Yankees fans, meet your new left fielder for the time being, Tony Womack. Tony Womack, who owns a -0.2 VORP so far this season at second base, is moving to left field, where he would now rank 15th in VORP in the American League. Or to put it into perspective, 0.1 ahead of Terrence Long and his .242/.275/.379 line so far this year. If your claim to left field is you hit 0.1 points of VORP better than a Kansas City Royals corner outfielder, than your team is in serious trouble.
Hideiki Matsui is moving to centerfield, which is what should have happened when he originally signed with the Yankees. Matsui was a centerfielder for the Giants in Japan, but Yankees tradition is Yankees tradition, so off to left field he went. Matsui is not faring so well after an extremely hot start to the season, hitting at .253/.327/.421. Remember that those numbers include his torrid start against Boston, where he bashed a few homeruns and made Red Sox fans quiver everytime he came to bat (.440/.481/.760 to be exact). Matsui is still a better player than Bernie Williams though, who is sporting a .233/.314/.300 line and a VORP of -.05. Again, for perspective: Tony Womack is hitting better than Bernie Williams. Of course Williams walk rate is a lot better so far (.106 BB/PA for Bernie, as compared to Womack's .053 BB/PA). Bernie at the moment is at 1 FRAR and -2 FRAA. Granted, it has only been a month, so just know that those numbers are probably going to grow. Williams is still a sliver better defensively than a replacement level player, but he is below average with the bat and with the glove now. If only there was a centerfielder available on the free agent market this year who could hit, field and run.
Robinson Cano is coming up from the minors to replace Tony Womack at second base. If you think Yankees fans will be liberated from Womack's atrocious "abilities" at second, than think again. Cano's 2005 50th percentile PECOTA projection: .249/.291/.387. He doesn't crack a positive MLVr score until his 90th percentile, and that is still only .063. To be fair, John Sickels rates him as a B- prospect in his 2005 book, and Sickels' sees his offense improving. The bad part of this is, he is in the majors now until Williams is ready to return, so his .333/.368/.574 line for Columbus this year better translate to something positive.
Womack normally is not a good fielder, but this year he was at 4 FRAA so far. He has put up a 21 FRAA season (1998) but also puts up negative scores. He has a +21 season, but is -40 for his career...only with Tony Womack. At ESPN.com Womack says,
But how well has he played it in the past? Oddly enough, better then second base. Too bad he cannot hit. In 1999, Womack played 122 games in RF for the D'backs: 110 Rate, 20 RAR, and 10 RAA. He has not fared so well in CF over his career (career Rate of 83 with -2 RAA and 0 RAR) but that is to be expected with its increased difficulty. Matsui has posted Rate scores of 93, 96, and 99 so far in his time in leftfield for NY, so if Womack can play slightly above average for them in left the Yankees actually gain some defensively. Matsui's career CF Rate for NY is 94 though, but that is better than the 91 Bernie was working on.
Having Womack play left field is never a good thing, even if your next option is Terrence Long. But I guess NY needs to do something if they want to break out of their funk. Of course, not signing Jaret Wright or Carl Pavano and signing Beltran originally would have helped things, but what do baseball fans know over the all-powerful George? This is what happens when you get attached to your players and cannot be cold-hearted when it comes to cutting ties; you end up with Womack in LF. This is like a "Don't Do Drugs" advertisement for all you kids out there, except the theme is, "Respect Tradition Until it Hurts Performance".
To wrap it up, if Womack plays better defense than Matsui in left, the Yankees gain a little bit. If Cano can hit better than Womack or Bernie did, the Yankees gain a little bit. And if Matsui can just be awful rather than atrocious in center, the Yankees gain a little bit. It is an interesting set of moves, and ones I did not think I would see this year. I expected Bernie to be playing centerfield in a wheel chair in 2027, so this is a shock to me, and I am guessing to you as well.
Update [2005-5-3 10:37:19 by Marc Normandin]: Bernie Williams will share DH time with Jason Giambi, and Randy Johnson might be headed to the DL with a strained groin. Maybe there is something to that Baltimore playoff run...