Thursday, September 11, 2003
"That's pride fuckin' wit ya. Fuck pride!" - Marsellus Wallace
Nevermind Derek Jeter's horrible defense for now. The Yankees have another defensive liability on their hands; Bernie Williams. There was a time when Bernie was one of the better fielding CF in the American League but shoulder and knee injuries have really affected his range. (I also can't imagine playing CF is the best thing for a guy with bad shoulders and knees.) I now think he is the worst everyday defensive CF in the AL.
While it's hard to provide a reliable stat for defensive ability, fielding % is fairly useless, the two most useful stats to do this sort of thing are range factor and zone rating. The problem with range factor is that it is also affected by things like the type of pitching staff your team has. If you have a groundball staff then your range factor in the OF may very well not be as high as an OF who does. It's a stat as much dependent on quantity as quality. That's why I prefer the zone rating stat which measures the % of balls a fielder fields in his typical defensive zone. I find ZR usually is consistent with what I've seen with my eyes as well. But I'll use them both here anyways.
RF --- ZR
2.49 .884 (2001)
2.40 .832 (2002)
2.63 .836 (2003)
You can see that a real drop off occured in Bernie's zone rating right after the 2001 season and his range factor was not very good to begin with. His 2003 ratings put him 6 out 8 amongst qualified AL CF in range factor and dead-last by a wide margin in zone rating. (The average zone rating amongst AL CFs is about .899. Granted I think the AL is loaded with an unprecedented amount of great defensive CF.)
However I think the Yankees already have an adequate replacement for him in CF. In 45 games this year Bernie's replacement put up these numbers:
RF --- ZR
2.49 .878 (2003)
That's still probably slightly below an average CF's range (although the NL Zone Rating average for CFs is .866) but it's a lot better than Bernie and you aren't going to be risking having an aging player of Bernie's considerable talent at the plate needlessly hurting himself. Bernie should move to left field to finish off his HOF career and I think the Yankees missed a good opportunity to ask Bernie to move over when he was injured and Matsui was in CF. Matsui's offensive emergence pretty much correlated with his move to CF so a conversation between Joe Torre and Bernie Williams might have gone something like this: "Gee Bernie, I think it really helps Matsui concentrate at the plate when he's in center and since you're just coming back from an injury we want to take as much strain off that shoulder and those knees of yours so we don't risk losing your bat again."
But moving good veteran hitters out of certain prestige positions (SS, CF, C, 2B) seems to be a real problem and especially in New York with Mike Piazza being the most glaring example of that. I guess certain players look at it as a demotion of sorts, a bitch slap if you will, and would find it extra embarrassing to have it done in a large market like a New York or Boston. But if they really want to "do what's best for the team" then they should swallow their pride and move over. In a way it is a compliment to their offensive abilities.
I think its really a compliment to New York's starting staff that they've performed as well as they have considering the only above average fielder I'd say they have on their team is Aaron Boone at 3rd. Giambi should be a full-time DH, Soriano should be in RF, and Jeter should follow Cal Ripken's lead (a much better defensive SS than him) and be one of the better 3rd Baseman in the American League.
As it stands now I can't think of a team defensively weaker up the middle than the New York Yankees. Joe Torre needs to summon his inner Marsellus Wallace before "The Wolf" needs to be called in.