Feb
19

The Need for Speed

By
Gonna be lots of running in 2013. (Star-Ledger)

Gonna be lots of running in 2013. (Star-Ledger)

The Yankees lost quite a bit of power this offseason thanks to Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Eric Chavez signing elsewhere as free agents. If they’re lucky, Ichiro Suzuki and the catching tandem will combine to replace the 16 homers Chavez hit by himself last season, nevermind the 45 they’re losing in Swisher and Martin. That power is gone, there is no more offseason left to replace it, so the Yankees are going to have to score runs in other ways this summer.

“Well, I anticipate (the offense is) going to be different, because we don’t quite have the homerun hitters we’ve had in the past,” said Joe Girardi last week. “So we’re going to have to find different ways to score runs. I think when you look at our club this year, there’s more speed. You have one outfielder who has the potential of stealing 50-60 bases if he stays healthy the whole year. So I think our offense is going to be different, but I believe that we’re going to score runs. It’s just going to be in a different fashion than it has been in the past.”

As Girardi mentioned, speed on the bases is going to more important this summer. Brett Gardner is returning from his elbow injury and he’s averaged 43 steals per 150 games played throughout his big league career. Ichiro has stolen no fewer than 26 bases in any of his 12 big league seasons and Curtis Granderson has a handful of 20+ steal seasons to his credit. He only stolen ten bases (in 13 attempts) last year for whatever reason, but hopefully he runs a little more in his contract year. Given his ankle injury, I wouldn’t count on Derek Jeter to steal any bases. I’m sure he’ll grab a few, but they’re a bonus. Eduardo Nunez might swipe a few off the bench as well.

MLB and the player’s union eliminated the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move this winter, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter told Jon Morosi that he expects stolen base totals to jump as a result. “The things (that move) keeps from happening were huge … It shuts down the first and third. A right-handed pitcher had to have that move. Otherwise, you’re giving up 90-feet all the time,” said Showalter. The timing works out well for the Yankees, but they’ll still need to actually take advantage of the rule change. That’s easier said than done, but I think a brilliant player like Ichiro will figure it out. Gardner … who knows.

Speed goes beyond stealing bases as well. Going first-to-third on a single, advancing on a wild pitch, all that stuff incrementally improves a team’s chances of scoring. Gardner, Granderson, Ichiro, and Nunez are the obvious candidates to pull that off, Jeter as well when healthy. Otherwise though, the lineup will be full of … wait for it … basecloggers like Mark Teixeira, Travis Hafner, and Kevin Youkilis. Those three are going to have to pick their spots, but the other guys can and will have to push the envelope more than usual this summer.

All this speed stuff sounds great in theory, but the Yankees aren’t in the best division for carefree base-running. Jose Molina and Matt Wieters are both elite when it comes to shutting down the stolen base game, and outfielders like Jose Bautista, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Melky Cabrera all offer cannon arms that limit first-to-thirds, second-to-homes, and other base-running exploits. Shane Victorino on the other hand … don’t worry about him (part two!). It’s going to be very important for the Yankees — particularly first base coach Mick Kelleher and third base coach Robbie Thomson — to know the scouting reports this year. The margin of error is smaller thanks to the power decline.

Back in November, my pal Jackie Moore noted that stolen bases are more valuable right now than they have been in the past because of the overall offensive decline in the game. The Yankees have two premium base-stealing threats in Ichiro and Gardner (assuming he actually says healthy) and a nice secondary threat in Granderson. Nunez and Jeter are wildcards. It takes an awful lot of heady running to accumulate meaningful overall value on the bases — only one player (Mike Trout) was worth more than eight runs on the bases last year — but in real life, in actual game context, a stolen base or a first-to-third in the late innings of a close game is incredibly valuable. The Yankees will need to do more of that this year than they have at any point in the last 20 years or so.

Categories : Offense
  • jjyank

    Those Victorino .gifs…priceless.

    • Laz

      Missed them first time reading….

  • The Doctor (formerly known as G, formerly known as Mstt Smith, formerly known as David Tennant, formerly known as etc.)

    Theme song of the 2013 Yankees:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk6AobT_SDo

    I am excited to see where this newly designed lineup takes us, but if I had to guess I imagine it’ll lead to frustration just as often as a game built around homers. At least with homers you could often see 3 runs in when everything finally clicked, now it seems like when they do manage to hit with RISP they’ll drive in a run, maybe two. I’d love them to prove me wrong obviously, but I’m not counting on it.

    Anyway, I can’t even deal with that 2nd Victorino GIF.

  • mike

    So many variables this year…it seems for the first time the Yanks offense has the ability to be super multi-dimensional with speed/contact/power/contact/speed lineup placement, but i also fear the explosiveness (which helps beat-up on the lesser teams with average pitching) is now gone- barring Tex or Cano having a monster power year.

  • LK

    I’ve been assured that this is what wins in the playoffs, so I have no concerns.

    • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

      I think that’s a slightly myopic view. I think having some speed, stealing a base, moving runners, being able to manufacture a run is very important in the postseaon as a compliment to power.

      IMO, being completely dependent on either approach is less than ideal.

      • RetroRob

        I feel LK was joking.

        • Havok9120

          Yeah, but I think he saw through the sarcasm and was arguing with the idea behind it. It’s almost like breaking the 4th wall but not at all.

          • RetroRob

            Yes, but I knew that he knew that I knew that, ummm, err, uhhh…never mind.

          • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

            Havok’s right

  • Who hates bunts more? Axisa or Earl Weaver? (formerly Aunelowitzky)

    I’ve never thought “cannon arm” when I’ve thought of Melky Cabrera.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Oh he’s got a strong arm. It isn’t terribly accurate, but he always had arm strength.

      • Stan the Man

        Oh it is pretty acurate as well.

  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    I feel the need…the need for speed!

    http://youtu.be/ZwNWviK5z0Q

  • Travis

    Let the “too reliant on the stolen base” complaints begin.

    • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

      That’ll happen the first time Gardner gets thrown out stealing and the batter subsequently gets a base hit. Someone will start bitching about running themselves out of an inning instead of waiting for a 2 run homer.

  • JohnC

    I’m actuaLLY looking forward to some small ball for a change. Put more emphasis on hitting behind runners, making contact and doing the little things to win games, alot like the 1996-2000 teams did. They hit their share of homers, but none of them were 35-40 home run guys

    • Havok9120

      Sigh.

      I mean, it’s almost exactly the same players. The new guys are Hafner, Slappy McGardner, and Youk. Do you really think that there’s this type of hitting that everyone was just refusing to use last season? That “situational hitting” will suddenly appear and and manifest itself as better results? And that last season’s team (mainly Martin, Chavez, Swish, and Arod, since that’s who we lost) was just too stupid and stubborn to try it?

      • mike

        no- the guys last year weren’t stupid…….they were not successful, and completely sh*t the bed in the playoffs

        • Havok9120

          Well….A) they were successful. That offense was pretty darn productive and, I’ll wager, significantly more “successful” than this year’s will be. B) an offense built like this will be no more immune to an offensive collapse like that than a homerun-centric offense will. There is even reason to believe that the homerun-centric offense is less susceptible because it relies on individual players whereas this one, by definition, requires a group effort.

        • jjyank

          They got cold in the playoffs. I completely reject this “shit the bed in the playoffs” mentality.

          • mike

            reject all you’d like…Arod was an utter embarassment and was benched, and Swisher rightly was let go because he cracks like a cheap pane of glass

            Martin hit .150 for the Yanks over 3 playoff series, and Chavez got no hits last year, and struck out in half of his at-bats.

            that’s s*itting the bed across the board

            • Havok9120

              And yet you’ve yet to tell us why the re-constructed offense will be better in either the regular season or the playoffs.

              • mike

                If you’d note i neither predicted success for the new offense, nor their chances in the playoffs…but it would be hard presed to look more pathetic than their offense looked last year in the playoffs.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’m not saying I agree, but I’ve talked to more than one fan who actually does feel this way. Who knows?

  • Barry’s Gift Basket

    So I’ll throw more stuff to my TV, PC monitor, and iPad than ever before?

    Watching a Yankee gettin’ caught stealing is the most frustrating play for me.

  • Some Other Rob

    shhhh I have a secret….. We aren’t going to be very good this year….

    • jjyank

      I have a secret…your crystal ball sucks.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Sharing conversations you have with your balls again on the internet?

      • bigBadFrAn

        LOL…. another good one Robinson!

  • RetroRob

    So the useless fake-to-third, throw to first move wasn’t useless?

    • Need Pitching & Hitting (but mostly hitting)

      It seemed to paralyze Gardner on more than one occasion.
      I think he was even picked off with that move at least once. iirc.

      • Havok9120

        You are correct, sir. I think all the big base stealing guys fall for it at least once.

        • RetroRob

          I think Showalter’s point is the very threat of the move causes hesitation. Harold Reynolds, who was a base stealer (although not a good percentage one), agreed. It’ll be interesting to see if it does lead to more SBs.

          • Havok9120

            Oh yeah, that’s definitely what he was saying. And I actually agree that that’s how it should work in principle. I was just saying that I remember Gardner falling for it completely at least once.

  • trr

    It’s more a matter of balance than anything else. A mix of speed and power is ideal. Stolen Bases are great , when they’re successful – if you’re thrown out, it takes you right out of the inning. Everyone loves a 3-run homer, but if your power hitter is also striking out 1 -2x every g/d game (I’m talkin’ to you , Curtis) that is hurting overall production as well

  • TomH

    I haven’t the faintest idea about how speed will (or will not) pay off for this team. Its short term memory (an eternity in baseball) must be filled with images of balls flying over fences. Will they adapt to this new regimen? Beats me. Girardi sounds confident, but, after all, it’s not as if he were going to give expression to any doubts.

    Rather than counting on displays of speed and theft, I’m counting on that pitching staff (and hoping for a rejuvenated ARod in July). If there’s any falling-off in quality on the mound–starters or bp–the Yanks will be goners. If CC pitches like the old CC, if Kuroda holds steady from last year, if Pettitte pitches as he did before the busted leg, and if Hughes learns how to keep the ball in the park, the rotation could be formidable enough to get them a WC spot.

    Wasn’t there a year (or two) in the last 10 when the Yankees retooled and became a speedy, small ballish team? Or am I thinking of a 90s phenomenon.

    • Laz

      If Rotation stays solid like last year, and they get some bounce back years it could be a very good team.

  • Laz

    I actually think the offense will be very strong. If they can stay healthy, I could see Hafner/Gardner way outproducing Swisher/Ibanez. If Youk/Hafner/Teix/Grandy can bounce back this could be a monster lineup. Ichiro and Grandy should be able to at least get on the bases for those guys and do some scoring with a deep base hit.

  • kenthadley

    Yanks tried this in the early 80’s when they signed Ken Griffey Sr and Dave Collins, both of whom were going to bring the dimension of speed to the then powerful lineup. I hope the 2013 version works out better, because the older attempt failed miserably. I’m not sure if YS III is conducive to a speed game…it works until the other team hits a 3 run homer. But it could be interesting to watch.

    • Stan the Man

      Those teams in the early 80’s were still pretty good, they didn’t win the division but they weren’t 70 win teams either. I would expect the Yanks to score less runs or hit less homeruns, but they should also with their pitching and defense give up less runs and that should help them win close to the 95 games they won last year. The big different though is CC, Kuroda, and Pettitte the 1980’s Yankees weren’t trotting out a deep rotation or deep bullpen.