Rivera & Overbay- Two Dull, Worn Out Sides Of The Same Replacement 1B Coin

Despite having a potentially better in-house option in front of them and despite facing an increasingly tricky 40-man roster situation, the Yankees continue to throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks in an attempt to find Mark Teixeira's temporary replacement at first base.  The latest contestant is Lyle Overbay, 36-year-old lefty swinger who was released earlier this week and gobbled up just as quickly by the Bombers.  Juan Rivera had been getting the bulk of the work at first in the last couple weeks, but the signing of Overbay this late in camp suggests the Yankees weren't as comfortable with that option as they appeared to be.  Overbay is a natural first baseman, unlike Rivera, and that surely influenced the now defensive-minded Yankees' decision to bring him in.  Whether or not he's actually a better option than Rivera?  Well, that's debatable. Offensively, the Yankees basically have the same player in both Rivera and Overbay.  Neither hits for much power anymore, at least not based on what Rivera has shown in camp.  This comes with the obligatory "Spring Training stats" grain of salt, but Rivera's .305/.328/.390 ST slash line isn't exactly what you would call ideal production from a first baseman.  He's hitting, sure, and there is something to be said for that.  Those hits just haven't led to much: 18 in 59 ABs with only 5 doubles and 5 RBI.

Overbay put up a similarly underwhelming line in Boston's camp (.220/.327/.341 in 41 ABs), albeit in a slightly different way.  He's always been good at drawing walks (11.3% career BB rate) and continues to display strong pitch recognition skills and patience even without any kind of power to speak of.  He also tends to strike out more than Rivera, but his on-base skills make him a bit more of an attractive offensive option when the lack of power is considered.  I'm using the term "attractive" a bit loosely in this comparison, as neither Rivera (projected .310 wOBA by ZiPS) nor Overbay (.305) are expected to be even average offensive players this season.

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Jeter related ramblings

Happy Friday, all. I hope your week hasn't been too stressful. Anyway, let's get down to business. We're all aware of Derek Jeter's injury situation. Opening Day has long been Jeter's goal, but that now appears in jeopardy. Yesterday, GM Brian Cashman announced that Jeter would no longer participate in Major League Spring Training games; however, he'll continue to play in Minor League games. As we've all heard by now, this is essentially a clerical "just in case." It allows Jeter to get game action, but also allows the Yankees to retroactively place Jeter on the 15-day Disabled List in case he isn't ready to go for Opening Day. This all makes me think that they should just place Jeter on the DL now. The Derek Jeter we've all come to know and love is the guy who "shows up to work every day" and just "does his job" (and does it exceedingly well most of the time). Like any successful worker, Jeter is goal-oriented, and in this case, Opening Day readiness is the goal and he's been steadfast in his determination to reach that goal. That effort is certainly laudable, but is this "toughness" actually a good thing? Being in the lineup on Opening Day is certainly admirable, but if Jeter isn't field-ready by then, can't we argue that it hurts the team just as much as--if not more than--it would if he just sat out for the first few games and returned on April 6th? Granted, Eduardo Nunez isn't going to be any great shakes at short for those few games, but how effective would an injured Derek Jeter be? His range is already limited and now he's got another year to his name as well as an ankle plate and some screws to match. Wouldn't it be better to get the DL stint out of the way now rather than in May or June when he's an absolute statue in the field and possibly unbalanced at the plate?

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Internal Options To Replace Teixeira

Brian Cashman hasn't decided on replacing Mark Teixeira from inside or outside the organization, but it seems that he's leaning towards the former. The team has few young internal options at first base, but with Kevin Youkilis' versatility at the corners, the Yankees could opt for a third baseman. Guys like Corban Joseph, David Adams, and J.R. Murphy all have limited experience at third, and it's hard to imagine that their range or glove at the position would suffice for an organization pushing forward a defensive minded team. The Yankees will probably go with an older and safer option. Dan Johnson- Johnson finally landed his first Spring Training hit yesterday, and now would be a great time to start swinging the bat. Through 2700+ innings at first base, Johnson has shown average range. Offensively, he's been slightly above average with his career 102 wRC+. The left-handed hitter might not had great contact numbers, but he draws a ton of walks and has no platoon split. He'd be a safe option to directly replace Teixeira's on base percentage, but he otherwise offers very little upside.

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Time To Trade For An Outfielder

There's a lot to say about this year's offseason, but most of it is far from positive. The Yankee front office typically aims for a 95 to 100 win team, but this year it looks like they may barely get to 90. Will it be enough? We won't know until the season is over, but no AL East team looks exceptionally good. Even with the current roster, most reports have the Blue Jays or the Yankees as favorites.

The Yankees usually go above and beyond to put together a team that'll leave the rest of the division far behind them, but they'll lose $20+ million in payroll in 2014, and they have filled a lineup with one year deals and minor league gambles in preparation.  To replace Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees brought in Kevin Youkilis, Bobby Wilson, Shawn Kelley, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz. Needless to say, the front office has brought in some disappointing replacements.

Now with Curtis Granderson out for at least the first month of the season, the Yankees have no major league third outfielder on their 40 man roster. The three outfielders outside of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki are Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Ramon Flores. Of these three, only Mesa has played above Double-A, where he hit .230/.271/.524 in 133 plate appearances. Though the outfielder has some pop, he is awful at drawing walks, and last year in Triple-A he struck out 43 times next to his 7 walks.

There are also outfield options on minor league deals that could make the team. As I mentioned earlier, Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz are available, have some upside, though both couldn't crack an on base percentage higher than .290 in 2012, and their slugging was equally awful.

I haven't heard much about him from the media, but perhaps the highest upside player is Thomas Neal. Through the Giants farm system, Neal was a highly touted prospect up until he reached Double-A. In 2009, the right-hander hit 22 home runs and batted .337/.431/.579, but followed that up with a less than inspiring 2010 where he hit .291/.359/.440. In 2011, Neal was probably sent to Triple-A prematurely, and then traded to the Indians after a mediocre season. In 2012, Neal rebounded in Double-A, hitting .314/.400/.467 with 12 home runs. Most impressive from the outfielder was his patience at the plate, where he took 46 walks to his 71 strikeouts.

At 25 years old this season, Neal is probably the most mature and best fit of the young guys, assuming the Yankees are willing to move him to the 40 man roster. However, the team needs to continue to look for another viable outfielder. With Granderson breaking his arm, Gardner out for nearly all of last season, and Ichiro 39 years old, the amount of games these three can stay on the field for is a big question. The Yankees really should have a decent fourth outfielder with such risky players.

Even before the Granderson injury, Cashman was still looking for another right-handed outfielder, though the rumors had stopped as of late. Now he has little choice but to start adding depth to this outfield. The team doesn't need to add a Giancarlo Stanton or even Alfonso Soriano, but a young outfielder like Casper Wells or Tyler Colvin should be able to step in and play replacement level ball or better. With only two major league outfielders on the team, and hardly any reasonable choices for a third or fourth, a trade is overdue.

Piecing it Together: Part Three

In my last two pieces talked about building the lineup. To quickly test the potency of these lineups, I ran them through the lineup analysis tool from Baseball Musings. I used the PECOTA and ZiPS projections to get the players' OBP/SLG. Remember, though, these projected OBP/SLG numbers are NOT split adjusted. Here are the results: PECOTA vs RHP

This lineup projects to score 4.874 R/G, which translates to about 790 runs over the course of a 162 game season.

PECOTA vs LHP, Rivera

Using PECOTA and Juan Rivera as the, DH, the Yankees project to score 4.840 R/G, about 785 per 162 games.

PECOTA vs LHP, Diaz

Using Matt Diaz at DH, we get 4.805 R/G, which is about 779 runs over 162 games.

ZiPS vs RHP

ZiPS is a little more friendly to the Yankees, projecting 4.974 R/G. That would push the Yankees over the hump to about 806 runs per game.

ZiPS vs. LHP, Rivera

This gets us 4.887 R/G, about 792 for the season. Again, ZiPS is a little more friendly than PECOTA.

ZiPS vs. LHP, Diaz

Last but not least, we get 4.831 per game, 783 over the course of the season.

So these projections, which are NOT split adjusted, give us somewhere between 785-805 runs for the Yankees. Those are perfectly reasonable, but they do sell the Yankees short a bit. Both are probably a bit conservative and the fact that they're not split adjusted affects the output in the analysis tool. Certainly, e can expect certain players (Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz) to hit better against lefties than their overall projections while we can expect others (Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Travis Hafner) to do the same against righties. The Yankee offense has never been flawless, but this season, there do seem to be a few more flaws than there have been in the past. Remember, though, offense has been down in the last few years. Despite the fairly conservative projections, the Yankees have a chance to be a top offensive club, as they always do.

Piecing it Together: Part Two

You'll remember that last week, I mused about the possible lineup construction for the 2013 squad. Let's revisit the idea of the lineup one more time, with something else in mind. If you've read this site, then you're probably familiar with the Replacement Level Yankee Blog and its CAIRO Projections. The last iteration of them came out on January 28th. What's nice about the CAIRO splits is that they also include platoon breakdowns; each player has his normal projections and his split projections in the form of wOBA vs. LHP and RHP. Let's take a look at the lineups I presented in my previous post and see what each guy is projected to do. We'll start against lefties for a bit of a switch. The number next to each player is the projected wOBA:

1. Jeter, SS: .354 2. Youkilis, 3B: .367 3. Teixeira, 1B: .362 4. Cano, 2B: .356 5. Diaz, DH: .321; Rivera, DH: .324 6. Granderson, CF: .305 7. Cervelli, C: .310 8. Ichiro, RF: .323 9. Gardner, LF: .309

The only disappointing things are the relatively low wOBAs for Diaz and Rivera. They're both in camp to hope to become the team's Major League lefty mashers, so we'd hope for something a little higher than wOBA's in the low-to-mid .320's. Brett Gardner might need a platoon partner in left, but seeing Ichiro projected for a wOBA that "high" is encouraging. CAIRO also seems to predict a platoon partner for Curtis Granderson, though he's been better against lefties of late (and we know Joe Girardi won't platoon Granderson...at least not right away). Let's jump to righties and see what we come up with.

1. Gardner, LF: .332 2. Jeter, SS: .322 3. Teixeira, 1B: .346 4. Cano, 2B: .392 5. Granderson, CF: .361 6. Youkilis, 3B: .341 7. Hafner, DH: .362 8. Cervelli, C: .292 9. Ichiro, RF: .331

This lineup is a bit more well rounded and a bit more solid. There's just one wOBA under .320 and it belongs--predictably--to Francisco Cervelli. For posterity's sake, Chris Stewart's projected wOBA against RHP is .283 (.303 vs. LHP). My eyes definitely lit up thinking about Cano having a .392 wOBA against righties (for the record, he did .461 against righties).

Remember, projections aren't predictions, but logical inferences as to what each player can do. If the CAIRO projections I've put forward here are indicative of anything, it's that they might be a bit on the conservative side. However, they show us that the Yankees should still have a pretty solid offense. It may not necessarily be the complete and total package that we're used to, but it should still pound out some quality runs. How many could it do? We'll check in on that on Thursday.

Piecing it Together

For most of the offseason, I’ve lamented the losses of two key batters: Nick Swisher and Russell Martin. By no means are those players superstars, but they were perfect fits for the Yankee offense. Both Swisher ad Martin provided power and patience, cornerstones of the team’s offense for the last two decades. In their places, the Yankees will have players not known for their power or patience. Ichiro Suzuki and a combination of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli (at least to start the year) will man right field and catcher. While Ichiro may have something left at the plate, the catching duo will hardly strike fear into the hearts and minds of opposing pitching staffs. Their inclusion is, overall, representative of a potential loss of offense for the Yankees. This isn’t to say that neither of the three has no redeeming offensive qualities. Ichiro can still make a bit of contact and Cervelli can draw the occasional walk. Both will have places in the Yankee lineup, probably towards the bottom of the lineup. That lineup may be a bit harder to construct this season.

Cerevlli will be easy to place; he’ll always be at the bottom of the lineup, most likely in the eighth or ninth spot, and the same goes for Chris Stewart. Ichiro will be a bit harder to slot in. When he came to the team in July of last year, he started at the bottom of the lineup, but a hot streak propelled him to a higher spot by the season’s end. Will that memory and his “name value” keep him at the top or will his age and skill set keep him at the bottom?

Ichiro and the catchers are not the only players that will provide a placement challenge to manager Joe Girardi. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner, two new acquisitions, can help replicate the patience and power vacated by Swisher and martin. Though their skills are tangible and obvious, age and injury have obfuscated those skills. Ideally, Youkilis would be a two hitter–or a leadoff guy in a pinch–and Hafner would be a three, four, or five hitter. But with both players on the downside of their careers in terms of performance and health, their places in the lineup are unclear. Adding to the possible confusion, of course, are the myriad talented players that the team already employs. Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, and the aforementioned Ichiro are all players that could hit in the potential spots for Youkilis and Hafner (and that’s not including Alex Rodriguez, who’ll presumably be back midseason). And even those players have questions attached to them.

The newly candid Teixeira is not what he once was (by his own admission). Jeter is coming off injury, as is Brett Gardner, whose injury was more severe and costly. Granderson had a rocky second half and playoff stretch. Only Cano seems like a good bet to maintain his offensive status (elite!). Departures, new arrivals, and remaining questions will combine into a lineup that will probably be pretty solid, regardless of our anxieties. The big picture will probably look pretty good at season’s end. On the macro level, lineup construction may not be wholly impactful. On the micro level, the game-to-game level, it does matter. Over the course of the season, the minute run changes that occur in-game won’t matter much, if at all. They will matter, though, in those game situations. What will those lineups look like? What should those lineups look like? We all have different interpretations of that second question and its answer could make up dozens of articles. In light of that, let’s go on our (assumed) knowledge of two things and make a lineup:

1. Derek Jeter will be at the top (one or two) of the lineup 2. Joe Girardi (generally) dislikes stacking lefties.

Given those conditions, let’s try to construct two lineups, one vs. RHP and one vs. LHP.

Vs. RHP Vs. LHP 1. Gardner, LF Jeter, SS 2. Jeter, SS Youkilis, 3B 3. Teixeira, 1B Teixeira, 1B 4. Cano, 2B Cano, 2B 5. Granderson, CF DH (Matt Diaz? Juan Rivera?) 6. Youkilis, 3B Granderson, CF 7. Hafner, DH Cervelli, C 8. Cervelli, C Ichiro, RF 9. Ichiro, RF Gadner, LF

Both lineups highlight something we may have overlooked regarding Nick Swisher’s departure. While his hitting skills would allow him to hit anywhere from one-six in the lineup, it’s conceivable that his switch hitting status is what made him such a great fit. With just one switch hitter in the lineup, the Yankees will likely need to stack lefty batters together more often than they’d like, including in my proposed lineups: 4-5 and 9-1 vs. RHP and 8-9 vs. LHP. Despite that, those lineups seem likely and are definitely justifiable.

Gardner in front of Jeter against RHP allows the former to get on base and (hopefully) use his legs to get into scoring position for Jeter and his opposite field approach. We could swap Tex and Cano in this lineup, which would eliminate one stack of lefties. This move could also give Cano, the team’s best hitter, a handful more plate appearances over the course of the season. That’s tempting, and I probably wouldn't argue against it. However, it might be more beneficial to have Cano bat behind someone like Tex who has great on-base skills.

Against lefties, the top three hitters all do their best work and most damage when facing said southpaws. The Tex/Cano swap could also work here. For our purposes, that decision may be a matter of preference: Do we (theoretically) more men on base in front of Cano or do we subscribe to the “newer” theory of lineup construction that says put your low OBP sluggers (sounds a lot like Robbie, no?) in the third spot? The Yankees have long been MLB’s top offensive club. That may not be true in 2013, but perhaps our apprehension is a bit overstated. The Yankee lineup, though different, should still be plenty productive.

Yankees Sign Juan Rivera

According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, the Yankees have signed right-handed outfielder Juan Rivera to a minor league contract. The former Yankee will compete with Russ Canzler, Matt Diaz, and Thomas Neal for the current major league right-handed outfield spot this Spring Training.

His 106 wRC+ in 2012 against left-handed pitchers is his one positive factor for the team, but on a minor league deal, this signing can't hurt.