Is It Really is 2B Rookie Time? Will No Humdrum Vet Displace Refsnyder's Shot?

I'm oddly excited to read, "the Yankees are not bidding on free agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera" (Bryan Hoch tweeting, then Chad Jennings re-reporting), leaving 2B likely a competition between Rob Refsnyder, Jose Pirela, and some journeymen minor-leaguers who won't really have a shot unless both Ref and Pirela badly tank and/or get hurt. The lack of an Asdrubal Cabrera era for the Yankees is is good news, as is the lack of news, since the Gregorious acquisition, that Stephen Drew might still be signed for 2B. The kids are not only investments in the future, but better bets for 2015:

  • Refsnyder's Steamer (Fangraphs) projection is .262/.328/.390 (102 wRC+)
  • Pirela's is .259/.307/.381 (91 wRC+)
  • Cabrera's is .251/.316/.397 (100 wRC+)
  • Drew's is .218/.294/.352 (81 wRC+)
  • That's offense; on defense, Steamer projects Cabrera as a clearly minus defender, but Ref as a slight plus defender. Reports are mixed on Ref's defense, probably because 2B is new enough to him that he's been an inconsistent work in progress in the field. But "solid hands, low-range" may be the the low-end scenario. In 2014, he played about 60 games each at AA and AAA (call that 40% of a full season at each level): he had 9 errors in AA (high for 40% of a season), then only 3 at AAA (quite low). That might show learning, but on the other hand, his per-game range factor dropped from 4.72 to 3.78, which might show just that he made fewer plays. So the signs are mixed, but for a newbie to 2B, I thnk it's more likely, going from AA to AAA after only 1 year of 2B, that his hands got better than that he forgot how to get to more balls. After all, we don't really know how range factor varies between minor leagues in some way not specific to Ref; for example, Scranton's pitchers racked up a few more Ks, and gave up noticably more HR, than Trenton's – both of which would decrease the number of plays their infielders make, at least partly explaining a drop in Ref's range stats from AA to AAA.

    So Ref seems clearly a better bet than Cabrera (same hitting, worse fielding) or Drew (better fielding but atrocious hitting), and playing Ref (or Pirela) also invests in figuring out which might be a solid-to-good cost-controlled 2B for the next six years – which, on this team of old and expensive position players, would be a real asset.

    The only argument left for Cabrera or Drew is, "but rookies are uncertain." Yes, but so are aging mediocrities who already started a striking decline, and whose only hope is recovering their seemingly lost mid-late 20s talent. Drew was so horrible in 2014 it's unclear if he can hack replacement value any longer; the delta between earlier Drew (ok ofense, good defense) and 2014 Drew is at least as high as the variance in any promising rookie projection. Cabrera was similarly good in 2011 & 2012 (RC+ of 121 & 114, with plus defense both years), but then fell off a cliff, to a level not as awful as 2014 Drew; but with two years of nearly identical bad performance (RC+ of 96 & 96, with -0.9 and -1.1 dWAR), we can basically rule out "fluke" as as explanation for Cabrera's decline.

    In short, Ref has earned the shot because of his strong AA and AAA performance, his hints of defensive improvement, and the solid projections arising from his two-level 2014 minor-league accomplishments. On a team with such high turnover, I'm really looking forward to seeing what might be Year One of the next long-term Yankee, rather than someone like Cabrera as the 2015 mediocrity-rental equivalent of 2014 Brian Roberts, 2013 Kevin Youkilis, etc.