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Yankees Survive Without Matsui — Surprise, Surprise

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The day after Hideki Matsui fractured his left wrist in a game against the Boston Red Sox, sports journalists waxed idiotic about how on earth the Yankees could recover after the loss of one of their best players. Betting pools were opened to see just how long it would take before Brian Cashman traded for Torii Hunter or Shannon Stewart or whoever the overrated outfielder flavor of the week was. Luckily, Cashman realized Matsui's talents were largely hyperbolized by the majority of a public that is still unashamedly in love with the RBI, and resisted the urge to make drastic changes to the Yankees roster.

Since Matsui's injury, not counting the game in which he got injured, the Yankees have only posted a record of 11-7, winning three of the five complete series they have played, losing one, and splitting the other. In the same time span, the Yankees' offense is rapidly approaching mediocrity, having managed a paltry 5.8 runs per game without the vaunted Hideki Matsui in the lineup.

The truth is Matsui is not the player public perception has billed him as. He is probably not even half the player the media likes to make him out to be. For all the accolades Matsui receives for his three seasons of 100+ RBI, the most contextual of baseball stats, his ability to drive in runs is more a testament of his teammates' ability to get on base before him than anything spectacular he is doing in the batter's box. In fact, last season Matsui led the majors in number of at-bats with runners on base, and in the two previous seasons he saw the third-most runners on base. As is the case with all counting statistics, durability is the key to amassing a large number, and durability just happens to be Matsui's calling card.

When Matsui's RBI totals are taken away, he is exposed as a slightly above average hitter at his position. His OPS numbers ranked him 8th out of 22 listed left fielders in 2005, 4th out of 16 in 2004, and 15th out of 21 in 2003. In addition, Matsui's isolated power numbers are no better. He ranked 12th of 22 in 2005, 6th out of 16 in 2004, and 17th out of 21 in 2003, not exactly the sort of power numbers one would hope for from a corner outfield position and certainly not worth making a rash decision over.

Possibly the most ironic facet of Matsui injuring himself while trying to make a diving catch is his actual defensive history. For his career as a New York Yankee, his FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) is -19, meaning Matsui has cost the Yankees approximately two wins during his tenure in the outfield under what an average fielder would have given them.

All things considered, perhaps the knee-jerk reaction many had to Matsui's injury was overblown by just a tad.

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About David Barbour

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Here’s what they did lose: an everyday player who almost hits .300. I mean everyday, as in 162 games a year.

    I don’t remember reading anything declaring they were done, alhough they were struggling and then Matsui went down and I’m sure some Chicken Little columnist went on and on about how they should write off the season.

    But hey. Melky Cabrera. Who knew?

  • http://justthesports.blogspot.com David Barbour

    I wasn’t trying to say anyone said the Yankees were done, but many journalists, writers and radio hosts, acted as if the Yankees would have a lot of trouble replacing Matsui’s production and that Cashman needed to do something immediately to help the Yankees through Matsui’s injury.

    Also, a.300 batting average by itself really gives you no indication of how good a hitter a player is. It doesn’t tell how often the player is getting on base, how much power is associated with the hits, nor does it provide a clue as to how much plate discipline a player has. Other hitting statistics prove Matsui has some of all those things, but his plate prowess is nothing to write home about.

    The Yankees were 19-12 before Matsui’s injury and were averaging around 6 runs a game.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Point taken on the “not struggling” note, for some reason I thought they weren’t surging like they were.

    But a neat .300 average implies the man is on the “damn good hitter” or better plateau. It may not give much detail about the man — but almost .300 over three seasons says a bit more.

    And again, I’m not doubting you didn’t read columnists crying the end of the Yankees, but I didn’t see any. For those who said they needed to trade someone probably jumped the gun because they’re so used to the Yankees making a trade when something like this happens.

  • Bob

    I saw this blog today, because somebody copied and pasted it somewhere else. This guy claims that Matsui is a “slightly above average” LF, because his OPS is 8th among 22 hitters “listed as an LF” in 2005?

    First of all, the guy mentions 22 hitters, but there are 30 teams in the major. What gives? Apparently, he limits Matsui’s comparisons to hitters who reached minimum 502 plate appearances. Those hitters held the major league regular job all year long, i.e. elite hitters already. So, bear in mind that’s the group from which he draws the concept of the “average” hitter.

    Second, I looked up the names in the list, and lo and behold this guy is comparing apples and oranges. To make a long story short, Matsui actually had the 6th highest OPS among full-time LFs. The LFs who had higher OPS than Matsui (.863) are Manny (.982), Bay (.961), Cabrera (.947), Burrell (.892) and Holliday (.866 playing home games in Coors).

    But the guy writes here Matsui is 8th. So, he must be including Dunn, who played 124 games at 1B and 29 games at LF in 2005, and then Dellucci, who was a platoon player who played 402 AB vs RHPs and only 33 AB vs LHPs. Needless to say, Dunn is not really an LF (not in 2005 anyway), and Dellucci was useful only when the RHPs were on the mound.

    There is no denying that Matsui had a subpar 2003, offensively and defensively. Most observers also agree that it was the year for adjustment, therefore, the numbers from that year are not as useful as 2004-5 numbers in predicting his present and future values. It is safe to say the Yankees did not put much weight on his 2003 numbers when they re-upped him after the 2005 season.

    All told, at the time he got hurt last year, Matsui was 3rd or 4th best LF in the major. Only Manny, Bay and Bonds (with bum knees last several years) were consistently better. Nobody should call that a “slightly above average” hitter.

    The worst part of this is, this guy might intentionally be deceptive.