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April 5, 2011

The BP Broadside

More Questions, Worries, and Insomniac Mutterings from Opening Day, Week, Infinity, and Beyond, American League

by Steven Goldman

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AL East

New York Yankees
I spent the winter pointing out flaws in this aging team at my other home, but now that the season is here, I find there is a lot about the club to like, beginning with the rejuvenated Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and rededicated Russell Martin. No doubt I am being suckered in by small samples, and I will go back to being impatient with Martin’s serving as a roadblock to Jesus Montero, but for now I’m happy to sit back and watch a Yankees catcher try to steal bases on purpose—he has already swiped two bags—rather than on busted hit-and-run plays. Martin has stolen as many as 21 bases in a season. It seems doubtful that he can do that again given all of his leg problems, but if he even gets into double figures, he will achieve something that barely has precedents:

Top 10 Yankees Baserunning Backstops

Catcher

Year

SB

CS

Ed Sweeney

1914

19

6

Thurman Munson

1976

14

11

Joe Girardi

1996

13

4

Wally Schang

1922

12

6

Ed Sweeney

1910

12

N/A

Ed Sweeney

1913

11

N/A

Les Nunamaker

1914

11

9

Jake Gibbs

1968

9

8

Red Kleinow

1906

8

N/A

Ed Sweeney

1911

8

N/A

If Martin again reaches 20 steals, he will become just the fifth catcher to have more than one such season, joining Jason Kendall (three times), Johnny Kling, Ray Schalk, John Wathan, and Craig Biggio. This is all trivial, but also a tremendous novelty given the immobility of Posada’s declining years—1996 was a long time ago, and Girardi, even hitting .294/.346/.374, was barely adequate at the plate, whereas Martin just might be.

While we’re on the subject of catchers, I should mention Posada’s good start, which really comes down to the last two games. After Monday night’s home run, he’s hitting .286/.375/.929 with three round-trippers. It goes without saying that Posada won’t end the season with a better slugging percentage than Babe Ruth ever dreamed of (moving out from behind the plate isn’t that liberating), but I do wonder if one more solid year will put him on the Hall of Fame’s radar. With a big 2011 and some padding in 2012, he could finish his career with more WARP than Ivan Rodriguez in about two-thirds the playing time—he trails Pudge-Rod 49.4 to 53.7. The Hall voters don’t care about WARP, but they might be interested in a catcher with roughly 300 career home runs and at least four championship rings who was also a better hitter than Rodriguez.  

I may get back to complaining about Martin in due time, but I don’t think I’ll do much bitching about the bullpen. You can legitimately fault the Rafael Soriano contract and the draft-pick penalty incurred, but when you view the move purely on the basis of what he adds to the pitching staff, there isn’t much to do but slap backs and hand out cigars. Once you put Soriano and Mariano Rivera aside, everyone else is suspect to one degree or another, but there is also plenty of upside.

I didn’t mention the starting rotation because I’ve decided that this will be a rare upbeat section of the column. Moving on…

AL Central

Minnesota Twins
Yesterday, Colin Wyers tweeted, “Practical managers, who believe themselves quite untouched by any such intellectual influence, are usually slaves of some dead beat writer.” I like this formulation so much I’m going to make it the foundation of a chapter in our next book. A similar thought occurs to me: “Sportswriters are slaves of dead Twins teams.” I have been hearing this club referred to as a contender, but they’re going to have to overachieve to get close—PECOTA sees them as an 83-79 team, whereas I see them as more like 73-89. They had a miserable winter, not improving a club that, given its new ballpark, had a right to improvement. In their retentions, they merely cemented their death-grip on mediocrity. Underrating the mercurial J.J. Hardy was likely the final straw. The existence of Joe Mauer makes them worth watching on a purely aesthetic level, because this is as close as we're going to come to see Mickey Cochrane play. Actually, it should probably be the other way around: Mickey Cochrane was as close as people in the 1920s and 30s came to seeing Joe Mauer. Poor fellows.

AL West

Los Angeles Angels
There is the maintenance of depth and then there is cruelty. I’m never sure where the Angels are to be found on that scale. If Hank Conger, who PECOTA fixes at .264/.322/.385 this season, can’t get an at-bat in edgewise around Jeff Mathis, a hitter who compares unfavorably with several active or recently-active pitchers (see below) or the similarly inclined Bobby Wilson, he’s just not going to play, ever. The same goes for Brandon Wood, albeit to a lesser extent—the Angels may have no use for Wood, but it’s likely that neither does anyone else given his complete inability to make contact with anything smaller than the side of building. Still, it seems likely that if these two players had not been first-round draft picks, the Angels would have passed them on to other organizations some time ago, and who knows—perhaps either might get enough out of the change of scenery to have a career.

Recent Pitchers and Jeff Mathis: For Shame!

Name

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Micah Owings

198

.293

.323

.538

861

Yovani Gallardo

192

.214

.255

.410

666

Mike Hampton

845

.246

.294

.356

650

CC Sabathia

101

.258

.265

.381

647

Dontrelle Willis

413

.232

.279

.355

634

Carlos Zambrano

662

.237

.245

.389

634

Adam Wainwright

337

.223

.254

.332

586

Jeff Mathis

1086

.200

.265

.315

580

Dan Haren

287

.226

.249

.331

580

Mathis’ career numbers, above, do not include Sunday’s 0-for-6, which dropped his career batting average to .199. He easily trails all active players with at least 1,000 plate appearances in batting average, including Livan Hernandez, a career .222 hitter. He’s the modern Bill Bergen.

A swift 180 degrees away from Mathis, I’m hoping for one more solid season from Bobby Abreu, a player whose flaws (mostly on defense) have often overshadowed his immense positives at the plate. As such, I am heartened by Sunday’s 5-for-5. The extended commentary here would be much the same as with Posada above: This is a player who put a great many runs on the scoreboard than they were generally given credit for, and I would be gratified if Official History deigned to notice.

A Note On an Off-Campus Event

On the evening of April 14, I will be appearing at the Museum of the City of New York speaking about Casey Stengel as part of a program dedicated to the great manager. It sounds like it will be a great show about a terrific personality, so I hope to see you there.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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