Archive for Offense
For a team whose season will be defined by failures with runners in scoring position, the Yankees sure did seem to have a lot of enormous hits along the way. Especially late in the season too — September and October featured all sorts of memorable hits that injected new life into a team that was fighting tooth and nail for the division title down the stretch.
With some help from win probability added, or WPA, we’re going to take a look at New York’s five biggest hits of this season. If you’re not familiar with WPA, I highly recommend Joe’s primer. Long story short, it tells you how much an event — a hit, strikeout, walk, error, anything in baseball — increases or decreases a team’s chances of winning using historical data. For example, if the Yankees have a 50% chance of winning when I step to the plate and hit a walk-off homer (thus giving them a 100% chance of winning), I get credit for the +50% (0r +0.50 WPA) while the pitcher gets charged with +50% (-0.50 WPA). Simple enough, right?
Anyway, WPA isn’t a predictive stat and it doesn’t have a ton of analytical value. It lacks context like the quality of the pitcher and hitter, the impact of the game in the standings, stuff like that. It is useful for this kind of exercise though, a fun look back at some of the biggest hits of the season. You won’t be surprised to see that one player is featured prominently in this post.
April 11th: Nick Swisher vs. Kevin Gregg (WPA graph & box score) (video)
You wouldn’t know it from his playoff performance, but Swisher had a monster season with runners in scoring position. He hit .301/.406/.589 (164 wRC+) with eleven homers in 181 plate appearances in those situations, including a game-winning homer against the Orioles just six games into the season. The Yankees had tied the game at four on a Curtis Granderson single in the seventh, and score didn’t change until Swisher took Gregg’s full count hanging slider out to right-center. Eduardo Nunez had singled earlier in the inning but was picked off first, so his teammates — Mark Teixeira doubled ahead of the homer — picked him up. That was the last extra innings game Baltimore would lose in the regular season. WPA: +0.45
October 2nd: Raul Ibanez vs. Andrew Bailey (WPA graph & box score) (video)
The Yankees and Orioles were locked in a tight division race down the stretch, and a loss by New York in Game 161 would have had the two clubs tied atop the AL East heading into the final day of the regular season. The Red Sox took a two-run lead in the first inning off David Phelps and tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer in the ninth, so the Yankees had three outs to score two runs in the bottom of the inning. Andrew Bailey was on the mound to face Granderson, who only batted in the ninth inning because Brett Gardner got caught stealing to end the eighth. Curtis singled to right to lead things off, then Ibanez came off the bench to pinch-hit for Nunez. Bailey caught way too much of the plate with a 1-2 fastball, a pitch Raul hooked into the right field seats for a game-tying two-run homer. He went on to win the game with a walk-off ground ball single in the 12th inning — a hit that preserved the team’s one-game lead in the standings — but only the dinger cracks our list. WPA: +0.45
September 22nd: Ibanez vs. Pat Neshek (WPA graph & box score) (video)
A little less than two weeks prior to his heroics against the Red Sox, Ibanez came up huge in a big extra innings comeback against the Athletics. The two clubs were deadlocked at five after seven innings and stayed that way until the 13th, when Oakland unloaded on Freddy Garcia and Justin Thomas for three homers and four total runs. The Yankees were not going down without a fight though, as the first three hitters in the bottom of the inning singled to load the bases with no outs. The first run scored on a wild pitch and the second on a Nunez sacrifice fly, but it was Ibanez who did the honors of tying things up. Neshek, a right-handed submariner, left a 3-1 sinker right out over the plate, which Ibanez clubbed halfway up the second deck in right for another game-tying two-run homer, his second dinger of the game. The Yankees won the game on a walk-off error an inning later, which was all made possible by what was essentially the start of Raul turning into Mr. Big Hit down the stretch. It was the team’s biggest hit during the regular season. WPA: +0.46
October 10th: Ibanez vs. Jim Johnson (WPA graph & box score) (video)
Now we’re venturing into the postseason. The Yankees and Orioles couldn’t settle their differences during the regular season, so their season-long battle for AL East supremacy spilled over into the ALDS. The series was knotted at one and New York was on the verge of falling into a 2-1 hole in the ninth inning of Game Three. Baltimore had been nursing a 2-1 lead since the fifth inning and they had their All-Star closer on the mound with two outs to go, but Joe Girardi elected to remove Alex Rodriguez from the game to get the platoon matchup with Ibanez. Johnson left a 1-0 sinker up in the zone, right in Raul’s swing path, and he hammered it out to right-center for a game-tying solo blast. The pinch-hit worked to perfection, and a few innings later Ibanez won the game with a walk-solo homer into the second deck off lefty Brian Matusz. The first homer was the biggest though, bringing the Yankees from the brink of a loss to a tied ballgame. WPA: +0.47
October 13th: Ibanez vs. Jose Valverde (WPA graph & box score) (video)
Yeah, that’s right, Ibanez again. He really turned into Mr. Big Hit in the final few weeks of the season, and his most impactful hit of the year also happened to be one of his last. The Yankees had been stymied by the Tigers’ pitching staff in Game One of the ALCS, and they were down four runs heading into the ninth. Valverde had been very hittable in recent weeks, and he let New York get on the board with an Ichiro Suzuki two-run homer with one out in the bottom of the inning. Robinson Cano followed with a strikeout for the second out, but Teixeira worked a tough eight-pitch walk to bring the tying run to the plate. Ibanez wasted no time against Valverde, sabotaging a hanging 0-1 splitter for yet another game-tying two-run homer to right. There was nothing to be said at this point, Raul had rendered everyone speechless. He had been giving the Yankees new life time after time down the stretch, and he did so again in the ALCS opener. Just amazing. WPA: +0.49
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The Yankees had four other hits register at +.40 WPA or higher this season (links go to video): Derek Jeter‘s solo homer off Casey Janssen in late-August (+0.44), Ibanez’s three-run homer off Felix Hernandez in early-May (+0.43), Jayson Nix‘s three-run double off Shawn Kelley in late-July (+0.42), and Teixeira’s two-run homer off Vicente Padilla in late-July (+0.41). As you’ve probably noticed, the biggest WPA swings occur when a hit turns a deficit into a tie game (or a lead), which is why homers that break a tie — Russell Martin vs. Johnson in ALDS Game One or Ibanez vs. Matusz in ALDS Game Three — usually only register in the +.35-ish range. Swisher’s homer off Gregg scored higher because it gave the team a two-run lead, not just one like Martin’s off Johnson.
Subjectively speaking, I think the Ibanez homer off Johnson in Game Three of the ALDS was the biggest hit of the season. The homer off Valverde was crazy clutch, but the Yankees went on to lose the game and that took some of the shine off it. All Raul did was delay the inevitable. That game-tying homer against the Orioles was something to behold though, and it stands out even more because Ibanez ended the game with another homer a few innings later. That’s just my opinion though, you’re welcome to feel that another hit was the biggest of the season.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
There is still baseball being played but the Yankees are not involved in any of it. They were bounced from the postseason in an embarrassing four-game sweep by the Tigers in the ALCS last week, a very one-sided series that featured little offense by New York. They scored six runs in the four games and never once held a lead, which is unthinkable for an offense that led the AL in homers (245), ISO (.188), OBP (.337), SLG (.453), OPS (.790), wOBA (.342), and wRC+ (113). Everything that could have gone wrong offensively did.
All told, the Yankees hit just .188/.254/.303 in their nine postseason games, the lowest batting average in history by a team who played at least seven playoff games. It wasn’t just the ALCS either, they had a hard time scoring in the ALDS even though they won the series. The so-called Bombers scored just 22 runs in the nine games, and nine of those runs came in two innings — five in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One and four in the ninth inning of ALCS Game One. After scoring those four runs off Jose Valverde in Game One last Saturday, the Yankees scored just two runs on ten hits in the final 30.1 innings of their season.
Offensive ineptitude of this caliber requires a total team effort. Ichiro Suzuki was a singles machine in the postseason and Derek Jeter did is part before going down with a fractured ankle in ALCS Game One, plus Raul Ibanez hit enough jaw-droppingly clutch homers to avoid any criticism. The rest of the lineup? Not so much.
Of all the offensive failure, Cano’s miserable postseason was by far the most surprising. He was once again the team’s best hitter during the year and he finished the regular season on an insane hot streak (24-for-39, .615), but he was invisible in the playoffs. Cano doubled in two runs in that big ninth inning off Jim Johnson in ALDS Game One and he doubled in a run in the first inning of ALDS Game Two, and that was pretty much it. He fell into a hideous 0-for-29 slide that featured weak grounder after weak grounder, and it wasn’t until the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three that he got off the schneid with a line drive single to left.
Robbie reached base four times in 41 postseason plate appearances, adding an intentional walk to those two ALDS doubles and ALCS single. His .098 OBP is the lowest in playoff history (min. 35 PA) while his .075 AVG is the fourth lowest. Cano has had an up-and-down playoff career but this kind of ineffectiveness was unthinkable. He was, by far, the biggest drain on the team’s offense. There’s no doubt about it.
Alex Rodriguez & Eric Chavez
I’m going to lump these two together because they shared third base duties during the postseason. A-Rod struggled after coming off the DL in September and it carried over into the postseason, as he went 1-for 12 with seven strikeouts in the first three games of the ALDS. Things got so bad that Joe Girardi famously lifted Alex for a pinch-hitter in ALDS Game Three, leading to two of those memorable Ibanez homers (first the game-tying shot, then the game-winner in extra innings).
A-Rod did not start the decisive Game Five of the ALDS and did not start the final two games of the ALCS. He started six of nine playoff games but did not finish three, instead being lifted for pinch-hitters against right-handed pitchers late and for good reason — Alex went 0-for-18 with a dozen strikeouts against same-side hitters in the postseason. All told, he had three singles and two walks against those 12 strikeouts in 27 playoff appearances.
The decision to lift A-Rod for pinch-hitters or outright bench him against righties was completely justifiable due to his performance, but Chavez didn’t exactly force the issue. He failed to reach base in 17 playoff plate appearances, striking out nine times. All told, the Yankees received an .086/.135/.086 batting line out of their third basemen in 37 postseason plate appearances. A-Rod drew the boos and got all the media attention, but he wasn’t even the worst performer at his own position.
Unfortunately poor postseasons became a routine during Swisher’s stint in New York, a stint that will almost surely end after four years this winter. He opened these playoffs with a very productive ALDS Game One, drawing two walks to go along with a single and a sacrifice fly. After that, he went 2-for-28 (.071) with a walk and nine strikeouts the rest of the way. One of those hits was a run-scoring double in ALCS Game Four, which had zero impact in the grand scheme of things. Swisher hit .167/.235/.233 in the team’s nine playoff games and will likely leave the Yankees with a .162/.252/.308 batting line in 148 postseason plate appearances with the club.
Granderson came into the year as a postseason monster, with a .267/.375/.535 overall playoff batting line and a .313/.459/.583 playoff line with the Yankees. He was instead a non-factor this year, going just 3-for-30 (.100) with one homer and three walks (one intentional) in the nine postseason games. Two of those hits came in consecutive at-bats in ALDS Game Five. Like Swisher, he was benched for one ALCS game in favor of Brett Gardner. Curtis struck out an insane 16 times in 33 playoff plate appearances, so basically half the time. It’s impossible to be productive when you don’t put the ball in play, and Granderson’s strikeout issues became extreme in October.
Unlike the other guys in the post, Martin at least had a signature moment this postseason. He hit the go-ahead homer off Johnson in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One, a hugely clutch shot that gets forgotten because the Yankees went on score another four runs in the inning to turn the game into a laugher. It was a big homer, don’t forget it. That said, Martin went just 5-for-31 (.161) with the homer, a double, and three walks in the postseason (.235 OBP). He reached base twice in the ALCS and three times in the team’s final six playoff games. Martin was up and down all season (mostly down), and outside of the homer he was contributed little to a postseason offense that needed substantially more from these six players.
Joe Girardi has had to tinker with his lineup far more than I’m sure he would have liked this postseason, and it was all out of necessity. Alex Rodriguez simply has not hit right-handers at all, and the duo of Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher went from middle of the order thumpers to bottom of the lineup automatic outs. He inserted both Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez into the starting lineup last night and was mostly rewarded, as Nunez drove in their only run with a solo homer while Gardner had some of the team’s best and longest at-bats. The Yankees still lost though.
I expect tonight’s lineup to be very similar to last night’s with maybe one or two minor changes. Maybe Swisher is back in the starting lineup and Granderson sits, something like that. Either way, I think the stretch of 9-1-2 hitters — Nunez, Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki — will remain the same to give the team some speed on the bases. They didn’t use that speed at all last night though, as Ichiro singled twice and didn’t bother to steal second either time even though the one thing Justin Verlander will let an offense do is steal a base. I understand that every base-runner is precious when you’re struggling to score, but I felt the situation called for pushing the envelope.
Max Scherzer is a bit more stingy with the stolen base than Verlander, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the speed game should come out of the playbook. Frankly it doesn’t make sense to play Nunez and Gardner and not have them try to steal when they do reach base. Obviously the whole getting on-base thing is quite important, but Scherzer hasn’t been himself lately and is probably the least effective Tigers’ starter right now. If last night’s ninth inning mini-rally is going to carry over to today, it will be because Detroit’s starter is still dealing with some nagging shoulder issues and can’t reach back for 95+ when in a jam.
Desperate times do call for desperate measures, and Girardi did sorta take those measures with his lineup moves last night. If he keeps Nunez and Gardner in the lineup for Game Four, even if they don’t bat back-to-back, the club has to try to take advantage of their speed. I’m surprised they have yet to lay a bunt down towards Miguel Cabrera at third or even Prince Fielder at first, but if Scherzer is pitching well the first time through the order it might be a shot in the middle innings. The Yankees have to try to generate some offense in different ways tonight and hopefully going forward later in the series, and taking advantage of the fresh legs (both Nunez and Gardner missed a big chunk of time with injury this season) could be one way to do it.
The season ain’t over, but it might as well be. The Yankees are down three games to none in the best-of-seven ALCS even though all three games were pretty winnable in my opinion. It’s not like they’ve been getting clobbered every night. This series would look an awful lot different if the Bombers got even a league average performance from there hitters, but I suppose the same is true of Tigers. They haven’t been tearing the cover off the ball either. Miracles do happen, but I won’t be holding my breath.
1. It’s incredibly annoying that Delmon Young continues to beat the Yankees in the playoffs. He went 6-for-19 (.316) with three homers in the ALDS last year and is 4-for-13 (.308) with two homers in this series. It’s like they spend all of their preparation time trying to figure out how to contain Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder — they’re a combined 6-for-23 (.261) in the series, by the way — and forget about Delmon. He barely qualifies as a league average hitter (career 96 wRC+) and owns a sub-.300 OBP in over 1,100 plate appearances over the last two seasons. It’s a little too late now, but Young is exactly the kind of under-the-radar guy who always seems to pop-up and hurt the Yankees.
2. I have no idea what to think of Phil Hughes at this point. He had a solid regular season despite his massive homer problem, but in all likelihood he finished the year hurt after leaving last night’s game with a stiff back. Phil made a quick trip to the DL late last season with a sore back and I can’t help but wonder if the two are related. That would be scary. I’m happy he was able to get over the 200-inning plateau (201 counting the playoffs) this year but injuries continue to be an issue. He’s going to be a free agent after next season and there are reasons for the team to approach him about a multi-year contract extension this winter, but I really wanted to see at least one full and effective year without any kind of injury problem first. That obviously won’t happen now.
3. I don’t think there will be much of an issue going forward but I am curious to see how this whole Alex Rodriguez thing plays out. He’s obviously struggling big time at the moment and is rightfully sitting against right-handers, but do they treat him as a regular next season? Or will they look at him as a guy who needs to sit against at least tough righties going forward? I don’t think there will be any problem (at least publicly) between him and Joe Girardi, and I suspect he’ll open next season with a clean slate and as the everyday third baseman thanks in part to his contract. Alex had a 114 wRC+ this season, so it’s not like he’s completely fallen off a cliff. I honestly don’t believe this current version is the new A-Rod, he’s just in a horrible slump.
4. The pitching staff has been absolutely unbelievable in the postseason, which is a complete 180° from the mid-aughts when all they did was hit and not pitch. Here is my first-rate graphic representation of the Yankees slowly sliding from an all-hitting to an all-pitching postseason team…
You see what I’m saying here? The Yankees have gone from one extreme to the next and I’m very comfortable saying that all pitching is far less enjoyable that all hitting. I appreciate a great pitchers’ duel as much as anyone, but there is nothing more unbearable than a team that can’t score or even get men on-base. This playoff season has been very frustrating to watch as a Yankees fan.
There is nothing worse than an underachieving team, and the Yankees certainly have an underachieving offense at the moment. The pitching staff has been just fantastic as a whole in the postseason, more than giving the team a chance to win each time out. The offense has been miserable aside from the occasional outburst (ninth inning of ALDS Game One, anything Raul Ibanez does, etc.) though, and it’s reasons number one, two, and three that they’re in a 2-0 hole in the ALCS.
The worst offender has not been Alex Rodriguez or Nick Swisher or Curtis Granderson, it’s been Robinson Cano. The same guy who was so molten hot for the final few weeks of the season and one of the very best hitters in all of baseball. He’s currently riding an 0-for-26 (!) stretch that is the longest single postseason hitless stretch in baseball history, and he hasn’t reached base on anything other than an intentional walk since the first inning of ALDS Game Two. That’s just hard to believe, and yet the majority of his plate appearances seem to end like this…
Anibal Sanchez threw an offspeed pitch on the outer half that Cano tried to pull, resulting in a weak grounder to second. When Robinson is not swinging right, he generates a ton of outs on ground balls to the right side of the infield. Raul Ibanez was the same why earlier this season, and Hideki Matsui is probably the poster boy for the 4-3 put out slump. It’s not a pleasant thing to go through, either for the players or the fans who watch.
“You have to make adjustments,” said Joe Girardi following yesterday’s loss. “We know what they are doing to us. They are not going to put it on a tee for us. We know that. We are more than capable of scoring runs and have done it a number of times this year. We have to make adjustments.”
There was more to last night’s Game Three win than just a win. Joe Girardi‘s decision to lift Alex Rodriguez for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a one-run game was almost like a turning of the page in A-Rod‘s career, one of the greatest playing careers the game will ever see. Forget about Raul Ibanez and what happened afterwards, it was an acknowledgement on the part of the Yankees that in that situation, they were better off with Alex on the bench. This isn’t some role player on a one-year deal who will be gone after the season, like it or not A-Rod is here to stay for a very long time.
The move was absolutely 100% justifiable, there’s zero doubt about that. Rodriguez has been struggling not just in this series but for the last few weeks overall after he came back from the broken bone in his left hand, and he looks especially feeble against right-handed pitchers. When Joe Torre dropped A-Rod to eighth in the lineup in the 2006 ALDS, I thought then (and still do now) that it was out of spite more than anything. The relationship between those two always seemed strained, but I’ve never gotten that vibe with Girardi. That’s why the pinch-hitting move took some major guts on the manager’s part.
“Of course you do (think about the magnitude of lifting A-Rod),” said Girardi after the game. “And you know you’re going to be asked a lot of questions if it doesn’t work … I mean, it’s a tough move. Sometimes you’ve got to do what your gut tells you, and my gut told me to make the move. I still have the utmost respect for Al, and I still think he’s a great player. He’s just going through a little tough time right now.
“I just went to (A-Rod) and I said, ‘You’re scuffling a little bit right now … We have got a low-ball hitter (against sinker-baller Jim Johnson), and we’ve got a shorter porch in right field, then left field obviously. Raul has been a good pinch hitter for us, and I’m just going to take a shot.’”
Rodriguez, as you’d expect, faced a swarm of reporters after the game and was drilled pretty hard about being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the late innings of a close playoff game. He joked that it was the first time he was pinch-hit for in a meaningful situation since “maybe high school,” but otherwise defended Girardi and his decision, preaching team over individual. Here’s the video of his post-game media scrum…
I thought he looked very sincere there and don’t think this was a case of a guy putting on an act like he did with Torre back in 2006. A-Rod really seemed to change back in 2009 after his hip surgery and PED revelations, as he shifted from a “this is what I did and need to do” angle to a “we’re a team and this what we did and need to do” approach. Everything has been about the Yankees and not Alex since then. “We preach about team, team, team,” he said. “That’s all we care about.”
Who knows what this means going forward for A-Rod both this postseason and for the final five years of his contract. Maybe he moves down in the lineup or sits against righties, who knows. Being lifted for a pinch-hitter last night was a bit of a statement though, and I don’t mean a harsh one like a message was being sent or anything. It was the beginning of an era with a de-emphasized Rodriguez, and era that may be slow to develop but has begun nonetheless.
If you’ve been reading my stuff for the last few years, you know I’m a big fan of tinkering with the lineup throughout the season. Mark Teixeira stinks in April? Fine, drop him down a spot or three and give the hot hand a few more at-bats. Raul Ibanez is hitting well? Great, maybe bump him up so he gets a chance to do damage with more men on-base. Lineups aren’t all that important in big picture, but they can very important in one individual game or, by extension, a short playoff series.
The Yankees have used almost the exact same lineup for the first two games of the ALDS, which means a top six of Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira. Jeter and Ichiro have done a swell job of setting the table, going a combined 7-for-17 (.412) with a double in the two games. They generated a first inning run in both games and outside of the Cap’n's inning-ending ground ball to third with the bases loaded in the fourth inning last night, they’ve come up with some timely hits.
Teixeira has also produced well in the ALDS, with a pair of two-hit games (plus a walk thrown in). All four hits are singles, though at least two would have been doubles for someone with even average speed. Tex isn’t the fastest guy in the world to start with, but his calf injury has him in the Jorge Posada and miscellaneous Molinas pantheon of slowpokes. Cano has a run-scoring double in each game and Swisher reached base three times in Game One before coming up empty in Game Two.
And then there’s A-Rod, the most polarizing player in recent Yankees history and everyone’s favorite whipping boy. He drew a walk and struck out three times in Game One, then singled in struck out twice more in Game Two. Robert Andino stole a surefire run-scoring single away from him in the first inning last night with a diving stop at second, a hard-hit ball just hit to the wrong place. A-Rod is a career .271/.380/.484 hitter in the postseason, including .254/.381/.463 with the Yankees, but his failures get magnified more than anyone else’s.
So, naturally, after two disappointing games to open the playoffs there is talk of moving him down in the order or even benching him for the Eric Chavez. That second idea is a little ridiculous but the first one isn’t, yet Joe Girardi maintains that he won’t change the lineup because he “(believes) these guys are going to come through.” It’s the standard stock answer he’s been delivering all year, and on a number of occasions he switched up the lineup despite indications that no moves were coming. There’s no reason for Girardi to be truthful about this stuff, announcing that any hitter will be moved in the lineup serves zero benefit.
Now, there are valid reasons to move A-Rod down in the order for Game Three of the ALDS (and beyond), but you don’t need to focus on his recent playoff performance (.169/.282/.203 since 2010) for evidence. Frankly, what he or anyone else did in 2010 is pretty irrelevant in 2012. The case for moving A-Rod down comes from his performance since coming back from the hand injury, which features a .261/.341/.369 batting line in 129 plate appearances. I’ve mentioned this before, but hand injuries tend to linger. If he doesn’t have enough strength in that left hand following the broken bone, he won’t be able to grip or swing a bat properly. That certainly appears to be the case now as Alex just isn’t hitting for any power.
So the question now becomes where do you move him? Flip-flopping him and Teixeira seems like a fine idea if you buy into Teixeira turning it around following his slow return from the calf injury, or they could just move A-Rod down to sixth and bump everyone up a peg, allowing Cano to bat third. The generic lineup optimization answer is that the best hitter should hit fourth because the number three hitter will come up with the bases empty and two outs quite often, but as I said earlier, Jeter and Ichiro have been a two-man wrecking crew atop the lineup for the last four weeks or so.
Moving Cano up to third makes sense and it really doesn’t matter who the Yankees have hitting behind him because it won’t prompt the Orioles to pitch to him in a big spot anyway. Unless the Yankees reanimate the corpse of Babe Ruth, Robbie will be pitched around no matter what in a big spot. Finding someone to take advantage of those situations behind Cano is important and I have no idea who that is — Teixeira? Swisher? Ibanez? Russell Martin? Who knows. It’s not A-Rod at this point, who simply is missing hittable pitches and not really driving the ball when he connects. There are valid reasons to move him down in the batting order, and they stem from his hand injury and his performance since coming off the DL. Not his recent playoff history.
2:26pm: Nevermind, apparently there was just a typo on the board in the press box. Ichiro is starting and batting second tonight.
2:20pm: Here’s a shocker: Brett Gardner is starting in left field over Ichiro Suzuki tonight. Ichiro is 7-for-12 lifetime against Orioles starter Jason Hammel, which leads me to believe he’s banged up. Curtis Granderson has moved up to second in the lineup while Gardner will hit ninth.
The new playoff system is both fun and weird. It’s fun because so many races went down to the wire but weird because the Yankees, who finished with the best overall record in the AL, still don’t know who they’re going to play in the first round. They do know it’ll be either the Orioles or Rangers, but that doesn’t help all that much. The opponent will surely impact New York’s ALDS roster decisions to some degree, but for the most part we can piece things together right now.
The Yankees have carried 11 pitchers and 14 position players on their postseason rosters these last few years, opting to shorten the pitching staff by one so they could carry a designated pinch-runner or something like that. I see no reason to think they’ll do something different this year. I mean yeah, they could probably get away with ten pitchers in the ALDS given the off-day between Games Two and Three, but I doubt they’ll go that far. Anyway, a dozen of those 14 position player spot are all but accounted for already:
C Russell Martin
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez
OF Ichiro Suzuki
OF Curtis Granderson
OF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
C Chris Stewart
IF Eric Chavez
IF Eduardo Nunez
Nunez will make the roster as the backup infielder because of Jayson Nix‘s hip injury, and there’s a decent chance he’ll start some games at DH against left-handed pitchers. Chavez will serve as the primary left-handed bat off the bench, meaning one of the two vacant spots is likely to go to a right-handed hitter. The only two options for that role are Andruw Jones and Casey McGehee, neither of whom sounds all that appealing. Jones has been dreadful in the second half, to the point where Joe Girardi started benching him the last week or two in favor of Nunez. The team never really showed much faith in McGehee after acquiring him at the deadline, though he’s almost certainly a better offensive option than the shell of Andruw.
The other spot figures go to a speedster, and I have to think Brett Gardner is the favorite for that job over Chris Dickerson, especially now that he’s been cleared by the doctors and has no restrictions with his surgically repaired elbow. Carrying Gardner as the speedy fourth outfielder might mean that McGehee, an infielder, will get the nod over another outfielder in Jones. Then again, the Yankees could lean towards the playoff-tested veteran and take Andruw for that other open spot instead. They’ve seen what he can do in the postseason first hand, and as I said yesterday, I do think there’s some value in veteran experience.
Now that the Yankees are healthy, or at least as healthy as they’re going to get, the starting lineup is pretty much set. Girardi is unlikely to pinch-hit for any of those guys other than maybe Ibanez against a really tough lefty, so any substitutions figured to come in pinch-running spots or late-inning defensive replacements. Or injury, that’s always an unfortunate possibility as well. I’m about 99% certain that Gardner will occupy one of the final two bench spots while Jones-McGehee is more along the lines of 50-50. Either way, that guy would be the proverbial 25th man on the roster and thus unlikely to see meaningful playing time in a best-of-five series.
I was very skeptical when the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners prior to the trade deadline. He could still run and play strong defense, but his offensive production had really cratered these last two years. From the start of last season through the date of the trade, Ichiro hit just .268/.302/.342 in nearly 1,100 plate appearances. That’s not a small sample, and at 38 years old, I thought he was done as even a league average hitter.
The Yankees made the trade and I suppose they believed three factors would help spark Ichiro’s bat. One, he was going from a last place team to a legitimate World Series contender. Ichiro had 10-and-5 no-trade protection and had to approve the deal, which he obviously did. That was at least an indication that he was looking forward to the opportunity to play meaningful games again. Two, he was moving out of cavernous Safeco Field and into hitter friendly Yankee Stadium. Three, they were going to limit his exposure to left-handed pitchers by platooning him.
Ichiro started his Yankees’ career with a 12-game exactly-one-hit streak, but through his first 41 games and 140 plate appearances with the team he had hit just .271/.297/.398. Yankee Stadium did help him hit some homers (three to be exact), but he was only 4-for-7 in stolen base attempts and really didn’t provide that game-changing speed on the bases. My expectations were low and I was still pretty underwhelmed. Worst of all, the Yankees were slipping in the standings and their one notable trade deadline acquisition wasn’t having much of an impact.
That all started to change about a month ago. The Yankees were wrapping up an important ten-game stretch against the Orioles and Rays with four games in Baltimore, a four-game series in which Ichiro went 8-for-14 with a stolen base and three multi-hit games. In a three-game series against the Blue Jays two weeks ago, he went 9-for-12 with three doubles, a homer, and four steals. All four steals came in the middle game, a 4-for-4 effort in which the fourth hit drove in the game-winning run. At one point he had six hits in six straight plate appearances against left-handed pitchers as well.
Since the start of that series in Baltimore, Ichiro has hit .417/.411/.560 with nine steals (in eleven attempts) in 24 games and 90 plate appearances. That has raised his batting line with the Yankees to a stout .327/.339/.461 in 230 plate appearances, and his season batting line to a respectable .284/.309/.391 in 653 plate appearances. He has eleven multi-hit games in his last 24 contests, which is Ichiro of old stuff. Exclamation point Ichiro. Ichiro!
The hot hitting as prompted Joe Girardi to bump Ichiro up in the lineup, and he now hits second rather than eighth or ninth. The move has added some length to the batting order, and in a lot of ways it has recreated the Derek Jeter-Johnny Damon dynamic of 2009. Ichiro doesn’t hit for the kind of power that Damon did in 2009, nor does he walk or work deep counts as often, but he’s a far better defender and is creating more havoc on the bases. With the resurgent Jeter leading off and the hot hitting Ichiro behind him, the Yankees have two high-contact, high-average hitters setting the table for the big power bats.
I was really skeptical at the time of the trade, but Ichiro … ahem, Ichiro! … has gone on to prove me and every other doubter wrong these last few weeks. It’s not like he’s hitting .300 or something during a hot homestand, he’s hit over .400 for nearly four weeks while saving runs with his glove and taking extra bases with his legs. Ichiro has more than replaced Brett Gardner at this point, the very man whose injury created the need for the trade in the first place. He’s also gone from the world’s most famous complementary player to a key cog in an offense that has averaged 6.3 runs per game since he moved up in the batting order.