At the LOWEest point of his career? (Image: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE)

A Primer on the Newest Yankees

We are about two weeks removed from the trade deadline which allows us to speculate how the newest Yankees will perform over the rest of the season. With the standings getting tighter these past few weeks, and injuries to key players occurring, the Bronx Bombers picked up Casey McGehee and Derek Lowe. Sure it’s a little late to do a “primer” on McGehee, but humor me for just a minute.

Be prepared for McGehee to do a lot of this. (Image: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE)

As a former Cub, Brewer, and Pirate, McGehee is well-traveled in the NL Central, so the culture shock of moving to the toughest division in baseball must be outstanding. He moved from one potential playoff team (Pittsburgh Pirates) to another in the Yankees. However, it was apparent that he was never going to materialize into an everyday player with Pedro Alvarez seemingly turning a corner at the hot corner, and Gaby Sanchez manning first base. So what do most teams do when they have a surplus? They trade them off to shore up their weaknesses, and that’s exactly what McGehee was in Pittsburgh.

His first two years with the Brewers (2009 and 2010), he was quickly becoming the next up-and-coming third baseman. In almost 400 at-bats in 2009, McGehee hit .301/.360/.499 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI. He followed that up with a .285/.337/.464 campaign in 2010, while adding 23 home runs and 104 RBI. The guy could straight mash and added protection to both Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun during those years. However, things fell apart in 2011 and we began to see the future McGehee with his paltry .223/.280/.346 batting line in 600 at-bats. Both his home runs (13) and RBI (67) totals were down drastically.

He didn’t turn it around with the Buccos in the least bit. In 293 at-bats this season, he hit .230/.297/.377 with only eight home runs and 35 RBI. There’s value in that, but when you have a younger player who is hitting for about the same average with more home runs (Alvarez), you tend to see him in the lineup more often.

So what can the Yankees expect from McGehee going forward? What we know already is that he’s definitely a bench player getting playing time because of the Alex Rodriguez injury. A look into some advanced numbers shows that McGehee swings and hits a ton of pitches outside the strike zone, which is a bad thing. The average O-Contact% across Major League Baseball in 2012 is 67.2%; however, McGehee has recorded a 73.5% rating this season. It’s hard enough hitting a baseball in the strike zone and he’s not helping himself out by swinging and connecting with those outside the zone. Couple this will swinging at fewer strikes (55.9% for McGehee, with the MLB average at 64.9%) and you have yourself a recipe for hitting .230 in the Major Leagues.

We can expect McGehee to go through stretches where he hits bombs all over the field, as he’s shown that he can hit, but he’s going to follow that up with long stretches of ineptitude at the plate, which is something the Yankees can ill afford – but have no choice – down the stretch.

That brings me to the next player who was acquired. Although he’s not a trade deadline acquisition, Derek Lowe is new to the pinstripers. He was signed in light of the CC Sabathia injury, and has agreed to pitch out of the bullpen. This helps in two ways; first it’ll give David Phelps another opportunity to show he should be in the rotation. Secondly, it gives the Yankees veteran presence in the bullpen, especially when the young guns come up in September.

The 39-year-old righty has steadily seen his numbers decline over the past few years, and why not, players are suppose to worsen as they age past their prime. Lowe has never been a strikeout guy, but he’s a heavy groundball pitcher who will make a defense work. Earlier in his career with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, he was a bit prone to the long ball (~15% HR/FB). Because of that, he usually sat in the high 3 to low 4 in the ERA department. All told, he’s a career 4.01 ERA (3.82 FIP) pitcher.

The past season and a half haven’t been kind to the aging sinkballer, as he’s sporting an ERA over five despite lowering his HR/FB to about 9%. Before signing with the Yankees, he was released by the Cleveland Indians where he recorded a 5.52 ERA, but pitched better than that as evidenced by this 4.49 FIP. As we dig into his stats a little more, he’s suffering from a drastic drop in strikeouts (3.10 K/9 in 2012 vs. ~6 K/9 career), walking nearly one more batter per nine innings this season than he’s had over his career. Also, his high BABIP (.333) tells us that one batter out of three who make contact are reaching base.

His Pitchf/x ratings help solidify the reason he’s not as effective. With age, you lose velocity and break and we are seeing that with Lowe. During 2008 with the Dodgers, he sported a 0.1 rating on his sinker, which is average. This season it has dropped (no pun intended) to -15.1 (!). He’s taken a mediocre pitch and made it a very hittable one. The same goes with his slider, which was one of the best in baseball in 2008 with a 25.6 rating. That too dropped, to the tune of a 3.0 rating. Those are both significant drops, which explain his decline.

Having said that, the Yankees will use him in long relief, much like they did with Freddy Garcia earlier in the season. Lowe can eat up innings and help keep the rotation and bullpen fresh, but we shouldn’t expect a resurrection. I can foresee him being brought into a role where the Yankees need a groundball late in the game, but I think that’ll be very few and far between.

I won’t insult your intelligence anymore, as we should all know that these two players are bench players. They are simply role players who can provide much needed assistance while a few of the Yankee regulars are on the mend. There’s definitely value in that, but we shouldn’t expect great things from these two, as they are only stop-gap players. However, I’m totally on board if they light it up over the next month and half though.

What do you think/expect? Leave your predictions in the comments below!

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs

Tags: Casey McGehee Derek Lowe New York Yankees Yankees Yanks

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