Friday, October 18, 2013

2013 Season Review: What We Thought We Knew & What We Learned (The Bench)

(Jayson Nix, ladies and gentlemen.... )

The less I say about the 2013 the better.  It's just going to make me upset recapping how the Yankees took their recent "build the bench with cheap, aging veterans and a few young guys" approach to new lows this season.  It was a sorry, sadsack group of misfits, washed up has-beens, and "who the hell is that guy???"s that had to set the bar for the worst collective bench in Yankee history.  There wasn't much we didn't know about them when the season started, and there wasn't a lot of new ground broken in what we learned when it was over.

What We Thought We Knew- The Team Didn't Have a Starting-Quality Catcher

And the Yankees knew it too.  They let Russell Martin walk in the offseason and went at it with a catching duo of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli.  Neither of those guys had shown much in the form of consistent, above-average production in their careers, and whether the plan was built around better defense behind the plate, hope for better offense at the plate, or just not caring and taking whatever Chris and Frankie gave them, it was a plan the Yankees fully controlled and didn't have derailed by injuries.

What We Learned- It Barely Had a Quality Backup Catcher

At least not until Cervelli went down in late April with a broken hand.  He got out of the gate strong, hitting .269/.377/.500 in 61 PA and looking like a shoo-in to steal the starting job away from Stewart.  For a brief moment the Yankees looked like they knew what they were doing all along.  Once he suffered the broken hand, however, it was all over.  Cervelli dealt with multiple setbacks and never returned, and Stewart was exposed for his overall crappiness - .261 wOBA/58 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR in 340 PA - when he was forced into everyday duty.  Midseason call-ups Austin Romine (.247 wOBA, -0.2 fWAR in 148 PA) and J.R. Murphy (.171 in 27) did little to prove they were worthy of the job over Stewart and the Yankees spent the bulk of the year with a black hole at one of the most important positions.

What We Thought We Knew- The Backup Infielders Wouldn't Be Very Good

When 75% of your starting infield was going to start the season on the DL, you'd think that would be reason to fortify the bench with good, experienced, flexible players who could fill in at a replacement level.  The Yankees didn't do that, instead sticking their eggs in the Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix baskets again and hoping that Jeter, Youkilis, and A-Rod would return quickly/stay on the field.  Between the 2 of them, Nunez and Nix made up maybe 75% of a competent utility infielder and they were handling the bulk of the backup duty.

What We Learned- They Sucked

As expected, that didn't go well.  Nunez was a butcher in the field again, getting bounced from shortstop to third and back again and hitting just .260/.307/.372 in 336 PA.  His -1.4 fWAR in that limited amount of playing time made him one of, if not the worst position player in all of baseball.  Nix was worse with the bat (.236/.308./.311 in 303 PA) but better with the glove and he at least managed to make a small positive WAR contribution before a broken hand ended his season.  Lyle Overbay, picked up as insurance for Teix, got the Chris Stewart treatment once Teix had his season-ending surgery and his below average offense and defense netted him 0.0 fWAR.  As a whole, the primary backup infielders were a below-replacement level group.  Their small army of waiver wire replacements were just as bad if not worse, and David Adams (.243 wOBA, -0.2 fWAR) wasn't much better when he got his chance.

What We Thought We Knew- The Backup Outfielders Wouldn't Be Very Good Either

The scene in the outfield at the opening of the season wasn't much better.  Vernon Wells ended up starting more than he should have, but he was really meant to be a bench player.  Brennan Boesch was signed to a MiL contract, Ben Francisco could barely fake it in the outfield anymore, and the top prospect on the food chain was Zoilo Almonte.

What We Learned- They Sucked Too (Except for Soriano)

Wells sucked (-0.8 fWAR).  Boesch sucked (-0.2 fWAR) and got hurt.  Francisco sucked (-0.5 fWAR) and got released.  And Zoilo, despite a strong first few games that mirrored Adams', ended up sucking in 113 PA and also getting hurt.  It wasn't until the trade deadline, when they brought in Alfonso Soriano, that the Yankees finally had a decent outfield option to replace Curtis Granderson, and Soriano technically wasn't a bench player.  He stepped into a starting role and stayed there through the end of the year.  If you want to know where the payroll cutting plans hurt the Yankees the most, look no further than their 2013 bench.  They didn't find 1 useful piece to fit in while their regulars were out.

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