Five-game offensive skid buries any remaining postseason hope for Yankees

At least this team makes me laugh sometimes. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
At least this team makes me laugh sometimes. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Let’s start with the obvious: the Yankees have struggled to score runs all season. This recent five-game skid is more of a 2014 skid than a five-game skid, though things have been especially bad since Friday. The Yankees have scored six runs total in their last five games, or one fewer run than the Angels scored in 3.2 innings against Hisashi Iwakuma last night. Iwakuma finished third in the AL Cy Young voting last year. In related news, the Halos became the first team to clinch a postseason spot last night.

The Yankees scored those six runs on four solo homers (Chris Young, Martin Prado, two by Brian McCann), a single by September call-up and minor league journeyman Antoan Richardson, and a steal of home against a rookie catcher. Richardson stole second and when Caleb Joseph tried to throw him out, Young trotted home. That’s all the offense since Friday. The Yankees were shut out twice, scored one run once, scored two runs once, and broke out for three runs on Saturday.

According to Katie Sharp, the six runs are the fewest the Yankees have scored in a five-game span since late-June/early-July way back in 1997. They’ve hit .175/.239/.271 as a team during these five games, which is so bad that I’m not even upset. I’m amazed more than anything. As I’m sure you know after watching these last few days, it takes a total team effort to be this feeble offensively in five straight games. Here’s a real quick breakdown of the team-wide offensive malaise:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury: 2-for-21 (.095) with no walks or extra-base hits
  2. Martin Prado: 7-for-18 (.389) with a homer and no walks
  3. Brian McCann: 3-for-16 (.188) with two homers and two walks (.278 OBP)
  4. Chris Young: 4-for-15 (.267) with two doubles, a homer, and two walks (.353 OBP)
  5. Mark Teixeira: 2-for-14 (.143) with no extra-base hits and three walks (.294 OBP)
  6. Brett Gardner: 1-for-14 (.071) with two walks (.188 OBP)
  7. Derek Jeter: 0-for-11 with one walk (.083 OBP)
  8. Ichiro Suzuki and John Ryan Murphy: both 1-for-7 (.143) with a walk (.250 OBP)
  9. Everyone Else: 6-for-30 (.200) with no extra-base hits and one walk (.226 OBP)

Prado is playing on one good hamstring and he’s still the best hitter on the team. Naturally, his season is now over due to an emergency appendectomy. Young has had a nice run of late and I’m inclined to give McCann a pass for these last five games because his two solo homers account for one-third of the team’s total offense. The rest of them? Terrible. It’s not even a bad luck thing. Most of their at-bats are bad and their contact is weak. Subjectively, of course.

“As well as we’ve pitched, we didn’t need to be great (offensively). We just needed to be good. And we haven’t been,” said Gardner to Chad Jennings following last night’s loss. “You feel like you’re due at some point. I don’t feel like it’s been a couple of games. I feel like it’s been pretty much all season. We’ve had flashes of being pretty good, but for the most part, we’ve just struggled to get guys across the plate … It’s just really frustrating. Guys are working really hard. Guys are trying. Guys are putting in the effort. For one reason or another, we’re just not getting it done.”

The offense has gone stagnant and the Yankees were officially eliminated from the AL East race last night. They can be eliminated from the wildcard race as soon as Friday. This past weekend was their last gasp, their final opportunity make a run and start an improbable comeback, but instead the offense fell flat on its collective face. At a time when the Yankees needed their lineup to be at its absolute best, they responded with their lowest scoring five-game stretch in 17 years.

The 2014 Yankees and their knack for funny base-running blunders

On Tuesday night, I joked the Yankees seem to make at least one terrible base-running play per homestand this year. That came after Martin Prado got caught in a rundown between first and second on what should have been a double. You remember the play. Carlos Beltran got a bad read from second base and only advanced to third, forcing Brian McCann to stop at second. Prado had his head down and was running hard on what should have been a two-bagger over the left fielder’s head. Blah.

The stats says the Yankees are a slightly below-average base-running team this year — FanGraphs puts them at -1.3 runs on the bases, 18th out of 30 teams — and although I said they seem to make a terrible base-running play once per homestand, that is only in my estimation. They managed to one-up Tuesday night’s gaffe with a dandy of a 2-6-3-4-5-3 double play in the first inning of last night’s game. To the action footage:

On top of that, Beltran got thrown out at the plate to end the seventh inning. It was an awful send by third base coach Robbie Thomson and Beltran was out by a mile. We’ve seen that happen more than a few teams this year as well.

I don’t even get upset about this stuff anymore. Maybe I still would if the Yankees were closer to the wildcard spot, but right now? Whatever. Part of me is annoyed by it and part of me is legitimately curious to see what they’re going to do next. Base-running mistakes have a way of making you laugh. We’ve seen plenty of these base-running blunders all year and I’m sure we’ll see another two or three before the season lets out.

After hilarious base-running mistakes in back-to-back games, I wanted to see where exactly the Yankees sit in outs on the bases this season. Surely near the top, right? Well, no. Baseball Reference says they’ve made only 40 outs on the bases in 2014, the eighth fewest in baseball. The Angels have made the most (66), the Giants the fewest (27). The Yankees are tied with nine other teams with seven outs at first base, the ninth most in baseball. Their eight outs at second base are tied for the third fewest and their five outs at third are tied for the second fewest, but their 20 outs at the plate are the third most.

As for the individual culprits, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury lead the team with six and seven outs on the bases, respectively. That makes sense though, right? They’re the two speedsters who push the envelope, and sometimes they’re going to get thrown out. That’s life. Derek Jeter has made five outs on the bases and then there’s a bunch of guys with one or two. Kelly Johnson managed to get thrown out on the bases four times with New York, including three times at home.

“How many times have you seen it happen this year, where we’ve run ourselves out of an inning?” said hitting coach Kevin Long to Bryan Hoch prior to yesterday’s game/base-running mistakes. The Yankees’ base-running mistakes have resulted in -1.25 WPA this year, so they have essentially cost themselves a win with these base-running goofs. Sometimes they don’t matter all that much, but sometimes they really hurt.

I’m not sure there’s anything more simultaneously funny and annoying as a good TOOTBLAN. The Yankees have struggled offensively all year and at times it’s been obvious they were pressing at the plate. Just about the entire team. That can carry over onto the bases and players will, as they say, try to do too much. They get overly aggressive and make bad mistakes, like we’ve seen the last two nights. Sometimes you get thrown out on the bases because the defense makes a perfect play, it happens. The 2014 Yankees have shown they have a knack for hilariously bad base-running mistakes though. That alone hasn’t sunk their season, but it’s cost them.

Teixeira’s production slipping with each passing month

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Coming into 2014, one of the bigger reasons to believe the Yankees would have an improved offense was the return of Mark Teixeira after he missed all of last season. Is he the same player he was a few years ago? Of course not. But even after wrist surgery it was a pretty good bet he would outproduce Lyle Overbay, and he has (106 vs. 86 wRC+). Overbay did an admirable job last summer, but the lack of first base production was part of the team’s downfall.

Teixeira changed his batting stance in Spring Training at the behest of hitting coach Kevin Long, who reportedly noticed his first baseman had picked up on some bad habits coming off surgery. Remember, Teixeira wasn’t 100% recovered at the start of camp, he was still easing back into things and did not play games until early-March. As I wrote in this May mailbag, Teixeira made the same adjustments as Curtis Granderson back in 2010: he closed his stance, stood more upright, lowered his hands, and used a two-handed follow-through.

The changes seemed to work too. Teixeira went deep five times in his first 15 games of the season and nine times in his first 27 games, good for a .271/.375/.573 (164 wRC+) batting line in 112 plate appearances. Obviously we all knew he wasn’t going to hit quite that well all season, but proving he was still able to hit for power so soon after wrist surgery was important. There was some hope he would be a capable middle of the order power hitter for a team in need of one, even after signing Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.

The production hasn’t lasted, of course. Teixeira has hit .204/.305/.358 (85 wRC+) with only eleven homers in 318 plate appearances across his last 76 games. There have been some minor injuries — wrist inflammation, lat strain, finger contusion — mixed in during that time, but nothing that required a DL stint or even forced him to miss more than a week. Furthermore, Teixeira’s production has declined with each passing month:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ ISO HR HR/FB%
April 48 .231/.375/.487 145 .256 3 27.3%
May 106 .247/.368/.472 136 .225 6 23.1%
June 99 .241/.303/.471 109 .230 6 21.4%
July 75 .203/.320/.375 95 .172 3 16.7%
August 98 .193/.276/.307 64 .114 2 7.1%

Teixeira was able to continue hitting for power through the month of June before losing 58 points of ISO in July and another 58 points of ISO in August. His homer totals dropped accordingly. Combine that with fewer base hits in general — his walk rate has remained strong all season, with the normal peaks and valleys — and you suddenly get one really unproductive cleanup hitter in July and especially August.

So now the question becomes why has Teixeira’s performance fallen off these last few months? That’s tough to answer, especially because it may simply be “he’s not healthy.” The guy is coming off wrist surgery, after all, plus he’s shown a knack for all sorts of other bumps and bruises. Who knows what Teixeira might be hiding or trying to play through, or how the combination of injuries is starting to take its toll. We can’t know from where we sit.

As for some numbers, the amazing Baseball Savant says Teixeira’s average distance on balls hit in the air was actually at its highest in July, and August was higher than both April and May. Month-by-month pitch selection data for hitters usually doesn’t tell you anything useful other than at the extremes, and it isn’t particularly enlightening with Teixeira:

Batted Ball Distance (ft)
FB% CH% CB% SL%
April 217.8 69.5% 9.8% 10.4% 8.3%
May 233.0 57.0% 17.7% 12.7% 11.7%
June 249.8 62.2% 16.0% 9.8% 10.9%
July 254.6 69.0% 10.3% 8.0% 10.0%
August 234.7 60.0% 22.2% 9.2% 8.4%

Basically all this tells us is Teixeira is still hitting the ball has far as he has all year and pitchers have not substantially changed the way they’re pitching him. Those month-by-month changes in pitch selection are just the natural ebbs and flow of baseball. I’m not even going to bother posting the spray charts because they’re one big garbled mess that look no different from month to month because he’s a switch-hitter.

Figuring out the cause of Teixeira’s power outage is little more than guesswork. Maybe he just stinks at baseball now. That’s always possible. The wrist could be bothering him, Long could have given him bad guidance — Teixeira is still using his “new” stance, for what it’s worth — maybe Foul Territory is taking up too much of his time, or maybe it’s something else entirely. Who knows what else is going on behind the scenes. What we do know for sure is that Teixeira’s production has dropped considerably as the season has progressed.

For all the recent talk about dropping Derek Jeter in the lineup, Teixeira doesn’t belong in the cleanup spot either. Ideally he’d bat seventh or eighth at this point, he’s been that bad these last few weeks, but you can’t bat everyone in the lineup seventh or eighth. The Yankees have a whole lotta number seven and eight hitters on the roster right now. Teixeira started the season very well and I was thrilled he was that productive so soon after wrist surgery. The production didn’t last though, and his fade is a reason why the Yankees are so far out of a postseason spot.

Lack of walks contributing to Yankees’ mediocre offense

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello was pretty sharp Tuesday night, and as a result the Yankees failed to draw a walk for the tenth time this season. That is still well short of last year’s 17 walk-less games, but it matches 2012’s total and is way more than they had in any year from 2002-11 — they averaged 4.6 walk-less games per year during that stretch and never had more than seven. Last night was their fourth walk-less game in August alone.

Before the season, I expected the offense to improve on last season’s subpar walk rate because of their offseason additions. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann in particular came into the season with strong career walk rates. Instead, the Yankees have essentially the same walk rate this year (7.6%) as last year (7.7%). Their unintentional walk rate (7.3%) is more or less the same as well (7.2%). The AL average this year is a 7.8% walk rate.

The Yankees as a team have their lowest walk rate since the dismal 1990 club that lost 95 games, averaged 3.72 runs per game, and walked in only 7.1% of their plate appearances. Offensive levels have changed over the years though, so a 7.6% walk rate in 2014 is not the same thing as a 7.6% walk rate in 2000 or 1990. Here’s how the Yankees’ walk rate has compared to the AL average since that 1990 season. This works the same way as ERA+ — a 100 BB+ is average and the bigger the number, the better.

1990-2014 NYY BB+

The Yankees have essentially the same walk rate as last year but they’re slightly better relative to the league average. They’re still below average overall though. It’s hard not to notice the club missed the postseason the last two times they posted a below league average walk rate and are on pace to do the same this year, but this is one of those “correlation does not equal causation” situations. A below average walk rate doesn’t automatically equal no postseason for this or any team.

Fewer walks does mean fewer runs though. That is obvious and an indisputable fact. It is harder to get a base hit right now than at any point in the last 42 years — the AL is hitting .254 overall this year, the lowest league batting average since 1972 (.239!), the year before the DH was implemented — because of things like infield shifts, specialized relievers, more hard-throwers, in-depth scouting reports, and an acceptance of strikeouts as a trade off for power. All of that and more makes picking up a base hit difficult in this age.

Walks are another way to create offense — a walk is almost never as a good as a hit and no hitter goes to the plate looking for a walk, they just take them when they come — and the Yankees excelled at drawing them for the better part of the last two decades. These last two years have been much different, though at least last season we could fall back on the injury excuse. Missing Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson for a chunk of the 2013 season in particular took a big bite out of the team’s walk total. This year? No such excuse.

Both Beltran (7.7%) and McCann (6.3%) are walking at a rate far below their career averages (10.3% and 9.2%, respectively), so they’re part of the problem. Neither guy as done much damage when swinging the bat in general and they’ve compounded the problem by drawing fewer walks as well. In fact, let’s take a quick look at the career and 2014 walk rates of the lineup regulars (the trade deadline guys just got here):

2014 BB% Career BB% Diff.
Carlos Beltran 7.7% 10.3% -2.6%
Jacoby Ellsbury 8.6% 7.1% +1.5%
Brett Gardner 9.5% 10.2% -0.7%
Derek Jeter 5.8% 8.6% -2.8%
Brian McCann 6.3% 9.2% -2.9%
Ichiro Suzuki 6.0% 5.9% +0.1%
Mark Teixeira 11.9% 11.4% +0.5%

Beltran, Jeter, and McCann have all seen their walk rates take a big tumble this year, compared to their career averages. Only Ellsbury has seen a substantial improvement. Gardner’s drop in walk rate is at least offset by his selectively aggressive approach and newfound power skills. The team is drawing fewer weeks this year and it’s easy see where the drop is coming from.

The Yankees are struggling to score runs for a lot of reasons this year, particularly because of the disappointing Beltran and McCann. Ellsbury’s been very good but he isn’t an impact hitter, last night’s two homers notwithstanding. His value comes from his all-around game, not offensive dominance. Teixeira’s doing exactly what he’s done the last few years, Jeter and Ichiro are on the wrong side of 40, and Gardner has been the lone offensive surprise. The Yankees have lost the two things that make them the Yankees, that trademark power and patience.

Trade deadline additions yet to have an impact offensively

"Please pray that I get a hit." (Darren McCollester/Getty)
“Please pray that I get a hit.” (Darren McCollester/Getty)

Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear the Yankees needed to upgrade their lineup and their rotation. The pitching help never came, at least not in the form of something other than a scrap heap pickup, but the team did add three position players at the deadline. Chase Headley was acquired to shore up third base, and, about a week later, Stephen Drew and Martin Prado were brought in for second base and right field, respectively.

The Yankees were getting close to nothing from those three positions before the trade deadline. The team’s third basemen hit .224/.321/.301 from June 1st through the Headley trade while their second basemen and right fielders hit .204/.259/.319 and .228/.254/.290, respectively, in June and July before the Drew and Prado trades. That’s pretty awful. The Yankees had (at least) three dead spots in the lineup for a two-month stretch and something had to be done. That couldn’t continue.

Headley, Drew, and Prado stepped right into the lineup and immediately improved the team’s defense even though the latter two were playing out of position. Surely the focus was on upgrading the offense, but improve the defense was also important and the Yankees accomplished that with the trades. The offensive production has not been there yet, at least not from Drew and Prado. Headley is hitting .250/.354/.382 (110 wRC+) in pinstripes and it would be unfair to lump him in with the other two. He hasn’t been great with the bat but he hasn’t been part of the problem either.

Drew and Prado, however, has been totally unproductive in their limited time with the Yankees. Drew is hitting .154/.195/.231 (12 wRC+) in 41 plate appearances so far, and two of his three hits (!) came in his first two games with the team. He’s gone 1-for-28 with no walks since. He has consistently had long at-bats (4.12 pitches per plate appearance) but, as we saw with Brian Roberts, that is close to meaningless if those at-bats don’t turn into times on base. He’s been very good defensively in my opinion, especially since he’s playing a new position, but that hasn’t been enough.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Prado, on the other hand, is hitting .189/.250/.297 (51 wRC+) with a homer in 40 plate appearances with the Yankees. He took David Price deep a week ago and has three singles with no walks since. Prado wasn’t hitting much with the Diamondbacks before the trade (89 wRC+), though he was trending in the right direction, with a .282/.326/.411 (103 wRC+) batting line in the two months prior to coming to New York, but he has not sustained that success in pinstripes. I don’t think anyone was expecting peak Prado, when he was consistently a 117+ wRC+ player with the Braves, but I think we were all hoping for something better than this.

Now, both Drew and Prado are playing new positions and that could be hurting their offense. Drew didn’t have a proper Spring Training and Prado is also changing leagues. If nothing else, those are reasons to hope they will improve going forward. Not hitting since joining the Yankees doesn’t mean they will not hit forever, but these last eleven games or so happened. They’re in the books and neither player has helped the struggling offense. The Bombers averaged 4.01 runs per game before the trade deadline and they’re at 3.82 runs per game since. Obviously facing Corey Kluber and Detroit’s staff last week will skew the numbers a bit, but Bud Norris? Carlos Carrasco? Anthony Ranaudo?

The Yankees lack a bonafide number three or four hitter in the wake of Robinson Cano‘s departure and that type of hitter simply wasn’t available at the trade deadline. The team was going to have to get by with smaller upgrades to add depth to the lineup, and the Drew and Prado additions theoretically did that. They have yet to hit though, failing to meet the low “better than Roberts and Ichiro” standard this far. The Yankees don’t have the pitching or the impact hitters at other positions to continue carrying multiple dead spots in the lineup. Drew and Prado have to start producing for the team to have any hope of climbing back into the postseason race.