NO MATSUI + NO DAMON = MISTAKE; THE ONLY QUESTION IS HOW BIG?

                                                                                        Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It’s hard to believe that the Yankees let World Series MVP and (arguably more important) lethal against lefties lefty hitter Hideki Matsui go sign with the Angels for the piddling sum of $6.5 million. It’s also hard to believe that the Yankees didn’t sign Johnny Damon in what sure seemed like a spitting contest between Scott Boras and the Yankee organization (you bet Johnnie Damon should have stepped in and done something (see Rodriguez, Alex)).

But the Yankees hurt themselves whether anybody understands it now or not. The problem is, we won’t know the severity of the injury probably until a big spot in the playoffs.

THE YANKEES ARE LOADED, BUT …

Here’s the problem: the Yankees are still the Yankees of Jeter and A-Rod and Mark Teixeira. They are still the Yankees of that great pitching staff that’s added Javier Vazquez, the statisticians’ (but not the voters’) pick for NL Cy Young. But there is potential trouble brewing in Yankeeland which may come back to bite them in a big spot in the playoffs.

Matsui and Damon are two of the best lefties in baseball against left-handed pitching. It’s hard to explain what that can do to the manager in the opposite dugout in a big spot in a big game. Maybe the best example is Game 6 of the 2009 World Series. Matsui had crushed Pedro Martinez his first two times up with a two-run homer and a two-run single.  By the time he came up again, Pedro was on the ropes, the Phillies were trailing, the World Series was about to slip away. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, knowing full well that Matsui had hammered Pedro his first two times up, played it “by the book.” He brought in lefty J.A. Happ and, reportedly with players in the Yankee dugout chuckling that they brought in a lefty, Matsui promptly doubled in two more runs. Ballgame over, World Series over, the Yankees return to the mountaintop.

Manuel was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. And the Yankees knew it. He did what everybody does – bring in the lefty to face a lefty. And paid the price.

How the Yankees could let that sense of security escape for only $6.5 million is an utter mystery.

BUT THE YANKEES WANT TO USE THE DH FOR OTHER PLAYERS

So what? As stated here before (see Kallas Remarks, 9/29/09 and 11/5/09), the Yankees EASILY could have kept Matsui and solved their problems. All he had to do was DH in about 90 games, pinch hit in 40 more (that’s as many at-bats as last year) and maybe, just maybe, play the outfield once in a while (but even that wouldn’t be necessary if he couldn’t). Then you would still have 72 games to DH Jeter a few times or A-Rod a few times or Teixeira a few times or Posada 35-40 times (he still wants to catch all the time) or whatever – it could have been done.

BUT THE YANKEES WANT TO GET YOUNGER

Well they have – kind of. Forget that Randy Winn will be 36 in June or that Nick Johnson will be 32 in September and is prone to injury. Curtis Granderson, apparently the answer to a lot of Yankee problems, will only be 29 next month. So the Yankees are younger but at the expense of the number two and five hitters in their line-up, at the expense of two of the best hitting, lefties against lefties and excellent hitters in general and two of the clutchest hitters who have done it on the biggest stage (the postseason) in the biggest city.

Is “getting younger” really worth it?

LET’S LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

Well, that’s a problem. The Yankees, no matter what you read, will lose a lot offensively. Yes, they will be better defensively, but enough to offset what they lost? Not a chance.

Johnny Damon, a .283 lifetime hitter against lefties with a .346 on-base percentage, was still good against lefties in 2009 as a .269 hitter against lefties with a .332 OBP. He hit almost as many homeruns (percentage wise) against lefties (7 in 171 at-bats, .41) as he did against righties (17 in 379 at-bats, .44). Don’t discount that (because they lost Matsui as well). And when we get to how good Nick Johnson is against lefties (and he is), remember, Johnny Damon can still run and Nick Johnson still can’t run.

But the HUGE loss is Matsui. Forget the World Series for now. During the 2009 regular season, Hideki Matsui hit a home run against lefties every TEN at-bats (13 home runs in 131 at-bats). That’s stunning stuff. He was actually better against lefties (.282 average, .358 OBP, .618 slugging and .976 OPS) than righties (.271 average, .379 OBP, .465 slugging and .835 OPS). Guys like this just aren’t available. And they are not named Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson or Randy Winn.

While Nick Johnson is excellent against lefties (he’s more of a replacement offensively for Damon even though, inexplicably, the Yankees apparently want him to be almost a full-time DH) and an excellent on-base guy (.316 average, .440 OBP in 2009), Curtis Granderson has his issues against lefties (in 2009 a .183 average, .245 OBP, .239 slugging, .484 OPS). That’s not going to cut it.

And the right-handed hitting Winn was also putrid against lefties in 2009 (.158 average, .184 OBP, .200 slugging, .384 OPS). Frankly, that’s not very good at all.

See the problem yet?

BUT WAIT, IT GETS WORSE

Now we have to talk about the most important part for the Yankees – the postseason. Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon are seasoned, fantastic, experienced postseason players. Matsui had a World Series for the ages — .615 average, three homers, eight RBIs, MVP and on and on. Johnny Damon, after not hitting against Minnesota, went .300 average, .323 OBP, .533 slugging and .856 OPS against the Angels. He then went .364 average, .440 OBP, .455 slugging and .895 OPS in the World Series.

The “replacements” in the postseason? Well, not so good. Nick Johnson, as a young Yankee in 2002 and 2003, went .209 average, .303 OBP, .299 slugging, .602 OPS. He hasn’t been back since 2003. Curtis Granderson was very good for the Tigers early on in 2006, his only postseason. But he had a woeful World Series (2-21) so his postseason numbers are .226 average, .288 OBP, .491 slugging, .779 OPS.

Randy Winn? Well, most of you know that Randy Winn has never been in the postseason.

Uh-oh.

SO, THAT’S THE REAL PROBLEM

The combination of little or no postseason experience and little or no postseason success bodes poorly for the Yankees. They will be prone to having problems with lefties in the postseason and even the regular season. While it won’t matter as much in the regular season (they should be good enough to win), it could kill them in the playoffs. Which leads us to …

THE PLAXICO ANALOGY

The what? The Plaxico Burress analogy. Most Giant fans were happy when the Giants sent Plaxico packing after Plaxico went to a nightclub in NYC packing heat. He shot himself, and the rest is mystery. Still in jail now, the Giants really haven’t been the same without him. They tried to replace him. In fact, their wide receivers did pretty well this season. But they still have nobody to do what Plaxico did – catch that fade in the corner of the end zone, catch that jump ball when you needed it most, bail out Eli Manning when he was in trouble and kind of threw it up for grabs. It hurt the Giants a lot in their playoff loss to the Eagles two seasons ago (see Kallas Remarks, 1/13/09). And, of course, the Giants didn’t even make the playoffs this season.

The Giants still haven’t really replaced Plaxico Brress. And it still might hurt them in a big spot next year in the playoffs – if they make them.

SO TOO, POSSIBLY, WITH THE YANKEES IN THE POSTSEASON

You don’t have to be Karnak the Magnificent (where have you gone, Johnny Carson?, late-night TV — or at least NBC — turns its lonely eyes to you)) to see a similar situation for the Yankees in a big playoff game. The game’s on the line – a big at-bat early or late in a playoff game. Curtis Granderson is coming up to the plate. The opposing manager doesn’t think twice – there’s no Hideki Matsui or even Johnny Damon up – in comes the lefty. The Yankees have to pinch hit or swallow hard with Granderson.

That’s potentially a big problem.

CAN THE YANKEES WIN IT ALL IN 2010?

Of course they can, they’re the YANKEES. But don’t downplay the loss of both Damon and Matsui (we’ll mention Melky Cabrera here as well because he swung a magic bat last year with three game-winning hits early on and a few other eighth-inning go ahead hits – none of these new guys will do what Melky did. Having said that, the Yankees did get a very good pitcher for Cabrera so it’s hard to argue with that).

But there might come a time in the postseason when the Yankees regret losing both of these clutch winners. Their replacements just aren’t as good.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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