Yankees acquire Chris Nelson

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.

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  1. JFree said...

    The poor road splits for Rockies players have far more to do with re-adjusting to breaking balls on the road after a home stand than they do with “oh this is just a below average hitter”. It’s similar to jet lag in a way. Call it batting eye lag.

    Where Chris Nelson is truly below average is defense.

  2. Jim said...

    JFree, I hadn’t heard it called batting eye lag, but that pretty well describes it.  When Dan O’Dowd was in his infancy as the Rockies GM, he had an up and coming Assistant whose job it was to try to figure out the home/road discrepancies of the Rockies offense.  He came to the conclusion that the Rockies always won the third game of a road series.  However, there was no carry over to the rest of the series in the next city, further frustrating the study.

  3. JFree said...

    Statistical studies would have too many data slices – LHP/RHP in different early road games with differing secondary pitches at different skill levels that affect different Rox batters. This is one of those issues where you have to just trust the physics more than the stats.

    What the Rockies need to do IMO is contract some time with batting cage facilities in key road cities—and pre-position some high-end pitching machines there that throw tailing fastballs/sliders/curves/etc. Batting practice outside a game situation – esp with infrequent pitch types – is the way to get that eye back – and that practice can only occur at sea-level air pressure. Host teams will not be helpful.

  4. JFree said...

    A well-crafted study hasn’t been done and not sure it even can be.

    That said—Matt Holliday was widely derided as a “Coors hitter” when he was traded in 2009. One A’s blogger looked at his road stats – http://baybridgebaseball.com/2009/01/the-great-matt-holliday-experiment/

    Saber community doesn’t believe it (but also hasn’t done a serious analysis if these two are the examples)


    The main area I question with all these is that the length of the road stand is less significant than the length of the home stand that preceded it (that’s what establishes the “batting eye baseline”). And focusing on batters who have trouble with breaking balls anyway – who are more likely to be tested with them early on.

    I think Tango and Lichtman have also done something on this but no link.

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