Monday, January 11, 2010

Dissecting The DH Signings

So far this offseason, free-swinging goat roaster Vladimir Guerrero, World Series Hero and spousal sketch artist Hideki Matsui, and injury-prone on-base messiah Nick Johnson have all been signed as DHs for elite offensive teams.

According to the Dallas News Vlad's deal is for $5M with incentives making comparable to the $5.5M deal Johnson got from the Yankees and the $6M one Matsui received from the Angels. Johnson's contract includes bonuses for every 25 plate appearances over 400 and mutual option or buyout for 2011, giving it the largest possible value of the three. But for this coming year, the values are likely to be quite similar.

While Johnson is more than 5 years younger than either Matsui or Guerrero, he carries similar risk of injury, having spent far more than his fair share of time on the DL over the course of his career. Johnson may be capable of playing first base and Matsui may want to play the outfield, but all three figure to DH almost exclusively in 2010.

Offensively, each has a unique profile. By getting on base at a .400 clip, Johnson offers something much different than either of the other two aging sluggers, but when healthy each provides similar overall value to a lineup.

The biggest difference between Matsui and Guerrero is that Matsui is coming off one of the best years of his career (not to mention the World Series MVP), while Vlad just completed one of his worst, both in terms of games played and at bat for at bat production. Johnson, meanwhile, came to the plate 574 times, the second most in his career and got on base quite often, but his slugging percentage was the lowest of the three.

However, the Yankees would gladly trade points in SLG for OBP considering he's going to be hitting in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Matsui and Guerrero are going to hit more towards the middle of the order and their higher slugging percentages will be more useful in driving in runs. In terms of a fit for the line up, it seems that Johnson and the Yankees are a perfect match.

So between Matsui and Guerrero, who figures to provide more value for their team next year?

The chart below shows Vlad's numbers since he came to Anaheim back in 2004 (darker numbers are better).

While it hasn't been an even decline across the board, it's easy to see that he's fallen a long way in every category listed above in the last six years. Conversely, Matsui's 2009 line (.274/.367/.509) was very similar to his career marks (.292/.370/.482) with the exception of his batting average being slightly lower and his slugging percentage slightly higher. While Guerrero is still (supposedly) younger than Matsui and had a higher, longer career peak, it seems as though Vlad is further into his decline phase.

Plate discipline has a way insulating a batter from the effects of aging and that is one category Matsui owns Vlad in. Vlad walked in only 4.7% of his plate appearances last year, the lowest of his career, while Matsui walked in 12.3%, sightly above his career average.

Was luck a factor? Matsui had a BABIP of .275, which was .23 lower than his career mark. Guerrero was down slightly to .314 from his mean of .322. Vlad hit more fly balls in 2009 than in previous years, particularly infield fly balls. His line drive percentage was actually up last year, but he saw a dive in his HR/FB rate (-4.6%). Matsui had the same underlying factors ( increases in FB, IFFB, LD%), but his HR/FB rate nearly doubled to 17.9%. You can chalk some of the difference up to the New Yankee Stadium, but it appears he was fortunate with his results as well.

In 2010, Matsui will be moving to a less favorable hitter's park while Vlad will be moving to a more favorable one. As Jack Moore points out over at FanGraphs today, Vlad has excellent numbers at the Ballpark in Arlington, but "the data from the last few years in Anaheim far outweighs the fact that he’s killed the Rangers at home over the last six."

If I were a GM, I would be worried about Vlad's slow downward spiral over the past couple of years. While he had a higher, more sustained peak than Matsui, he seems to be more susceptible to the aging process than Godzilla. His bat speed has already started to leave him and the results have not been good. This isn't to say that Matsui is a sure bet either with his balky knees and all, but his patient approach at the plate and solid production last year seem to make him a better value in 2010.

Fack Youk Field Trip: Frozen Fenway

Friday I took a field trip up to the heart of enemy territory. The ball park which the Yankees organization held the mortgage on for several years was hosting its final two hockey games of the winter, with a Hockey East doubleheader. My alma mater, Boston College, faced their arch rivals, Boston University in the nightcap.

As our friend 'Duk from Big League Stew told hockey blog Puck Daddy over the weekend, college hockey is one of America's best kept sporting secrets. It doesn't get much attention in the NYC metro area, or even in my home state of Connecticut, but it's pretty big stuff in the rest of New England, as well as the Midwest and the Great Plains. BC hockey was one of my favorite parts of my collegiate experience (1 National Championship, 3 Frozen Fours, a Beanpot title, and 2 Hockey East tournament championships and regular season championships). So the chance to see the Eagles take on the hated Terriers in an outdoor game was pretty a cool experience.

Pre game ceremonies featured former Major Leaguers and current Boston-area men's league hockey players Richie Hebner, John Tudor, and former Yankee Bill Monbouquette. Honorary captains for BU included Miracle on Ice hero Mike Eruzione, former Ranger Tony Amonte, and Travis Roy. Honorary captains for BC were Marty McInnis, Craig Janney, and former Ranger Brian Leetch.

Despite light snow and frigid temperatures (around 10 degrees with the wind), I had consumed enough anti-freeze at Game On prior to the game to keep me warm. Our seats in the centerfield bleachers offered a decent enough vantage point of the ice, better than those in field boxes whose views were obscured by the boards.

Both teams featured special sweaters for the event. BC rolled out a special gold jersey, featuring a green stripe (to represent the Green Monster) between the standard maroon stripes and baseball diamond logo above the numbers on the back. BU replaced their standard lettering with the Red Sox font and featured a hockey skate version of the Red Sox hanging socks logo on the shoulders.

Unfortunately for me, there wasn't much to celebrate in the game. BU jumped out to a 3-0 lead just more than halfway through the game. BC got a power play goal late in the second to get on the board, and then scored a shorthanded goal with just over 12 minutes to play to cut the deficit to one. That would be it for scoring on the night though, as BC went just 1 for 8 on the power play and wound up losing 3-2. Despite the victory, BU is just sixth in Hockey East, while BC is in third - five points off the pace and six points ahead of their rivals.

Somewhere in the crowd was the fan antithesis of me. You may have won this round buddy; we'll see what happens at the Beanpot next month. In the meantime I'll try to remain content with the World Series championship.

While it's looking increasingly less likely that Yankee Stadium will host a hockey game next year, or perhaps any time in the next three years, they could learn a lesson from the way Fenway handled their Winter Classic experience. Typical of the Henry ownership group, they squeezed every penny they could out of their three weeks with a rink. In addition to the Winter Classic and the Frozen Fenway doubleheader, they hosted two public skates for Boston residents, a prep school game between Taft and Avon Old Farms, a BC-BU alumni game, and reportedly rented out the ice, at a very lucrative rate, for local teams to use. Despite a shortage of area D-I collegiate squads, I hope the Yankees can manage to do something similar if and when they get to host some hockey games.

(Sweater and fan photos courtesy of Puck Daddy)

Would Hairston Be "Perfect" For The Yankees?

As mentioned earlier this morning, the Yankees are rumored to be "in serious talks" to bring back Jerry Hairston, Jr. Rob Neyer contends that he would be the "perfect Yankee", but I'm not so sure.

The source of that rumor was a tweet by ESPN's Chris Singleton, who added that the Yankees would use the 33 year old utility man to "spell Jeter and Rodriguez and platoon in left possibly". Hairston is capable of playing every position 3-9, but the problem is that he's not particularly well-suited to any of the three tasks Singleton listed.

Although he's right handed, Hairston doesn't make much sense as a platoon partner for Brett Gardner. In his career against left handers, Hairston has put up a weak line of .264/.323/.386, which is better than Gardner but much worse than Reed Johnson (.313/.378/.463) who is also available. Hairston does figure to be an asset defensively, but just how much of one is largely up to your imagination. His 37.7 UZR/150 in LF is simply too good to be true considering it's based on only 132 games and 594 innings there.

Hairston has similar sample size issues with his defense on the left side of the infield, but not the same encouraging results. He's started only 46 games at 3B (40 of them last year) and made 10 errors in that time. Shortstop is a relatively new position to him as well, having logged only 533 career innings there with almost all of them coming in the last two years. The initial numbers say his range isn't great at either position.

Additionally, the Yankees already have four utility infielders on the 40 man roster - Ramiro Pena, Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Russo & Reegie Corona. Hairston figures to contribute more offensively than any of them, but Pena in particular is a far superior defender at both short and third.

Joe from River Ave. Blues explained how Hairston, acting as a back up infielder and outfielder, would free up a spot on the bench. Since the Yankees 12 man pitching staff affords room for only four extra position players, flexibility is at a premium. But production is the end goal, not flexibility.

While Hairston could play a number of positions, he doesn't excel at any of them - at least not in the capacity the Yankees would utilize him. The upshot is that he might save a roster spot by performing multiple functions for the Yanks, but that would only be useful if they could fill that spot with a player who can offer something that Hairston can't. Are the Yanks willing to spend a couple million dollars on a guy who is a bridge to signing another bench player? Because that's the only way it would make sense to bring him back.

Winter Weekend Roundup

Good morning Fackers. With the exception of the overtime shootout between the Packers and Cardinals last night (which was the highest scoring playoff game in NFL history) there wasn't much in the way of interesting football to watch this weekend. Three of the games featured leads of two touchdowns or more during the first half and only one ended up with a final score within 10 points. Joe picked two of the four games correctly, which was a whole lot better than Bill Simmons, who went 0-4.

Football maybe have disappointed, but the Hot Stove kept burning all weekend long, offering up some warmth during a very cold weekend along the East Coast.

First, from the Yankees:
And around the league:
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka told a paper in Japan that he hurt his thigh before the World Baseball Classic last year, but didn't bother to inform the Red Sox. Fans might see this as good news since it could explain some of his difficulties last season, but I can't imagine the organization is too pleased.