Following a disappointing off-season and a 1-4 start, everyone has to be pleased with the Yankees’ 10-7 record. For the past 12 games they’ve shown plenty of life and have received contributions from newcomers and holdovers alike, even unlikely holdovers like Francisco Cervelli. The team has, in short, been incredibly fun to watch — against right-handed pitching, at least.
Given the roster composition, along with the absences of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez, we expected the Yankees to struggle against left-handed pitching. But in the early goings it’s been especially painful:
Against RHP: .303/.369/.540 – .908 OPS in 449 PA
Against LHP: .210/.279/.318 – .596 OPS in 221 PA
The only two regulars hitting lefties remotely well are Vernon Wells and Brett Gardner. Two guys expected to contribute against left-handers, Kevin Youkilis and Ben Francisco, have a combined 4 hits in 35 AB, with a Youkilis double as the lone extra base hit. Ichiro — Ichiro! — has out-hit every non-Wells RHB against lefties, and he’s just 4 for 14 with a double. Perhaps most sadly, Robinson Cano is just 4 for 26 with 10 strikeouts against lefties.
The good news is that some of this will likely even out. Youkilis in particular has hit lefties well in the past, a .918 OPS in more than 1,200 career PA. But even if he, Cano, and even Eduardo Nunez improve against left-handed pitching, the Yankees still have issues. In particular, they’re starting Ben Francisco as the designated hitter. Little good has come of this, and little good may come in the future.
For the first few years of his career Francisco was an average hitter, but in the last few he’s taken a nosedive into mediocrity. He’s certainly not as bad as his .111./238/.111 line suggests, but he might not be any better than his .242/.317/.373 line from the past two years. There’s also the issue of his history, which suggests almost no platoon split. In fact, he has hit for similar averages and OBPs against righties and lefties in the past, but with less power against lefties. He’s certainly not someone you think of when searching for a platoon DH.
The question facing the Yankees is, what are the alternatives? They brought Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz into camp as potential threats against left-handed pitching, and they cut both in favor of Francisco. Diaz was scooped up by the Marlins but Rivera remains on the free agent market, but he seems an unlikely target; if the Yankees thought they could perform in the role of platoon DH they would have kept one of them over Francisco.
That leaves slim pickings for an upgrade. Few, if any, teams are willing to make deals at this point. Even the worst teams (non-Houston division) fancy themselves contenders. Even if an eventual non-contender has a right-handed bat that the Yankees could use, a deal remains unlikely for at least a month or two. The good news, if it counts as any, is that any Francisco replacement does not need to actually play a position in the field. Francisco has logged all of three innings in the outfield this year. They just need someone who can swing a bat.
While the pickings are slim, they aren’t nonexistent. Three names stand out as players who could actually help this team against left-handed pitching.
If the Yankees prefer a player who can also stand in the outfield, Almonte might be their man. After a quality season in AA last year, which included 21 homers and 23 doubles in a pitcher-friendly park, he has gotten off to a torrid start in AAA, .275/.424/.412. Impressively, he has walked 14 times to just 9 strikeouts after walking just 25 times with 103 strikeouts last year. It’s still early, so we don’t know if Zoilo has improved his approach or has just had a hot couple of weeks. But he’s a switch hitter who can play defense, meaning he might have some value to the major league club.
When an injury prone player is healthy and producing, the time might be ripe for promotion. Adams has always possessed talent, but ever since an ankle injury in 2010 he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Although he did accumulate 383 PA last year, he had one day off and one day at DH per week. It kept him healthy, but also kept him off the field for a good deal of time. Still, he produced. And in the early goings this year he’s producing even more, .342/.444/.500 in 45 PA. Might it be time to eke out anything they can get at the major league level? It would be a shame to see them DFA Francisco in a few weeks, only to see Adams also succumb to injury. Might as well call him up now while he’s actually playing.
A strong spring had people wondering if Mustelier could contribute to the big league club, but a bone bruise on his knee in late spring has kept him on the shelf. I haven’t read anything about a potential return date, so for the time being Mustelier is not an option. But when he returns it’s difficult to see him as being a worse option than Francisco. He makes contact and has decent power, and perhaps he won’t be overmatched by MLB pitching. But for now that’s something in the distance.
I wrote a whole paragraph about Casper Wells and his quality numbers against left-handed pitching — which could become even better on a non-Seattle team. Unfortunately, between composition and publication the A’s acquired Wells from the Blue Jays. So there goes that idea. I have to think, given Wells’s superiority over Francisco, that the Yankees would loved to have acquired Wells. He might be the last decent RHB available until June.
Later in the year the Yankees will have more opportunities to improve against left-handed pitching. A Mark Teixeira return will be a start. If Curtis Granderson can show some power against LHP that will help some more. An Alex Rodriguez return is too far into the future, and too uncertain, to consider at this point. The Yanks will have some decent trade chips in July, but for now they’ll have to go with lesser options to fill the void. Almonte or Wells could make a positive impact on a team that is just reeling against left-handed pitching.