictably acting like they were just held up at gunpoint.

The Bears and Ravens ended up playing in Baltimore despite the fact that the Bears were stuck in Chicago until late Saturday night and M&T Bank Stadium being covered with almost two feet of the white stuff. The Ravens claimed it cost them almost $500,000 to remove all of it. According to the Redskins they've employed 1,200 workers to relocate the 25 million pounds of snow on FedEx Field before the Giants and Redskins play tonight.

Unfortunately, the storm didn't manage to put a damper on the opening weekend for that movie with the blue people that I refuse to name, which has been annoying us with their contrived promotions for two fucking months. Is there no justice in this world?

In baseball news, after waiting more than a week for Mike Lowell to take a physical for the Rangers, the Red Sox saw the trade that would have sent him and $9M to Texas in exchange for catching prospect Max Ramirez fall through. Lowell failed that physical because it indicated that the third baseman will need surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. Recovery time is supposed to be 6-8 weeks and he should be ready for Spring Training in some capacity, but D.J. Short over at Circling the Bases thinks the Red Sox are pissed at Lowell, even if they aren't saying it:
...You have to understand how frustrated the Red Sox are with Lowell for not having the problem addressed sooner. Not only because of the nixed trade, but what might have happened had the Red Sox stayed with the status quo. Lowell likely wouldn't have had the thumb examined during the offseason at all had Texas not tentatively agreed to a trade. They have every reason to be be furious with Lowell, even if they will say otherwise publicly.
Lowell's injury also devastates his trade value when the Sox are finally able to move him. Even if the Sox are willing to eat $9M of his contract, almost every team is going to have committed to another option at third base by then. Furthermore, although the injury isn't assumed to be very serious, teams are likely to be skeptical that he will make a full recovery.

This turn of events has left the Sox in a very difficult spot. The easiest thing to do would be penciling in the Youkstah at 3B and allowing Casey Kotchman to man first. But over the past three years, Kotchman has been only league average at first base, hitting .279/.346/.421 (101 OPS+) in 1521 plate appearances. They could venture into the free agent market to find another third baseman, but it falls steeply after Adrian Beltre to guys like Joe Crede, Melvin Mora and Mike Lamb. Do they overspend to cover their asses for this year, or take their chances that Lowell can be productive at the plate and his defense will rebound from last year? Neither of those are very appealing options.

Lowell was signed for $37.5M over 3 years after his World Series MVP and hasn't played more than 120 games or been significantly better than league average offensively in either of the first two seasons of the deal. The third one doesn't look a whole lot better.