The Bottom Line: On The State Of Things

After spending hours mulling over what, exactly, George Steinbrenner is doing to my Yankees and an intelligent way to think about Zone Rating, I've reached a few conclusions. And some of those conclusions just might surprise you.  

On The State Of The Rotation:

I've long considered Kevin Brown (a healthy Kevin Brown) to be the fourth best pitcher in the major leagues, right behind Randy Johnson and a certain pair of Red Sox aces (Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, if you didn't know).  Brown's addition to the team has some Yankee fans, well, I'm not sure I know the word for it.  Confused?  The move seems reactionary (and it is) and maybe a little unnecessary (and it is not), but in all, I think that it's a good thing for the Yankees. (by the way, can you tell I'm tired because of the overuse of parenthesis and commas?  I know you can)

Brown is a big-time pitcher.  He's one of the best in the business at completely and utterly shutting down a baseball team.  Sure he might have benefited slightly the last few years from playing Dodger Stadium, but this man got his feet wet and his career going down in the heart of Texas, where nobody can pitch these days.  The bottom line here, is that if Brown is the successor to Roger Clemens in the Yankees' 40-and-older starters club, he's a darn good one.  

Some numbers to consider (because I like numbers): 

  • Brown's 2.39 ERA was unmatched by anyone wearing pinstripes in 2003.  Closest on the team: Mike Mussina's 3.40 mark. 
  • Brown's 185 strikeouts were higher than three of the Yankees' five regular starters.
  • Brown's 1.14 WHIP was better than everyone but Mussina, who had a 1.08 mark.
  • Brown is 5-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 11 postseason starts with 68 strikeouts in 72.1 innings.  He also won a World Series (in 1997 with Florida).  His 1-1, 6.04 ERA numbers in World Series play aren't good, but they aren't any worse than Andy Pettitte's numbers heading into the 2003 postseason.

Kevin Brown is still one of the elite pitchers in baseball, and any time a team has a chance to add a player of his caliber to their rotation, it has to be done.  It's almost similar to when the Yankees traded for Clemens back in 1999, only without the intense hatred.  You just can't pass on a guy like Brown, he's special.

Oh, and let's not forget about Javier Vazquez, who really is the real deal (believe me, I regretted trading him for Larry Walker in a fantasy league early in the season).  And the addition-by-subtraction that the Yankees pulled off by dealing Jeff Weaver (who warrants his own column, someday) as far away as they possibly could have.

So the Yankee rotation sits at Mussina, Vazquez, Brown, Jose Contreras, Jon Lieber/David Wells.  Sure there aren't any lefties, but there aren't any holes either.  People may gripe about Lieber's and Wells' injury histories, but if Lieber or Wells are your team's fifth starters, it's safe to say that your team has one heck of a rotation.

On The State Of The First Base/DH Situation

I'm not sure why so few people seem to be seeing the obvious solution to the lack of someone to share time with Jason Giambi at 1B.  It seems pretty simple to me.  If the Yankees (for whatever reason) are resigned to not letting Bernie Williams play CF, signing Kenny Lofton and turning Bernie into a full-time DH, then why not try teaching Bernie how to play first base?

Back in the late 1960's, the Yankees had another switch-hitting centerfielder that wasn't capable of playing the field anymore due to injuries, but could still handle the stick.  The answer to the Yankees problem then?  Let Mickey Mantle play first base.  I don't mean to compare the Mick to Bernie Williams (though certain comparisons do exist).  Certainly, the Mick was a much better hitter than Williams ever was, but where Mantle actually wasn't able to play CF anymore, Bernie still pretty much is, but I digress.

Mantle was allowed to play first base in 1967 and 68, swapping positions with Joe Peppitone just so the Yanks could keep Mantle in the lineup.  Playing time won't be a factor for Bernie either way in 2004, but if Steinbrenner is worried (and come to think of it, it's really just been the media that thinks Giambi isn't capable of playing 1B full-time) there wouldn't be any harm in teaching Bernie a new skill.

As a kind of side note, I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out if there was anything to the argument that Giambi is a poor defensive first baseman.  It seemed to me that that "fact" was probably based more on reputation that anything else.  Scouring the numbers, I figured that Range Factor is basically a throwaway stat because it has more to do with total chances (and therefore luck) than Zone Rating.  Once I tried looking at Zone Rating, I realized that I didn't understand it.  

So I found a definition of it that made good sense to me: "Zone Rating measures balls caught as a percentage of balls hit into the player's "zone" on the field", with the zones being defined by STATS Inc.  Therefore Giambi's ZR of .806 means that he successfully fielded roughly 80% of the balls that he should have, which does indeed show that Giambi is a below-average fielder.  Hooray for learning.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand.  The worst thing that could happen if the Yankees try this is that Bernie isn't good at playing the position, and he sticks with the DH thing, maybe spending some time in left or center.  The best-case scenario is the Yankees have someone to split time with Giambi, and who knows?  Maybe Bernie could be a fine defensive player at first.  Stranger things have happened.

You can E-Mail Mark Rubin at

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