The Muscle on the Town

If I had been running the Yankees (I turned it down because they wouldn’t let me both be GM and blog for The Score), I probably would have been inclined to hang on to super-prospect Jesus Montero, and in addition to Kuroda, would have thrown a big one-year contract at Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt, instead. But they had their reasons for doing what they did, and it is water under the bridge.

While they did get a good, young pitcher in Michael Pineda, the immediate upshot for the 2012 Yankees’ offense is that they are appear to be looking at having Zombie Andruw Jones platooning with a Mystery Man at designated hitter. The pickings are slim, but let’s take a look at what the newly-thrifty Yankees’ best option might be from among what is still out there: Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon, and Russell Branyan.

There are a number of good projection systems out there, but for this post I am going to use Oliver, Brian Cartwright’s system that is published at The Hardball Times. I try to avoid reliance on subscription-based projections in public posts, but Oliver is as good as any, and is convenient in that all the player projections are already out. Oliver also already has projected wOBA posted, which is very handy in saving me extra work for a post like this.

We can’t just look at the straight player projections when comparing the hitters, since the scenario we are discussing involves using them as the strong (left-handed) side of a DH platoon. While people often like to simply look up a player’s one-year or career splits, accurately gauging platoon skill (“projection”) requires even more regression than regressing a full-season of observed performance. I have discussed how this is done at length here, in a post based on the ideas given in The Book, so I won’t get into all of that stuff here. Let’s talk hitters.

Earlier this week there were rumors that the Yankees were looking at Raul Ibanez for their DH spot. Ibanez’s three-year contract with the Phillies prior to the 2009 season was widely mocked, but an incredibly hot start to that season seemed to prove Ruben Amaro right. Happily, the first three months of a contract outweigh everything else. Oh, wait. Basically, Ibanez was good in 2009, was mediocre in 2010, and beyond horrible in 2011.

Ibanez has had a nice run, but he willll be 40 in June. He does have a pretty big career split, so maybe he has something left as a platoon hitter. Well, Oliver projects him to hit .245/.307/.407 for a .310 wOBA. Uh, yeah, the league average was around .316 last season, so that would make him unworthy of a major-league roster spot. But how about if we estimate his platoon split? I have Ibanez projected as a dreadful .287 wOBA hitter versus southpaws, and a .320 wOBA hitter versus righties. That’s slightly above league average, but just barely. At .320, he’s still a replacement-level player at DH, and Ibanez is not known for being defensively useful, either.

Johnny Damon is bitter about leaving the Rays, which I guess he probably was after he was not re-signed by the Yankees after the 2009 World Series (no WAY Brett Gardner can start in the majors, amirite, Fire Joe Morgan? A fast white guy with no power hahahahaha. Hey kids, remember to watch Parks and Rec tonight!). No, wait, I hear Damon he has always wanted to play for the Yankees Tigers Rays Yankees! I have not heard much of anything on the rumor front with respect to Damon and the Yankees (I’m sure Jon Heyman has probably said something about it for some mysterious reason).

My initial thought would be that Damon would be a better choice than Ibanez given that he has hit better in recent seasons. Oliver is more optimistic about Damon than it is about Ibanez, but only a bit, projecting him for a .314 wOBA in 2012. However, Damon actually has a pretty small observed platoon split, and given a situation such as this, it actually makes him less useful. While he projects better than Ibanez versus lefties (.302 wOBA), he only projects as a .319 wOBA hitter versus righties. That is essentially the same as Ibanez. I suppose that if the Yankees really want a player who might play the outfield now and then Damon is less horrible than Ibanez, but Andruw Jones is already their backup outfielder.

This brings us to long-time sabercrush Russell “The Muscle” Branyan. The Yankees recently signed him to a minor-league deal, so this might actually happen. After getting ignored because of, well, I’m not sure why, for years, Branyan in 2009 at 33 Branyan got a full-time job in Seattle and raked, and had another pretty good year in 2010. His was dreadful in 2011, but in only 146 plate appearances. Teams are probably worried about the back problems he has had for years. Still, Oliver projects him to hit for a .330 wOBA in 2012. Yes, he has been rather heavily platooned in the past, but even so, based on that Oliver projection I have him as a “true talent” .338 wOBA hitter versus righties in 2012. That is far better than either Ibanez or Damon, and definitely makes him worth considering.

Before we close up shop and make a tentative judgment, let’s take a look at the right-handed side of this hypothetical platoon: Andruw Jones. Jones has hit well in a (mostly) platoon role the last couple of seasons with the Rangers and Yankees, and Oliver projects him to for a .338 wOBA in 2012. However, keep in mind that that projection is based on seasons in which he was already platooned. In any case, the right platoon partner for Jones could still increase the Yankees’ production out of the DH spot. I have Jones projected for a .351 wOBA versus left-handed hitters and a .333 wOBA versus lefties. That may surprise some. Keep in mind that right-handed hitters regress more heavily to the average in terms of platoon skill, however, and that platoon skill does not change that much over the years, at least relative to other skills (there may be new research to be done in this area, though).

The upshot is that even if Jones’ split is, say, 10 points of wOBA bigger, according to the projections done here, just having him be the full-time DH would be better than platooning him with either Ibanez or Damon. Branyan might offer a small upgrade, however. Perhaps that is what the Yankees are already thinking, and they certainly have him at an affordable price, even given their newly stringent austerity measures. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees stick to their guns on this one or if they give in to the urge to bring in a “big name” for their DH spot.

Comments (24)

  1. The picture of Branyan raises an interesting question:

    Which of the following helps mopst when picking up babes?

    a) Being a fringe major leaguer who’s specialty is hitting bombs. Chicks do dig the long ball.

    b) A Phiten titanium necklace. He has one on in the picture.

    c) Buying them shots and then trying to awkwardly dance real close with a Corona in hand.

    d) All of the above.

  2. I think most GM’s would follow Cashman’s footsteps and make Pineda vs. Montero trade any day of the week. Especially considering that Montero’s value is diminshed as he has no true defensive position. A big bat is always easier to find than a big and young starter like Pineda.

    • The number of Yankees fans upset over that deal still blows my mind.

      • So you would have traded Lawrie for Pineda? Because, again, prior to his great couple of months, no one would have put Lawrie on Montero’s level, either.

        • I would’ve definitely thought about it longer than most Blue Jays fans. I’ve never understood the high regard paid to Montero, and Lawrie’s impressiveness extended beyond his two months with the big club, and even beyond just his numbers at Triple A. The way he changed his approach as requested halfway through the year to take more walks was especially impressive.

          Yes, Pineda needs to work on his change to keep LHB honest, but he’s got time to make that work.

          • Montero always was one of the younger players in his leagues hitting in serious pitcher’s parks and league in AA and AAA.

            Also, let’s not go nuts considering Lawrie a fixture at 3B. It’s not like he’s Scott Rolen out there.

          • Although I may be not taking into account the brutal run environment Lawrie had to survive in AAA.

      • The only people who think so are scouts, PECOTA, and Oliver.

        Cf. http://twitter.com/devil_fingers/statuses/167727575374897153

      • I think this discussion has gone a bit off the rails, so I just want to clarify some things for anyone reading this now or later so that they don’t get the wrong idea.

        I was simply responding above to the notion that while Montero for Pineda was a great trade., that Lawrie for Pineda would be a huge win for the Mariners, which implies something like (apologies for the cheesy mixture of mathematical symbolism and proper names, which bugs me in this context, but I”m trying to go quickly):

        Lawrie > Pineda >> Montero

        I disagree with that. Some of my comments may make is seem like I think Pineda isn’t very good, or that Montero is far better than Lawrie, but that isn’t the case. I was simply trying to point out why so many people like Montero. I could go on with more stuff about that, but I don’t want to belabor the point.

        All three are good young players. And, in fact, I think I might prefer Lawrie to Montero overall. However, I do not think it is a no brainer — I think Montero is likely (of course, who knows, young players, blah blah blah) to have a better bat that Lawrie, enough so that the difference between then is greatly mitigated.

        I like Pineda, too, and as I said briefly in the post, I can see why the Yankees made the trade given their situation at the moment. I’ve also said elsewhere in these comments what my concerns with Pineda are. And, of course, to repeat: specifics of the players aside, all things being equal I’ll take a hitter over a pitcher due to the inherent riskiness of pitchers in general.

        In various situations, I can imagine different teams preferring one of the three over the other two. In general, my thoughts (and people obviously have different opinions on this) are that I would rather have Montero or Lawrie over Pineda, and it’s a “pick ‘em” between Montero and Lawrie.

        Clear as mud?

    • I think you can make an argument either way, so I won’t re-hash the whole thing here.

      I personally prefer Montero. Montero positional limitations are a potential future issue, but prior to 2011 not only was Montero ranked by many as the #3 prospect in baseball behind only Trout and Harper (and those same analysts were assuming he was a 1B/DH in doing so), but a guy like Jim Callis was saying that he preferred Montero to Harper. I don’t agree with that, my point is simply that Montero is not simply another really good hitting prospect, he’s something special.

      Pineda only seems like a more of a “sure thing” because he spent 2011 in the majors. He is still a guy with only two pitches, a serious flyball tendency, and who is moving from an extreme pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park. Moreover, “youth” doesn’t mean the same thing for pitchers as for hitters; pitchers on average peak much earlier, so it is likely that Montero has substantially more development in him than Pineda. And that’s just one of the various “pitcher issues.” Give me a relatively “equal” young pitcher and hitter (and frankly, prior to 2011, I doubt anyone would have put Pineda on Montero’s level), and I’ll take the hitter every time. Historically, prospect value has worked out that way.

      Having said all that, I can see why the Yankees made the trade, it isn’t crazy or anything. I just prefer Montero.

  3. Just saw Tom Tango post this on twitter: http://toronto.bluejays.mlb.com/mlb/help/jobs.jsp?c_id=tor

    Intern-baseball operations seems like a good fit for Parkes or Drew.

  4. If Montero had say, replacement value level skills for a catcher, I would have said no to the Mariners. Having a bat of Montero’s quality behind the plate would be a goldmine for any organization. Bottom line though, he’s got DH or 1B written all over him.

    It was been reported by Jeff Blair that the Mariners wanted Brett Lawrie for Pineda. I think AA made the right move by saying no. For starters, the Jays would have faced a PR disaster had they traded Lawrie for Pineda. More importantly, AA properly examined the fact that there were (are) no suitable 3B candidates on the free agent market and that the trade market would be thin. Even if the Mets would trade away Wright for example, I would still prefer Lawrie at this point (for many reasons).

    Nothing coming up the minor league pipelines either (Ahrens is the closest pure 3B prospect and currently slated to play AA at age 24).

    In any event, I think Lawrie is more valuable than Montero.

    As a Blue Jay fan, I wished the Yankees had kept Montero. Having Pineda join CC and company is going to address a huge need for the Yankees. Along with Kuroda (an okay addition), Nova and Mitre, the Yankees have SP options that don’t involve AJ Burnett.

    I agree that Yankee Stadium is a less neutral than Safeco. But I think that Pineda can mitigate this with an increasing GB rate as evidenced with his 2011 season:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/index.php/2012-pod-pitcher-projections-michael-pineda/

  5. “I have Jones projected for a .351 wOBA versus left-handed hitters and a .333 wOBA versus lefties.”

    There is more than one thing wrong with that sentence.

    But yeah, I like Branyon has a cheap low-risk option. I think that Yankees’ “DH problem” is being waaay overblown. They’ll be fine.

  6. The worst part of all this Montero/Pineda/Lawrie talk is that it has totally taken away from a discussion of Russell Branyan’s awesomeness.

  7. Yankees schmankees. What about the Blue Jays and Rogers not willing to spend money?

  8. “Johnny Damon is bitter about leaving the Rays, which I guess he probably was after he was not re-signed by the Yankees after the 2009 World Series (no WAY Brett Gardner can start in the majors, amirite, Fire Joe Morgan? A fast white guy with no power hahahahaha. Hey kids, remember to watch Parks and Rec tonight!). No, wait, I hear Damon he has always wanted to play for the Yankees Tigers Rays Yankees! I have not heard much of anything on the rumor front with respect to Damon and the Yankees (I’m sure Jon Heyman has probably said something about it for some mysterious reason).”

    That is arguably the worst written paragraph I have ever read.

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