Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Polishing a Turd with Raul, Johnny, and Hideki

There has been much ado about the Yankees designated hitter situation yesterday, with Buster Olney tweeting that the team was "in position to add" one of Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon, or Hideki Matsui within a week. Ken Rosenthal stoked the coals a bit (or, perhaps, took a book of matches from 7-Eleven), adding that the team was in "serious discussions" with Ibanez. Rosenthal further added that Ibanez was willing to take a discount to play in the Bronx, though I am unsure that he is in a position to be terribly picky regardless. Many would argue that far too much ink and effort has been expended on behalf of Messrs Ibanez, Damon, and Matsui, and that may be true ... but if a move is truly forthcoming, it makes sense to look for a silver lining and preempt at least a bit of the inevitable gruff.

Ibanez managed a slightly above-average 101 wRC+ against righties last season, batting .256/.307/.440 with 16 HR in 437 PA. While that may be below even the marginal standard set by Posada in 2011 (.269/.348/.466 with 14 HR in 316 PA), it is worth noting that Ibanez's numbers in lefty-friendly Citizens Bank Park were solid - a .278/.316/.516 slash line with 15 HR in only 273 AB is quite easy on the eyes. While Yankee Stadium's right-center isn't quite as appetizing as Citizens Bank's, it does seem like Ibanez would make fine use of the short porch without sacrificing too much elsewhere. This is all guesswork, to be sure, but Ibanez's power hasn't slipped all that much. And, if optimism is to rule the day, might I suggest that a rebound from his career-low BB% is well within the realm of possibility?

At face value, Johnny Damon appears to be the best option for the Yankees. He was able to eke out a reasonable 109 wRC+ while playing half of his games in an extreme pitcher's park, on the strength of a .261/.326/.418 line with nineteen steals (in twenty-five attempts). Damon's 99 wRC+ against righties may not instill a great deal of confidence, though, and the former Yankee has not displayed much of a platoon split in recent years. While that may normally be a positive, it doesn't really help the Yankees at this juncture. However, a bit of polishing reveals that Damon did quite well away from the Trop, batting .280/.345/.463 with 10 HR in 296 AB. An optimist should also note that Damon has raked to the tune of .270/.370/.524 and 19 HR in 311 AB in New Yankee Stadium. He also survived 84 innings in LF last year ... so, there's that.

Matsui, sadly, featured a curious reverse platoon split in 2011, with a solid 118 wRC+ against southpaws and a decidedly ugly 82 wRC+ figure against righties. He did manage a 137 wRC+ and 14 round-trippers against righties in 2010, which is more in-line with expectations, and, like Damon, he enjoys hitting in NYS (.268/.353/.485 with 17 HR in 299 AB). Additionally, on the heels of a late-July Godzilla sighting in the Bronx (including a 5-for-5 game on 24 July), Matsui managed a respectable .289/.345/.414 over the last third of the season. Could the short porch entice an awe-inspiring swan song? Even a pragmatist would say ... maybe.

While none of these players met the Posadian baseline set in 2011, it does stand to reason that all could enjoy a bit of a rebound in Yankee Stadium - particularly if platooned properly. Ibanez's righty killing (flicking? pinching?) may be a bit more appealing, particularly with Jones likely to do the heavy-lifting against lefties, but Damon and Matsui (and most any lefty) would benefit from the ubiquitously mentioned short porch. This may not be an ideal set of candidates by even the most flexible stretch of the imagination, but it would be somewhat inane to ignore the potential for a reasonable bit of success here.

Besides, with Spring Training right around the corner, shouldn't optimism be fostered?

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