When asked what three additions have meant most to the 2009 Yankees, the first names that probably come to mind are A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. All three signed with the Yankees over the off-season, and they’ve been excellent upgrades over their 2008 counterparts. Still, Dave Pinto has three different names in mind: Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Robinson Cano. Both were on the 2008 team, but the first two missed significant time with injuries, and Cano had a horrible first half and a good but not compensatory second half. Their returns to form this year have been a huge difference for this year’s team.
In 2008 Robinson Cano stepped to the plate 634 times and hit .271/.305/.410, his worst season since he was a rookie in 2005. His defense also suffered, as we saw him have trouble making some routine plays. It came at a curious time, as Cano had signed a four-year, $30 million contract over the off-season. Baseball fans love narrative, and this one wrote itself: Cano was lazy and he needed Larry Bowa to return to form.
This year Robinson has appeared at the plate 489 times and is hitting .318/.352/.513. He already had 18 homers and a team-high 32 doubles (tied with Tex). He still has his ups and downs, but that’s inherently Cano. He doesn’t necessarily rely on waiting for his pitch. Instead, he relies on timing, and sometimes his timing is going to be out of whack. That means a slump here and there, but as long as he can keep those limited, as he has this year, he’s going to be a valuable piece of any Yankees team.
Despite knee troubles that kept him out of action for two months, Matsui didn’t have a terrible 2008. He hit the DL hitting .323/.404/.458, which is fine for a 34-year-old with bad knees. Problem was, the injury came at a poor time. The Yankees were trying to pull of their second-half surge, but their offense sputtered in early August. A healthy Matsui would have done wonders then. He came back on August 19, but posted a paltry .209/.269/.326 line over 93 plate appearances the rest of the way. It left open the question of Hideki’s effectiveness in 2009.
This year Hideki has almost hit his plate appearance total from 2008, but is performing at a much higher level. The Yankees made the decision to keep him out of the field this season, and it’s paying off, as he’s hitting .269/.365/.516. We saw some extreme streakiness from Matsui earlier in the year, but it’s seemed to stabilize a bit lately. His .881 OPS is fourth on the team, and he’s had his share of big hits. The Yankees went on a similar post-break run this year as last, but this year were able to sustain it. Hideki is a big reason for that.
Finally, it’s impossible to talk about the 2008 season and not mention the loss of Jorge Posada. He and the team downplayed shoulder pain in Spring Training, and it turned out to be bad. Really bad. He hit the DL at the end of April in hopes that rest and rehab would heal it, but that just wasn’t the case. From mid-June, when he returned, to mid-July, when it was finally clear that he couldn’t go on, Posada hit .248/.380/.371, a far cry from the power he’s displayed in the past. Overall, the Yanks got a .230/.290/.335 line from their catchers, something they haven’t been used to.
After hitting the DL in May, it seems like Jorge’s been just fine physically. Among AL catchers with at least 200 plate appearances, Posada ranks third in OPS. The Yankees as a team are also third in the AL in catcher OPS. They were ninth last season.
While Tex, CC, and A.J. have been fine additions to the team, the Yanks have gotten what they’ve needed from their in-house guys, and then some. Before the season started, we asked which Yankee had the best chance of bouncing back from a poor 2008. Unfortunately, there was no all of the above option. That would have been the correct one. Jorge, Hideki, and Cano (and even Swisher) have all come around and have helped the Yankees greatly in 2009. They’re as big a part of the team’s success as the new guys.