Yanks add depth in Chris Nelson

400px-Chris_Nelson_(baseball)
The newest Yankee.

Following last night’s 5-4 victory over the Astros, the Yankees announced the acquisition if infielder Chris Nelson from Colorado. To make room for Nelson on the 40-man, Francisco Cervelli was placed on the 60-day disabled list. Nelson, 27, debuted with the Rockies in 2010, but didn’t get much tread until last season, in which he hit .301/.352/.458 in 377 PAs. He’s played mostly third and second base at the major league level, with limited experience at shortstop.

The Yankees already were skinny in the right-handed bat department, even when Kevin Youkilis was healthy, so Nelson will try to help fill the void with Jayson Nix during Youk’s absence. Compared to Nix, Nelson is a bit of an upgrade with the bat. Nix is off to a dreadful start at the dish, and is a career .214/.284/.364 hitter, so there isn’t much upside there. The one distinct advantage Nix holds over Nelson is the glove. Nix isn’t a defensive wizard, but he can hold his own unlike Nelson. UZR and DRS have Nix as an above average fielder at third and second, but poor at shortstop. I’ll get into Nelson’s poor fielding statistics shortly.

The trade probably means Corban Joseph is going  back on the shuttle to Scranton, after just being promoted a few days ago. Joseph has hit very well in AAA, and may very well be a better hitter than Nelson. However, Joseph has limited experience at third base, and isn’t exactly known for his glove anyway. Furthermore, the Yankees clearly prefer having an extra right-handed bat with Youkilis hitting the disabled list. It’s unfortunate for CoJo; in most other organizations, he probably would be getting a chance at the big league level. Tough luck for a guy with a 134 wRC+ last year in AAA, followed up by a 129 mark so far in 2013.

What might we anticipate Nelson to do at the plate? At first glance, judging by last season, he has a solid bat. However, 2012’s BABIP (.377) and line drive rate (25.1%) screamed for a regression this season, which has come. In 71 PAs, Nelson has struggled to a tune of a .242/.282/.318 slash line, even with a pretty high .333 BABIP. He won’t be that bad the rest of the way, as ZiPS projects an uptick for the remainder of the regular season: .266/.307/.416, but it will be interesting to see if there is an adjustment to that projection given that he’s leaving for a slightly less hitter friendly ballpark. The good news is that Nelson at least has a pretty strong minor league track record in two AAA stints, so last year wasn’t simply fueled by luck. There is certainly a degree of upside present.

Nelson isn’t anything to write home about with the glove, at least according to DRS and UZR. In 390 career innings at second, he has posted a dreadful -12.8 UZR and -12 DRS. At third, over 949 frames, he’s recored -17.1 UZR and -17 DRS. Additionally, he’s made 6 errors at second and 9 at third. Nelson’s only had 22 innings of big league experience at shortstop, so we can’t go by his statistics. However, based on the difficulty of shortstop, it isn’t hard to imagine that he’s any better there than the other two infield spots.

Given the offensive performance of Nix, I think Nelly, as Joe Girardi will probably call him, will get an opportunity to play immediately. The Yankees have lacked a lot of punch from the right side of the plate this season, and are probably hoping that Nelson can turn the clock back a year.

Photo by Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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