Through 44 games the Yankees are the offensive powerhouse pretty much everyone expected them to be this season. They’re averaging 5.87 runs per game, the most in baseball by nearly half-a-run, and as a team they’re hitting .258/.343/.469 (119 wRC+). The Yankees rank seventh in AVG, first in OBP, first in SLG, and first in wRC+. Pretty great.
There is, however, one thing the offense has lacked this season: Left-handed power. The Yankees have received 16 home runs from left-handed hitters this season. That’s all. Didi Gregorius has ten of those 16 and he basically stopped hitting as soon as April ended. Brett Gardner has one homer, Aaron Hicks has four from the left of the plate — one of those four didn’t leave the yard — and Neil Walker has one as a lefty. He hit his first dinger of the season last night.
Only seven teams have received fewer homers from lefties this season, which is remarkable given the short porch. Fortunately, the Yankees have some big right-handed bats in the lineup, and they’ve led the way offensively. The lineup is imbalanced from a platoon perspective though. Here are the Yankees’ ranks among the 30 MLB teams:
|RHB||1,136 (11th)||.274 (2nd)||.349 (1st)||.516 (1st)||132 (1st)||56 (1st)|
|LHB||637 (19th)||.228 (22nd)||.332 (11th)||.379 (22nd)||94 (22nd)||14 (23rd)|
Once upon a time — and for a very, very, very long time — the Yankees thrived on left-handed batters who would wear down pitchers, get on base, and take aim for the short porch. That is not the case right now. The lineup is right-handed heavy — Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez are great right-handed hitters — and hey, it’s working, so who am I to complain?
I’m not sure I would call it a necessity given the offense’s success to date, but the Yankees could use another lefty bat in the lineup, mostly just to balance things out. I thought the back-to-back series against the Astros and Indians three weeks ago made that clear. They threw all those power righties at the Yankees and largely shut them down. The Yankees did win six of those seven games, so that was cool, but yeah, they could’ve used another lefty bat that week.
Barring a setback, the Yankees are due to add another lefty bat to the lineup fairly soon. Greg Bird is on the minor league rehab trail following ankle surgery and Aaron Boone indicated Bird could join the Yankees within the next week. “Obviously getting a lot closer so a decision is coming down there. Maybe a week from now (he’ll be activated),” said Boone to George King prior to last night’s game.
Bird has gone 5-for-26 (.192) with two homers in nine rehab games so far, though I wouldn’t sweat the results. It’s nine games and Bird can hit. The most important thing is the health of his ankle. It’s given him lots of trouble the last two years. As long as he’s feeling good, I expect him to be an above-average hitter. Replicating his .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) line from his 2015 debut would be awesome. Matching his .240/.333/.480 (114 wRC+) ZiPS projection would be okay too.
Like it or not, Boone seems intent on splitting up the big righty bats with a left-handed batter, and with Gregorius mired in such a deep slump, it is entirely possible Bird will jump right into the lineup as the No. 3 or No. 4 hitter when he returns. I don’t like it, I’d rather start Bird lower in the order and let him show he deserves a premium lineup spot first, but it does seem possible. Either way, the most important thing is getting that power lefty bat in the lineup.
First base has not been a total disaster this season because Tyler Austin has been so good in his platoon role — dude is hitting .324/.395/.703 (189 wRC+) against southpaws — and because Walker has been quite productive this month. Assuming the eighth reliever (Gio Gallegos right now) goes down for Tommy Kahnle later this week, there’s a pretty good chance Austin will be demoted for Bird, unless someone else on the roster gets hurt. We’ll see.
The roster and playing time will sort itself out. It always does. The larger point here is the Yankees have been woefully short on left-handed thump so far this season, and Bird is due to return fairly soon. If nothing else, I am confident in his ability to hit home runs — Bird has hit 23 homers in 108 big league games, postseason included — and the Yankees could use some more lefty power. It’s the one glaring deficiency in the offense.