New-look middle of the order carrying the Yankees offensively

Fan Confidence Poll: April 8th, 2013
Game Seven: Old Friends
(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

We all knew the Yankees’ lineup would look a little different coming into the year, but an injury-filled Spring Training meant the offense looked even more different than expected when the regular season opened last week. Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner were the only players in the lineup for both Opening Day 2012 and Opening Day 2013, and a whopping six players made their debut for the team last Monday. That’s the first time that’s happened in over 100 years, since before the Yankees were the Yankees (they were the Highlanders at the time).

Two series and six games into the season, it’s the new-look middle of the order that has carried the club offensively. The players who were with the team last year — specifically talking about Cano and Ichiro Suzuki here — have mostly been a drain on the offense. I’m talking about a combined .631 OPS for those two. No, seriously. If you add Cano’s (.330) and Ichiro‘s (.301) OPS together, that’s what you get. Good grief. Thank goodness it’s only been six games.

Anyway, here are some happier numbers…

  • Kevin Youkilis: 9-for-22 (.409), two walks, one hit-by-pitch (.480 OBP), four doubles, one homer (.727 SLG)
  • Travis Hafner: 7-for-20 (.350), two walks (.409 OBP), one homer (.500 SLG)
  • Vernon Wells: 5-for-17 (.294), four walks (.429), one double, two homers (.706 SLG)

The Yankees have scored 24 total runs this year and those three guys have scored (11) and driven-in (11) basically half of them (46% to be exact). New York is hitting .272/.323/.399 as a team but without those three it drops down to .194/.273/.295. Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells have really carried the load in the first six games. They’re driving the offense.

Now, here’s the bad news: these guys aren’t going to keep hitting like this forever. Youkilis seems like the best bet to continue providing big production, but he’s still going to come back to Earth at some point. The good news is that some other players in the lineup — specifically Cano, Ichiro, and Gardner — will improve going forward to help balance things out. That’s usually how things go, some players are slumping while others are hot and it evens out. When it happens during the first week of the season, we tend to notice. When it happens in the middle of the dog days, no one really cares.

Despite yesterday’s seven-run outburst, the Yankees have struggled offensively in their six games this year. Those struggles pale in comparison to the pitching problems, but they exist nonetheless. They need (especially) Cano and some others to start hitting as much as they need the middle of the bullpen to straighten itself out because Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells won’t be able to carry the offense all year as they have so far. That trio has been awesome, but they still need some help sooner rather than later.

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Fan Confidence Poll: April 8th, 2013
Game Seven: Old Friends
  • Luis Castillo (Not the one who dropped the ball)

    I crapped all over the Wells acquisition, but I’m glad he is making me eat my words.

    • Bavarian Yankee

      this.

    • Mike HC

      I liked both the Wells and Ichiro acquisitions. One out of two ain’t bad. Of course, by the end of the year, we could be singing a completely different tune.

    • Jersey Joe

      Definitely felt & feel the same way.

      I heard about him analyzing his swing from earlier in his career (watching video). Happy that he’s dedicated to improving.

    • MannyGeee

      Mind you, it is VERY early to assume he will live up to the amount of contract the Yankees are paying for, but I am happy that he’s come in with a hot bat.

      I have said it about a thousand times, I would not be at all surprised if he continued to hit well enough to take significant time from whichever of Ichiro & Gardner don’t pick their game up by the time Granderson comes back.

      • Preston

        I don’t know how hard it is to live up to the money. He needs like 3 wins over the rest of this season and next. I would bet the over on him getting 2.5 wins this season.

  • mike

    if the Yanks can hold it close…i think their bench will be a huge asset down the stretch when a combination of Hafner/Ichiro/Wells might be on the bench at any one time…and if Arod comes back in August, either he/Youk just add to the mix

    • Mike HC

      Realistically, by the time our injured guys come back and round into form, a couple of the other guys will probably be on the DL.

    • Preston

      The last third of the season would get pretty dramatic in the media if everybody was healthy. Gardner/Granderson/Ichiro and Wells are all big names and only three can start in the OF and only two of Tex/A-Rod/Youk can start at 1b/3b. Add in Jeter’s probable need for DH days and that DH slot gets pretty crowded with the loser for the OF job/corner IF job/Hafner and sometimes Jeter all fighting for playing time. Of course I’m getting way ahead of myself (injuries and productivity will probably sort it all out) and it would be a good problem to have. But imagine the media frenzy every time one of the big names was sitting on the bench.

      • Laz

        It could, but with this team they need the depth. I’ll think about it when it arrives, right now I’m just happy to have people that can flop around to different positions.

  • Eddard

    As I said yesterday, once Gardner, Cano and Ichiro normalize themselves we’ll have a good enough offense to go .500 or better in April. The pitching is just too good on this team. I wouldn’t be surprised if we came out of Cleveland .500 and hovered around there or above for the month of April. CC, Kuroda and Andy give us a chance to win each one of their starts.

    • Jersey Joe

      Exactly. Just need to stay above water for the time being and wait for Jeter, Granderson, and Tex’s wrist to return to normal.

  • LK

    If, one year ago, someone had told me that Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, and Vernon Wells would be the drivers of the Yankee offense, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine the sequence of events that would lead to this outcome.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      …and you’d wonder if a time machine came with it.

      I think Hafner’s the least likely to keep this up, but I’m not entirely surprised to see production out of these three guys. I have a feeling Youk’s decline was being overstated and that the change in scenary, and weight on his shoulders, might make Vernon actually begin to play to something that vaguely resembles his paycheck.

      • Mike HC

        Whenever Hafner has been healthy, he has hit. He might be the most likely to get hurt out of that group though. Health aside, I think Wells is the most likely to cool off out of that group.

        • CountryClub

          I agree with both points.

        • jjyank

          Agreed. If Hafner can stay healthy (granted, that’s a big if), I’m pretty confident he will produce. It’s Wells that I’m more worried about going forward.

        • Jim Is Bored

          I’m of this opinion too.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I was definitely referring more to injury with Hafner. Now that we’ve processed and dealt with having Vernon Wells on our team, I’m actually somewhat bullish on him. I don’t think he’ll hit .300, but I think you’ll see a pretty respectable line from him this season.

          • LK

            If he’s platooned once Grandy gets back, I think there’s a decent chance Wells’ numbers are solid. I don’t think he can hold up if he plays every day.

    • Joey from Jersey

      That’s baseball Susan.

  • Mike HC

    These guys definitely provide hope that the Yanks once again could be a top offensive team once the injured guys return. Unfortunately, it looks like the pitching will probably not be quite as much of a strength as originally hoped.

    • CountryClub

      Why would you be giving up on the pitching already? Early season struggles are extremely common (see all the Aces that got hammered yesterday). If the top 3 stay healthy, the staff will be very good.

      • Mike HC

        I’m not giving up on the pitching. I just had high hopes that they could be one of the best pitching teams in the league. Now, I don’t think they are a top pitching team, but more above average range.

        • jsbrendog

          after 1 start each?

          • Mike HC

            I think my pre season expectations of the staff was the problem. Expecting them to be above average is more reasonable and after seeing them, I think I was snapped back to reality. I kind of hoped that Hughes and Joba might break out this year into all star level performance and Nova in line for a bounceback. I’m not so sure about that anymore.

            Do you think the Yanks are a top 5-10 pitching team?

          • Robinson Tilapia

            One guy got blasted in the hand with a pitch, while another basically pitched a rehab start at Comerica Park. Yup, these guys aren’t as good as we thought.

            • Mike HC

              Like I wrote above, it was my expectations that were the problem. What are your expectations for the pitching going forward? Do you think we are going to have elite pitching this year?

              • Robinson Tilapia

                I never thought we’d have elite pitching this year. I thought we’d have solid pitching, but this elite, top-staff stuff? There’s less question marks than other teams, perhaps, but there’s question marks.

                I think CC will be CC, even if he’s not the CC he was in his 20’s.

                I think Pettitte and Kuroda will pitch as we expect them to…..if healthy, and that’s much more of a concern for me with Pettitte, but it’s there with Kuroda.

                I HOPE Hughes is able to settle back into the groove he was in for a decent chunk of last season.

                I HOPE Phelps is able to take a step forward, and not a step back.

                I HOPE the reports on Pineda’s rehab translate into results when he takes the mound.

                I HOPE Ivan Nova turns himself into something, whatever that may be.

                That’s a bit too much “hope” there for me to tell you that I’m 100% bullish on the staff.

                That being said, I’m more concerned about next year’s staff, being that a whole lot of that is riding on this year’s “hope.”

                • Mike HC

                  I’m with you. I was only commenting on that before the season there was a lot of talk about how the offense was going to take a step back but the pitching was going to make up for that. Now, after watching for only one week of the season, I feel like the offense is not going to be as bad as expected when healthy, and the pitching is probably going to be no better than last year.

                  • Robinson Tilapia

                    It’s not a bad pitching staff to go into battle with, with these concerns, at all. There’s a lot that still has to break right, though.

                    You’re not going to hear me saying, “Don’t worry about the offense. The pitching has is covered.” I don’t believe that.

                    People portray as some Pollyanna-ish homer because they confuse my comfort with supporting a team with some uncertainty with being blind to it. That’s their problem.

                    • Mike HC

                      I’m really not sure how this conversation got here. You, jsbrendog and countryclub seemed to have a problem with me adjusting my own pre season hopes/expectations after the first week of the season and I tried to explain myself.

                    • Robinson Tilapia

                      I liked your explanation, and we had a good conversation about it. I thought it went well.

                    • Mike HC

                      All good. And I think the vast majority of commenters/readers know you are not “some Pollyanna-ish homer.”

                    • Robinson Tilapia

                      I am a homer, though.

                      And especially fighting my paperwork today by commenting too much.

  • mt

    Three things about Wells acquisition (although I am glad he has started off well) –

    1)I was OK with acquiring him but who were the other teams willing to pay Wells anything near what we paid him – didn’t we overpay just so that Angels would stagger payments (rather than structure Angels payment so that we paid him a “fair” $3-4 million a year for next two years, we ended up paying him $12 million this year and $2.4 million the next). I realize Angels wanted to save more money this year as opposed to 2014 (in sync with the Yanks desire to minimize 2014 expenditure) but that was still a big overpayment in total in my estimation.

    2) It’s not my money so the above over-payment can be OK if when we need to make a splash at deadline for a Willingham or Kubel or Morneau (assuming Teix injury lasts), we don’t hear “our payroll is already $230 million” (because we are paying Wells so much this year).

    3) Even with all the injuries that they may not have anticipated, still would have preferred Yanks would have gone with up-front OF strategy of Torii Hunter for 2 years and one of Schierhotlz/Hairston/DeJesus (trade)/Gomes group (even for 2 years), (and no Ichiro or Wells) but we did not go hard after Hunter or those reserve type outfielders.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Thiking about what some of those splashes might cost, I’m actually hoping they don’t happen.

  • trr

    Quite a contrast between the troika (word of the week!) of Gardner, Cano, Ichiro and Hafner, Youk, and Wells….right now, I’ve got my fingers crossed that they stay healthy…and yes, mea culpa, I too knocked the Wells trade, and hope he keeps shutting my mouth all year long!

  • nycsportzfan

    Its certainly not just the middle of the order, as Fracisco Cervelli is the guy who leads the team in RBI’s and is beasting with 2out ribbys…

    I am on record as saying i love the way Hafner was swinging the bat in the spring despite overall results as his swing looked fast and powerful and he looked healthy in my opinion, and i went further to say i expect 20hrs outta him this season,judged on the way thought his swing and health looked in spring.. Most said i overrecacted about the Youk signing, and i stood by it, as i loved the signing and felt a guy who knows hes playing for a contract who simply can rake when healthy and is extrmely smart at the plate and very patient would be more of the old youk then the one we seen the past yr or 2..

    The only true surprise to me so far is how bad Ichiro has been, as i thought he’d be a beast, but as u said, its early

  • nycsportzfan

    This is what happens sometimes when u dont have a bunch of guys completely set financially, and are playing for contracts and not simply knowing there gonna make 20plus million the next 5yrs no matter what the results… Imagine ur playing to make money, or ur playing knowing ur gonna make money even if u stink.. Its quite a diffrence and why alot of times, these “on paper” teams end up stinking, like the angels last yr, and the marlins last yr, and the blue jays so far this yr..etc

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Excuse me while I pick myself off the floor to ask you who, other than perhaps Cervelli (who has still made WELL into six figures once in his life, and will again this year), is not set for life in that lineup.

      Smokin’ some shit, son.

      • jjyank

        Uhhh yeah. Even guys making the major league minimum are still making about 4-5 times what you would need to live comfortably.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I’m sure cost of living is probably a lot higher than it is for me and you, but I’m certainly not concerned about the financial status of anyone earning a full-time MLB paycheck.

          • jsbrendog

            but seriously, is it? if you’re a single dude, or even if you have a wife and no kids, cost of living is nothing during the year for you. the team pays for transportation, food, and housing. the cost of living is only more because they choose it to be.

            • jsbrendog

              clarification: their cost of living is no diff than ours if they have a wife (gas, food, mortgage, etc.) and even less if they are a single dude who just rents an apt in the home town cause you dont have to bother to pay electric or utlities the half the yr youre not there. or for gas. etc

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Why do you have to depress me like that in the middle of the afternoon?

              • jsbrendog

                dancing dogs and piano playing cats?

    • LK

      Yeah Wells, Youkilis, and Hafner definitely aren’t completely set financially.

  • ClusterDuck

    I praised the Pronk Youk and Ichiro aquisitions and even the Wells aquisition after thinking about it for a couple of days. And I was also for Cervelli being our starting catcher.

    And I felt that that all of these guys as a group would out perform Martin, Swisher, Ibanez, Chavez and Jones.

    And as a group they have (even though Ichiro has sucked so far).

    • Eddard

      I was right there with you, ClusterDuck. I thought Cervelli should have been on the MLB club last year as well. I think if you just give these guys a chance they’ll do ok but people weren’t willing to let them play. And then only gave them 1 week of games to prove themselves. 1 week! What ever happened to SSS?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        “And then only gave them 1 week of games to prove themselves. 1 week!”

        You completely lost me here. Who exactly received only a week from the team in order to prove themselves?

        • Mandy Stankiewicz

          Unrelated, I think Overbay had only 1 weekend in ST to make the team.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Yeah, but Juan Rivera had more than that.

      • Preston

        Cervelli got sent to MiLB because of the two full seasons of bad defense. Francisco has always had the tools to be a good defensive catcher. He has just always had lapses in effort. He racked up a lot of passed balls and had trouble throwing out runners, after throwing out 10 of 23 runners in 2009 he only threw out 13 of 92 in 2010 and 11, that’s unacceptable. This wasn’t SSS, this was over 1000 innings. They brought in Stewart because they valued defense over offense in a backup catcher. Cervelli has shown better focus over the spring and combined with his ability to hit a little, he’s the obvious choice to start, but it only works if he continues to play D better.

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      I liked Hafner and Youlikis signings and I would have only brought back Ichiro on a 1 year deal since he very likely could be around a.300 wOBA corner outfielder which last year placed him 51st among all outfielders.

      Wells, I was completely against. Happy to see him proving me wrong but I still expect him to turn back into a pumpkin shortly. Hopefully he’ll continue proving me wrong.

  • Mandy Stankiewicz

    I would have bet the house last year against someone stating that in ’13, Youk would be starting the season off as the hottest hitter batting 3rd…I also think of the plot to Back to the Future 2. A lot.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      BTTF 3 would make for a very interesting season.

  • Brandon W

    I have to wonder, if Vernon Wells keeps hitting (certainly possible), Ichiro stays looking like toast (possible, maybe even likely given his last couple seasons), and Gardner stays underperforming.. what do you do when Grandy gets back? Even two out of three of those. I don’t expect Wells to keep this up, but if he does then it’ll be frustrating if they bench Wells when Grandy gets back if Ichiro or Gardner are rocking .300 OBPs with no power.

    I know, that’s a lot of “ifs” and they’ll worry about it when the time comes, but it’s fun (and scary) to speculate.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I think whichever three are performing best will get the most playing time, and that there will be enough playing time to go around for all four.

      I want some playing time in there for Boesch, godddamnit.

      • Preston

        Really? Right now I feel like Boesch is Hafner insurance. If Hafner is still healthy when Granderson gets back I feel like he’ll be cut (I think Francisco will be cut for Jeter and Overbay for Tex).

        • trr

          I thought I read that Boesch still has an option left

          • trr

            hard to imagine a situation where have we too many players, but it will come that at some point (we hope!)

          • Robinson Tilapia

            He does. Boesch won’t be cut.

          • Preston

            Really? If he does why didn’t the Tiger’s use it? That would be nice because I think there will probably be at least a 50 game period this season when we need a Hafner replacement and Boesch would be a nice insurance policy.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              The Tigers basically gave up on him.

              27 years old and, while he hasn’t looked very good at times, he’s had MLB success….AND he has an option. Age-wise, that’s in between Melky Mesa and Ronnie Mustelier. Easily one of my favorite pickups of the year for this team. If he’s under team control for next year, and I don’t see why he wouldn’t be, even better.

  • Kevin

    I really like the dedication we have read about from Wells. This guy is not that old (34) and was once a very good talent. I think the two year signing is not bad. he should have 2 years left in that tank. His swing so far looks good and his defence is right up there for left field.
    Youk is doing what Youk does. The guy is a solid player. He’s getting on base and thats what we need.
    Ichiro is the signing that I was least excited about. It seems he can go long stretches of grounding out that just drives me nuts. I would have much rather seen one of the young kids come up and played and gained some experience for what we are seeing from Ichiro.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I didn’t like the trade, but he’s ours now. I appreciate what I’ve been reading as well, and would love for a nice little redemption story to come out of this, both for team and player.

      • nsalem

        I have already confessed that my first reaction to this trade was that I would rather get oral sex from the Cookie Monster than have Vernon Wells on the Yankees. I have already been redeemed.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          As someone exposed to a lot of Cookie Monster (and, really, who doesn’t love Cookie Monster), that’s a hilarious, and painful, visual.

  • Andy

    “Carrying” seem a little generous in light of current record.

    • Andy

      Then again, carrying a team all the way to the basement is probably just as hard as carrying them to the top.

  • nsalem

    Earning a 100 million dollars to play sports and being able to manage 100 million dollars are two entirely different skill sets, so I don’t think it is a given that everyone on the Yankees is set for life. Johnny Damon, Scottie Pippen and Jack Clark are three of many athletes who have blown their own wad by age 45. i agree with Sportzfan that long term contracts have made some players complacent. However his comments seem to be directed at A-Rod, Tex and Grandy (who is playing for a contact this year. If that is true it is a fairly ignorant statement.

    • Jim Is Bored

      There’s no excuse in the modern world for that to happen.

      Any athlete with any common sense would have a financial advisor the moment he signs his first contract worth anything substantial.

      If they don’t, I have no pity for them.

      • LK

        A lot of these financial advisors end up taking advantage of athletes who place too much trust in them, though.

        Regardless of that, nsalem’s point was that even if a guy *should* be set for life, he might not be, which is all that matters from a motivational perspective. I still don’t really buy that point of view though. Plenty of players are set for life and still bust their asses, and the opposite cases also exist.

        • jjyank

          True, but I agree with Jim’s last sentence there. I’m getting by on a salary barely above the poverty line at the moment. I have no pity for people making hundres of thousands/millions of dollars if they blow it. That’s their own fault.

          I’m not really sure what the point here is. Should the Yankees pay people more money because they are bad at managing what they already have?

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I think the point is that we’re on a pretty tangent-y tangent.

      • nsalem

        I wasn’t suggesting you should feel sorry for anybody. I was just stating the fact that some ballplayers make tons of money, will not make wise decisions and will not be set for life from their baseball income. I feel sad that Johnny Damon may be in this position, but there are many things in this world I am sadder about. I think there is a point that many great athletes were coddled from the realities of the world throughout their formative years and were never prepared for the responsibilities that come with the money they make. I know that as of 10 years ago that MLB provided players with the names of a dozed or so financial advisors that they had certified. I would imagine that many players never contacted them/

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I feel like that’s a different conversation, though.

      “What would we do with $10 million or so” is a favorite conversation around the house. Other than settling all immediate family debt, getting enough of a house, plus maybe a summer home of sorts, setting our son’s education up, and the bestest home theater system EVAH, we’d probably just set the rest up in the bank to be a financial cushion.

      • jjyank

        That’s how I know you’re a father, a husband, and older than me.

        I would go straight to an Audi or Porsche dealership.

        • nsalem

          Some people would go top the Audi dealership, then Porsche dealer, then the BMW dealer and so on. Jack Clark at one point owned 18 classic cars.

          • jjyank

            For the record, I’m fairly certain I would handle the money smartly. If I had $10 mil, I don’t think dropping $100,000 of it on a sweet car before I think about investing the other $9.9 mil is all that bad. My poor Nissan Altima is pretty beat up now, I could use some new wheels :P

        • Robinson Tilapia

          http://surroundcreations.com/facilities

          This guy’s a friend of mine, and these are two guys I still run a very small site with (not the one this links to.) I haven’t been in this particular room (the listening room), but I sat in its previous incarnation.

          I wouldn’t go THIS far, as this is absolute technology insanity, but you bet your ass I’d want a nice setup for movies and music.

        • The Real Me (Formerly Cris Pengiucci)

          A car like that would certainly be on the list (Stealing from my comment last night?). As would setting up some kinds of businesses and charitable organizations.

          No way I would blow it all. It would be carefully watched and all investments would be analyzed. If these guys are too busy playing a game to watch their own money (to some degree), I have no pity for them.

  • mustang

    Now this is what I’m talking about!

    Great thread and analysis of the facts.

    Well done Mike.