While CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe have dominated the non-Nick Swisher Yankee headlines recently, Brian Cashman is well aware of the fact that the Yanks scored nearly 200 fewer runs this year than last. To that end, reports Mark Feinsand, the team is still searching for a bat. In particular, it appears that Mark Teixeira is still on the team’s radar. That’s good news. Outside of Teixeira, the Yanks could pursue free agents Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn or they could use some of their trading chits to land a slugger. Either way, I’m sure we’ll see some more offense come to the Bronx before the off-season is out.
When we all do our post mortems on the 2008 New York Yankees, Robinson Cano will be one of the main cast of characters.
Coming off of two stellar years, Cano’s 2008 season has been a disappointment. On the season, Cano is hitting .264/.299/.403. Much of that poor line can be attributed to a start that saw him hitting .150/.213/.230 at the start of May, and over his last 441 plate appearances, he’s hitting a respectable .294/.323/.450.
But even still, something isn’t right with Robinson Cano. His power his down, and he’s doing a terrible job of getting on base. In fact, he’s drawn one base on balls in last 89 appearances and none since August 20. For a hitter who should be entering his prime offensive years, 2008 is a clear step back in the development of Robinson Cano.
Cano a 25-year-old second base who can hit .300 at the Major League level. He’s got power and great athletic ability, but he’s shown decreasing rate stats in each of the past two seasons. The Yankees, for 2009 and beyond, need Cano to put it together. He can’t become another flash-in-the-pan second baseman in the Bronx.
Later tonight, when Darrell Rasner faces off against A.J. Burnett (gulp), Hideki Matsui should return to the lineup for the first time in two months. Hideki hasn’t played June 22, and by all accounts, he’ll need knee surgery this year. With Matsui returning, though, I have to wonder how the Yanks plan on using him.
On the season, Matsui had been quietly having a great season before he hurt his knee. While his power was down a bit — he has just 7 home runs in 69 games — his triple-slash numbers are .323/.404/.458.
But Matsui has excelled in a few situations this year when the rest of the team has not. In 78 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Matsui is hitting .338/.449/.462. In clutch situations, he’s been stellar as well. If the Yanks are to make a run for October over the last six weeks of the season, they sure could use a bat like Matsui’s in the lineup.
There’s one catch: Where should the Yankees play Matsui? As far as I can tell, the Yanks’ lineup is full, and inserting Matsui into the order could weaken the team.
Right now, the Yanks’ outfield consists of some combination of Xavier Nady, Brett Gardner, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu. In the DH slot, they use the odd man out of the outfield — usually Damon or Nady — or Jason Giambi with Wilson Betemit stepping in at first. The Yanks aren’t about to sit Xavier Nady and his +171 OPS. Damon’s been a stellar offense force, and even Jason Giambi has managed to turn in a good season. Bobby Abreu leads the team in RBIs.
Meanwhile, Matsui can only DH. So how will Joe Girardi manage this one? I’m guessing that Jason Giambi will play first and Matsui will DH. Brett Gardner will perhaps be the odd man out, but the Yanks seem committed to playing him. Plus, the defense suffers significantly with Damon in center.
Right now, I’m basically just thinking out loud, but if the Yanks want to insert Matsui in the lineup, the outfield would generally be Nady-Damon-Abreu. That’s not my ideal lineup, but with Matsui returning, it will do.
Of course, we’re being a bit premature. No one knows how Matsui’s knee will hold up, and the Yanks probably won’t push it too much. Damon is better suited to the DH/OF role he’s inhabited for much of the year, and Brett Gardner has, in his most recent call-up, shown the promise and ability we thought he would the first time around.
Considering the way the Yanks have been going, having too much offense would be a welcome problem, and we’ll see, starting tonight, how Girardi and his coaches handle it. As long as Hideki hits, it almost doesn’t matter.
In the bottom of the first last night, Derek Jeter grounded out to third on the first pitch. This prompted a discussion regarding Jeter’s propensity this year to swing at the first pitch. It seems like he does it all the time. Anyone else agree? I’m sure there are at least some that have noticed this.
However, looking at Baseball Reference, this is not the case at all. In fact, Jeter has swung at the first pitch in just 31 percent of his plate appearances. That ties his career low mark, as he put up the same percentage over the course of last year.
What’s stranger is that Jeter seems to do better when he swings at the first pitch more and makes contact overall less. In 1999, Jeter’s best overall season, he swung at the first pitch in 41 percent of his plate appearances, a career high, and made contact 80 percent of the time. This year, as last year, he’s making contact in 85 percent of his plate appearances. In 2006, when he should have been MVP, he swung at the first pitch 37 percent of the time, and made contact 82 percent.
So what’s wrong with Derek Jeter this season? He’s not hitting poorly, per se. A .286/.348/.404 line isn’t horribly by any stretch, but we’ve come to expect a bit more from the captain. Is he in a decline phase? It’s possible, though no one wants to admit it. It’s one of the only explanations I can come up with. Anyone else seeing anything else?
Late add: His line drive percentage is down and his groundball percentage is up a little. That goes some way in explaining things.
I know a ton of people would just as well say “yes” and let that be that. His stay with the Yankees hasn’t been too impressive, and certainly hasn’t been near expectations. Yes, he’s an upgrade at the plate over Miguel Cairo. Then again, who isn’t? So as we head towards Betemit’s one-year anniversary, I’m sure many Yankees fans are wondering whether he’s worth carrying on the team.
While Damon and Matsui are out, the Yanks probably have to keep him around. He’s the only guy on the bench right now who can give Jason Giambi a day away from first base, and he’s the only conceivable threat off the bench. With Jose Molina getting more playing time, and with light-hitting Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner playing with regularity, the Yanks simply need a guy who can rake on the bench.
Betemit, we know, can rake. He’s got 10 extra base hits in his 100 plate appearances this year, which is about double the rate of Melky. It’s well above Derek Jeter, even the Derek Jeter of the past few years. It’s a better rate than Robinson Cano, Bobby Abreu, and Jorge Posada. Basically, the only players on the team with a better XBH/PA ratio than Betemit are Jason Giambi (barely), and Alex Rodriguez.
There are two glaring problems with Betemit. First is that the dude refuses to take a walk. In those 100 plate appearances this year, he has walked just three times. In 192 plate appearances for the Dodgers last year, he walked 32 times. That’s more freakin’ like it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what the Yankees signed up for. So instead of getting a guy who walks once every six plate appearances, we’ve got a guy who walks once every 33.33 plate appearances. This is especially frustrating, since he maintained a similar XBH/PA ratio last year in LA before coming east.
This problem is complicated by his strikeouts. We all knew coming into this that Wilson Betemit has a longish swing, and is sent down swinging on a decently frequent occasion. His percentage isn’t much higher than what we expected, a strikeout every four plate appearances, but because he isn’t walking it’s all the worse. It means that he’s simply making more outs, as evidenced by his .280 OBP. It is simply unacceptable.
The second problem with Betemit is his pitiful defense. We’ve seen him have difficulties taking grounders at first freakin’ base this year. He’s got no range at short. We’ve seen him make enough throwing mistakes to make any start at third an uneasy one. Even if he can rake, how can we carry a utility infielder who can’t play D?
Clearly, the Yanks will have a few questions to answer about Betemit heading into the trading deadline. His bat remains intriguing, but unless he can take a few pitches and not swing at everything in the dirt, he’s not going to have much of a role on this team. If Damon and Matsui come back healthy, there doesn’t figure to be many big-time pinch hitting opportunities for the Yankees bench. You’ll have Melky or Gardner, and maybe Molina, but that’s it. Do you need a guy like Betmit to fill that role? Or is the team better served with a more defensive-minded utility infielder?
When Hank Steinbrenner starts talking, you know things are bad. But just how bad is another matter.
Over the last four games, the Yanks are 1-3. They managed to beat Johan Santana but have since been shut down by the likes of Oliver Perez, some guy named Scott Feldman and Kevin Millwood. That’s quite the rogues’ gallery of pitchers.
With the help of Baseball Reference, we know some cold, hard facts about the Yankee offense lately. Since Saturday, the Yanks have 140 plate appearances. They’re hitting, as a team, .172 with a .230 OBP and a .258 slugging. While the Yanks have had a few unimpressive four-game streaks this season, this one is by far the worst of the year.
For the Yankees, the timing of this slump couldn’t really be much worse. After closing their AL East deficit to about five games, they’ve slipped a beat. Just four games over .500, the Yanks find themselves 7.5 games behind the red-hot Rays and five games behind Boston in a very crowded Wild Card race.
With the Red Sox and Rays due in for a four- and two-game set, respectively, the Yanks needed to beat a mediocre Texas team before playing the AL East’s top dogs. But our Bombers, it seems, weren’t up to the task, and once Texas leaves town this evening, the Yanks — and their currently slumping offense — will face its toughest challenge of the year. While no team built like the Yanks and with their resources can ever be considered down and out by July 10, we’ll know in a week what sort of team we’re pulling for this year and what to expect over the last 70 games of the season.
Lost in all the talk about Chien-Ming Wang’s injury yesterday was the outcome of Sunday’s game. In it, the Yankee offense erupted for 13 runs, and the Yanks’ team MVP Alex Rodriguez was right there in the thick of things.
On the day, A-Rod was 3 for 5 with a home run, three RBIs and a walk. That performance, his second three-hit game in two days, raised his season totals to .326/.411/.603. By the end of the week, A-Rod will have enough plate appearances to qualify for the AL leaderboards, and when he does, he’ll be in top five in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. His 12 home runs has him just outside the top 10.
Even more amazing are A-Rod’s numbers since coming off the DL. In 26 games, the Yanks are 17-9, and A-Rod — along with Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon — has led the way. Rodriguez is hitting .366/.470/.710 with 8 home runs — and a ninth that went over the fence but was incorrectly ruled in play — over 93 at bats. He’s even stolen five bases in six tries.
At this point, it’s hard to overstate Alex Rodriguez’s importance to the Yankees. Since coming back, he’s changed the dynamic of the lineup, and that quad injury was just as damning to the Yanks’ early goings as the struggles of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. Meanwhile, with A-Rod hitting ahead of him, Jason Giambi is just as hot, hitting .364/.467/.701 since Alex’s return for the DL. What a powerhouse combination.
Yesterday, ESPN.com published an eTicket story by Tom Friend about A-Rod’s close friendship with Pete Rose. Baseball’s all-time hits leader has been coaching A-Rod both mentally and physically as he’s continued to mash the ball in New York City, and I can’t say I mind having Rose, one of the game’s best hitters ever, help A-Rod, one of the game’s best hitters and most tortured souls, keep his head in the game.
In the end, as A-Rod mashes, I keep coming back to October and November when we were ready to move on without Alex. Where would the Yankees be today if Alex Rodriguez had truly jumped the ship? The answer is not a pretty one.