Archive for Offense
Thanks to the offseason losses and Spring Training injuries, it appeared as though the Yankees would be relying on speed to generate offense this year more than they have at any point in the last 15 years or so. Surprisingly great starts from guys like Vernon Wells and Kevin Youkilis have made the loss of power basically nonexistent — the Yankees have hit an AL-leading 20 homers. The speed game, however, has yet to show up.
The idea of creating runs though speed revolved around two players: Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki. Eduardo Nunez joined the mix once it became apparent Derek Jeter‘s ankle would prevent him from starting the season on time. Gardner’s return from injury and a full season of Ichiro meant the team had two 30+ steal (maybe even two 40+ steal) candidates on the roster, and in the past Nunez has stolen bases at a clip that suggests 30+ is doable for him as long as he got enough playing time. A hundred total steals from those three seemed entirely possible.
Instead, 13 games into the season, the Yankees have stolen three bases as a team. Two of those steals came four innings apart in the same game, when Wells and Chris Stewart (!) took advantage of Ubaldo Jimenez’s slow delivery to take second base with ease. Nunez stole a base in the second game of the season and that’s it, three steals in 13 games. They’ve been caught three times as well (Gardner twice), and those six stolen base attempts are a bottom-five total in baseball. Definitely not what I expected.
The surprising power output means the lack of steals have not hurt the Yankees, but it is an area where they should be getting more production than they have. I don’t think any of us seriously thought Gardner would still be sitting on zero stolen bases 13 games into the season, especially since he’s been hitting reasonably well — .256/.333/.426 (110 wRC+). Ichiro has been awful, so I guess his excuse is that he simply hasn’t been on-base enough to use his legs. We’ll see how long that continues.
Moreso than maybe any other non-base hit offensive event, stolen bases tend to come in bunches. If the Yankees run into a particularly poor-throwing catcher at some point soon, Gardner would wind up stealing like six bases in a three-game series. It’s inevitable that he and Nunez and even Ichiro will get going on the base paths at some point, but I didn’t think we’d be sitting here halfway through April will just six stolen base attempts to the team’s credit. It’s not a huge problem or anything, but at some point these guys need to create some havoc with their legs to supplement the homers. It’s a big part of the reason why they are on the roster in the first place.
The only way to start a post like this is with a standard “it’s incredibly early in the season” disclaimer. Two games tell us so very little in the grand scheme of things — we would barely pay any attention to a pair of back-to-back losses in June or July — but because they happened at the start of the year it’s very easy to look too deep into things. We’re baseball starved and we want to see things that aren’t there. It’s only natural.
That said, the Yankees have had a problem on offense in their first two games. We knew the lineup wouldn’t be as potent as it has been in the past coming into the year, and nothing that’s happened the last three days makes me think otherwise. Robinson Cano has one single in eight plate appearances but that will change, he’s driven a number of balls to the outfield that were reeled in by nice defensive plays. Both Vernon Wells and Kevin Youkilis have shown promising signs and Travis Hafner has a hit in each game, so let’s cross our fingers and hope he stays healthy.
The lineup spots that have really killed the Yankees in these last two games are the 9-1-2 spots, the third of the lineup before Cano and the rest of the middle of the order bats. Here’s what that threesome of hitters has done in the first two games…
- Monday: 2-for-11, 2 BB, 1 K
- Wednesday: 0-for-12, 1 BB, 3 K
- Total: 2-for-23 (.087), 3 BB (.192 OBP), 4 K
Yeah, that’s not going to cut it. I guess the good news is that those three lineup spots have worked the count well — 109 pitches in 26 plate appearances, or 4.2 P/PA — but that’s a small consolation prize. I mean, I generally consider it a win when bad hitters see a bunch of pitches and work an at-bat, but that was back in the days when the Yankees had a deep lineup and one black hole wasn’t a problem. These days they need some actual production, and a sub-.200 (!) OBP from the three guys hitting in front of Cano won’t cut it over any length of games.
Thankfully, this is just two games. Brett Gardner won’t have many 0-for-5s like he did yesterday and Eduardo Nunez is unlikely to go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts from the two-hole like he did on Monday very often. The schedule suggests the Yankees will see a ton of right-handed starters over the next two weeks or so, meaning Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki will have an opportunity to settle in and have the platoon advantage for the while. Hopefully that happens. It’s not a guarantee but history suggests it will.
The Bombers had an awful lot of trouble scoring runs these last two games (at least until Wells hit that garbage time three-run homer last night) and that woeful production from the 9-1-2 hitters is a big reason why. If Cano and Youkilis aren’t getting any opportunities to drive in runs, the Yankees won’t score. This isn’t a team that can generate offense from the 7-8-9 spots anymore. Hopefully Gardner & Co. get this stuff straightened out and soon, the Yankees will have a real hard time pushing runs across if they don’t.
It was obvious Mark Teixeira‘s importance to the Yankees increased as soon as they made it clear they were willfully downgrading their offense. New York signed Teixeira to that fat eight-year contract — fourth largest contract in baseball history when it was signed — assuming he would anchor the middle of their lineup for years to come, but he simply hasn’t lived up to those expectations. Teixeira was great in 2009 but has faded in recent years.
Despite that fade, Teixeira has never actually been bad with the Yankees. Last year was his worst in the Bronx but he was still a comfortably above-average hitter, producing a .251/.332/.475 (116 wRC+) line with 24 homers in 123 games. That last number was the problem though, the games played. Outside of a quad-related DL trip back in 2007, Teixeira had been a lock for 150+ games played from 2005-2011. Last summer he missed a few days with a wrist issue and more than a month with a calf strain. Let’s not forget the early-season cough as well, which didn’t keep him on the sidelines in the traditional sense but surely impacted his production. If we go back to 2010, there was the broken toe in September and the hamstring strain that ended his season in Game Four of the ALCS.
Thanks to Curtis Granderson‘s injury, Teixeira’s importance to the Yankees has increased even more. They were able to withstand his declining production the last three years before their lineup (and bench) was deeper and better able to compensate. That’s not the case anymore. Derek Jeter is coming off his ankle surgery and both Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner are injury risks, meaning the lineup is even further at risk of losing its more productive players. The Yankees not only need Teixeira to stay on the field for 150+ games in 2013, but they also need him to halt his decline and improve on his offensive performance. Maybe being healthy instead of battling through a cough and a wrist problem and a calf strain will help him do that.
“Stay healthy and have fun. That’s my number one goal because I know if I stay healthy the numbers are going to be there,” said
Captain Obvious Teixeira to Mark Feinsand earlier in camp. “I’m going to help my team win. Have fun, because it’s a long season, there’s a lot of ups and downs and I’ve spent my entire career just trying to stay consistent. I know there are going to be low points, I know there are going to be high points. If I can have fun during both of those then I’ll be able to have a great season overall.”
Teixeira isn’t old, he’ll turn 33 about two weeks into the season. He plays a less-demanding/non-premium position and isn’t at an age where he’s at serious risk of falling off a cliff. His numbers — specifically his batting average and by extension, his on-base percentage — have declined because he’s gotten more pull/fly ball happy, and that’s not the best combination for maximizing offensive value. It’s been three years since Teixeira was the all-fields monster he was earlier in his career, so it’s time to stop expecting that guy to come back. Getting 150+ games of better than league average production, especially in the power department, out of Teixeira is the most important thing in 2013. If he continues to battle injury and/or sees his performance slip further, the Yankees will have a very hard time compensating.
It took all of ten Spring Training innings for the Yankees to suffer the inevitable injury that exposed their … well … vulnerability to injury. Because the baseball gods have a twisted sense of humor, it wasn’t one of the team’s older or injury prone players who got hurt. It was the young-ish and generally durable Curtis Granderson, who will miss the next ten weeks thanks to an errant J.A. Happ pitch and a fractured right forearm. Assuming everything heals well, he’ll return to the team in early-May.
The injury takes a huge bite out of New York’s lineup, obviously. Granderson is one of the game’s premier power hitters and that just can’t be replaced. Joe Girardi will have to get a little more creative in an effort to generate runs, which is something I’m sure he’ll enjoy. The speed of Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner will be that much more important, ditto the continued health of Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis. Those two have combined for nine (!) DL trips in the last three seasons, but the Yankees have no choice but to keep their fingers crossed and hope they stay on the field through April.
Despite the initial shock of Granderson’s injury, the Yankees do have time on their side. Opening Day is still more than a month away and the club does have some internal options to audition in camp. None of them are particularly appealing to me outside of multi-threat/contact-challenged Melky Mesa, but they might as well give the Zoilo Almontes and Ronnie Musteliers and the like a chance. It’s not like other clubs are going to start offering up their spare outfielders out of the kindness of their heart, quite the opposite will happen. Trade prices have suddenly skyrocketed and now isn’t the time for desperation.
Brian Cashman has been on the job a long time, so he’s been here before. The Yankees lost Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield to significant injuries in the span of about two weeks back in May 2006, but it wasn’t until the trade deadline that Cashman acquired Bobby Abreu. Melky Cabrera got his chance and took advantage (.360 OBP and 98 wRC+), which is what the Yankees could use now. Outside of Mesa or Almonte running into some fastballs and having a Shane Spencer-esque month, they’re not going to be able to replace Granderson with a power hitter. Someone who can get on-base at a decent clip and not embarrass himself defensively is typical stopgap stuff. Cashman has always been patient in these situations and wouldn’t expect anything different now.
The Yankees have a pretty small margin of error this season, so the impact of Granderson’s injury is more dramatic than it would have been a year or two ago. The Bombers got worse this offseason while other clubs in the division improved, meaning the AL East might be a four-team race instead of the usual two or three. If Jeter’s ankle takes longer to heal than expected, or Ichiro turns back in to the pumpkin he was from 2011 through the 2012 trade deadline, or one of Hafner or Youkilis gets hurt, the Yankees are going to have a very serious problem on their hands. Then again, so would most teams who lost multiple regulars. New York is more vulnerable because of their age and division though, a problem that has been exposed before the calendar even flipped to March.
There’s no question the Yankees downgraded their offense this winter, specifically in right field and behind the plate. They did upgrade the left-handed half of the DH platoon though, at least in theory. Raul Ibanez‘s super-clutch late-season homers made it easy to forget he hit .202/.281/.359 for nearly 300 plate appearances (292, to be exact) from mid-May through mid-September and was in danger of being left off the postseason roster. We all love Raul, but he had to be replaced.
The replacement the Bombers brought in is long-time Indian Travis Hafner, who signed a one-year deal worth $2M guaranteed earlier this month. Joe Girardi confirmed last week that Hafner will be the team’s primary DH against right-handers and nothing else — “He’s a DH … that’s the plan,” said the skipper flatly — a role for which he is well-suited. The 35-year-old hit .241/.361/.437 (123 wRC+) against righties last season and .278/.385/.470 (136 wRC+) over the last three years, but he’s not completely useless against southpaws either (92 wRC+ since 2010). A lefty specialist in the late innings shouldn’t result in an automatic out like it did with Ibanez.
Brian Cashman used the term “big, hairy monster” this offseason to describe the type of hitters he prefers, and Hafner pretty clearly fits the mold. For one, he’s a pretty big dude — the team’s official site lists him at 6-foot-3 and 240 lbs. — with broad shoulders and scary-looking biceps and forearms. Two, his menacing batting stance …
… looks like something that would say “I’m going to hurt this baseball and kick your dog” to the pitcher if it could talk. It’s mean.
Third, he hits the ball a frickin’ mile. Hafner’s homers have averaged 398.5-ft since 2010 according to Hit Tracker, which is a huge number. Mark Teixeira, who I think we can all agree has big time power and is capable of hitting majestic blasts, has averaged 390.5-ft with his dingers over the last three years. Hafner will get some help from the short porch, but he has a knack for making most parks look small to start with.
Anyway, Hafner is important to the Yankees because he adds some much needed depth to the lineup. He fits in perfectly behind the middle-of-the-order trio of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Teixeira, and in fact the best lineup might have Granderson hitting second and Hafner hitting fifth. That’s a conversation for another time though. The important thing is that Hafner’s on-base ability will help mitigate the loss of Nick Swisher without sacrificing any power production.
Of course, the problem here is that Hafner gets hurt. Like, all the time. He’s visited the DL at least twice in each of the last two seasons and at least once in each of the last five. The ailments range from shoulder surgery (2008) to an oblique strain (2011) to knee surgery (2012) to a bulging disc in his back (2012). Despite his defensive and on-base shortcomings, Ibanez always managed to stay on the field (one DL trip since 2004). That’s why I said the Yankees upgraded the DH spot in theory before, it’s only an upgrade if Hafner avoids the DL.
The Yankees have used a different primary DH in each of the last four seasons, so Hafner will make it five in five years in 2013. He should, at least on a rate base, but the team’s most productive DH since Hideki Matsui in 2009, but that’s only if he stays healthy. Remember, a player doesn’t have to be on the DL for an injury to be a problem either, playing hurt could be more harmful that just sitting out. I’m looking forward to watching Hafner mash some taters this summer, and the Yankees better hope he’s out there more often than not.
The Yankees lost quite a bit of power this offseason thanks to Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Eric Chavez signing elsewhere as free agents. If they’re lucky, Ichiro Suzuki and the catching tandem will combine to replace the 16 homers Chavez hit by himself last season, nevermind the 45 they’re losing in Swisher and Martin. That power is gone, there is no more offseason left to replace it, so the Yankees are going to have to score runs in other ways this summer.
“Well, I anticipate (the offense is) going to be different, because we don’t quite have the homerun hitters we’ve had in the past,” said Joe Girardi last week. “So we’re going to have to find different ways to score runs. I think when you look at our club this year, there’s more speed. You have one outfielder who has the potential of stealing 50-60 bases if he stays healthy the whole year. So I think our offense is going to be different, but I believe that we’re going to score runs. It’s just going to be in a different fashion than it has been in the past.”
As Girardi mentioned, speed on the bases is going to more important this summer. Brett Gardner is returning from his elbow injury and he’s averaged 43 steals per 150 games played throughout his big league career. Ichiro has stolen no fewer than 26 bases in any of his 12 big league seasons and Curtis Granderson has a handful of 20+ steal seasons to his credit. He only stolen ten bases (in 13 attempts) last year for whatever reason, but hopefully he runs a little more in his contract year. Given his ankle injury, I wouldn’t count on Derek Jeter to steal any bases. I’m sure he’ll grab a few, but they’re a bonus. Eduardo Nunez might swipe a few off the bench as well.
MLB and the player’s union eliminated the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move this winter, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter told Jon Morosi that he expects stolen base totals to jump as a result. “The things (that move) keeps from happening were huge … It shuts down the first and third. A right-handed pitcher had to have that move. Otherwise, you’re giving up 90-feet all the time,” said Showalter. The timing works out well for the Yankees, but they’ll still need to actually take advantage of the rule change. That’s easier said than done, but I think a brilliant player like Ichiro will figure it out. Gardner … who knows.
Speed goes beyond stealing bases as well. Going first-to-third on a single, advancing on a wild pitch, all that stuff incrementally improves a team’s chances of scoring. Gardner, Granderson, Ichiro, and Nunez are the obvious candidates to pull that off, Jeter as well when healthy. Otherwise though, the lineup will be full of … wait for it … basecloggers like Mark Teixeira, Travis Hafner, and Kevin Youkilis. Those three are going to have to pick their spots, but the other guys can and will have to push the envelope more than usual this summer.
All this speed stuff sounds great in theory, but the Yankees aren’t in the best division for carefree base-running. Jose Molina and Matt Wieters are both elite when it comes to shutting down the stolen base game, and outfielders like Jose Bautista, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Melky Cabrera all offer cannon arms that limit first-to-thirds, second-to-homes, and other base-running exploits. Shane Victorino on the other hand … don’t worry about him (part two!). It’s going to be very important for the Yankees — particularly first base coach Mick Kelleher and third base coach Robbie Thomson — to know the scouting reports this year. The margin of error is smaller thanks to the power decline.
Back in November, my pal Jackie Moore noted that stolen bases are more valuable right now than they have been in the past because of the overall offensive decline in the game. The Yankees have two premium base-stealing threats in Ichiro and Gardner (assuming he actually says healthy) and a nice secondary threat in Granderson. Nunez and Jeter are wildcards. It takes an awful lot of heady running to accumulate meaningful overall value on the bases — only one player (Mike Trout) was worth more than eight runs on the bases last year — but in real life, in actual game context, a stolen base or a first-to-third in the late innings of a close game is incredibly valuable. The Yankees will need to do more of that this year than they have at any point in the last 20 years or so.
Earlier this offseason we heard that new third baseman Kevin Youkilis was hard at work with hitting coach Kevin Long in an effort to improve his declining offensive production. His overall output dropped down to a 102 wRC+ last season, basically league average, after sitting at 126 wRC+ in 2011 and 159 wRC+ in 2010. Considering he’s going to turn 34 next month, Youkilis was wise to get together with Long and make some adjustments before the season.
Youkilis met up with Jack Curry recently and discussed the changes he’s been working on, specifically setting up with a wider base and lowering his hands. Both are pretty common “old player” adjustments that try to eliminate wasted movement and get the hitter into a hitting position sooner. Youkilis is a dead-pull hitter and as he gets older and his bat slows down, he’ll need to shorten his swing up somewhere to avoid popping up the other way or getting jammed inside. I’m not terribly optimistic, but I’m glad they’re making an effort to improve now rather than midseason.
Late last week the Yankees addressed the left-handed half of what will presumably be a DH platoon, signing Travis Hafner to a one-year contract worth $2M. Pronk’s power and on-base ability will be an upgrade over Raul Ibanez‘s offensive contributions last year as long as he stays on the field. That part is far from a given thanks to his extensive injury history.
Last season the Yankees employed — or attempted to employ before injuries an other factors interfered — an unorthodox DH platoon that consisted of playing Eduardo Nunez in the field against left-handers while either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez served as the DH. I expect them to try a similar arrangement in 2013, but obviously the pieces will change. A-Rod is going to miss at least half the season due to his hip surgery, leaving Jeter and Kevin Youkilis as the infielders most of need of regular rest.
In addition to being 38-years-old, Jeter is coming off a major ankle injury that required surgery. He recently resumed baseball activities and right now it appears as though he’ll be ready in time for Opening Day. Even if he is healthy and ready to go when the season begins, I still expect Joe Girardi to give him regular turns at DH just to ease him back into things following the ankle fracture. Girardi is always conservative when it comes to injuries and it makes complete sense to take it easy on the Cap’n in April. Youkilis is no stranger to the DL and he will need his fair share of DH days, but hopefully not as many as Jeter early in the season.
The question about who replaces Jeter or Youkilis in the field on those DH days is unanswered. Despite the club’s insistence that he is most valuable at shortstop (duh), Brian Cashman recently said they would convert Nunez back into a utility infielder if he makes the team out of Spring Training. The other option is Jayson Nix, who did an admirable job off the bench last summer as the primary utility infielder following Eduardo’s defense-related demotion. David Adams and Corban Joseph could receive consideration for the job, but their inability to play shortstop works against them.
Jason Bartlett is pretty much the only notable infielder left on the free agent market who can legitimately play shortstop, so it sure looks like it will be Nix or Nunez subbing in against lefties while Jeter or Youkilis spends the day at DH. Nix, 30, is steady but unspectacular in the field and below-average but adequate at the plate. The 25-year-old Nunez offers much more exciting tools in his speed, contact ability, and arm strength, but he’s a big liability in the field. He has little trouble getting to balls and offers more range than Nix, but obviously he has major issues finishing the play. If the Yankees want reliability, they’ll take Nix. If they want some upside, they’ll take Nunez. There’s not much point in arguing strongly either way right now.
Assuming the Yankees carry a right-handed hitting outfielder on the bench to platoon with their various left-handed hitting outfielders, they have three bench spots left to fill. One will go to the backup catcher, so it’s really two spots. Given the weak catching tandem, I would really like to see the team carry a good left-handed bat on the bench so Girardi could pinch-hit liberally in the late-innings. Dan Johnson, who can play the corner infield spots in a pinch, could make sense for that role. It’s a job that Eric Chavez would have filled perfectly, but alas. Given how unlikely the team’s catchers (whoever they end up being) are to hit, I think having that dangerous lefty pinch-hitter is more of a necessity than a luxury.
If the Yankees do carry such a player, they’re left with one bench spot for a utility infielder. That guy will have to be able to play shortstop and play it fairly regularly, I’m thinking two or three times a week until Jeter settles in following the surgery. Not only that, but he has to be able to run for inevitable pinch-running situations. I think Nunez is a better bet to do that than Nix, but his defense stinks. At the same time, the more at-bats Nix receives, the more his production is likely to go down. He’s the type of guy who gets exposed with too much playing time. There is a scenario in which the Yankees could carry both on their bench at the start of the season, but they would be short-changing themselves elsewhere.
At some point in the next few weeks, the Yankees will get around to acquiring a regular DH and a right-handed platoon bat to pair with their all-left-handed hitting outfield. They might even acquire a real starting catcher, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The third base and right field holes have been addressed with the signings of Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki, respectively, so the heavy lifting on the position player side of things is already complete.
Youkilis and Suzuki could not be any more different offensively, yet they both bring valuable skills. Youkilis doesn’t have the power he once did, but he’s still crazy patient and will provide tough at-bats each time up. Ichiro is a powerless speed-and- contact machine who puts the ball in play and dares the defense to convert it into an out before he reaches first base. Both guys are offensively valuable in their own way, and they both possess skills that allow them to hit in different batting order spots without looking out of place.
If the season started today, it’s fair to say that Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson would occupy the three-four-five spots in the lineup in whatever order. The catcher presumably bats ninth. Assuming Derek Jeter‘s fractured ankle heals up in time for Opening Day, he’ll bat either first or second no questions asked. That leaves the Yankees with this basic lineup structure…
- Jeter or ?
- Jeter or ?
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Not Russell Martin
One of those ?s will go to Brett Gardner, two others to Youkilis and Ichiro. The other goes to the DH, whoever that ends up being. Ichiro initially batted towards the bottom of the order after coming to New York at midseason, but he eventually hit his way into the two-spot behind Jeter. Youkilis, on the other hand, also hit second with the White Sox after they acquired him from the Red Sox. They both have number two hitter profiles, it just depends on whether your a traditionalist (Ichiro) or saber-slanted (Youkilis).
Before we move any further, let’s quickly look at some platoon data…
|wRC+ vs. LHP (2012)||wRC+ vs. RHP (2012)||wRC+ vs. LHP (2010-2012)||wRC+ vs. RHP (2010-2012)|
First off, ignore Gardner’s splits for this season because he barely played (only 37 plate appearances). Other than that, there are some rather drastic platoon splits here, particularly with Jeter and Youkilis. Those two destroy southpaws but aren’t nearly as productive against righties. Ichiro is worse off against lefties (especially of late) while Gardner shows almost no split. That info should be a consideration when Joe Girardi fills out his lineup card.
Given their mammoth production against southpaws, it seems pretty obvious that Jeter and Youkilis should bat one-two whenever there’s a left-hander on the mound. Assuming the Yankees sign a right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with their left-handed outfield bats, that guy could hit sixth while either Gardner or (preferably) Ichiro sits. The DH goes seventh (that could be another platoon situation as well), the not-sitting outfielder eighth. That part is simple, but the lineup against righties isn’t as straight forward.
For one, Jeter’s platoon split is irrelevant. He’s going to bat first or second no matter what because he’s Derek frickin’ Jeter. Given Youkilis’ decline against same-side pitchers in recent years, he’s not the ideal two-hole hitter even though his production against righties is the best of the quartet’s over the last three seasons. Ichiro has the veteran clout over Gardner even though he may be a lesser hitter at the moment. Girardi could go with Jeter at leadoff and either Ichiro or Gardner at two against righties, or he could go Gardner or Ichiro at leadoff with Jeter at two to break up the lefties near the middle of the order.
Although Gardner is not the hitter for average that Ichiro is, he’s far better at getting on-base. He hasn’t had a sub-.345 OBP since his partial rookie season in 2008 while Ichiro hasn’t been above .310 (!) since 2010. The on-base split is even more drastic when we look at just right-handed pitchers, and you want men on-base for Cano & Co. It’s also worth noting that Gardner’s contact rate (90.6%) is actually better than Ichiro’s (90.1%) during the PitchFX era (2007-present). His strikeouts tend to be looking, as you know. Considering that Cano is likely to hit third and Girardi loves to split up his lefties, Gardner is the better choice to hit leadoff against righties even if he’s not the future Hall of Famer on a pricey two-year contract.
Everything kinda falls into place after that. Youkilis can hit sixth, the DH seventh, Ichiro eighth, and then the catcher ninth. Flipping Youkilis with DH is possible as well, though I’m working under the assumption that Granderson will bat fifth and the DH against righties will be a left-handed hitter. Gotta split dem lefties. You get speed and contact at the top and bottom of the batting order with the thunder in the middle against right-handers, but against lefties the thunder starts right at the top with this arrangement. Lineup things would change quite a bit if the ankle prevents Jeter from being ready for Opening Day, but that’s a not a problem worth worrying about yet.
The contract is still pending a physical (hardly a slam dunk given his recent back problems), but the Yankees agreed to sign Kevin Youkilis to a one-year contract worth $12M yesterday. The deal shores up the third base position in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury, and it also gives the team some lineup balance after losing the right-handed hitting Russell Martin and switch-hitting Nick Swisher. Youkilis has been trending in the wrong direction the last few years, but he is just one year removed from a 126 wRC+ season.
As a right-handed batter, there’s no doubt Youkilis benefited from playing in Fenway Park all those years. In fact, during his peak years from 2008-2010 (.308/.404/.560, 150 wRC+), no hitter was more productive when it came to pulling the ball. Youkilis hit .478/.476/.959 (280 wRC+) (!!!) when he pulled the ball during that three-year stretch, thanks in very large part to the Green Monster. As a right-handed batter, all he had to do was take aim for that sucker and watch routine fly balls go for doubles.
Youkilis won’t have that luxury in Yankee Stadium. It’s a good park for left-handed hitters thanks to the short right field porch, but left field and left-center field in particular are a different story. The park is almost exact league average when it comes to surrendering doubles and homers to right-handers according to the park factors at StatCorner, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means righties don’t get the same ballpark boost as lefties. Youkilis remains a pull hitter, with 47% of his balls in play going to left field this season and only 22% going the other way to right. Here’s his spray chart for the season (courtesy of Texas Leaguers)…
Most of his hits came to the pull side, but Youkilis did hit for some power to right field (.239 ISO) and that’s what you’re looking for in Yankee Stadium. His natural stroke isn’t to the opposite field like say, Martin’s and Derek Jeter‘s, but there’s enough opposite field ability to allow Youkilis to take advantage of the short porch on occasion. He’s a pull hitter, but not an Andruw Jones-esque dead pull hitter who couldn’t go the other way if his life depended on it.
As friend of RAB Patrick Sullivan pointed out yesterday, Youkilis hit just .158/.248/.237 (!) in his 242 plate appearances outside of hitter-friendly Fenway Park and U.S. Cellular Field last season. It’s not a huge sample but it is definitely a little worrisome to see a road performance that poor, especially when a guy is outside of two parks tailor-made for his swing and approach. There’s some evidence that Youkilis can take advantage of the short right field porch, but for the most part Yankee Stadium will not help his offense much this season. It’s not an ideal fit, but the options were limited.