There are two things a bench has to do well in the American League: fill in for resting/day-to-day regulars, and provide an advantage in a narrow band of situations in the middle of games. The Yankees are going into this season with Eric Chavez, Eduardo Nunez, Andruw Jones, and Francisco Cervelli (once he’s healthy) to fill those bench spot. I think its the best group they’ve put together in a very long time.
In the narrow band of in-game situations, the Yankees come out quite well. Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez will take almost all of the pinch hitting appearances. They both have a history of mashing opposite-side pitchers. Chavez has a 112 OPS+ against right-handed pitchers, while Jones has a 110 OPS+ for his career and 148 OPS+ last season. They are probably the best pinch hitting duo to start the season with the Yankees since Kenny Lofton and Ruben Sierra in 2004. The Yankees shouldn’t have a lot of opportunities for the two of them, but we can be pretty confident that they will do a decent job when it counts. Andruw Jones might even function as a regular defensive replacement for Nick Swisher late in games.
Eduardo Nunez will serve as a pretty solid pinch runner, bunter, and grit-provider. He’ll likely be an emergency outfielder as well. He’s better in that role than Ramiro Pena was last season, and like Pena should be able to avoid hitting in pretty much all of the games he comes into when not starting.
The platoonability of Jones and Chavez won’t help much when players are day-to-day, but if planned out right could be a big asset when certain players are getting regular rest. Chavez will replace Mark Teixeira on the rare rest day, although he’ll see most of his starting action at 3rd covering for Arod. Arod’s primary replacement last year was Ramiro Pena, so Chavez should be a big improvement. Andruw Jones, on the other hand, will probably be involved in some sort of occasional platoon with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner. Either way, he should be able to equal Marcus Thames‘ .288/.350/.491 line once you take defense into account if used right.
Eduardo Nunez‘s days as a starting shortstop or 2nd baseman are going to hurt, but Francisco Cervelli‘s shouldn’t hurt as much. Cervelli gets a lot of flack, but he did hit .271/.359/.335 last season for an OPS+ of 88. The average AL catcher hit .245/.312/.374 with an OPS+ of 87 last year, which means Cervelli should actually be a major plus on the bench, relative to other teams. The Yankees won’t have a lot of control over which days he plays, but when he does, he’ll be a lot more valuable than I think we all intuitively feel.
So yeah, the Yankees have a pretty darn good collection of players for these limited situations. The Yankee bench played quite a bit in 2010, with Cervelli, Thames, Ramiro Pena, and Lance Berkman earning the bulk of them. I think the big news here is that the team should be able to substitute quite a few Ramiro Pena at bats for Eric Chavez at bats, which should be worth a win or so somewhere down the line. They’ll be lucky to break even by substituting Marcus Thames 2010 at bats for Andruw Jones 2011 at bats. Derek Jeter played in 157 games last season, so there’s not much going on there.
Pretty solid if you ask me.
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