Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Most Important Player... Health-wise

I was looking at the projected 25-man roster for the Yankees, and I noticed one area that has gotten little to no attention this offseason... the catching situation.

Raul Ibanez and Andrew Jones are the backup outfielders, and both men will get a good chunk of playing time platooning as the team's designated hitters. So although there are legit concerns about whether Ibanez has anything left in the tank, or if Jones could hit better than .172 against RHP (that's what he hit against them in 76 plate appearances last season), Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman are okay with them to a point, so I don't feel like I should be that concerned.

The middle infield seems to be okay if something happens, since Eduardo Nunez has shown some competency with the bat. I don't mean to say that him batting .265/.313/385 would be ideal for an extended period of time, but at only 24 years old he's shown reason to be somewhat optimistic about doing better. Heck, the Braves have reportedly shown interest in Eduardo. So if something were to happen to Jeter or (gasp!) Cano, then the backup plan wouldn't destroy the team.

It certainly wouldn't be a great thing if Alex Rodriguez were to get injured (again *sigh*), since Eric Chavez is no prize. But Chavez was hitting really well before his strange foot fracture last season, so there's some reason to feel optimistic should he need to play more often (not that Eric is the healthiest of players in MLB either). My main concern if this were to happen would be the lack of "pop" in Chavez's bat, since he hasn't had a slugging percentage over .393 since 2007. But the team could just slide Teixeira into the cleanup spot, moving Swisher to 5th and Ibanez/Jones to 6th. So it wouldn't be a total loss at all.

The same can be said if Teixeira were to miss time, seeing as how Eric Chavez looks to be the primary backup due to getting the 3rd most innings at 1B this spring (Javier Vazquez got the 2nd most, but he's been optioned to AAA). Besides, some people... for good reason... have doubts about Mark anyway.

Here's where I have the most concern regarding the Yankees bench... the backup catcher. It's not so much about the offensive difference between Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli. In fact, after looking at the numbers each man put up in 2011, fans may not see any difference in their bats at all. Martin had an OPS of .732 to go along with a batter average of .237, while Cervelli's OPS was .719 with a batting average of .266. Seeing as how the Yankees only really issue on the offensive side of things had to do with their batting average (they were 2nd in MLB in OBP, 3rd in MLB in SLG, and 7th in MLB in BA), there's a chance Cervelli's bat could be an improvement.

But it's the catching defense that concerns me. After all, even if I conceded that the offense would improve with Cervelli, we're talking about the 8th batter in the lineup. The Yankees aren't exactly leaning on the catching spot to produce runs. So let's take a look at some defensive catching statistics...

Russell Martin's fielding percentage behind the plate last year was .990, while Francisco Cervelli's was .980. On the surface that doesn't seem like a huge difference, but keep in mind that while Martin had 10 errors in 1044.1 innings, Cervelli had 6 errors in only 316.1 innings.

In 316.1 innings Francisco had 3 passed balls, whereas in 1044.1 innings Russell had 4. I don't think I need to calculate a percentage there to show you that it's a huge difference.

It doesn't get any better for Mr. Cervelli when we look at the stolen base situation. There were 135 stolen base attempts on Russell Martin last year, and Martin threw out 40 (30%). Due to Francisco Cervelli having much fewer stolen base attempts while he was catching last year, I looked at his entire career. There have been 116 instances where somebody tried to steal on Cervelli, and Francisco has thrown out 23 of them (20%). That's 30% vs. 20%. I'd call that a definitive victory again for Mr. Martin.

So even though neither Ibanez or Jones could live up to the defense played by anybody currently starting in the outfield, Nunez isn't as good with the glove as Cano or Jeter, Chavez is decent at 3B although ARod was really good there last year, and Chavez doesn't hold a candle to Teixeira in defense at 1B (how many players do?), my main concern is what would happen behind the dish if Russell Martin were to miss a large amount of time and Francisco Cervelli were to step in.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)