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Archive for March, 2016

Infield Dilemma

The Yankees need to chose a backup infielder who can play third base. That’s a very reasonable request, because even if Chase Headley somehow could return to his 2012 Gold Glove self, he will need an occasional day off. He, along with the rest of us, isn’t getting any younger.

At first, the backup at third was going to be Starlin Castro, but the Yankees decided it was best to keep him at second base, since even that’s a fairly new position for him (a decision I have to agree with). That left three players – Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, and Rob Refsnyder as possible choices.

To be completely honest, I like Rob Refsnyder, and I’ve often praised him for doing everything the Yankees have ever asked of him. After being drafted as an outfielder, he learned to play second base at the team’s request (a transition many would say he’s still settling into), but was never quite good enough in the Yankees’ opinion to make the major league roster and play full time. This spring, they decided to try Refsnyder at third base, even though he had no profession experience at the position. In his first few experiences at third, he actually played much better than most people had expected.

But let’s look at the facts here – Rob Refsnyder is a 25 year old who has yet to prove himself (that’s debatable) as a dependable everyday player. Some might argue that if it hasn’t happened yet, it will never happen – even though a quick Google search will show the average age of a rookie player in MLB is 25.8 years old (Refsnyder turned 25 just this week). Not every rookie coming up is Manny Machado or Brycer Harper; most take a little while to really establish themselves.

Even still, the experiment of Refsnyder at third base can still look like a failure. According to MLB.com, Refsnyder has played third base in just ten games (seven starts and 51.1 innings total) this spring training. Ten games. Keeping in mind that is an incredibly small sample size and the only ten games he’s ever played at this position (with little to no time to prepare for his audition), he’s made four errors and has a FPCT of .818. Whether I like him or not, that looks bad. Even after the disappointing season and career high errors Headley had last year, he still finished with a .946 FPCT.

Another interesting point about Refsnyder’s fielding: in seven games (three starts, 27 innings total) at second base, he has not committed a single error and has a perfect FPCT.

Still, to be fair, that .818 at third is pretty bad. To that point, I can understand sending him back to SWB to work on his defense at third.

But that still leaves Chase Headley without an official backup, and so the Yankees are looking at Ronald Torreyes and Pete Kozma to fill that position. Those are interesting choices in my opinion.

Torreyes was acquired from the Dodgers in a rather unexciting trade this past January. Since he signed as an amateur free agent in 2010, he’s been with five different clubs and has less than a year of major league service time. He has experience at third base – he has appeared in 62 games and totaled almost 500 innings at third – in the minor leagues (with a .925 FPCT). At the major league level, he has just three games (five innings) of experience at third, all last year with the Dodgers (he also played in four games, 12 innings at second). This spring, the Yankees have given him quite a look as he’s played 81.0 innings over 20 games at either second, shortstop, or third. (Refsnyder had 78.1 innings played between second and third). However, while Torreyes FPCT has so far been perfect at every position, he has only spent 19 of those innings (in six games) playing third base.

Kozma is an even more interesting candidate. He is a veteran player who originally signed in 2007 but did not make his MLB debut until 2011. In his five years of MLB experience since, he has shown his ability to play multiple positions – all infield positions and left field. When he signed a minor league deal with the Yankees this off season, it was seen as an insignificant move to provide depth at AAA. Kozma has spent the most of his major league time at shortstop (he was the regular shortstop for the Cardinals in 2013) and has played just 14 MLB games (three starts and 135.0 innings) at third base.

Here are some of the offensive numbers for the three:

MLB G

MLB BA

MLB OBP

MLB Slg%

MiLB G

MiLB BA

MiLB OBP

MiLB Slg%

Kozma

275

.222

.288

.293

788

.238

.311

.348

Refsnyder

16

.302

.348

.512

430

.290

.380

.432

Torreyes

8

.333

.429

.500

612

.298

.353

.409

Admittedly, I am not an expert on sabermetrics. I’m not sure if there is a stat that can measure insanely difficult plays at third base, or take into consideration any abnormal trajectories of a batted ball. I am well aware that third base is not an easy position to play, and there is good reason it’s called the hot corner. That being said, I can’t help but feel like it’s insanely bad luck and some ridiculously difficult plays that would cause a player to be hit in the face not once, but twice – and on consecutive days – as Refsnyder was this spring. He isn’t new to baseball, and he isn’t new to playing the infield.

There is also no measure of how well a player can handle the pressure of playing in New York. I can’t say for sure what kind of pressure Torreyes might have had playing in another large market (LA), but I do know about the pressure Refsnyder faced after his MLB debut last year. Refsnyder made his debut at Fenway Park, in front of rival Red Sox fans, and faced a tough fan base in the Bronx. I’m not sure how other fans felt about it, but he did not seem to be phased in any of those games, including the AL Wild Card game.

I’ve tried to be optimistic and to a certain point, I do understand sending Refsnyder down to the minors to work on his defense at third. However, the Yankees gave him very little notice he would even be learning another new position, then gave him a sink-or-swim opportunity to prove himself, and finally made a decision in less than a dozen games.

While Kozma is a veteran player with more MLB experience than either Refsnyder or Torreyes, he’s signed to a minor league deal and not even on the 40 man roster. Him making the team seems like a bit of a long shot at this point.

That leaves Torreyes, who I believe will be the Yankees choice for backup infielder. On paper, he does seem to be the better player offensively and defensively, which the Yankees will likely argue, but his stats are only slightly better than Refsnyder’s, and with less MLB experience.

As a baseball fan, it’s sometimes difficult to separate personal feelings for a player from the bigger picture for the organization as a whole. Truthfully, I cannot imagine Torreyes, or even Kozma, being a disaster as a backup infielder. In fact, either of them could prove to be very successful in that capacity.

Even as an emotionally invested fan, I could understand the logic of choosing either Torreyes or Kozma – but are they really that much better than Refsnyder? Does Kozma, signed to a minor league deal as a veteran player, have more potential than a young player ready to make his mark? Is Torreyes, with less MLB experience but slightly better stats, a more dependable choice than Refsnyder, who the Yankees already know?

I could fully understand choosing someone other than Refsnyder if they were undoubtedly better, but neither of these players are. It’s simply another example of the Yankees changing course on Refsnyder’s development, and setting unrealistic expectations for him along the way. If the Yankees aren’t going to let him play, they need to let him go. He’s shown he can do it, and continually holding him back isn’t helping anyone.

Let’s all hope whoever wins the job proves beyond any doubt that they were the right choice.