Thursday, July 26, 2012

Let's Give A Call To The Bench

They haven't gotten a whole lot of ink this season while the majority of the focus has been on the injuries, RISP Fail, and starting rotation, but the contributions of the Yankee bench this season should not be going unnoticed.  Their collective role has become more important with the injuries suffered by everyday players in the lineup and Joe's need to keep the older players in the starting lineup fresh with regular rest and DH days, and across the board the bench guys have lived up to those roles.  Their importance is only going to increase with Alex Rodriguez down and out for the next 6-8 weeks, and much like certain unsung members of the bullpen earlier in the season, the ability of these unsung bench bodies to produce could be the extra little boost the Yankees need to keep marching forward and not miss a beat with A-Rod gone.

I don't know if they technically qualify as bench guys since they were supposed to be the DH platoon, but the tandem of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones has filled in nicely as the everyday left field tandem in Brett Gardner's absence.  For all the talk about what each of them can and can't do, their combined 24 HR and 69 RBI would be right up there amongst the best in baseball in terms of left field production.  That solid power production has been supplemented by a combined above-average defense, something that, quite frankly, I did not think was humanly possible with Ibanez involved.  The guy has played way more outfield than anybody wanted him to have to play this season, and he's currently sporting a 7.4 UZR/150 in left field.  Cheers to that, dude!

Around the infield, the duo of Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix has more than held their own filling in as needed around all 4 positions.  Chavez, back issues and all, has regained some of his power stroke this year (.230 ISO), and his .335 wOBA in 177 PA is far better than anything I was expecting out of him this year.  It sounds like he's going to get the lion's share of the work at the hot corner while A-Rod's out, and it's unknown if his body can hold up, but he's definitely earned more ABs with the way he's produced.  And Nix, while not being as smooth as Derek Jeter at short or as slick as Robinson Cano at second, has given the Yankees quality innings and almost always seems to do something positive with the bat from the bottom of the lineup (10 out of his 21 hits have gone for extra bases).  Case in point, yesterday's game.  There aren't many scenarios where Jayson Nix is the ideal pinch hitting candidate with the bases loaded in the 8th inning, but he was the best option available and he delivered.

Even the bench players who are usually the target of more scorn than they probably deserve as replacement-level players have done something.  There's nothing in Chris Stewart's stat lines, standard or sabermetric, that is worth a second look.  But Stewart has still come up with some big hits to start rallies (some of them BABIP luck-aided), and his defense has been better than what the Yankees likely would have gotten from Francisco Cervelli.  The same can't be said for Eduardo Nunez, who hasn't been on the 25-man roster in eons, but even Nunez churned out positive WAR value in his 59 PA with a .336 wOBA and base stealing.  How much more could you ask for from a backup catcher and utility infielder?

Then there's Dewayne Wise.  He's no longer on the active roster after being DFA'd to make room for Ichiro, and he probably won't clear waivers to allow the Yankees to keep him stashed in Triple-A, but I don't think a reserve outfielder could have done much more than he did in his 63 PA this season.  His bunt against Kansas City on May 22nd can half-jokingly be called the play that started to turn the Yankees' season around, and he only contributed in bigger ways from there.  He hit home runs, he stole bases, he made fantastic catches falling into the stands without even catching the ball, and he even pitched!  I thought Wise could help the Yankees at some point this season if needed, and he proved me right with what he did in the limited opportunity he got.  Wise's 0.8 fWAR is equal to Russell Martin's in 275 PA and greater than Ibanez's in 279.  That tells you something.

This post isn't very deep or analytical, and it's really not meant to be.  It's an appreciation post for the little guys who have each had to go above and beyond their designated call of duty at least once this season, some of them for pretty much the entirety of this season.  None of them have been flashy or put up huge numbers, but they aren't supposed to.  There isn't a single guy in this post who has a negative fWAR value, and only Stewart stands at 0.0.  If you look around at some other team's benches you might not find that to be the case everywhere, so I think that warrants mentioning.  Ramiro Pena will be joining the circus when the Yankees start their series against Boston this weekend.  With any luck, he'll find a way to chip in and contribute too.

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