08 December 2004


What the hell is happening here?

The Yankees signed free agent secondbaseman Tony Womack to a two-year, $4 million deal yesterday, the same day they signed Jaret Wright to a three year, $21 million deal. But I'll get to him later.

Tony Womack hit a respectable .307/.349/.385 last season, setting career highs in all three categories, and finally doing something to earn the "leadoff-hitter" moniker he's owned for so long. You don't necessarily need power out of a leadoff hitter who plays second base, but it's nice if you can get it. If you can't, you'd better get some other skills, like on-base percentage, defense, or prowess at stealing bases. Womack generally is good at the last of those, but even that skill is pretty limited in its usefulness if the man can't get on base more than 35% of the time. Furthermore, at the age of 35, Womack isn't very likely to improve on that ability at this point in his career. This is a guy who averaged almost 60 steals per season from 1997-2000, but hasn't stolen 30 bags in a year since then. Besides, with all those power hitters behind him in the lineup, who wants some huckleberry running back and forth at first base while Jason Giambi's trying to focus on smacking one out? Oh, I forgot: Giambi's not a power hitter anymore.

I don't know if Voros McCracken or anyone else has looked at Batting Average on balls in play ofr hitters like McCracken has for pitchers, but I found this interesting: Before 2004, Womack, for his career, hit .305 when he didn't homer (which was rare) or strike out (which is not). His 2003 season was especially poor, a career-low .257 in those situations. But last year, somehow, he hit .338(!) whenever he put the ball in play, helping to significantly boost his overall numbers, though not necessarily through any of his own "skill". Therefore, it seems likely that Womack should be expected to regress to something more like a .300 or so batting average on balls in play, perhaps even lower, as the loss of running speed he'll surely experience with age will prevent some of those infield hits to which he's become accustomed. This will bring his overall stats much closer to his career line of .274/.319/.362, and will once again make him an entirely unacceptable regular player, much less a leadoff hitter. Hopefully, with the likes of Jeff Kent and world-famous tenor Placido Polanco on the market, Womack is only expected to be a utility player/defensive replacement.

But even his defense isn't particularly impressive. Baseball Prospectus indicates that the man has only posted above average fielding runs numbers twice in his career, in 1998 and 1999, and that he's been well below average every other full season of his career. So that doesn't make a lot of sense either.

The really odd thing about this signing is that the Yankees already had an aging, journeyman secondbaseman who had an uncharacteristically good offensive season in 2004, and they let him go. And Miguel Cairo's only 30, not 35, plays better defense and doesn't rely on his speed to get on base. If they wanted a solid backup 2B, they could have kept Cairo, probably for less than $2 mil a season, and signed Kent or the Tenor to start.

"We're going in another direction," Yankees GM Brian Cashman told The Associated Press.

Yeah, Brian. Down.

The other signing I mentioned, Jaret Wright, isn't quite so bad. True, Wright's been in the majors since 1997 and still has never pitched more than the 193 innings he threw in his sophomore year of 1999. True, he sorta got clobbered in the postseason. True, he has a career ERA over 5.00. True, his shoulder has more holes in it than your local golf course. But...

A) He's still only 29.

2) He exceeded everyone's expectations last year, winning 15 games and setting a career low 3.28 ERA for the Braves.

iii) He pitched a full, healthy season and hasn't been on the DL since 2002.

So at leastt here's hope that Wright can build on his success in 2004, whereas Womack's was clearly a fluke.

I think fluke is in season now anyway.

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