Saturday, March 16, 2013

Thoughts on Brennan Boesch

I know this move is getting mocked in some circles -- O how the mighty have fallen! The Yankees are picking up other team's rejects. The Yankees are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Whatever. Signing Boesch is a good gamble -- low risk, medium reward.

Boesch is still relatively young (he turns 28 on April 12) and at $1.5 million, relatively cheap. More importantly, he's finally the left-handed power bat the Yankees have needed as a stop-gap until Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira come off the D.L. in May. (Supposedly... I know Granderson will be back, but I think Teixeira's time table might be optimistic.) With so many right-handed outfielders in camp -- Juan Rivera, Matt Diaz, Melky Mesa, Ronnier Mustelier, Thomas Neal, Ben Francisco -- they desperately needed a lefty. With so many singles hitters in the lineup -- Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and whoever is playing catcher -- they needed a power bat.

Boesch has had a strange career. He came up in April 2010, and after a 6-for-23 start, he flat-out raked -- .345/.378/.595 in May, .337/.400/.625 OPS in June. Then he completely fell apart -- .564 OPS in July, .531 OPS in August, .489 OPS in September. The obvious story is that pitchers adjusted to him, and he didn't adjust back. Or maybe it was his ridiculous .390 BAbip in May and June, which faded to .253 in July, .231 in August and .224 in September.

In 2011, he had one incredible month (.380/.437/.620 in June), again thanks to an unsustainable .422 BAbip. He had a good April (.319/.390/.451, .359 BAbip) and a mediocre July (.267/.305/.478, .279 BAbip), but was awful in May (.551 OPS) and August (.621 OPS), then missed all of September with a thumb injury.

Last year was a complete disaster, hitting .240/.286/.372. He had just one good month, July (.295/.329/.538, .328 BAbip), but the rest of the year he was putrid -- take out July and his numbers fall all the way to .230/.278/.339. His troubles were mostly due to his completely losing the strike zone, seeing his walk rate drop from a league-average 8% in '10 and '11 to an unacceptable 5% in 2012; he also saw his BB:K ratio fall from a mediocre .41 in '10-'11 to an awful .25 (26 BB, 104 K) last year. But Ks come with being a power hitter. The real problem is Boesch, when he struggles, hits a ton of ground outs. Last year, half of Boesch's balls in play were on the ground, with just 16 percent line drives and 34 percent in the air. That's unacceptable for a power hitter, and hopefully something Kevin Long can straighten out.

So, Boesch is the proverbial girl with the curl. When he was good, he was very good, but when he was bad he was horrid. The good Boesch -- the guy from those two months in '10, three months in '11, and one month in '12 -- is a Hall of Famer (.326/.378/.555 in 555 AB). The bad Boesch -- the rest of his career -- should be working at Sears (.213/.272/.317 in 807 AB).

Which Boesch is he? His minor league track record says we shouldn't bet on Cooperstown. Detroit's 3rd round pick out of UC-Berkeley in 2006, Boesch hit .291/.344/.435 as a 21-year-old in low A, but the next year slumped to .267/.297/.378 in A-ball. In '08 he moved up half a level to the Florida State League, and struggled again, hitting .249/.310/.379. The Tigers promoted him to Double-A in '09 anyway, and he showed a little life, hitting .275/.318/.510. They moved him up to Triple-A the next year and he went nuts, hitting .379/.455/.621 in 15 games, punching his ticket to the show, and he stayed on fire for the next two months. Outside of those hot three weeks in Triple-A, there's no sign he's a diamond in the rough.

But still... when Boesch is hot, he's really hot. We only need him for two months. Why not roll the dice? If he can be the good Boesch for those eight weeks, we've got an unbelievable bargain. If he's the bad Boesch for those eight weeks, well, we'll all be overjoyed to see Granderson again.

One more thing. Boesch's career numbers at Yankee Stadium, while in just 32 plate appearances, are encouraging: .367/.375/.533. Sure, it's a small sample size, but it's something. I just wish his career numbers against the Red Sox weren't so embarrassing (.181/.198/.301).

By the way... one of Boesch's pluses is that he is left-handed, so he can face righties while Rivera, Diaz, Francisco or whichever right-handed outfielder makes the team can hammer lefties. But wait a minute -- Boesch's career numbers vs righties (.250/.305/.412) are actually worse than his career numbers vs lefties (.286/.348/.420). Is he a reverse platoon player?

It looks like a fluke to me. Boesch's numbers vs lefties came in just 336 ABs, and are inflated by his ridiculous .337/.403/.548 in 104 ABs against them in 2010. Boesch put up a .421 BAbip against lefties that year. The next year, his numbers against lefties fell to .302/.356/.396 in 106 AB -- again, with an unsustainable .365 BAbip. Last year, they fell again to .230/.292/.333 in 126 AB, still with a lucky .314 BAbip. Overall, Boesch's career BAbip against lefties is an unrealistic .364, while it's a normal .278 against righties. In short, his numbers against lefties are a mirage. Play him against righties and hope for the best.

Finally... what will be his John Sterling home run call? I predict "It's a bash from Boesch!"

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