I’ve been looking at this question, in response to so much I’m reading (not so much here as elsewhere) that the Yanks are failing in the clutch.
It is sabermetric gospel that there’s no such thing as a clutch hitter. To be precise, the studies indicate that (1) clutch hitting is (in the words of Bill James) a “transient phenomenon” — hitters that appear to be clutch in one season do not repeat their clutch performance in following seasons, (2) clutch hitters either do not exist, or are able deliver clutch hits with a frequency over non-clutch hits that is (at best) statistically insignificant, and (3) when a measure of clutch hitting claims to be able to identify clutch hitters, the hitters identified are rarely those we’d identify as clutch.
In other words, clutch hitting is pretty much a myth. It’s something we use to help us create a narrative to describe the baseball we watch, but it’s not measurable and it probably does not exist.
In other words, the best thing the Yankees can do is put runners in scoring position, and hope for the best. With runners in scoring position and a guy at the plate with a .380 OBP, we can expect the batter to come through in the clutch about 38% of the time. If we want a better than 38% chance of scoring, then it’s good to have many opportunities with runners in scoring position.
I started working on a post about this, but this conclusion is so consistently reached by the experts and has been stated elsewhere …
Larry is exactly correct on his points, clutch hitting is a nice short term explantion for things but not a predictor or sustainable in any direction over the long term.
Plus, you guys need to understand that the Yankees don’t have minor issues offensively. They have major structural issues. They scored 915 runs last year and are currently on pace for 869. And to be honest, they are incredibly lucky to even be on that pace. Cervelli, Posada, Swisher, Cano, Thames are all .100 or more above their career OPSs which means serious regression is coming. Jeter and Tex will hit better but the guys who have underperformed are well outnumbered by the guys who have overperformed (you can put Gardner on the overachieve list as well, though not by leaps ands bounds like the others). Their pitching will have to be better than last year for them to make the playoffs because the hitting is 100% guaranteed not to score as many runs. I don’t see that happening either because I don’t see Hughes and Pettitte ending the year with 2.62 and 2.72 ERAs.
And it is high time someone in the press destroys Cashman for his offseason. So far he got a center fielder that hasn’t played and played very poorly when he has and Vazquez who has been horrible. For those two and the right to pay them 18 mill combined this year, he gave up major league minimum for Jackson (top 5 prospect), Kennedy (pitching very well), Coke (3.32 ERA), Vizcaino (top 5 prospect pitching well in A ball) plus Mike Dunn who is young and a decent prospect and Cabrera who was the only good thing about the deal for them. Add Nick Johnson to that and how isn’t he getting killed in the press. 28-19 belies some very horrible GM decisions.
I intentially left out the word “clutch” because what I tried to capture -and maybe failed- was the Yanks inability to do the most basic thing: “moving the runner over” when the situation presented itself. I’m not advocating a small ball renaissance for the Bombers, but something in between.
I wasn’t a major advocate for Johnson as others were. My record is here for all to see and search on.
I’m not ready to crucify Cashman yet. Two months is not enough to determine a winner on the Granderson deal. The guy got hurt. It happens.
I’m as bummed and frustrated as everyone about Vaz.
Jason, sorry if I misunderstood. You DID talk about runners on second and third …
Also, isn’t the sacrifice bunt kind of old fashioned? Isn’t it prohibited under the sabermetric manifesto? I’m not sure that there’s much room left any more for moving the runner along, except perhaps trying to hit to the right side with a runner on second and no one out.
So long as the Yankees are able to put runners on base, all will be well.
I agree about Cashman. Nick Johnson may still pay off, and besides, we gave up nothing but money for him. Vaz is at worse a servicable 5th starter or long relief guy — I don’t miss Melky at all, but if Vaz doesn’t pan out better than he has, then he wasn’t worth the two prospects. I still like Granderson for Jackson — it’s too early to brand this trade a success or a failure.
My rule of thumb is not to look at the standings until Memorial Day. But I peeked today. The Yanks are tied for the second best record in baseball, and have a 2-game lead for the wild card. I’m happy.
Cashman’s performance and the Yankees record have absolutely no correlation. None.
And once again Larry, you are analyzing everything in terms of the Yankees ability to blow money without having an immediate impact. Johnson is 5.5 mill which isn’t cheap to most teams and Vazquez is 11 mill and Granderson is 6.5 mill escalating to 10.5 mill in two years.
Here is the bottom line – the Yankees spent a net amount of about 15 mill this offseason (Vazquez/Granderson 18 mill minus Melky minus major league minimums for AJax, Kennedy, Coke). He made the team worse in the short term and worse in the long term and paid 15 mill for the privilege of doing that. This is not disputable at the moment.
If Goldman Sachs loses 50 million on a trade but still has more money than Thomas Weisel that doesn’t mean the guy responsible for the trade did a great job.
Bret, of course the Yankees record and Cashman’s performance have some correlation, and this is the case even if we limit our focus to Cashman’s acquisition of Johnson, Vazquez and Granderson. For example, Granderson currently has a WAR of 0.6, which isn’t bad given how few games he’s played.
I’m not analyzing “everything” in terms of the Yanks’ ability to blow money. I DO consider that the Yankees’ wealth gives them the ability to take chances. Nick Johnson is a career .400 OBP guy who, when healthy, can get you 5 WAR per year. Cashman took a chance that Johnson might stay healthy if he was limited to the DH. It didn’t work out. However, the proper way to evaluate the move is not on the basis of whether it worked out, but whether it was worth the risk. Even there, there’s a good argument that it wasn’t worth the risk. But that’s where the argument properly lies. In my opinion.
Vazquez and Granderson are different topics. We’ve spoken a good deal about Granderson v. Jackson already; let’s start with Vazquez.
You remember that the Yanks ended 2009 with three pitchers in their starting rotation. Clearly, Cashman had to address this situation. Within the organization, the Yanks had three young pitchers that might have started in 2010: Hughes, Joba and Kennedy. The best you could have said about Kennedy is that he was a terrific minor league pitcher who had failed to show anything in the majors. It would have been crazy to count on Kennedy starting in 2010: at best, he might have been a long relief guy who could have been moved to 5th starter in case of injuries or if he suddenly showedthe ability to pitch in the AL.
That leaves us with Joba and Hughes. I think Cashman made a terrific decision here, that only one of these two guys could be counted on to start in 2010. The chance that BOTH these guys would succeed at starter was too low. It made sense to choose one to start and one to pitch in relief. That left the Yankees one pitcher short of a starting rotation, and they were going to have to find the pitcher outside of the organization.
This is my main objection to your line of analysis: you are unfavorably comparing the Vazquez trade to what would have taken place if the Yanks had done nothing. But as I’ve indicated, standing pat was NOT an option. The Yanks HAD to bring in a 5th starter. The better analysis is to compare the Vazquez trade to other alternatives for bringing in a 5th starter. Of course, at this point in the season, I doubt that the Vazquez trade will compare favorably to these other options. But this is the correct comparison to make. Again in my opinion.
Going back to Granderson/Jackson: Cashman evaluated (correctly in my opinion) that in the starting lineup, the Yanks’ biggest weakness was in CF. Melky’s historic WAR was barely above replacement level. The Yanks knew that Austin Jackson was a terrific talent, but they also evaluated (correctly in my opinion) that he’d never be a solid major league ballplayer: he was (and is) a high-strikeout guy who cannot hit for power and relies on a crazy-high BABIP to produce decent numbers. As I’ve stated before, the ONLY successful guy currently in baseball with this profile is B.J. Upton.
If you look at Jackson’s numbers, you can see that Will got it right: as Jackson’s BABIP reverts to the mean, his numbers are tumbling: his .917 OPS in April dropped to a .711 OPS in May. By the way, Jackson’s BABIP in May was STILL abnormally high: .377. His numbers still have much room for further regression.
Granderson is a career 3.5 WAR guy (I’m being conservative and ignoring his 7.4 WAR in 2007). This compares nicely to the 1.1 average WAR Cabrera put up in his 4 years as a Yankees starter. Cashman also factored in the risk that Granderson might prove to have “Johnny Damon” power to hit home runs into the Stadium right field porch. I agree with Will that the Granderson trade was a good one.
Here is Cashman’s correlation to the Yankees’ record. In 2 of the last 3 years in all probability Cashman is going to lose the division to a team with 1/4th the payroll. It went right last year because a team with 95 pythag wins won 103 and the Rays got off to a bad start. That isn’t good management.
Granderson has already missed 25-30 games, even if he plays well and stays healthy and Jackson regresses from here on out, Jackson has been healthy and has an OPS that is over .100 points higher. Even if they get to even this year it would have been much cheaper in the short and long term to keep Ajax. And Vizcaino could be a great, great pitcher which you are omitting. Joba could have been 5th starter or they could have spent the money on someone else without giving up a great prospect.
Nick Johson never stays healthy, getting hurt and not blaming Cashman is like putting your hand on the stove and blaming someone else for getting burned.
Bret, OK. I don’t like making judgments about winter trades in May. I acknowledged the risk that Johnson would get injured, but Granderson had no history of injury. Joba the fifth starter? Maybe, but at the moment that doesn’t look like such a good plan.
Cashman’s job is to get the Yanks into the playoffs with the highest possible frequency. He’s been doing that.
I also hate seeing the Yanks trade away prospects, by the way.
I think you’ve made good points, I just don’t agree with them all. Come July or August, you may say “I told you so” and you may turn out to be right.
I agree with everything Larry's said. I know the moves don't look pretty right now, but they were good bets.
If you want to criticize, take a look at the ARod contract. I know he's great and was coming off a monster 2007 MVP year. But this was a guy heading into his age 32 season, and they handed him a 10 year 275 million dollar deal, plus incentives if he actually passes Bonds. Outbidding other teams necessarily means paying more than what others are willing to pay. But if Cashman had said, "$215 million, take it or leave it", does anyone think any other team even considers topping that?
Now if Jeter puts up a 300/340/420 type season, I'm sure Cashman will fall all over himself to outbid every other team. Now sure, it's the Yanks, and there's tons of cash to spend, but even the Yankees have a limit.
Assuming Jeter re-ups for around 20 million per year, in 2011, then a 35 year old 3B and 36 year old SS will get paid around $51 million. Huh? Signing bonuses for top latin american prospects run in the $1-3 million range. Obviously the vast majority of them bust. But wouldn't you rather have A-Rod + Jeter paid at a slight premium + a handful of top young prospects, over ARod + Jeter paid at a ridiculous premium?