Thank you Larry (of Yankeeist) for taking the time to join me here at MoE! Typically, I try to avoid boasting. This time around though, I'm just going to flat out say what I know many readers will inevitably be thinking. THIS IS ONE HELL OF AN INTERVIEW AND IS A MUST READ! Without further ado...Enjoy!
1) Given the “what have you done for me lately” attitude of NY, make the case for Curtis Granderson to the fickle Yankee fan. Ditto on Lance Berkman.
Curtis Granderson is a pretty hot topic in the Yankee blogosphere these days. Last week Joe Pawlikowski advocated for an official platooning of Granderson, which I agree with, and Amanda Rykoff also recently touched on the Granderson-Austin Jackson deal on her blog.
Here's a head-to-head look at Granderson vs. Jackson in several key statistical categories:
And here are their monthly wOBAs:
It's hard not to be frustrated with Granderson's season this year. If he finished the year at a .321 wOBA it would represent the worst full-season mark of his career, and no one was expecting that to happen in the aftermath of the trade except perhaps the most pessimistic Yankee fans on earth. On the flipside, few could've predicted the season AJax has ended up having. Bill James, whose projections tend to be wildly optimistic, pegged Jackson at a .345 wOBA over 309 plate appearances, so kudos to James I suppose. CHONE and ZiPS, two of the more bearish projection systems, had Jackson at .313 and .290, respectively. By comparison, those three systems had Curtis posting .366, .359 and .353, respectively, so the deal obviously appeared very favorable to the Yankees prior to the season.
I think at this point Yankee fans need to resign themselves to the fact that Curtis -- until he shows considerable improvement against lefties, which could very well come in his second season in pinstripes after he's had time to adjust to the team and spend substantial time working with Kevin Long, who has also helped Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher quite a bit -- is a platoon player right now, and probably can't be counted on in big spots against lefties.
I remain a Granderson believer, but his approach for much of the season has irked me to some extent. I'm a huge work-the-count, never-swing-at-the-first-pitch, high-OBP guy, and Granderson looks to me to be a pretty big hacker/guess-hitter up at the plate. Even when he doesn't swing it seems like he's checking his swing on nearly every pitch. Granderson's struck out in 24.6% of his at-bats -- which, if he had enough at-bats to qualify, would be the 9th-worst mark in the AL -- and frankly I'm a bit surprised that number's not higher. Though for what it's worth, AJax's K% is 28.1%, or 5th-worst in the AL. Granderson's pitches per plate appearance is also better than I would have expected (4.07 to AJAx's 4.06), so it seems my perception of him not working the count doesn't necessarily align with reality.
That being said, even if he is somewhat working the count, he's still not walking nearly enough to be an asset to the team right now -- without looking up the numbers, an OBP of .306 would probably be the worst mark by a Yankee full-time player in years. Hell, even Melky Cabrera got on base 33% of the time last year.
Of course, Melky's wOBAing a measly .308 for the Braves this season, so I suppose fickle Yankee fans can hang their hat on that.
As far as Berkman goes, it's way too early to make any sort of judgment call. The mere fact that they were able to acquire a career .404 wOBA hitter for a righthanded reliever is reason enough for celebration. I know Berkman's had a slow go of it, but can we give the guy more than 34 at-bats before we start collectively freaking out? Another aspect that seems to get lost in the shuffle is that it can't be all that easy to switch leagues mid-season, especially for a career National Leaguer like Berkman. Not to make excuses, but he's had to learn a completely new set of pitchers on the fly while trying to appease the most restless fan base in baseball. I applaud his desire to lift his 10-and-5 rights to come play for the Yankees, but I certainly don't envy the position he's in. Still, the Yankees were (and, as we've seen in August, still are) in need of another bat, and considering righthanded relievers grow on trees, this was a no-brainer, unless Mark Melancon actually does turn into Mariano Rivera, as was being speculated by many a year or two ago.
2) Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time, would you attempt to dissuade Cashman from making the trade that sent Austin Jackson to Detroit?
No. I was a big proponent of the trade at the time and still think you make that deal all day every day. I know there were concerns about Grandy's splits at the time -- and those of you who sounded the alarm can now rest comfortably crowing to the rest of the world that you were indeed right -- but I don't think anyone expected this dramatic of a drop-off in production from Curtis, except perhaps a few Tigers fans who have watched his every at-bat for the last few seasons. Granderson has indeed been utterly wreched against lefties this year, with a .233 wOBA. However, his .352 wOBA against righties is more than respectable, hence why the Yankees need to heed Pawlikowski's platoon call.
Of course, the Yankees didn't trade one of their top hitting prospects for a platoon player, so it's critical for both Granderson and the Yankees that he get back on track against lefties next season. In his 2008 (.374) season, he wasn't anywhere near this bad against southpaws, with a .323 mark against lefties. However, even in his monster 2007 (.394 wOBA) he put up a .224 mark against lefties, so perhaps it's wishful thinking that Granderson will finally figure lefthanders out one day. If Curtis shows no improvement next year, and Jackson out-wOBAs Grandy for a second straight campaign, we'll probably have a clearer picture of whether this was a bad deal for the Yankees. But I believe the jury's still out.
Additionally, that all being said, despite Granderson's struggles would you rather have Melky Cabrera still patrolling center field? Not me.
3) Wood, Chamberlain, Marte, and Robertson have all had their vulnerable points this season. They’ve also all shown moments of promise. Which pitcher do you want on the mound during a 1-1 game going into the 8th as Mo’s setup man during the playoffs? Or, is it purely a statistical “match-up” based decision?
Despite solid peripherals, Joba Chamberlain still has a lot of work to do before anyone's going to feel comfortable handing him the ball in a critical 8th-inning situation in a regular season game, let alone the postseason. I like the Kerry Wood acquisition, but he hasn't shown me all that much yet that leads me to believe he'll be a lockdown pitcher in the playoffs. At the moment I think you'd have to go with David Robertson, who's rather quietly pulled together another impressive season. His numbers the last two months have been outstanding -- in June his ERA was 1.00 and FIP 2.46, while in July he had a 3.09 ERA and 1.83 FIP -- and he currently has the 4th-best K/9 among all AL relievers. However, as we all know relievers are the most volatile of all baseball players, and a lot can change between now and October. I mean heck, even Boone Logan's actually been pretty decent as a lefthanded specialist, but would I go to war with the guy in the playoffs? We'll have to see how the season plays out.
For the record, I'm also on board with not necessarily anointing an "8th inning guy" and managing a given late-game match-up based on the numbers -- something Joe Girardi certainly showed he had a propensity to do last October -- but sometimes going by the book too strictly results in overmanaging, so if one of the relievers ends up establishing himself as an elite setup man, then that works too.
4) Given the Yankees' penchant for big free agent acquisitions, how likely is it that Carl Crawford ends up in pinstripes next season? Who’s the odd man out in that scenario?
Ah, Carl Crawford. My Yankeeist co-author Mike has written several thousand posts stating how he would prefer the Yankees stay away from Carl this offseason, a position that was significantly bolstered by Brett Gardner's incredible and completely unexpected production during the first half of the season. Unfortunately, Gardner's been plummeting back to earth (.264 wOBA over the last 30 days) and has seen his season wOBA drop to .352. This is still a great deal more than almost anyone expected out of Gardner in the preseason, and a decently respectable figure for a left fielder (in case you were wondering, Johnny Damon's at .353). Believe it or not, Gardner's actually tied with Mark Texeira (2.8) as the third-most valuable Yankee in terms of WAR this season. Gardner also still somewhat incredibly leads the Majors in pitches per plate appearance (4.60) by a rather wide margin, an aspect of his game that I absolutely love. However, in addition to Gardner struggling with the stick of late, as RAB has recently hammered home, Brett is simply not turning on the jets on the basepaths with anywhere near the frequency we'd hoped.
Unless Brett goes crazy in the last month and a half of the season, I have a feeling we will end up seeing Carl Crawford in pinstripes next season, relegating Gardner to fourth outfielder status, which frankly, is probably ultimately the best way for him to be deployed. As Ben Kabak notes, Crawford's already put together a 5 win season, not to mention that UZR/150 has Carl at a ridiculous 36.6 in left field this season (Brett's at 22.9) making him far and away the best left fielder in baseball. Given the Yankees' down year on offense (at least in comparison to other recent Yankee offenses) it'll be very tempting to bring Crawford into the fold. Of course, the other issue is what kind of contract Crawford will be looking for -- his season's already been worth $19.4 million, following a year in which he was worth $24.9M. Last offseason I figured that Crawford would probably be looking for at least $15 million per; although given a second consecutive season of highly impressive production his agent will probably start the bidding at $20M/year. Despite Crawford's talents I don't see anyone paying that much for a career .345 wOBA hitter, but if the Yanks are able to ink him at $15 million a year I don't think I'll put up too much of a fight.
5) Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past, Cashman traded Wilson Betemit, Jhonny Nunez, and Jeff Marquez for Nick Swisher with the hopes of gaining a 4th outfielder. Where does this trade stack up when considering Cashman’s legacy?
If not the best trade Cashman's ever made, it's probably the most lopsided one he's ever executed. Without even taking the minor leaguers in the deal into account, Wilson Betemit has been worth 0.8 WAR since being traded, while Nick Swisher has been worth 7.0 WAR since coming to the Yankees. Plus, even without looking at the numbers Betemit just plain stinks, even if he has been hitting decently well in a small sample size with KC.
The best deal Cashman ever made? That'd be trading Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez. In case anyone's interested in reading about some of Cashman's more questionable trades over the years, Yankeeist ran several posts last offseason chronicling the team's Bizarre Moves from Seasons Past, which we'll likely revisit when things inevitably slow down next winter.
6) A lot is made over intangibles. Apparently, Swisher is a great “team” guy and was able to bring some much needed positivity and fun to a traditionally reserved Yankee clubhouse. How does one objectively value such immeasurable characteristics? Are these intangibles really that important or does winning cure most clubhouse woes despite a team’s personalities?
As a statistics-obsessed baseball fan I put zero stock in intangibles. Don't get me wrong, it's fun to see big personality guys like Nick Swisher come in and lighten the mood up somewhat, but you could have the most laid-back, "fun" clubhouse in the world and it won't mean a thing when it comes to winning baseball games. Just because guys enjoy each other's company doesn't make them play any better or harder. The media loves to try to tie the positive/negative clubhouse narrative to the way a team plays, but don't fool yourself -- the two are mutually exclusive. A team full of players that hate each other's guts can still win ballgames, and winning generally cures most of a team's perceived ills.
7) How worried should Yankee fans be over A-Rod’s contract? Are we looking at a player who is going to age relatively gracefully (who’ll hopefully achieve some notable milestones), or will this become a monstrous albatross that can’t end soon enough?
Not worried at all, because there's nothing anyone can do about it. With regards to whether it's going to represent an albatross of a contract, the answer is unequivocally yes. Much has been made about A-Rod's power outage this season, both at Yankeeist and elsewhere. As I mentioned on ESPN.com, A-Rod's best case scenario would be morphing into a 20-25 home run hitter -- given that he's on pace for a career-worst SLG, it's difficult to envision Alex returning to the 40-home run form he possessed for much of his Hall of Fame career.
So yes, the Yankees and the fanbase are going to be plenty annoyed when 40-year-old A-Rod is making $20-plus million/year and barely slugging over .400, but we're all going to have live with it so best to start preparing ourselves now.
8) If the playoffs began today, the AL contenders would be the Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, and the Rays. Which team poses the biggest threat? Pretend the Red Sox are in the mix. Does that change your stance?
No one seems to want to give the White Sox any respect, but their pitching has been stellar (3.82 starters' FIP; 3.61 bullpen FIP; both good for second in the AL) and if they can actually make it to the postseason then they could be dangerous. However, they also possess the weakest offensive attack of the potential playoff teams. If the Twins knock Chicago out of the playoff picture, as many assume they will, they'll be a formidable opponent themselves, with the third-best team wOBA in the league and second-best FIP.
Texas will also be a very dangerous opponent, what with Cliff Lee heading up one of the most impressive starting rotations in the league, and as we've all seen firsthand the Rays are a very, very good baseball team as well. I am curious to see how the sidelining of Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis ends up affecting Tampa Bay, but my guess is not too terribly badly. "Oh, Niemann and Davis need shelving? OK, let's just call up Jeremy Hellickson."
As for Boston, they perennially scare the heck out of me, but it's tough to see them leapfrogging Tampa or the Yankees, especially without Kevin Youkilis. It's certainly not impossible, and with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz Boston would also be a very tough opponent in the postseason.
I think the team I'd probably least want to face in the postseason is probably Texas in the first round, and I'm not just saying that because the Yankees are playing them as I write this. The idea of facing Cliff Lee twice in a five-game series is rather distressing, though at least we'd be countering with our best. If the Yankees can make it to the ALCS, I think they can beat any of their prospective opponents in a seven-game series, although the thought of playing Tampa Bay probably gives me the most consternation shy of the Red Sox. After 2003 and 2004 I'd be perfectly happy never having to face Boston in the ALCS ever again. It's just too emotionally draining.
9) I recently heard a local ESPN sports talk radio host claim that most Yankee fans (and MLB fans in general) don’t honestly believe the Rays can beat out the Yankees. Is this simply a case of hubris, or is there legitimate reason to doubt the Rays?
Any Yankee fan who thinks the Rays can't beat the Yankees quite simply hasn't been paying attention. The Rays have gotten the better of the Yanks in almost every fashion imaginable, and as I mentioned in my previous answer, probably represent the toughest match-up for the Yanks in a hypothetical ALCS. The Rays are very, very good, despite what your average uninformed homer Yankee fan who seems to think it's still 1998 might say.
10) Okay…let’s try some rapid fire. I’ll say a phrase and you reply with the first word that pops into mind.
Derek Jeter’s pending contract
Nightmarish. He could end up going down as the most overpaid athlete in history, possibly even moreso than A-Rod.
John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman
Annoying. However, it's almost like Stockholm Syndrome with these two. I've been listening to their voices for so long I sometimes almost kind of like them in a sick, twisted way.
Cliff Lee, 2011
A New York Yankee. Hopefully. I've been assuming the Yankees would blow everyone else out of the water with their bid, but now that the Rangers' ownership situation has evolved, it'll be interesting to see what lengths Nolan Ryan will go to to try to retain Lee, especially if Texas finally wins the first playoff series in franchise history.
Still, given how much the Yankees clearly covet Lee, what with being willing to surrender Jesus Montero and all, you'd have to figure Brian Cashman will do whatever it takes to see to it that Cliff Lee becomes a Yankee. A 2011 Yankee rotation of Sabathia-Lee-Pettitte-Burnett-Hughes would look mighty fine.
Robbed, but incredibly gracious. I also agree with MLB not overturning the call post facto; talk about a slippery slope.
Joe Girardi, Youkilis, and the All Star Game
One of the few Yankee-related topics I don't have much of an opinion on. Clearly Youk had the best numbers, despite what Joe G. seemed to think, so maybe it was a subtle dig at Youk, the Sox and Francona? Does it make one iota of difference? Not in the slightest, unless you believe Youk could have singlehandedly won the game for the American League, but I'm not sure Babe Ruth himself could've touched the National League pitching staff that night.
Cano’s chance at MVP
More and more remote every day. Cano's having a wonderful year, but Miguel Cabrera (.438 wOBA, tops in the AL) and Josh Hamilton (.437, second in the AL) have probably knocked Robbie (.402, 6th in the AL) out of the MVP race. Unless Robbie has another .400-plus wOBA month in him, I don't see an MVP trophy in his future.
Terribly sad to see him go, but the writing had been on the wall for some time. My eulogy for Steinbrenner is one of my favorites pieces I've written on Yankeeist.
Marcus Thames and UZR
A sabermetrician's nightmare. Or raison d'etre, depending on your perspective.
The CHoP Experiment
Disaster. The worst part is the signing was so very avoidable, and everyone knew he was going to be horrendous from a mile away. I am a Brian Cashman fan, but this was not one of his better signings. Cash definitely seems to have an unfortunate fetish for veteran relief pitchers despite the fact that (a) they are very difficult to project given that their performances fluctuate wildly from year to year, and (b) he's stockpiled a ton of arms in the minors that could at the very least do what Chan Ho Park did this year, and most likely outperform him.
2010 World Series Champ
The Yankees, of course! What kind of fan/blogger would I be if I didn't think the team could repeat? Well the Yankees definitely have the ability win the World Series in 2010, but as always, a lot will have to go right for the team. They've benefited from excellent starting pitching, which will only be strengthened once Pettitte returns to the rotation, although assuming the team gets to the postseason it may find itself in the same three-man-rotation quandary it was in last year -- do you trust Javier Vazquez starting Game 4 of a playoff series? Though he rebounded nicely after a rough start to the year, Home Run Javy's been getting rather beat up of late, and really hasn't fared well against any of the prospective playoff teams. I don't know if the Yankees can get it done with only three horses again this time.
The other major concern with the 2010 iteration of the Yankees is the offense. I know they're second in team wOBA, but this year's team has seen a significant number of talented ballplayers signficantly underperform both their preseason projections and career averages. Though Mark Teixeira has been hitting like a house on fire of late and Derek Jeter has seemingly found new life, the former famously started the first two-and-a-half months of the season in the worst slump of his career while the latter looked like toast prior to this recent hot stretch. Not to mention the fact that Alex Rodriguez hasn't hit like Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson is doing his best Alvaro Espinoza impression. I know a lot of the underperformers have been bailed out by career years from Robbie Cano and Nick Swisher, but at almost no point this season have we seen the offense really click 1 through 9. The team's offensive attack seems to lack the explosive firepower of its predecessors and it's very easy to envision the Yanks getting held to one run over seven by any one of the elite pitchers they will be facing the playoffs.
That all being said, the talent is clearly there, and it's also not hard to envision Sabathia, Burnett or Pettitte shutting the opposition down and the Yankees getting big October hits from Jeter, Tex, A-Rod and Cano. I definitely believe the Yankees can win it all, but there are a lot of talented teams with some beastly starting pitching out there, and I most certainly will not consider it a "failure" if the Yankees aren't able to win it all. The enjoyment of watching Yankee baseball over the course of a 162-game season isn't diminished by the team being outplayed in a five- or seven-game series during the course of a week, and as much as we want our team to win every year, you're going to be a pretty miserable person if you feel a season that doesn't result in a title is a total bust.
Is it disappointing when your team loses in the postseason, or doesn't even make it? Of course it is, and if the Yankees do go out with a whimper I highly doubt I'll be this measured in the immediate aftermath, but I'll be happy to know I can look back at this and see that I was rational at some point.
All statistics cited throughout the interview are through the games of Tuesday, August 10.
And so we have it! Thanks again for your time, Larry. It was fantastic having you. Clearly you are a Yankee Guru! For all you readers out there who haven't checked out Yankeeist, it's time you do so - you've been missing out!