Archive for Analysis
In a series of Insider-only posts at ESPN, Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS projection system to break down the six division races using current rosters. Here are the links for the AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East, NL Central, and NL West. No projection system is perfect or even close to it, but ZiPS has been consistently solid the last few years and is typically my go-to system. Standard disclaimer: Projections are not predictions, they’re an attempt to measure a player’s true talent level at the moment.
Anyway, the current Yankees roster is pretty bad. They don’t have Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, an established closer, a legitimate starting catcher, a right fielder, or a bench. Plugging those holes internally means going with unproven youngsters and retread veterans, not the guys you expect to find playing everyday for the Yankees. Here are the projections…
The projections for Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, and Curtis Granderson pass the sniff test. Derek Jeter‘s might be a little light following his huge year, but it wouldn’t be a shock if his offense took a step back at his age. I like Chris Dickerson more than most, but that line is about right if he doesn’t have a platoon partner. Obviously the Yankees won’t carry three catchers, but that’s a function of the whole “current roster” thing.
On the pitching side, I would be pretty pleased with that performance from Pineda in his first year out of shoulder surgery. Over 100 innings with solid strikeout (7.7 K/9) and walk (3.3 BB/9) rates right after a major procedure like that? Yeah that would work. Obviously that’s not what the Yankees were hoping for when they made the trade, but the dynamic has changed in a big way since then. Accumulating some innings and showing flashes of his 2011 form are what I’m looking for out of Pineda next year. Nothing more.
ZiPS has that roster winning 85 games next year, good for second place in the AL East behind the 86-win Rays. The Orioles are a distant third at 80 wins, then the Blue Jays (78 wins) and Red Sox (76 wins) bring up the rear. The current incarnations of the Rangers, Nationals, and Braves project to finish with the most wins in baseball at 89 apiece. They have fewer holes to fill, especially compared to the Yankees. The fact that ZiPS still thinks New York can win 85 games with no real right fielder, no catcher, no number two or three starter, and a five-man bullpen is pretty neat. Too bad 85 wins would be a ten-win drop-off.
The Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, and they’re going to have to starting taking action this offseason to make sure that happens. Throughout the winter we’ll check in on the club’s payroll situation as they make roster moves to see how they’re setup for 2013 and potentially 2014 as well. Free agency will open sometime soon depending on the length of the World Series (it’ll start no later than ten days from now no matter what), so let’s first look at the money the Yankees have coming off the books this winter. It’s not a small amount.
- Pending Free Agents ($76.14M): Mariano Rivera ($15M), Rafael Soriano ($14M), Nick Swisher ($10.25M), Hiroki Kuroda ($10M), Russell Martin ($7.5M), Freddy Garcia ($4M), Pedro Feliciano ($3.75M), Andruw Jones ($2.54M), Andy Pettitte ($2.5M), Raul Ibanez ($2.5M), Ichiro Suzuki ($2.25M), Eric Chavez ($1.85M)
- Scheduled Raises ($3M): Curtis Granderson (+$5M), Robinson Cano (+$1M), Derek Jeter ($+1M), Alex Rodriguez (-$1M), A.J. Burnett (-$3M)
- Buyouts ($0.50M): Feliciano ($0.50M)
I’m assuming Soriano will opt-out of his contract, which seems likely. The Yankees will pay $8.5M of Burnett’s salary next year after paying $11.5M last year, so that’s cool. Feliciano has a $500k buyout coming to him as well. Put it all together — (Pending Free Agents) minus (Scheduled Raises) minus (Dead Money & Buyouts) — and the club will have approximately $72.64M coming off the books this offseason. I’m ignoring minimum salary pickups like Derek Lowe, because who cares about guys making the minimum.
Anyway, I count nine arbitration-eligible players this offseason: Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Jayson Nix, Casey McGehee, Frankie Cervelli, and Chris Dickerson. Dickerson and Cervelli are on the Super Two bubble, so they might fall short. McGehee seems like a safe bet to either be non-tendered or traded, clearing his salary. Hughes, Robertson, and Logan are due considerable raises (relative to last year’s salary) while Joba and Gardner will get slightly smaller raised due to their injuries. This will be expensive class though, probably an increase of $10M or so compared to last year. Suddenly that $72.64M becomes $62.64M. Once MLBTR posts their salary projections we’ll have a much better idea of the arbitration situation.
With that money, the Yankees will need to find a catcher, a right fielder, a DH, a late-inning reliever, at least one starting pitcher (preferably two), a bench, and miscellaneous depth players. That’s assuming they’re willing to spend as much in 2013 as they did in 2012. It is more than enough money, but Brian Cashman & Co. will need to find payroll-friendly solutions if they’re going to stick to this 2014 payroll plan. Either that or they’re going to be signing a bunch of players to one-year contracts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d love to see both Kuroda and Pettitte on one-year pacts, that would be my ideal starting pitching solution.
As the offseason progresses and players to start to sign — both free agents and arbitration guys — we’ll have a better idea of what the Yankees will spend in 2013 compared to 2012. I think this will be the team’s busiest offseason since 2008-2009 (it probably won’t even be all that close when it’s all said and done), but it’ll be interesting to see how the Yankees plug those holes given what appears to be an utter lack of viable alternatives. This might be a winter heavy on trades and not free agent signings.
The Yankees and Orioles have played three very tight games in the ALDS so far, and last night Raul Ibanez took matters into his own hands by hitting both a game-tying and game-winning solo homer after coming off the bench in the ninth inning. His insanely clutch performance will get a ton of attention today and rightfully so, but one man can not win a baseball game by himself no matter how many homers he hits.
Before Ibanez worked his magic, starter Hiroki Kuroda gave the Yankees more than eight innings of two-run ball. He allowed solo homers to the eight- and nine-hole hitters, but otherwise he held Baltimore in check and especially in the late innings. Kuroda did run into trouble in the fourth though, as some shoddy defense, a hit, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with two outs. Ryan Flaherty, who hit the first solo homer, was at the plate with a chance to break things open when Kuroda started him with a first pitch inside two-seamer for a called strike. Here is the second pitch of the at-bat…
(Click to embiggen)
I wrote briefly about the benefit of pitch framing yesterday, and that’s a perfect example of a borderline pitch getting called a strike with some help from Russell Martin‘s nifty glovework. PitchFX does have the pitch off the plate but not wildly so, enough that it could have been called either way.
Now the at-bat didn’t even end with that pitch, but it did turn a potential 1-1 count into an 0-2 count. An 0-2 count is the worst possible count a hitter can face, and the difference between those two counts was over .200 OPS points in the AL this season. It’s a massive shift in the game situation, changing everything from how Kuroda and Martin pitch to Flaherty’s approach to possibly even where the defense sets up. Flaherty grounded out weakly on the next pitch, a jam shot fastball up-and-in that may have been intended to set up a splitter on the next pitch more than actually get an out.
Kuroda really had to battle in the early innings last night, and Martin did a good job nursing through his early command issues. Flaherty isn’t a world burner, but he went deep one inning prior and had a really great power stretch just a few weeks ago. I don’t want to say the game was on the line in that fourth inning at-bat, but a hit there to score even one more run changes the complexion of the entire game. Stealing that strike two on the borderline pitch was an important part of the chess match that got Kuroda and the Yankees through the inning and kept the game manageable.
Quite a stir was made last offseason when former Baseball Prospectus-er and current Astros employee Mike Fast published a study quantifying the number of runs catchers saved with his pitch framing skills. That is making a borderline pitch look like a strike to the umpire and getting the call. Russell Martin rated very well in Fast’s study, as in second only to Jose Molina. Here’s a great example of Russ stealing a strike for CC Sabathia in ALDS Game One on Sunday…
At FanGraphs yesterday, Jeff Sullivan used PitchFX data to estimate how many extra strikes each team enjoyed this season, and the Yankees placed fourth in baseball (and first in the AL) at +5 strikes per 1,000 pitches. The league average is actually -5 strikes, not zero. Blame the umps. New York’s pitching staff threw 23,181 total pitches this season, so the pitching staff received approximately 232 more strikes than the league average. That doesn’t sound like much across 162 games, but it is. Past studies have calculated the difference in value between a called ball and a called strike at 0.13 runs, so Martin’s (and Chris Stewart‘s) pitch framing helped save the team a touch more than 30 runs this season. Roughly 9.5 runs equaled a win in 2012′s scoring environment, so those extra strikes were (theoretically) the difference between an AL East title and a wildcard play-in game.
It’s important to note that Sullivan’s estimations ares just that, estimations. Fast’s study was much more precise and comprehensive, and we shouldn’t attribute every single extra strike to the catcher and his pitch framing anyway. Sometimes the umpire was going to the call the pitch a strike without the catcher’s help. Even if that 30 runs saved number is off by as much as 50%, it’s still a lot of runs to save with a simple skill. Catcher defense is a very tough thing to quantify, but analysts have gotten better at it and pitch framing is one of those things that seems to impact the game much more than originally expected.
The Yankees and Orioles will open their best-of-five ALDS matchup tomorrow night in Camden Yards, which will be the first playoff game in the ballpark since 1997. The two teams split the season series 9-9 with the O’s scoring two more runs overall (92-90). They finished two games apart in the standings and were locked in a tight division race right down to the final game of the season. It should be a blowout on paper, but Baltimore has continued to exceed expectations all summer.
When the series opens Sunday night, left-hander CC Sabathia will be on the mound for the Yankees. It’s unclear who the opposing starter will be at the moment, but we’ll find out soon enough. Sabathia closed the regular season out with three dominant starts, allowing four runs total on 13 hits and four walks in 24 innings while striking out 28. He went exactly eight innings in all three starts. Sabathia made just three starts against Baltimore this season, allowing four runs in six innings twice (once in April, once in May) and five runs in 6.1 innings once (in September). He has dominated the Orioles throughout his career, pitching to a 3.12 ERA (~3.40 FIP) in 25 starts and 176 innings. These aren’t your older brother’s Orioles anymore though.
One of the biggest keys to Game One for Sabathia and the Yankees is stopping Adam Jones, Baltimore’s 32-homer center fielder. Stopping the other team’s best player is like, Captain Obvious stuff, but this is a little deeper than that. Jones is one of just six active players with at least 30 career plate appearances and an OPS over 1.000 against Sabathia, so he’s given him some problems in recent years. One of the remaining five players in Sabathia’s teammate, and only one other is on a postseason team…
Those three homers have come in each of the last three years. Jones took Sabathia deep this past May (solo shot in a 1-0 count), last April (three-run shot in a 2-1 count), and two Junes ago (solo shot in a 0-1 count). Notice the strikeout and walks totals, just six whiffs (13.3%) and four free passes (8.9%). They’re far better than Jones’ career rates (19.3 K% and 4.8 BB%) in the admittedly tiny sample size. Let’s take a look at a strike zone breakdown of where the Baltimore center fielder does his damage and where he struggles against southpaws, courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz’s site…
You can click the link for a larger view, but the gist of it is that Jones murders fastballs on the inner half and up in the zone. Catch too much of the plate with an offspeed pitch and he’ll crush that too, though most big league hitters will make pitchers pay for a hanger. The Baseball Prospectus Matchup Page shows us how Sabathia has pitched Jones in their 45 career matchups, and it’s pretty basic Sabathia stuff. Sliders down-and-in, changeups down-and-away, fastballs to both sides of the plate.
Given Jones’ strengths within the strike zone, Sabathia and the Yankees are better off pounding him away with fastballs before coming down-and-in with the slider (or burying a changeup). His spray chart against lefties over the last two years (via Texas Leaguers) suggests that Jones will reach out and poke outside pitches to right for a base hit, but he doesn’t hit for much power to the opposite field…
That career walk rate I mentioned earlier (4.8%) is an indication that Jones is not the most patient of hitters. Even this year, the best year of his career (to date), his walk rate was just 4.9%. Jones will help pitchers get him out, and in fact he’s swung at 40.4% of the pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone in each of the last two seasons. That’s the fourth highest rate in the game among qualified hitters, behind noted hackers Vlad Guerrero, Delmon Young, and A.J. Pierzynski. He will get himself out at times, but Jones isn’t an idiot. He’ll sit on the pitch if the Yankees keep throwing fastballs away, so expanding the zone and intentionally throwing some off the plate, especially later in the count, will be important.
Outside of Jones, two of the Orioles most productive hitters in the last month are left-handed — Chris Davis (190 wRC+) and Nate McLouth (125 wRC+). Sabathia should be able to handle both guys thanks to the left-on-left matchup and his vicious slider, but stopping Jones (and switch-hitter Matt Wieters for that matter) won’t be so simple. Sabathia has had some trouble with him throughout his career, and Jones’ tendencies suggest that staying away with the fastball before coming inside with the slider is the way to approach him tomorrow night. Much easier said than done obviously, location will be very important.
In more ways than one, the second half of this season has been the polar opposite of the first half. The Yankees were winning games left and right before the All-Star break, but recently they’ve been struggling to string wins together. The pitching staff carried the club for lengths of time back in May and June, but August and September haven’t featured the same kind of effectiveness. A deep and productive lineup carried a weak-hitting Russell Martin early on, but lately it’s been Martin who’s done the carrying.
Martin, 29, had the big blow in yesterday’s 6-4 win over Tampa, a three-run opposite field blast off the hard-throwing Matt Moore. The at-bat was as impressive as the outcome, as Russ battled back from an 0-2 count to work it full before going deep. It was his third homer in his last nine starts and part of a second half surge that has seen him hit .246/.324/.437 with nine homers in 51 games (46 starts). Joe Girardi has been batting his starting catcher higher in the batting order — including fifth against left-handers — and it is not undeserved.
The first half of the season was not kind to Martin, who hit just .179/.300/.348 with eight homers in the club’s first 85 games. He struck out in 20.2% and walked in 12.3% of his plate appearances prior to the All-Star break, rock solid plate discipline numbers. His batting average on balls in play was abysmal though, an unsustainably low .193. Obviously luck plays a major part in any BABIP south of the Mendoza line, but not all of it was undeserved. Here is his day-by-day batted ball profile…
Martin was beating the ball into the ground in the first half of the season, and if you watched the games, you know that most of those grounders were weakly hit to the left side of the infield. Smart teams played a bit of a shift on him, exacerbating the BABIP problem.
The second half has been a different story however, as the ground ball issue evened out and his batted ball profile normalized with last year, when he hit .237/.324/.408 overall. That looks quite a bit like his .246/.324/.437 line from the second half of this year, just with a little less power. His strikeout rate (17.0%) also began to approach his career average (14.7%) as well. Martin’s average on balls in play has jumped up to .254 in the second half, which is low for most hitters but probably right in line with his true talent level at this point. He is still prone to the weak ground ball and does hit a lot of pop-ups (especially on the infield), a combination that will forever keep his average in the dumps. There’s no away around that, his days of hitting .280+ like he did in 2006-2008 are undoubtedly in the rear-view mirror.
One thing we’ve learned during Martin’s time in New York is that he’s crazy streaky. He can carry an offense when he gets hot and he’ll turn into an out machine at the bottom of the order when things aren’t going his way. The lows are more frequent than the highs, but the Yankees needed him to perform better in the second half and he’s done that so far. It’s unfortunate that they’ve fallen back to the AL East pack and they’re relying on his production so much, but that isn’t really Martin’s fault. He’s hitting for some more power and a few more hits are starting to fall in, and lately they’ve come at the exact right time.
You could make a pretty strong argument that last night was the best start of David Phelps‘ young career, but I think we can all agree that it was his biggest start as a big leaguer. The Yankees need to win as many games as possible from here on out, and the 25-year-old right-hander shook off two miserable outings against the Orioles to give the team 5.2 innings of one-run ball in Fenway Park. That’s not easy to do, and all it took was getting ahead in the count.
“The last two starts prior to this one I was behind in a lot of counts and I wasn’t pounding the strike zone early,” said Phelps after the game. “I told myself I wanted to come out and if they were going to swing first pitch, I was going to make them hit it. I just went out there and tried to get ahead in the count. I can attack a lot more when it’s 0-1 vs. 1-0.”
Phelps threw first pitch strikes to 14 of the 21 batters he faced (66.7%), far better than the 53.7% first pitch strikes (22-of-41) he threw against the Orioles these last two times out. His season average is 62.8% first pitch strikes, a bit better than the 59.9% league average. They say strike one is the best pitch in baseball, but here’s the crazy part: batters have actually hit Phelps harder (relative to the league average) after he’s jumped ahead to a 0-1 count than when he falls behind 1-0. That’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect, but look…
Now there are clearly sample size issues here, which is inevitable when a guy has only thrown 84.1 innings and faced 349 batters on the season (the missing 50 batters put the ball in play on the first pitch). Opponents have hit 28% better than the league average after falling behind 0-1 to Phelps compared to 24% worse when getting ahead 1-0. Although Phelps deserves some credit for being able to battle back to retire hitters following a first pitch ball (he’s also gotten some BABIP love in those spots as well), the big problem is that he’s giving up way too many extra-base hits after getting ahead. He’ll often follow up that first pitch strike with a second and third pitch ball, putting the hitter back in control.
The season numbers don’t bear it right now, but Phelps is the exactly the kind of guy who needs to throw a lot of first pitch strikes to be successful. He doesn’t have blow-you-away type stuff, but he does throw four pitches and jumping ahead in the count opens a lot of doors for him. He didn’t get ahead in the count enough in his last two starts against the Orioles and he paid dearly for it, allowing eight runs in 8.2 innings in two important games. David got back to throwing strike one last night and both he and the club reaped the rewards.
The Yankees split four games with the second-place Orioles this weekend, and other than homers and high-scoring affairs, all four games had one thing in common: Baltimore did an awful lot of damage in two-strike counts. Thirteen of their 31 hits during the series came in two-strike counts, including four doubles and three homers. You can add two hit batsman on top of that, which bother me just as much as hits in two-strike situations. Maybe even more since the batter didn’t really earn it, so to speak.
Anecdotally, it feels as though the Yankees have given up a lot of baserunners in two-strike counts all season, at least relatively speaking. As you’ll see, the league as a whole does a poor job of reaching base when the pitcher is one pitch away from a strikeout. Here is a quick breakdown of the pitching staff’s performance in various two-strike counts this season…
sOPS+ is the opposing hitter’s OPS+ relative to the league average in these counts, so while holding hitters to a .164/.171/.261 batting line in 0-2 counts looks fantastic, it’s actually 27% worse than the .150/.158/.220 AL average. That’s the glaring problem here, 0-2 counts. The Yankees do fairly well in 1-2 and 2-2 counts (and in two-strike counts overall), but they really give it up in what is supposed to be the worst possible count for a batter.
The biggest culprit, by far, has been Phil Hughes. Hitters have tagged the right-hander for a .239/.239/.406 batting line in 0-2 counts, an unfathomable 234 sOPS+. In two-strike counts overall, it’s a .188/.241/.309 batting line (111 sOPS+). Ten of the league-worst 33 homers he’s surrendered have come in two-strike counts, including two in 0-2 counts. Hughes does strike hitters out at an essentially league average rate (7.57 K/9 and 19.8 K%), but he’s gotten clobbered when unable to miss bats with two strikes.
The rest of the starting staff has done fairly well in two-strike counts. Ivan Nova is the worst of the rest of the bunch with a 143 sOPS+ in 0-2 counts and a 90 sOPS+ with two strikes overall. CC Sabathia has struggled a bit in 0-2 counts (104 sOPS+) but otherwise shuts hitters down in two-strike counts overall (64 sOPS+). Hiroki Kuroda is the opposite, burying hitters in 0-2 counts (39 sOPS+) but performing at about the league average rate with two strikes overall (99 sOPS+). Andy Pettitte was fantastic in two-strike counts before getting hurt, holding hitters to a 14 sOPS+ in 0-2 counts and a 47 sOPS+ in two-strike counts overall.
The Yankees’ pitching staff has the third best strikeout rate in the league this year (8.16 K/9 and 21.5 K%), and that holds true both for the starters (7.82 K/9 and 20.6 K%) and relievers (8.96 K/9 and 23.7 K%). The Rays are the only club with better strikeout rates as both starters and relievers this season. So yeah, the Yankees have done a very good job of missing bats and recording outs without the help of the defense, but otherwise haven’t done a great job of retiring hitters in these situations overall. Whether it’s poor pitch-calling/planning or poor execution (likely both), the Yankees aren’t haven’t stood out for their ability to put hitters away in two-strike counts this season and it was really noticeable this past weekend.
Not so long ago, I wrote an uncharacteristically pessimistic post that was admittedly a bit trollish in its conception: exploring the problems and challenges that could face a Yankee team that at the time enjoyed a comfortable six-game lead over its division rivals. While the Yankees had several hurdles to overcome, I concluded that the division lead along with the talent gap between the Yankees and their pursuers should allow the Yankees to cruise to a division title and playoff berth.
I still believe that to be the case, but the events of the last few weeks have increased the likelihood of an different outcome. The combination of poor play by the Yankees and strong performances from the Rays and Orioles have whittled the Yankees’ division lead down to one game. In Wild Card race, the Oakland A’s have gone on a tear, and currently hold the same record as the Bombers. Suddenly the possibility of the Yankees losing the division or even missing the playoffs doesn’t seem so remote. The specter of a monumental collapse a la Boston in 2011 looms over the collective psyche of nervous Yankee fans, who fear karmic payback for their schadenfreude of yesteryear.
Since the folks here are mostly rational, I thought it would make sense to analyze which contributors to the Yankees’ struggles seem likely to persist, and which ones may be resolved going forward. I’ll take a look at some reasons for why Yankee fans should be concerned, as well as some reasons why things are still looking promising. Feel free to add your own to the list if I leave anything out.
Reasons to panic
Death by bullpen: Outside of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson (who have had their occasional slip-ups), the rest of the Yankee bullpen has been unreliable of late. This has at times caused Joe Girardi to make multiple pitching changes in a single inning, delighting binder-joke aficionados worldwide. It has also made keeping leads in the middle innings a difficult task. Cody Eppley in particular seems less effective than he was earlier in the season, Joba Chamberlain has struggled mightily since returning from the DL, and Derek Lowe has been awful since the Yankees acquired him. Boone Logan has continued to hold down the fort, but his heavy usage could take a toll on him.
Injuries: Although Alex Rodriguez just returned, the Yankees are still suffering injuries to several important contributors. Andy Pettitte hasn’t pitched a rehab outing yet, Curtis Granderson has been hampered by hamstring tendinitis, Mark Teixeira is still out, and Robinson Cano may have tweaked something in his hip while going after a ground ball in the 9th inning yesterday. These injuries have forced the Yankees to rely heavily on their bench. While some bench players (Eric Chavez in particular) have been up to the task, others (I’m looking at you Andruw Jones) have struggled mightily. The Yankees have gotten by so far in 2012 with solid contributions from their bench, but their recent offensive woes (wRC+ of 74 the past 2 weeks) show the effect that losing several middle of the order contributors can have on overall offensive production.
Reasons to relax
Help is on the way: Alex Rodriguez’s return instantly lengthens the Yankee lineup, adding some desperately needed right-handed power to a team that has been punchless of late. Mark Teixeira, Andy Pettitte, and Ivan Nova are on the road to recovery, and could provide some much needed depth to an anemic lineup and struggling rotation respectively.
Slumpbusters: Of late, the Yankee lineup has struggled offensively. Only three members of the Yankee lineup have posted above league-average production over the last 2 weeks: Robinson Cano (146 wRC+), Derek Jeter (137 wRC+), and Nick Swisher (128 wRC+). While this trio has been carrying the offense, the rest of the offense has been putrid. This includes (skip this section if you have a weak stomach) Russell Martin (56 wRC+), Curtis Granderson (36 wRC+), Eric Chavez (40 wRC+), Ichiro (10 wRC+), Andruw Jones (-8 wRC+), and Raul Ibanez (-25 wRC+).
With only one third of the lineup performing anywhere above the league average or near their career norms, there is no wonder that the Yankee lineup has had trouble scoring runs of late. It seems improbable that this horrific stretch can continue, and eventually some of these guys can turn things around. While several of these guys have been horrible all season, there is enough talent there for a few of them to get things going again.
Look at the schedule: While the Yankees’ schedule for the beginning of September is tough (two more games against the Rays and four against the Orioles), things soften up for the Bombers after the big rivalry games. There is one more three-game series against the Rays, but otherwise, the Yankees’ opponents include the Twins, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. A few years ago this would have been a formidable slate, but at a collective 51 games under .500, the Yankees shouldn’t have too much to worry about. This is especially true if the Yankees get some of their starters back and contributing by then. Baltimore also has a light schedule (though a three-game series against the suddenly-good A’s could prove challenging), while the Rays have some tougher matchups remaining, including the White Sox and the Rangers. If the Yankees can survive the games against Baltimore and Tampa with their lead intact, they should be able to hold their ground against some weaker opponents down the stretch.
Overall, the Yankees do have some real concerns to address down the stretch. Getting some injured players back could help, but the fact of the matter is that this team has looked lifeless over the past few weeks. A combination of crappy hitting, sloppy fielding, and poorly-timed pitching meltdowns has resulted in some frustrating losses recently. Two thirds of the lineup needs to either get healthy or remember how to hit, and the Yankees will need to get some big performances from their starters to prevent the bullpen from getting overexposed. I still think this team has too much talent, especially when compared to Baltimore and Tampa, to lose this division. The favorable schedule also helps in that regard. But as they say, these games aren’t played on paper. A number of players will have to start living up to the numbers on the back of their baseball card if the Yankees are going to make a run into October.
The Yankees still sit atop the AL East and own the second best overall record in the league, but they’ve scuffled to a 20-19 record in the second half and a 14-18 record since heading out to Oakland a few weeks ago. They did win seven of nine about a week ago but have since lost five of seven. No team plays roughly .500-ball for more than a month by alternating wins and losses, there’s a few hot and cold streaks mixed in there.
On a macro level, the club’s performance on the road is responsible for their second half slide. The Yankees have won just six of 17 games away from Yankee Stadium since the All-Star break, including that four-game sweep at the hand of the Athletics and this week’s three-game sweep in Chicago. At home, they’re 14-8 in the second half. Here’s a real quick breakdown of the team’s basic home/road splits…
|Home Record||Home RS/G||Home RA/G||Road Record||Road RS/G||Road RA/G|
|First Half||25-16 (.610)||4.6||4.0||27-17 (.614)||5.0||4.2|
|Second Half||14-8 (.636)||5.4||3.8||6-11 (.353)||4.5||4.6|
The Yankees have only been outscored by three total runs on the road in the second half (76 to 79), which tends to happen when six of the eleven losses were by one run. The club is scoring roughly half-a-run fewer run per game on average away from the Bronx though, and their overall road batting line sits at .263/.320/.411 since the All-Star break. It was .263/.340/.453 in the first half. With a .263/.334/.441 overall road line on the season (108 wRC+), the Yankees have been the second best hitting team in baseball away from their home park this year (Angels, 113 wRC+).
Given the small sample, I think the second half drop in OBP and power production is tied directly to the four games in the pitcher friendly Coliseum in Oakland (ten total runs in the four games) as well as Curtis Granderson‘s mega-slump. He’s typically a major source of on-base skills and especially power. Robinson Cano‘s smaller and more recent slump factors in as well, plus the Raul Ibanez-Andruw Jones platoon hasn’t done much since the break either. The increase in runs allowed per game (also roughly half-a-run) has an awful lot to do with Phil Hughes throwing duds in Detroit and Toronto as well as the sketchy middle relief.
Twenty of the club’s final 38 games are on the road, including the upcoming three-game series in Cleveland. After that it’s nothing but AL East parks and a quick three games in Target Field. The Yankees haven’t forgotten to play on the road or anything, they’ve just lost an inordinate number of close games away from the Bronx since the All-Star break. I don’t think these road struggles are a big concern going forward, but those losses are already in the bank and they do count in the standings. Taking care of business against the Indians would be a real good (and necessary!) step twards fixing these second half road issues.