This wasn’t how things were supposed to be for the New York Yankees. The All-Star cavalry was supposed to return to buoy what is an otherwise uninspiring roster of 30-something misfits. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira were supposed to return to spell the likes of Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay in a spirited 2nd half sprint to the playoffs. But that’s not exactly how things have worked out in the Bronx. Teixeira’s now done for the year thanks to surgery, Granderson played in 8 whole games before hitting the DL again, and the entire left side of the infield has fewer at-bats than All-Star appearances.
The New York Yankees, losers of 6 of their last 7 games, currently have some major issues right now. The team has fallen in to a last place tie with the Boston Red Sox at 21-21, 5.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees have had a rough season on the injury front as well, losing many expected key contributors for the remainder of the season. During their recent losing streak the Yankees have been outscored 34-15 and have been unwatchable when hitting with runners in scoring position, batting 6-73, for a .083 batting average. At some point the law of averages says New York will have to start hitting with runners on so what are the team’s real issues? And is any of this fixable for a ballclub that many, myself included, thought would be a World Series contender at best and a playoff team at worst? Let’s break down some of the issues in the Bronx:
The most impactful injury to date for the Yankees hasn’t been the loss of Mariano Rivera, it’s been the loss of Brett Gardner for the past month. Gardner hasn’t played since April 17th and was off to a fantastic start. He was hitting .321/.424/.393 with 2 steals while playing his trademark excellent defense. Gardner’s defense rated by most defensive metrics to be the best in baseball during the 2011 season, and without the speedster, the Yankees have been forced to choose between Raul Ibanez terrible glove and Dewayne Wise’s all-around useless game. The sooner Gardner gets back in the lineup and starts stealing bases and taking away hits the better for New York.
The Yankees are one of the many teams that have been cruelly bitten by the injury bug. The pitching staff has seen more quality arms go on the disabled list than any other franchise in the league. Michael Pineda and Joba Chamberlain, who the Yankees were counting on to throw around 240-260 combined innings in 2012, probably won’t throw a pitch this season. The greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, was horrifyingly lost for the year after slipping on the warning track in Kansas City. Rivera had thrown at least 60 innings for 9 consecutive seasons, a streak that will come to an end this year. David Robertson will be out for at least another week after straining his oblique against the Mariners on May 11th. All of those injuries will cost the Yankees 300+ combined innings, which is tough for any team, even the wealthiest, to overcome.
The good news is that the Yankees bullpen has still been strong despite missing 3 of its 4 best arms. David Phelps has thrown 29.1 innings of quality baseball, allowing only 9 earned runs. Cory Wade has given the Yankees 20 quality innings as well, and has a 190 ERA+ with a WHIP below 1. The highly paid Rafael Soriano has been worth some of his contract this season, throwing for a 172 ERA+ in 14.1 innings and earning 2 saves.
The Yankees probably won’t have the top rated bullpen in baseball like they did in 2011, but the team still has plenty of talented fireman, and will probably rank as one of the best in the American League again. The bigger problem will be overcoming the loss of Michael Pineda, which will thrust Andy Pettitte into a larger role, and forces Phil Hughes to step up.
The Yankees pitching has been downright abysmal this season, after ranking 10th in baseball in 2011. The Yankees currently rank 23rd in baseball in run prevention, and have given up the 2nd most long balls. The entire rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes has been homer-happy, allowing 38 of the 54 total. The Yankees tiny ballpark has something to do with those homeruns, but as Hiroki Kuroda said a few days ago “The homeruns I’ve been giving up are homeruns everywhere.” That, more than anything else, has been the Yankees biggest problem this season. Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Hiroki Kuroda all have allowed more than 10 hits per 9 innings, which means their all being hit like piñatas at a birthday party. Each pitcher has had issues locating the ball over the plate up in the zone, which are correctable going forward and could lead to some big improvement.
In better news, the Yankees rank 3rd in baseball in strikeouts, behind only the hard-throwing pitching staffs of the Nationals and Tigers. New York also has the 5th best strikeout-to-walk rate in the Majors, tied with the Cincinnati Reds. If Yankees pitchers can cut down on the homeruns allowed, their ability to strike hitters out should begin to result in quality starts, which lead to victories.
Currently every major team defensive metric available rates the Yankees defense as terrible. The outfield has been absolutely porous when Raul Ibanez plays. This issue will be alleviated by the return of Brett Gardner, the best defensive player in baseball, but only he can do so much for the team as a whole.
Derek Jeter’s bat may be looking spry, but his range in the field is certainly showing signs of age. Jeter has never been very good going to field balls hit up the middle, but this season he is reaching fewer of those than ever. Alex Rodriguez rates among the worst 3rd basemen in the American League on defense, leading to a very leaky left side of the infield, and a lot of seeing-eye singles. Eric Chavez has been valuable off the bench, but is injury-prone and should only be counted on in a limited role. Eduardo Nunez, another alternative on the left side of the infield, is even worse defensively, requiring a demotion to work on his defense. This is the risk you take when your long-term left side of the infield is over 35 years old, and there is no real solution this season.
The Yankees have tried to remedy some of the problem by playing the 5th most shifts in baseball. The Yankees have historically only shifted on big left-handed sluggers like David Ortiz, but Joe Girardi is showing some fortitude and shifting more frequently. As of May 11 the Yankees had shifted 55 times, just 15 short of last season’s total. Its difficult to say whether this is working, because the Yankees rank 26th in baseball in defensive efficiency (which measures the percentage of balls put into play that are turned into outs), tied with the Detroit Tigers, who play two poor-fielding 1st basemen in their infield.
Before the season I thought the Yankees had one of the deepest roster’s in baseball, which would serve them well over the long, arduous season. The Yankees’ depth has been severely tested this season, and outside of Raul Ibanez’s hitting and the bullpen, they have come up short. The offense has been elite so far and ranks 3rd in the majors in all 3 triple slash categories. Once they start hitting with runners on base, the runs will start flowing again. The Yankees have one of the elite offenses in baseball, which will keep them around .500, the bigger, more pressing issue is if the pitching that New York currently has is good enough to capture a playoff spot in the ferocious AL East. I’m not quite sure the Yankees have the caliber of pitching to make the postseason, and I fully expect Brian Cashman, annually one of the most active GMs in baseball, to make some sort of play to add a few wins to the overall total.
Fenway Park turned 100 yesterday and she decided to celebrate with 36 thousand of her closest friends. The Red Sox brought back more than 200 players from the franchise’s history, including recent legends like Pedro Martinez to older legends like Jim Rice and Oil Can Boyd. Other Red Sox legends brought back to Fenway included catching great Carlton Fisk, odd-ball pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, and husky slugger Mo Vaughn. The coolest moment of the entire even was when 2004 World Series champions Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar led the entire crowd in a toast to the legendary ballpark.
Once the ceremony was over the game was able to begin. Both the Yankees and Red Sox wore spectacular throwback uniforms. Boston’s included the old lettering on the chest of the uniform, white stir-up socks with a red stripe at the top, and plain white hats. New York’s uniforms were grey with the old NY symbol on the left side of the chest, a two-tone hat, and stir-up socks with 2 maroon stripes. This was the 1st time the Yankees have worn throwback jerseys since 1996, when they wore the jerseys for the New York Black Yankees of the Negro League.
The Yankees quickly jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Dustin Pedroia error, which allowed Derek Jeter to reach base. Jeter would gain access to 2nd on a wild pitch and was later singled home by Alex Rodriguez. Jeter is having an excellent season so far, hitting .359/.373/.609 with 4 home runs and a league leading 23 hits. From this point on the game turned into a home run fest.
The Yankees went on to score 5 more runs, all courtesy of the long ball. Alex Rodriguez, Russell Martin, and Nick Swisher all went deep one time for the Yankees, all solo shots. Eric Chavez, who had an excellent game playing 3rd as well, blasted his first 2 dingers of the year as well. Both were solo shots and thanks to Ivan Nova’s great performance they were all the Yankees would need.
Nova went 6 innings, striking out 5, scattering 7 hits. He only allowed 2 runs, one on a controversial home run to David Ortiz. In the bottom of the 2nd inning Ortiz was just able to poke a homer over the Green Monster, but it was initially ruled a double. Bobby Valentine came out to argue the play, and after a video replay, Ortiz was awarded the homer. Nova would give up 1 more run on a double to Mike Aviles, but that was all the Red Sox could muster.
The Yankees bullpen, the best in baseball a year ago, was excellent over the last 3 innings. They allowed only 3 hits while striking out 5 to close the game out, sending the Fenway Faithful home disappointed.
The Boston offensive attack is really missing the bats of Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsberry. It was forced to start Jason Repko in center, Cody Ross in left, and Ryan Sweeney in right. Only Sweeney is off to a hot start, and the Red Sox need all the offense they can get, because their pitching staff figures to be mediocre at best. Right now the Red Sox pitching staff is ranked last in baseball in runs allowed. They have to improve on that standing if they want to be competitive, otherwise the 4-9 start will be more of a reality than a mirage.
The Yankees are also having some minor starting pitching issues, ranking 21st in baseball in runs allowed. The bullpen has been nearly as excellent as it was a year ago, but the starting pitching has been iffy. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia have both struggled to prevent runs. They could be replaced when Andy Pettitte is ready to be called up to the bigs and when Michael Pineda is ready to return from injury. The offense has been excellent so far ranking 4th in baseball, so if the Yankees rotation can improve, they will become a serious playoff contender.
Notes from Around the League:
-The Nationals starting rotation excelled again last night, shutting out Miami 2-0. Ross Detwiler, pitched 6 strong innings, striking out 7 while only allowing 3 hits and one walk. Washington’s rotation is ranked 4th in baseball and is full of hard-throwing players. The starting rotation ranks 1st in baseball in average fastball velocity, at 94.1 miles per hour. With such a hard-throwing rotation, the Nats can strikeout plenty of batters which is the most valuable skill to have in baseball. This team is not a mirage and needs to be taken seriously as contenders.
-The Braves are now 9-2 since stumbling out the gate, being swept by the Mets. The offense is rolling, leading baseball in runs scored with 84. Jason Heyward is mashing the baseball, hitting .340/.411/.580 with 2 doubles, triples, and homers. Heyward has now hit safely in 10 straight games, and is quickly establishing himself a potential MVP candidate.
–The Toronto Blue Jays turned their 1st triple play in 33 years last night in Kansas City, beating the Royals 4-3. In the 3rd innings Eric Hosmer came to the plate with runners on 1st and 2nd. He smashed a line drive straight to Adam Lind, who stepped on 1st getting Yuni Betancourt, and then fired down to 2nd to catch a straying Alex Gordon.