Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sky Kalkman Suggests Jeter Should Bat 6th... CRUCIFY HIM!

Over ESPN's new Insider-only saberblog TMI (which stands for "The Max Info" but was clearly named by someone who doesn't care much for baseball's statistical revolution and thinks they are very clever) Mr. Kalkman suggests a lineup that would surely make Dusty Baker's head explode:
1. Nick Johnson (L)
2. Mark Teixeira (S)
3. Curtis Granderson (L)
4. Alex Rodriguez (R)
5. Robinson Cano (L)
6. Derek Jeter (R)
7. Nick Swisher (S)
8. Jorge Posada (S)
9. Brett Gardner (L)
But, but, but... Nick Johnson would clog up the basepaths!!1!1

Seriously though, that batting order kind of blows my mind a little bit as well. In a good way. I like counterintuitive thinking and this certainly qualifies as "outside of the box". The underlying principles for Kalkman's method of lineup construction can be found in this piece.

As David Pinto pointed out when projecting the Yankees offense earlier this winter, the difference between the Yankees absolute best and worst lineups is about 1/4 of a run per game. The difference between the one that performed the best in the simulations and the one Joe Girardi is likely to use is .08 of a run (13 runs a year). Simply put, the order you arrange the batters probably doesn't matter very much unless you do something stupid like bat A-Rod 8th (and even then, not very much). But lineup construction is a popular topic in sabermetric circles because it's relatively simple to tinker with from afar and fool around with mathematically.

Here is Kalkman's justification for the slow-footed OBP Jesus hitting leadoff:
At the top of the order, getting on base is king, and while Jeter’s very good in that arena, Johnson is OBP royalty. And since Johnson will only be in the lineup against righties anyway, his offensive advantage over Jeter is even larger. Jeter has the ability to steal bases, but that ability is actually overrated in front of hitters who will walk (because a walk pushes the leadoff hitter to second base without the risk of an out) and pound out extra-base hits (often scoring the runner from first base). Jeter’s ability to steal bases would be more useful lower in the order, in front of singles hitters -- not that the Yankees really have any of those on the team. In short, swapping 25 times on base for 25 stolen bases isn't a price worth paying at the leadoff spot.
One thing I strongly disagree with is the suggestion that Johnson "will only be in the lineup against righties". He doesn't have much of a platoon split and has actually been better against lefties over the course of his career. The Yanks already have two guys in Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson who are susecptable to left handed pitching. Who, exactly, is going to take Johnson's place?

Here is why Sky has Jeter batting 6th:
Next comes Jeter, who can run wild on all the doubles hit by Swisher and Posada, although these three are so close that their order doesn’t matter much. (Having Jeter as low as sixth is going to get me in enough trouble, so I won’t slide him down any further.)
Baserunning skills are more important in front of guys who hit a lot of singles and doubles as opposed to those who walk a lot and hit home runs, so that makes a good deal of sense.

There is no doubt that when Joe Girardi fills out his lineup card in Fenway on April 4th, Jeter is going to hit leadoff. He was excellent in that role last year and with a .388 career OBP, he's certainly a worthy candidate. Based on what has been said in Tampa this Spring, Johnson will probably bat second; the fact that Girardi is willing to pencil him in there is a testament to his forward thinking.

Coaches in any sport are reluctant put their neck on the line by straying from the generally accepted principles and as Pinto's projections show, there just isn't that much to be gained by changing between two very good lineups. It would take some real courage/insanity to go with anything like the order that Kalkman is suggesting, but it makes for an interesting discussion topic at least.

Life Or Death

Forget competing for a spot in the rotation, according to the New York Post, Joba Chamberlain was apparently pitching for his life yesterday in Tampa. That or they felt the need to remark on the fact that he - like roughly 6 billion other people on this planet - is still in existence.

In the biggest start in the history of anything, Joba was spellbinding. With his entire pitching career hanging in the balance, he summoned a thoroughly gutsy performance, throwing three innings of one run ball in a fucking exhibition game. Hold your applause, please.

/end sarcasm

I know the Post is in the business of making things seem more important than they are, but the notion that Joba's destiny as a starting pitcher hinges on one fucking scrimmage is pretty laughable.

As our friend Joe Pawlikowski pointed out yesterday, almost everyone in the race to be 5th starter (sorry Chad Gaudin) has "led" the competition at one point or another.

First it was Sergio Mitre.
If, as the Yankees insist, there is a genuine competition for the No. 5 spot in Joe Girardi's rotation, then Sergio Mitre is atop the early leader board.
Then Alfredo Aceves.
Whatever approach Aceves is trying this spring with the Yankees, it appears to be working. Considered an unlikely contender for the fifth spot in the rotation, the right-hander has arguably outpitched the competition so far.
Then Phil Hughes.
Hughes has worked eight and two-thirds innings in spring training, allowing seven hits, two runs and two walks, with four strikeouts. If Hughes was the leader for the fifth spot coming into camp, he’s done nothing to lose that standing.
Now Joba is back into the mix. OR IS HE HEADED TO THE BULLPEN?
Some believe Chamberlain and Hughes in the bullpen make the Yankees a stronger team. But Chamberlain had pitched so poorly in the last game that the option of sending him to Triple-A was in the air before the game.

"We will discuss that [Triple-A], but he has had a lot of success out of the bullpen," Girardi said. "We put him back there in the playoffs and he did a good job."

And he apparently will get another chance to help the Yankees where he has been the best - in the bullpen.

I'm sorry, George A. King III, but I'm going to have to ask you to back up your logic train for inspection.
  1. Some people think the Yankees would be better off with both Hughes and Joba in the bullpen. I don't know who these people are, but apparently G.A.K.III does.

  2. Joba was pitching poorly, so the Yanks thought about sending him to AAA.

  3. But the minors are no longer a possibility because of three innings that he pitched against the what was left of the Phillies' lineup in a Spring Training game.

  4. Joe Girardi admitted that AAA is an option but also thinks that Joba was good out of the bullpen in the playoffs, which is, um, debatable.

I don't know who I feel worse for, King, for having to feed the beast and write this drivel or the poor schlub riding a subway somewhere, reading the Post, who actually takes this shit at face value.

17 more days until things actually start to matter. God help us until then.