Friday, December 01, 2006

Bernie Williams, 25 Men, and Newsday

I'm about to leave for the weekend (well, I'll be back late tomorrow), and so I'd like to talk a little bit about the actual New York Yankees. Yes, I still do that sometimes. Don't worry, coming sometime on Sunday will be the prospect profile for sleeper pick Work in Progress Chase Wright.

There has been a lot of debate recently about Bernie Williams. Bernie hit .281/.332/.436 last season in 453 plate appearances. He was actually marginally useful, mostly because he hit lefties to a .323/.387/.549 clip. Conversely, he couldn't touch a right handed pitcher.

I think that before we tackle the question of "Should we resign Bernie?", we need to examine what role Bernie would play on this team. Baseball is unique in that it takes a large team of good players to win games. It's not like basketball where a Michael Jordan or Shaq can dominate a game and play 90% of it. It's not even a game like hockey where Martin Brodeur can win game after game all by himself even if his team can't score or play defense. The best batters get only about 1/9 of the playing time, the best fielders see about 1/7 of balls in play, and the best pitchers only pitch about 220 innings. It is a game that requires a lot of roster depth in order to win.

Every team needs 5 starting pitcher and 9 everyday players. In addition, modern teams usually require a long man, a setup man, a closer, and at least two general middle-inning relievers. Teams need a backup catcher, extra outfielder, and usually two extra infielders at bare minimum. This leaves just two spots open for additional players on the 25 man roster. These players are usually very specialized. A team will throw in a pinch runner/defensive replacement. Sometimes a team will throw in an immobile big bat to use off the bench. A team will sometimes employ a left handed specialist who can do little else. These extra one or two spots will be used very little during the season, but their specialized role could make or break a a big game situation.

Bernie Williams would be a 25th man. He can't play suitable defense anywhere in the field. He can't hit righties. He can't run the bases well. If he were to play in the majors in 2007, the only productive way he could do so would be as a pinch hitter or platoon hitter against a left hander. He wouldn't be useful for more than 100 plate appearances or so.

Problem is, already have a 25th man. His name is Mike Myers. Myers is good for a batter or two, but that is it. He'll max out at 40 innings. There is room for him on a 25 man roster, just not a whole lot of room. They cannot both be included on the same roster.

The Yankees already have a closer, setup man, three middle relievers (Proctor, Bruney, Britton), a long man (One of Karstens or Rasner) and a left handed specialist (Myers). They are going to have a backup catcher, Melky Cabrera, Miguel Cairo or a similar backup infielder, and Andy Phillips or another backup first baseman on the bench. The roster is full.

Of course, I would rather Kevin Thompson be on the roster, but we'll forget that for now. Problem is, Newsday is now reporting that the Yankees are thinking about carrying 13 pitchers. This would mean a bench of (probably) Andy Phillips, Miguel Cairo (or someone like him), and a backup catcher to go along with a bullpen of Rivera, Farnsworth, Proctor, Bruney, Britton, Myers, Karstens/Rasner, and probably another lefty like Ron Villone. This is ridiculous.

Newsday cites Yankee concerns for the workload of key relievers. God damn it! Why can every other major league team get along with 11 or maybe 12 pitchers? Why does a bullpen with Mariano Rivera need 12 more people to help him out? Want to know why? Because Joe Torre doesn't have a clue. He has worn out Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Ron Villone, Steve Karsay, and maybe Scott Proctor (word is he may be switching to starter due to elbow problems). He almost wore out Mariano Rivera back in 1996. Why does he need 13 pitchers? Because he doesn't have the strategic mind to use his bench players?

Hell, Joe Torre doesn't use his 12 pitchers. Mike Myers went for two or three week stretches without being used. Octavio Dotel never got a chance to try and work himself back in to form, despite an 8+ game lead. Joe Torre uses four people in the bullpen. He uses his favorite lefty, Mariano Rivera (but only in very select situations. I mean, why would you want to use Mariano when the game is on the line in the 7th and 8th innings?), his setup guy (who he will put Mariano-like trust in, because "that's his inning"), and his annual abused righty. Thats it. Everybody else sits and watches.

If the Yankees wanted to change the way that modern baseball strategy works, then 13 pitchers wouldn't neccessarily be a bad idea. I've had some theories in the past about different ways to use the bullpen. However, I'd wager my laptop that Joe Torre isn't planning some sort of redefinition of the way we see relief pitching. He just wants an additional crutch to lean against.

Have a good weekend.