The Yankees lost for the eighth time in their last 12 games yesterday, and only four times in that stretch did they score more than three runs. They’re hitting .240/.292/.322 as a team during those 12 games and are averaging 2.67 runs per game. Last season’s club boasted the worst Yankees offense since the early 1990, and they scored 250 runs through their first 62 games. This year’s team has 249.
The offensive struggles are becoming untenable. The pitching staff is already stretched thin due to injury and asking them to carry a lineup barely able to scratch out three runs a night is totally unrealistic. The Yankees revamped their bullpen slightly last week and the time has come to shake up the offense as well. Their options to improve the offense are limited because of large contracts and whatnot, but here are three pretty simple ideas.
Bat Jeter Leadoff
Let’s state the obvious here: Derek Jeter hasn’t hit a lick this year. He’s managed a .254/.312/.300 (71 wRC+) batting line through 234 plate appearances and ranks dead last out of 167 qualified hitters with a .047 ISO. Even Ben Revere has hit for more power. According to Baseball Savant, Jeter has seen the highest rate of pitches over 90 mph (55.2%) among players with at least 100 at-bats, and against those pitches he has the lowest ISO (.019!) and the fifth lowest batting average (.235) in baseball. Opponents know he can’t hit fastballs so they’re throwing the ball right by him. It’s sorta embarrassing at this point.
And yet, because he’s Derek Jeter, he’s batted second all season and he’ll continue to bat second going forward. The Yankees have made it clear they won’t do anything to upset their captain — remember when they gave him a raise for no apparent reason over the winter? that was weird — and at least part of that is due to the fact that his retirement tour is a cash cow. Attendance, ratings, and merchandise sales would take a hit if Jeter is given a lesser role. The Yankees are all about winning, as long as it doesn’t upset Jeter or hurt their bottom line.
So, the club is stuck batting him in a prime lineup spot. That’s reality and it’s been made very clear. To make the best of a bad situation, the Yankees should move Jeter up a lineup spot, from second to leadoff. Why? Because it would allow them to bunch their four best hitters together. Rather than having the unproductive Jeter splinter Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the lineup, they could bat him leadoff, then go with Gardner in the two spot ahead of Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, and Yangervis Solarte.
Because the Yankees don’t hit for any power — they’ve hit four homers in their last 13 games, four! — they have to string together base hits and walks to score runs. The best possible way to do that is to bunch your best hitters together in the lineup, not spread them out. All you’re doing is adding outs to the equation by spreading them out and that reduces the chances of scoring. Bat Jeter leadoff, get his at-bat out of the way, then give the team’s four best hitters a chance to do some damage. Don’t try to include him in the rally because he’s shown these last 62 games he can’t help offensively.
Exit Roberts, Enter Sizemore
The Yankees were in a real tough spot when Robinson Cano bolted for the Mariners, and yet, because of the contract he signed, it was totally understandable why they let him walk. That didn’t make finding a replacement any easier — Omar Infante has a 66 wRC+ in the first year of his four-year contract, by the way — so the Yankees settled on Proven Veteran™ Brian Roberts, who has a .239/.317/.350 (85 wRC+) batting line in 203 plate appearances. Somehow he’s stayed healthy so far.
Like Jeter, it’s clear Roberts isn’t going to provide much with the bat. He had a little hot streak a few weeks ago but even then that only raised him up to a .690 OPS for the season, the highest it’s been since the third game of the year. Unlike Jeter, the Yankees can replace Roberts. He’s not a legacy player, there are no long-standing ties to him, and it’s not like he’s hit when he’s been healthy the last few years either. His only redeeming quality on offense is his ability to have consistently long at-bats (3.97 pitches per plate appearances), which isn’t worth a whole lot by itself.
Since Roberts isn’t hitting and is one of the few disposable pieces in the lineup, the Yankees should replace him with … Solarte. Solarte’s natural position is second base and he’s looked much more comfortable defensively there than at the hot corner. That would allow them to call up Scott Sizemore and use him in a third base platoon with Kelly Johnson. Johnson’s hit 16+ homers in each of the last four years and this team can’t hit for power. I don’t know how they expect him to remain productive playing him once a week out of position at first base. Dump Roberts and go with Solarte at second and the Sizemore/Johnson platoon at third.
Exit Soriano, Enter Almonte
Joe wrote about dumping Alfonso Soriano last week and I don’t really have anything to add. He’s hitting .229/.255/.396 (71 wRC+) with 60 strikeouts and five unintentional walks this year, and since April 25th his swing and miss rate is 17.8%, which is absurd. His at-bats aren’t even competitive. The Yankees are only paying Soriano $5M this season and this point they only owe him another $3M or so. It’s a sunk cost. Cut him loose and let someone else play.
That someone, in my opinion, should be Zoilo Almonte. I’m not sold on Adonis Garcia and there really isn’t another viable MLB outfield option in Triple-A. Almonte has some power, swatting eight homers in 38 Triple-A games this year. He also has seasons of 15 and 21 homers in the minors. Zoilo is a switch-hitter but not really; he’s awful against lefties. He’s hit .296/.355/.502 against righties in the minors since 2011 but only .255/.313/.386 against southpaws. The left side of the plate is clearly his better side.
Ichiro Suzuki isn’t terrible against lefties though, hitting .375/.423/.417 (129 wRC+) against them this year and .347/.360/.462 (124 wRC+) since joining the Yankees in 2012. I don’t understand it either, but whatever. Rather than continuing to stick with the wholly unproductive Soriano, the club could roll with the unconventional two lefty platoon in right field — Almonte against righties and Ichiro against lefties. As with the proposed second/third base arrangement above, there’s a decent chance the Almonte/Ichiro platoon will improve both the offense and defense. Crazy, I know.
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The Yankees don’t have much flexibility with their everyday lineup, mostly due to contracts but also because of their undying devotion to Jeter. The offense has been stagnant for way too long for them to remain status quo and wait for things to improve — “We’re just trying to move this thing along. If there are guys struggling in New York, I can’t wait,” said Brian Cashman to Donnie Collins recently — and those are three simple ways to shake things up and give the team a better opportunity to score. They could roll out this regular lineup:
- Carlos Beltran or Brian McCann
- Beltran or McCann
- Almonte/Ichiro platoon
- Johnson/Sizemore platoon
The four best hitters on the team are bunched together and there’s a little bit of pop in the lower third of the lineup. No one will confuse that group for the 1927 Yankees or even the 2012 Yankees, but two of the three worst hitters would be replaced and the third will be de-emphasized in the sense that the club’s best hitters won’t have to try to build a rally around him. It’ll be like Jeter is hitting ninth once the lineup turns over.
There’s not much the Yankees can do to improve their occasionally non-existent offense, but a shakeup is still in order. They can do it without creating a stir with Jeter as long as they’re willing to cut bait with two unproductive veterans and give a young guy like Almonte a chance. What they have now just isn’t working.