Jan
08

Rebuilt lineup will bring more patience and plate discipline

By
There should be more casual bat tosses after walks in 2014. (Harry How/Getty)

There should be more casual bat tosses after walks in 2014. (Harry How/Getty)

By almost any measure, the Yankees had their worst offensive season in more than two decades last year. They averaged only 4.01 runs per game, their lowest rate since scoring 3.72 runs per game way back in 1990. The team AVG (.242), OBP (.307), SLG (.376), and wRC+ (85) were all their lowest since that abysmal 1990 campaign as well, and the 144 homers were their fewest in a non-strike season since 1989. It was bad.

The scrub-laden lineup was necessitated by injury and offseason inactivity, and the result was a very un-Yankee-like offense that was impatient and didn’t really work the count. There were plenty of quick outs and quick innings for the other team. The Yankees drew a walk in only 7.7% of their plate appearances in 2013, their lowest rate since 1991 and only the second time they posted a sub-8.6% walk rate this century. Their average of 3.81 pitches per plate appearance was their lowest since 2004 and it showed. Here’s the position-by-position breakdown, using the guys who led the team in playing time at each position:

Player 2013 BB% 2013 P/PA
C Chris Stewart 8.8% 3.78
1B Lyle Overbay 7.4% 3.80
2B Robinson Cano 9.5% 3.63
SS Eduardo Nunez 6.0% 3.60
3B Jayson Nix 7.9% 3.76
LF Vernon Wells 6.6% 3.42
CF Brett Gardner 8.5% 4.23
RF Ichiro Suzuki 4.7% 3.70
DH Travis Hafner 10.7% 4.11
TOTAL 7.7% 3.85 3.78

Fixing that lack of patience (and the offense in general) was a top priority this winter, and the Yankees wound up completely overhauling their offense. It wasn’t all by design — letting Cano walk probably wasn’t part of the plan — but it happened. Gardner is the only player from the 2013 Opening Day starting lineup who projects to be in the 2014 Opening Day starting lineup as well, and even he could wind up traded before the season begins. At a minimum, there will be eight new starters in the lineup when April rolls around. That’s some kind of turnover.

Two of the Yankees’ three big offseason additions have long been known as guys who will work the count (Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann) while the third (Jacoby Ellsbury) is closer to league average in that department. Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts, two smaller pickups, are also strong count-workers. Getting Mark Teixeira back from his wrist injury will help the club’s overall on-base skills as well. Here’s another position-by-position breakdown, this time with the Yankees’ projected 2014 starters and their plate discpline stats over the last three seasons:

Player 2011-13 BB% 2011-13 P/PA
C Brian McCann 9.9% 3.98
1B Mark Teixeira 10.9% 4.07
2B Brian Roberts 14.1% 4.04
SS Derek Jeter 7.0% 3.77
3B Kelly Johnson 9.8% 4.05
LF Brett Gardner 9.5% 4.20
CF Jacoby Ellsbury 7.0% 3.85
RF Carlos Beltran 9.6% 3.67 (wtf? weird)
DH Alfonso Soriano 6.1% 3.72
TOTAL 8.6% 3.91

Obviously the infield is still up in the air a bit, especially since the Alex Rodriguez ruling has not yet been handed down. In the unlikely event his suspension is completely overturned, A-Rod will further help correct the team’s plate discipline issue (10.6 BB% and 3.86 P/PA from 2011-13). He’s always been a deep count/high walks kinda guy, even during his decline.

The overall difference in pitches per plate appearance between the two starting lineups might seem pretty small — 0.13 P/PA is one pitch every eight plate appearances or so, maybe 4-5 extra pitches per game on average — but some of the individual differences are huge. That 2013 lineup had only two guys with a 3.90+ P/PA and three with a 3.80+ P/PA mark. The projected 2014 lineup boasts five and six, respectively. The number of those annoying ten-pitch, 1-2-3 innings should go down considerably.

The overall difference in walk rate is a bit larger, just about a full percentage point. The only total hacker — meaning someone who refuses to walk — in that projected 2014 lineup is Soriano. Having one guy like that is fine, especially when he has Soriano’s power. It’s a different look from the rest of the starting nine and he’s capable of ambushing a first pitch fastball if one comes his way. A one-ish percent increase in walk rate doesn’t sound like much — it’s one extra walk every three games, more or less — but every little bit helps. That walk could have a big impact in a given game.

The Yankees’ lineup heading into next year is still unsettled, especially on the infield. They could still add someone like Stephen Drew (despite Brian Cashman‘s recent comments) or Mark Reynolds, which would change things quite a bit. Most of the heavy lineup lifting is done though. McCann, Beltran, and Ellsbury are the big additions and they’ll change the team’s overall offensive profile. Roberts and Teixeira (both if healthy) will do the same, ditto Johnson. The Yankees gave away too many at-bats last season, but that figures to be less of a problem in 2014.

Categories : Offense
  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

    How that first lineup along with the terrible pitching staff the Yankees had (still have) won more than 70 games is astonishing. The more I look at it the more I believe that Girardi got hosed by not getting MOY award.

    • gageagainstthemachine

      I agree. With that horrific rotating line-up (that was always different one day to the next but equally as bad as the previous day), there’s no way they should’ve been as competitive as they were. Not to mention it wasn’t like the pitching was lights out and keeping them in games despite the lack of offense. But hey a) they’re the Yankees so rewards are only for out of this world performances and b) they’re the Yankees and they don’t get awards because c) they’re the Yankees!
      Long live the “Evil Empire”!! Muwahahahaha!!!!

    • nycsportzfan

      My point exactly. If last yrs team can be in the playoff hunt almost the entire season, then a team with Ells, McCann, Beltran, Roberts, Johnson, Thornton, on top of a healthy Tex, Sori for a full yr, healthy Jeets, can go all the way. Assuming they get a starter or 2 by seasons start.

  • Ray

    How did you derive your 2013 P/PA “total” of 3.85 when only two out of the nine players had a P/PA average that exceeded that number? Did you use the total for all of the players? If you want a true “total,” why not give the number of total pitches seen by Yankees hitters and divide that by the total number of PAs? You can then use that “total” and compare it to what we might see from our refined 2014 lineup.

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

      I’m a dolt, screwed up the math. It’s 3.78 not 3.85. I used the total pitches seen by those nine players divided by their total plate appearances.

      • I’m One

        I’m a dolt over worked and under paid

        FTFY

  • Dr. TJ Eckleberg

    I wonder if there wouldn’t also be a cumulative effect. It seems to me that if you have more guys willing to take pitches, a pitcher is probably more prone to be a little too fine and subsequently walk more batters. I think we’ve all seen when a pitcher all of a sudden gets rattled after an 8 pitch at bat then can’t seem to keep composure for the next guy. If you have a lineup with a bunch of above average BB% guys that to me seems to indicate that they’re all going to benefit from that.

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

    Longer games!

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      I much prefer longer games and more wins to shorter games and more losses.

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

        oh totally agree.

  • Batsman

    “The scrub-laden lineup was necessitated by injury and offseason inactivity” – Mike Axisa

    Injury,YES. Inactivity, NO. Axisa is WRONG.

    Tex @ 1st, Cano @2nd, Jeter @SS, Youk:Arod@3rd, Granderson@OF, Garder@OF, Ichiro (2012-Yankee stats)@OF, Cervelli@C.

    How is that a bad lineup considering the Yankees won 85 games in 2013? Where can you improve upon that?

    Axisa is just stubborn to the idea that the Yankees would be a better ballclub if Swisher, Martin, Ibanez, and Chavez were still Yankees. If the they were, Ibanez and Chavez would have to start everyday to replace the injured position players, thus increasing their injury likelyhoods. Swisher and Martin…without the core of the Yankee lineup, would be pitched around to.

    Completely senseless.

    • Preston

      Having better players always makes you better. Yes the lineup without injuries would have been fine. But they knew Alex was injured and Youkilis came with huge injury risk and they basically punted offense at RF and C. That’s how you end up with a lineup that contained only two players better than league average(Gardner and Cano).

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

      You do realized Jeter played less games (17) than Youk did (28) in 2013.

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

        I do realize my grammer was awful on that post.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      There was no reason at all to expect Ichiro’s SSS 2012 Yankee stats to be indicative of anything. And they knew ARod would miss half the season, Jeter’s return would be uncertain, and Youk was always a walking injury risk.

      They punted 2 starting positions (C and OF) and didn’t have a 4th OF.
      Starting the season with 2 non starters in the starting lineup and multiple injury prone/affected starters definitely contributed.

      Where can you improve on that??

      How about starting caliber position players at all the positions. That would be a start.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        How were you going to convince a starting caliber position player to come play SS or 3B for the Yankees when he knows he’ll be benched whenever Jeter or Arod are healthy.

        C was a mistake. I think we’ve all realized that in spades. You’re just not going to have a starting caliber 4th OF in most cases. Starting caliber OF’s want to start.

        • Need Pitching & Hitting

          I’m referring to RF and C as the two spots where they willingly and knowingly punted without starter caliber players.

          They didn’t have any 4th OF. I’m not asking for a starting caliber 4th OF. I don’t think having a 4th OF better than Vernon Wells to start the season is too much to ask, so as to help prevent choosing to make a ridiculous trade for Vernon Wells.

        • Preston

          The fact that the situation at those positions was tenuous is exactly why it’s so bad that they didn’t address C and RF with better options.

  • Chip Rodriguez

    Wow, Ichiro’s walk rate was truly god awful.

    • TWTR

      It is why he was always likely to age poorly once he started losing his incredible ability to put the bat on the ball.

  • al

    This strategy doesn’t work with pitchers that are always in or around the strike zone a/k/a Cliff Lee.

  • JGYank

    This will help a lot. Just taking out ichiro especially and other guys like wells out will improve us. We still don’t have a guy that will get 100 walks and completely wear the pitcher out but it’s still much better and an important skill.

  • Ray

    Speaking of Ichiro, remember the debate last offseason about how he wanted a two-year contract and how he hinted that the Yankees didn’t show respect by offering a two-year deal until late in the negotiations? Ichiro better turn it around this season or we should make him Tanaka’s translator. We’d save a few hundred thousand toward the luxury tax that way.

    • TWTR

      Maybe he can earn that contract by helping successfully recruit Tanaka.