"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Howzit Goin’? Grading the Hitters

Nothing radical here. Grades are based on performance relative to the team’s expectations as well as league-wide positional standards.

Mark Teixeira, 1B:  .254/.360/.465, 17 HR, 60 RBI, 14.6 VORP

A notorious slow-starter, Teixeira got off to the worst start of his career, hitting just .211/.326/.363 on June 6. Since then he has hit .336/.424/.655 with nine homers and two more walks than strikeouts. His rate stats look a lot like those of the major league average first baseman (.271/.357/.462), but he’s still on pace for 31 homers and 110 RBIs, has been typically strong in the field, and is a career .306/.390/.578 hitter in the second half, so it’s hard to complain too much.


Robinson Cano, 2B: .336/.389/.556, 16 HR, 58 RBI, 43.0 VORP

Following a season in which Cano hit just .207/.242/.332 with runners in scoring position, the Yankee management challenged him by placing in the fifth spot in the lineup and charging him with protecting Alex Rodriguez. Yeah, no problem. Cano opened the season with a ten-game hitting streak, has hit .340/.416/.553 with runners in scoring position, and is fourth in the major leagues in VORP. He has slumped a bit in the last week, but still has a hit in 14 of his last 19 games. Oh, and he’s a stellar defensive second baseman.


Derek Jeter, SS: .274/.340/.392, 8 HR, 43 RBI, 9 SB (75%), 17.9 VORP

The Captain hit .330/.354/.521 in April, but has managed a meager .255/.336/.347 line since then. Compare that to the major league average shortstop, who has hit .262/.320/.371 this season. His fielding has slipped back below average (per UZR and my eyeballs), and he just turned 36. Heh.


Alex Rodriguez, 3B: .269/.345/.481, 14 HR, 70 RBI, 19.3 VORP

Rodriguez’s season has been alarmingly ordinary with one glaring exception. He has gone 7-for-13 with three grand slams and 25 RBIs with the bases loaded. That’s why he’s fourth in the majors in RBIs. Otherwise, he has been having his worst season since he was a 21-year-old in his second full major league season. Not that he’s been bad. He’s just been, well, unexceptional, and that includes his limited range in the field and lack of basestealing (2 for 4). That’s not what the Yankees wanted to see from Rodriguez in his second season after spring 2009 hip surgery, and not a good sign from a 34-year-old player who is owed a minimum of $180 million over the next seven years.


Jorge Posada, C: .265/.373/.464, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 14.8 VORP

When healthy, Posada has been his typical self at the plate, which is damn impressive for a 38-year-old catcher. The trick is he hasn’t been terribly healthy (missing games due to a strained calf and sprained finger spending the second half of May on the disabled list with a broken foot), and hasn’t done all that much catching (just 36 games against 20 at DH and 48 starts behind the plate for Francisco Cervelli).


Nick Swisher, RF: .298/.377/.524, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 25.1 VORP

Check this out:

Swisher pre-NYY: .244/.354/.451 (112 OPS+)
Swisher 2009: .249/.371/.498 (129 OPS+)
Swisher 2010: .298/.377/.524 (144 OPS+)

That’s something you like to see from a player in his late 20s, but one worries about the degree to which his performance thus far this year is propped up by that big jump in batting average. Yes, Swisher and hitting coach Kevin Long specifically targeted Swisher’s historically poor averages in revamping his swing, but when you look closer, Swisher’s isolated slugging is down from 2009 and his walk rate is actually at a career low. It’s worth the trade if he can continue to hit .300, but that’s less reliable than power and taking ball four. Still, I’m grading what he’s done, not what he’ll do.


Curtis Granderson, CF: .240/.309/.409, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 7 SB (100%), 6.1 VORP

A groin injury tore a hole in Granderson’s first half, shelving him for most of May. That plus a hot start (.326/.370/.605 in his first 11 games) has helped keep the heat off the Yankees’ big offseason acquisition. I’m here to reapply it. Granderson has hit just .220/.296/.363 since May 18 and is hitting just .207/.250/.287 against lefties, doing little to overcome that career-long bugaboo. His play in center has been strong, but that’s not much return for Austin Jackson (who, to be fair, has hit just .249/.306/.326 since May 10), Ian Kennedy (109 ERA+, 2.38 K/BB for the Diamondbacks), and lefty Phil Coke (2.48 ERA in 42 games for the Tigers), all of whom are younger and cheaper. Granderson has plenty of time to prove his value, but he’ll be 30 next March and his OPS+s over the last four years point in the wrong direction: 135, 123, 100, 95 . . .


Brett Gardner, LF: .309/.396/.415, 56 R, 25 SB (81%), 22.1 VORP

I’ve been pro-Gardner for a while now, but he’s exceeded even my expectations thus far this year. Gardner is 3rd on the Yankees in VORP (ahead of Rodriguez, Jeter, Posada, and Teixeira), 4th among AL left fielders, 7th among major league left fielders (ahead of Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay, among others, and not far behind Ryan Braun), and 11th among all AL outfielders. What’s more, while VORP does factor in Gardner’s basestealing, it doesn’t include his stellar defense, so you can bump him up a few spots on the league-wide depth chart for that. That’s more than gritty and gutty, that’s a very valuable ballplayer.


Nick Johnson, DH: .167/.388/.306, 24 G, 0.4 VORP

Who? Seriously, I had to pause for a moment to remember his name, but Johnson was supposed to be the designated hitter for the 2010 Yankees. That lasted until May 7, when one of his glass wrists shattered again, effectively wiping out his season (a recent set-back . . . well, hell was as expected as the initial injury). I’d say I told you so, but who didn’t see this coming?


Francisco Cervelli, C: .266/.338/.333, 0 HR, 30 RBI, 2.1 VORP

Entering the year, Cervelli was a young, cheap upgrade on Jose Molina, who hit .231/.281/.318 in two plus years with the Yankees. Much like Molina in 2008, Cervelli has been pressed into service as the starter. The upside is that he has indeed been an upgrade on Molina and just a bit of power shy of a league average catcher at the plate (league average: .253/.327/.386). He’s also had a knack in the clutch, transient though that might be, hitting .360/.417/.440 with runners in scoring position, going 12-for-24 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and driving in more runs than Posada, Gardner, or Granderson. The downside is that Cervelli, like Molina, struggles against right handers (.232/.288/.295), has struggled against everybody since May 20 (.200/.274/.236), and his defense has been unimpressive as he’s thrown out just 14 percent of opposing basestealers, a number that only jumps up to 16.7 percent if you factor out his performance with A.J. Burnett on the mound.


Marcus Thames, DH/LF: .294/.398/.447, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 6.6 VORP

Thames was brought in to mash lefties and provide a big bat coming off the bench. Despite a brutal spring training performance and a pair of minor injuries, he’s done just that. What’s more, two of his three home runs have come against righties, against whom he has hit .250/.370/.444. Thames has the Yankees’ only two walkoff hits this year. The only strike against him is that he’s a brutal defender and thus effectively limited to DH.


Ramiro Peña, IF: .195/.239/.207, -6.0 VORP

All glove, no bat. The Yankees need to upgrade here.


Randy Winn, OF: .213/.300/.295,  -2.3 VORP

The switch-hitting Winn was brought in to provide some extra right-handed relief for Granderson and Gardner against left-handed pitching. Winn went 0-for-11 against lefties in his brief Yankee career. He’s not hit much better since signing with the Cardinals (.232/.302/.321) and looks done at the age of 36.



Does Cervelli count? Does it matter? Other than Thames, the Yankee bench has been flat-out awful all season. Peña, Winn, Kevin Russo, Colin Curtis, Chad Huffman, Juan Miranda, and Chad Moeller have hit a combined .199 in 291 at-bats. The bench bats not included in that figure are Thames and Greg Golson, who went 2-for-5 in his brief time with the team.



Despite the limitations of Jeter and Rodriguez, the Yankees lead the majors in defensive efficiency, the rate of turning balls in play into outs, and only the Twins have made fewer errors. Credit Cano and Teixeira in the infield, Gardner and Granderson in the outfield, and a lack of a big hole anywhere.


Overall Offense:

Scanning the grades above, it doesn’t make much sense, but only one major league team has outscored the Yankees this year. The Red Sox have scored 5.47 runs per game, the Yankees have scored 5.33, significantly more than third-place Texas. The Yankees lead the major leagues in on-base percentage, which is a hint as to how they’re doing it with just three A grades above.


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1 monkeypants   ~  Jul 15, 2010 8:26 am

As a teacher, i would have given Nick Johnson an Incomplete...or perhaps better a Withdrawal.

2 monkeypants   ~  Jul 15, 2010 8:39 am

0) cliff, the reason your final grade for the offense seems that 'it makes no sense' is because you are using two different scales.

For individual players you seem to be grading them against themselves. Thus, jeter gets a C for an overall performance that is better than league average for a SS but worse than his career average. Three players with OPS higher than .800, including the sometime starting catcher (!) receive grades of C+, C+ and B-. (Interestingly, Jeter receives a lower mark than two other starters who have a lower VORP.)

But you grade the offense as a whole against the rest of the league, where is second in runs scored per game and leads the league in OBP.

3 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 15, 2010 9:16 am

D- for Pena seems a little harsh, no? I mean he's not good, don't get me wrong, but don't expectations play a part in the grading? He always has been all glove/no stick, like Denny Green says he was who we thought he was.

4 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jul 15, 2010 9:33 am

[2] Tex gets the plus for defense. Rodriguez for being more productive at the plate than Tex or Jeter. Posada is "only" a B- because of time missed due to injury and his resulting lack of starts behind the plate. That DL time has limited Posada's VORP, but on a per game/PA basis he's been more productive than Jeter, and again VORP doesn't take into account defense, so that's how Tex slips by the Captain.

[3] Peña is a career .255/.315/.320 hitter in the minors and beat those marks in the majors last year. That's "no-hit," but his line this year (.195/.239/.207) is way below even that pathetic standard. He's been a half win worse than replacement in just 90 PA. Maybe I didn't give him enough credit for his glove, but he's close to the Tony Peña Jr. line, where the hitting is so bad the glove doesn't matter (Peña converted to pitching last year).

5 monkeypants   ~  Jul 15, 2010 10:37 am

[3][4] Right about Peña. HIs "batting" numbers this season are not significantly better than the MLB average pitcher. He has been beyond horrible. Unfortunately, Russo was not able to capitalize on Peña's awfulness, and otherwise the BUIF options are grim, unless there is someone at MiL whom I have overlooked.

Once again, the contemporary practice of carrying 12 or 13 pitchers rears its head. twenty years ago, when teams carried only 10 or 11 pitchers, they could afford to keep a Peña around solely for his glove, while still having room for one or two guys on the bench who could hit but not play much defense.

Now, teams in the AL only carry a BUC and two or three additional bench players (usually one BUIF and one or two BUOF). If you have only one BUIF, he has to be able to play pretty much all of the positions, which means teams force themselves to put a premium on defensive flexibility over hitting ability.

6 a.O   ~  Jul 15, 2010 11:10 am

It's funny how all these part-time utility guys get hammered here at the Banter when they get 3 ABs a week and don't measure up to Jeter or Cano. But then when they get regular playing time and turn into Brett the Jett, there is little mention (outside of Cliff) of how much they are contributing and how valuable they are relative to cost.

7 monkeypants   ~  Jul 15, 2010 11:26 am

[6] Peña not only doesn't measure up to Jeter and Cano, he doesn't measure up to about a third of the pitchers in the NL. The comparison to Gardner is strained at best. Gardner was a .770 OPS batter in MiL, with a MiL career .389 OBP. He always had potential to be a fringe ML player, and maybe more.

Meanwhile, as Cliff points out [4], Peña was about a .630 OPS hitter in MiL, with a rather dismal .315 OBP. it was wishful thinking to believe he could ever contribute more than a slick glove in BUIF duties.

Lastly, FWIW, Peña has 90 PAs in the Yankees 88 games, or about one PA per game, or about 6 PAs per week. This makes sense, given that he seems to start about twice a week. Both Peña and Cervelli suggest rather the opposite of what you argue: the MORE playing time they get, the more their weaknesses are exposed. Peña is a fine, fine fifth IF and occasional PR. He should not be the primary back up at three IF positions.

8 a.O   ~  Jul 15, 2010 11:54 am

Whatever, man. The only thing strained is your sphincter when someone disagrees with you. I don't think anyone ever believed Pena would be anything other than a backup. People said the same thing about Brett, and he's pretty great, huh?

9 monkeypants   ~  Jul 15, 2010 12:11 pm

[8] There was pretty healthy debate here over whether Gardner should start, actually. In fact, you might recall that I have long been one of his most vocal advocates (often dueling with WilliamNYY, who was a huge Melky fan and great skeptic of Gardner). Yes, he has been great, even better than my own optimistic prediction.

This has little to do with Peña, who has been so awful that he has managed to make Miguel Cairo look good by comparison. No one whom I can recall has ever asked him to measure up to Jeter or Cano. But one might wish that he hit better than a pitcher, especially if the team is committed to starting him twice a week while rotating Jeter and A-Rod to DH. Plus, if "[no one] ever believed Pena would be anything other than a backup" [8], it is unlikely that he'll turn into Brett Gardner with more playing time [6]. So, I'm not sure what is "funny" [4] about people complaining Peña's utter atrociousness this season.

I appreciate your elevated level of discourse, by the way.

10 monkeypants   ~  Jul 15, 2010 12:12 pm

[9] ...I’m not sure what is “funny”.. [6]

11 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Jul 15, 2010 12:23 pm

[8] a.O., consider this a warning about personal insults

12 The Mick536   ~  Jul 15, 2010 1:14 pm

Pretty much on board with the analysis. Appreciate the honesty with Al and Jete. Al looks hurt, not to mention old. Jete looks old. Jorge looks older. I still don't understand their record.

Joba. What is his story?

[1] I give Nick a nothing. What did he do, walk a few times. I still cannot believe he plays for the Yankees. Cannot blame him. Who in their right mind would have offered him a contract?

As for Granderson, I had no expectations for him, a standard that he has yet to exceed or meet.

And, no loshon hora here, please.

13 Kered Retej   ~  Jul 15, 2010 1:22 pm

The grade for Cervelli seems a little harsh. I'd bump him up a notch. Yes, he's been pressed into more full-time service than he should, but that's not really his fault. If we had a healthy first-string catcher, we would still be raving about Cervelli as one of the best backup catchers in the league at very low cost to the team.

14 Diane Firstman   ~  Jul 15, 2010 1:35 pm


Nice "handle" you have there ...

15 OldYanksFan   ~  Jul 15, 2010 1:48 pm

If you are rating them based on reasonable expectations, I would give Brett an A+ and maybe Swish too (32 OPS pts above what we traded for, and better D then last year). I too would bump up Brains a bit (great RISP and RBI). I know we are 2nd in RS, but your Overall Offense rating doesn't make sense. Last year, we were an A+. This year, a B+ at best. You can't sugarcoat a C, C and C+ from our 3 most important players.

16 monkeypants   ~  Jul 15, 2010 1:54 pm

[16] Tough grader! B+ for the second highest scoring team in the league? You're like John Houseman in the Paper Chase!

17 monkeypants   ~  Jul 15, 2010 2:07 pm

[16] OYF, have you checked out RiverAveBlues today? They come up with some convoluted system for measuring the offensive and defensive contributions of Posada and Cervelli. I didn't look very closely at how they come up with their formula, but the conclusion is...

Posada has cost the team 1.8 runs below average with his glove for every 180 innings he’s caught this year, Cervelli a touch less at 1.1. If Posada were to catch 120 nine inning games, his defense would cost the team 10.8 runs, or one win. Of course his offense, even at 2010 levels, would provide just over 17 runs, so the next gain is six runs, for all intents and purposes.

Cervelli, on the other hand, would cost the team 6.6 runs below average if he played 120 nine inning games, and his bat would also be another 7.4 runs below average assuming 2010 levels of production. All told, the Yankees would be 14 runs in the red with Cervelli as their starting catcher compared to six runs in the black with Posada. It’s a 20 run difference, two wins in a tight AL East. This assumes a set designated hitter and that only one of the two catchers play per game.

Cervelli looks bad because his defense has, according to them, not been very good. I don't see enough games on TV to get much of a sense about him one way or another.

Anyway, I figured you'd be interested at the attempt to quantify the defensive side of the game.

18 Eddie Lee Whitson KO   ~  Jul 15, 2010 6:24 pm

Thanks, Cliff, my conclusions aren't terribly different. One thought, stolen from either Bill James or BP (can't remember) is to consider a "can expect to play better/worse" given histoirical trends (Teix/CC slow starters, great 2nd half figures), age, infirmity, with an eye towards the Back 9.

Is this the worst .630 team you've ever seen? Gawd, I miss the steroid era....

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