Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breaking Down the Yankees for the Second Half--The Bench

[So the All Star Game is officially over--and we can thus consider ourselves in the second half.

This is where it gets fun.

All of those days players got rested in the first half? Well, now they have to play. Now the pennant races start to heat up, and every move a team makes, be it a trade, a free agent signing or simply bringing someone up from AAA has even more added meaning.

What do we expect from the Yankees?

I'm going to do a series of posts addressing this, because there's so much to say that having it all in one post would a) kill your eyes and mine, and b) give me carpal tunnel at the age of 23.]

Next on our list, we have the ever-changing and always underrated bench

The Bench

The Yankee bench went from being centered around Jose Molina and Cody Ransom to Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Peña and then back to Molina and Ransom again.

It's not a knock on Cervelli and Peña, but rather a compliment: the Yankees have seen that much more potential in Cervelli and Peña than they expected so they're giving the two a chance to blossom even more in AAA. Both of them will likely be up again in September--if not before. Cody Ransom, at least, isn't giving the Yankees a whole lot of good reasons to keep him at this level...

(In alphabetical order)

Francisco Cervelli

Cervelli was never supposed to make it to the majors this year. It took injuries to both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina within days of each other, and the Yankees unwilling to panic and sign for another catcher, to get the .190 hitter in AA a call up to the big leagues.

At the time, the only thing the Yankees were hoping for was someone that could catch the pitches when thrown to him and possibly throw a runner out at second. They didn't really expect anything from him offensively, so when he hit .269/.284/.346, it was quite a pleasant surprise.

Granted, the low on base percentage and almost zero slugging power would have eventually caught up to him, but Cervelli had a knack for timely hits (even infield ones), running well for a catcher, and all of the pitchers seemed to enjoy throwing to him. And, of course, the dreamy eyes of doom.


Cervelli earned himself a getting-sent-down-promotion, in that instead of being sent back down to AA, he was sent to AAA, where he should have been this season had he not lost so much of 2008 to a wrist injury.

Cervelli always has been a legitimate prospect--but without the bat of Montero, Romine or some of the other Yankee catching prospects--and thus perhaps not seen as such. Until he develops more power, he'll only project as a back up, but the Yankees would probably be quite fine with that, using Cervelli and Posada in tandem until teh Jesus makes his first appearance.

Or until one, or both, of them is traded.

Assuming the Yankees don't trade Cervelli, look for him to re-appear sometime around September.

Brett Gardner

Gardner won the starting CF job, then lost it to Melky, and now, seems to have wrestled back a platoon position--which is probably what the Yankees wanted all along. The trade off with Melky is speed vs. power; and don't underrate Gardner's speed--he does have an inside-the-park-home run.

While Melky may be Clutchy McClutchbrera, Gardner hasn't done too badly for himself, coming off the bench, either.

In 21 plate appearances when coming into a game as a sub, Gardner is batting an insane .556/.600/.889/1.489. Small sample size all you want, but this is more than three at bats we're talking about.

No, I can't explain it, either.

In the second half, don't be surprised if Girardi eventually decides to ride the hot bat--the Yankees are getting more out of their 4th OF centerfield than I think anyone thought they would, and they seem to do quite nicely when platooned. Gardner's other benefit is that unlike McClutchbrera, he can hit lead off, which allows Girardi to rest Damon and/or Jeter on occasion, and the two will certainly need a day or two off down the stretch.

Eric Hinske

A late addition to the Yankees, Hinske has already hit three home runs as a Yankee, winning himself the urging of fans everywhere to play him more.

Therein lies the problem.

Hinske's most valuable coming off the bench--he did it for Tampa and Boston and killed the Yankees every time. Playing him every day, the team will take a hit defensively--he's really not as good as Swisher; certainly not as good as anyone the Yankees have on the infield--but off the bench, he has enough pop to be a legitimate pinch-hitting threat. Certainly a better one than Cody Ransom.

Look for him to start periodically to spell Swisher and Damon, but don't be surprised if he ends up with more ABs as a pinch-hitter. For what it cost the Yankees--two low-level prospects that don't profile very high--the Hinske pick up was, thus far, a good move indeed.

Jose Molina

The back up catcher who played too much last season has now played too little this season to really know much.

The wear and tear of last season did seem to still be effecting him as his defensive numbers were down in April and May, until he got hurt, but now that he's healthy, it's as though he starts with a clean slate.

The MO on him has always been that he's one of the best back ups in the game but should not start; the Yankees haven't seen anything to prove differently. In the second half, pray Posada stays healthy and that Molina doesn't have to do more than back up--although, at least this time around, the Yankees have a more than able third-stringer in Cervelli which would undoubtedly soften the blow.

Ramiro Peña

Strangely, the highest compliment that can be paid to him may be the fact that he's in AAA learning how to play center field.

It's not that Peña couldn't play third or short or second--but rather that he could play all three that has the Yankees trying to see if they can expand his versatility as a defensive player and thus make him that much more valuable.

The knock on him was always that he could field, but no one knew anything about his bat--and then he surprised everyone by being not-so-much an automatic out. He did not hit for much power and his batting line differs from Cervelli only in a slightly higher OBP, but he's still young enough that some more time at AAA may help him come even farther.

At any rate, his defense is, right now, anyway, so much better than Cody Ransom's, one has to consider if the Yankees would consider calling him up before September to take Ransom's spot. It's one of those situations in which the Yankees have to balance the immediate needs of this season with the long-term goals of the future, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

If Cody Ransom's defense ends up costing the Yankees a game (or three), it will be that much harder to justify keeping him over Peña.

Cody Ransom

Kind of said it all above, but when the best thing you've got going for you is your crazy 5' vertical jump, that's not going to do you much good.

He's not very good on offense, not very good on defense and, already past 30, is a finished product. At this stage, the only reason to justify keeping Ransom on the bench is to give Peña some more ABs in the minors, but this may wear thin pretty soon if other options make themselves available.

As stated above, if his defense ends up costing the Yanks a game or two, it will be that much harder to justify keeping him.

Then again, you never know, he could catch fire...and the Nationals mathematically can still win the World Series...