Thursday, November 8, 2012

2012 AB4AR Season Review: The Bench

(Who knew this guy was still a threat?  Courtesy of the AP)

With the lineup and bullpen remaining mostly unchanged this season, and the main focus being building up the depth of the rotation, the Yankee bench was once again a last-minute construction job heading into Spring Training.  The team was relatively successful in their 2011 approach of piecing the bench together with some younger internal pieces and cheap veteran platoon players, and they stuck with that approach for 2012.  The biggest loss was Jorge Posada, who retired after his down 2011 campaign, and his power was replaced by a 2-part lefty/righty DH platoon that was also expected to serve as the 2-man 4th outfield spot when older regulars needed a day off.  Combine that with a flexible infield pair and a defensive-minded backup catcher, and things should have been covered.

But as was the case with every other part of the roster, the bench plans were greatly affected by the injuries that befell key members of this year's team.  Once the bench players were forced into regular duty, the depth and flexibility of the group took a major hit.  These were not supposed to be guys that played every day, especially not in the field, and their overall effectiveness did suffer a bit as a result.  But the bench was still plenty effective, with 3 players who hit 14 or more HR, 3 who stole more than 5 bases, and multiple guys who stepped in and played multiple positions.  Take away a few big plays here and there from members of this season's bench, and the Yankees probably don't win the division.

The 2-headed DH monster of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones was probably affected the most by the aforementioned scramble to force bench guys into regular duty.  Ibanez was brought in to replace Posada as the lefty yin to Jones' righty yang, and for the most part these guys did exactly what the Yankees needed them to do in the first half.  But once they both got to playing more in the outfield than anticipated, their production started to slump in the second half.  While Jones was absolute garbage after the ASB, Ibanez actually sprung back to life in September and hit enough clutch HRs to never have to pay for anything in New York for the rest of his life.  It's doubtful that either will be back with the club next year, and 2 wOBA values south of .330 doesn't look that great, but a combined 33 HR and 96 RBI in what equates to a season's worth of PA is just fine for what the Yankees paid.

Eric Chavez, despite my pleas for him not to be, was brought back as the utility corner infielder, and he bounced back from a lifeless 2011 to have easily the best season of any Yankee bench player.  Chavez was healthy, productive, vocal, and he was arguably the best offensive player on the team for a stretch of games in August.  Chavez got the bulk of his PT at third base, but he also moonlighted as a first baseman a few times and picked up some of the spare lefty DH at-bats when Ibanez was playing left field.  In 313 PA, almost as many as he had in the previous 3 seasons combined, Chavez hit .281/.348/.496 with 28 XBH, good for a stunning .360 wOBA and possibly another invitation back to next year's Spring Training.

Backup catcher was the one surprise on this season's bench, as everybody was thrown for a loop (Francisco Cervelli included) when the Yanks traded George Kontos to San Francisco for Chris Stewart.  Stewart had a reputation as an all-field/no-hit catcher, and he lived up to that reputation in limited work as Martin's backup.  After years of suffering through Posada behind the plate, the Yankees wanted to make damn sure they were set defensively, and Stewart provided the insurance they thought they needed.  Stewart only seemed to get hits on bloops or seeing-eye grounders, but he hit enough important ones to not be a complete black hole with the bat, and his positive defensive ratings made him a positive WAR player overall.  It wasn't a necessary move to bring him in, but at least the Yankees got something for it.

The middle infield was expected to be Eduardo Nunez's territory after he got a lot of work in 2011 covering for Derek Jeter and A-Rod, but his continued defensive struggles early in the season earned him a demotion to Triple-A to work on his fundamentals and Jayson Nix inherited the spot.  Nix proved to be a useful asset around the infield and even in the outfield a little bit, and he hit .243/.306/.384 in 202 PA.  Nunez was recalled late in the season and managed to finish with a higher fWAR than Jones in just 100 PA.  Both of these guys could reprise their roles as IF insurance for next year as Jeter comes back from his ankle surgery and the team continues to tighten its financial belt.

There were a few other players who got a handful of ABs here and there, but I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Dewayne Wise.  He was called up when the injuries starting making an impact and was nothing short of brilliant in his 63 PA before becoming a 25-man casualty.  It would have been fun to watch him stick around, but it wasn't meant to be.  Personally, I feel like the bench didn't get nearly enough credit this season, as none of these guys were expected to have to play as much as they did and some of them weren't expected to contribute as much as they did.  It was a far cry from the days of plucking Darryl Strawberry and Cecil Fielder off the bench to step in, but to a man everybody contributed something positive and when you're building a bench for cheap off the scrap heap that's about as much as you can ask for.

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