Monday, November 23, 2009
Who should be the Yankees DH?Posted by Dan Novick
In a piece at River Ave. Blues yesterday, Mike Axisa wrote at length about the Yankees DH situation. There's a faction of the fan base that would like to see the team promote from within, and make Cuban defector Juan Miranda the regular DH next season, while giving frequent half-days off to the old-ish lineup by allowing them to DH on occasion. Without thinking about it too much, I agreed with this line of thinking. Keeping Hideki Matsui around in 2010 would A) cost much more than promoting Miranda would, and B) make it more difficult to let some regulars DH on occasion, since Matsui can't play the field.
So I figured just let Miranda start around 100-120 games at DH, and give guys like Posada, A-Rod, and Damon the remaining time at DH to keep them fresh. Well in that article at RAB, Mike headed down that road by saying this:
There are always more DH types available than DH spots open, so the Yanks certainly have options. However, the team is said to be looking to scale back the payroll a bit, and if they can’t retain Matsui on favorable terms, the team might be better off filling the DH spot from within rather than dropping seven figures on a guy in the decline phase of his career. I’m not talking about that silly rotating DH thing when I say filling the spot from within, I’m talking about Juan Miranda.
The article continues extolling the virtues of Miranda, saying how he destroyed lefties this year after struggling against them in the past, and how he has hit MLB pitching well in his extremely limited sample size. Essentially what you would expect to hear from a prospect fanatic like Mike. But then it takes an unexpected twist:
Using the wonderful MLE Calculator, we can see that Miranda’s Triple-A batting line this year would have translated to .249-.318-.412 with 15 homers in the big leagues, though I don’t think the MLEc has been updated to reflect the homer happy New Yankee Stadium yet. For the sake of context, that’s basically what Aaron Rowand hit this year. The same Aaron Rowand whose .323 wOBA ranked 68th among all outfielders with at least 400 PA in 2009. Need more context? Melky Cabrera was 63rd with a .331 wOBA. So yeah, it’s not very good.
Well that caught me off guard. He does have a point though. Miranda might turn out to be a useful player, and he might be able to provide that value as soon as this season. And that's the problem: he might. He also might not. He has some upside, but the potential downside of giving him the starting job is too great, in my opinion, to take a chance on if you are gunning for another championship. The Yankees offense this season pulverized opposing pitching staffs partially because there was rarely a weak point in the lineup. If you look up on June 1st, and the designated hitter is hitting .245/.320/.430, there's a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
And this is why it's all about minimizing risk. For a minute now, let's say the Yankees and Hideki Matsui part ways. They would have a few primary options, including signing a left fielder and making Damon the full-time DH, keeping everything as is and promoting Miranda. The first option would probably involve a lot of money, and the second would, as I said above, involve a lot of risk. In Dave Cameron's post at FanGraphs on Friday, he wrote about this very topic:
Rather than replacing the average player with a superior option, this new graph represents the result of simply having more options. This is a strategy to pursue depth rather than premium talent. It is the baseball version of diversification. Rather than pursuing a single, high-end player with a big contract that still leaves them vulnerable to total loss in case of an injury or inexplicable drop in performance, pairing different types of players can offer similar upside and risk at a reduced cost.
So say no to Matt Holliday and his 7-year $100+ million deal, and say no to relying on a 27-year old rookie to fill the vacant spot. Say yes to... Carlos Delgado. In his last full season in 2008, Delgado smacked 38 home runs and slugged a robust .518. All that in a pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium. Put his batted ball distribution in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium and who knows what that season looks like. But as always seems to be the problem with Delgado, he has been injured. Hip surgery limited to Delgado to just 112 plate appearances this past season, but his triple-slash line was as good as ever in this small sample. Delgado appeared to be nearing a return to the Mets in August before an oblique strain caused them to shut him down, so he's presumably ready to go health-wise.
This isn't about Delgado's pure production, which is difficult to project coming off an injury. CHONE projects .247/.322/.449, while Bill James is more optimistic about Delgado, seeing a .263/.361/.494 line. It's also about Delgado's potentially affordable contract, which could be heavier on incentives than on guaranteed dollars. If the Yankees were to sign Delgado, they wouldn't be making a bet on him alone being that productive; they'd be betting that either Delgado or Miranda (or a combination of both) could produce offensively for a low price. Signing Delgado to an incentive-laden deal allows them to take a chance on Delgado's 30+ home run upside while still hedging their bets with Miranda should Delgado get hurt or be ineffective. Now if only Wall Street could manage its risk like this, we might be getting somewhere.
Dan Novick is a lifelong Yankees fan, and still gets the chills every time Enter Sandman plays from the Yankee Stadium speakers. He welcomes comments and questions via e-mail.