Citing injuries and a need for a right-handed bat, the Yankees sent either cash or a player to be named later to Colorado for middle infielder Chris Nelson. With the success of Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay, maybe the Yankees are thinking they can take any below-average hitter and turn him into a star.
Nelson is an interesting player. He was called up in 2010 for 17 games and was awful; despite a .280 batting average, he finished with a wRC+ of just 57. In 2011 he found himself more playing time with 189 plate appearances, but although his power increased (.383 slugging average), he struck out almost 20 percent of the time and still had a poor wRC+ of 65.
Things turned around last year pretty dramatically for Nelson; he played in more than two-thirds of the Rockies’ games and hit .301/.352/.458, good for an above-average wRC+ of 105. However, his defense was apparently awful according to UZR, which pegged him at -18.4 runs for the season, a strikingly high number (DRS had almost the exact number and the Fans Scouting Report pegged him for below average). Still, a second baseman who can hit is always a welcome part of the lineup.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, it seems that much of Nelson’s success was aided by the friendly confines of Coors Field. Nelson hit .347/.411/.500 at home last year, but just .257/.292/.417 on the road. His 2011 was no different, with a .276/.300/.419 line at home and .213/.253/.333 line on the road. So far this season he’s off to a rough start with a career-low wRC+ of 50 (.242/.282/.318). ZiPS has projected him for a .314 wOBA for the rest of the season, although that may be assuming he’s playing in Colorado.
There is some bright news for Yankees fans on Nelson. First, he’s turning 28 this year, so he’s at the standard peak of his age curve. Second, he can play both third and second (and if needed, shortstop). Finally, he won’t be a starter for the Yankees, and he’s a more than an adequate bench player. And since he’s on the Yankees, he’ll probably hit 50 homers anyway.