Midseason Review: Falling Short of Expectations

During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Although the Yankees have the best record in baseball, they have yet to really fire on all cylinders. They have a number of players who have not produced as expected so far, including some high-profile guys in prominent roles.

Alex Rodriguez
Father Time catches up to everyone, even players who were once historically great. A-Rod was able to avoid the DL in the first half thanks to Joe Girardi‘s plan of regular rest, but the production has not improved as hoped. Alex is hitting just .269/.357/.436 with 13 homers overall, on pace for what will likely become the worst season of career after setting a new low-water mark a year ago. His strikeout rate (22.0%) is his highest since 1996, his walk rate (10.3%) his second lowest since 2001, and his ISO (.167) his lowest ever.

Obviously there’s a lot going on here. A-Rod will turn 37 later this month, so age-related decline as already set in. Numerous lower body injuries in recent years — torn hip labrum and knee surgery chief among them — have impacted his ability to incorporate his lower half into his swing, resulting in the power decline. He’s more of an arms hitter than ever before. His struggles with runners in scoring position (.215/.354/.367) only exacerbate the problem. There’s no BABIP correction coming (he’s at .318 right now) and the power is unlikely to re-emerge. A-Rod is not a superstar anymore, get used to it.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira’s offseason and Spring Training work drew lots of attention as he focused on hitting the ball the other way to beat the shift and improve his declining batting average. Everything looked fine during the first two weeks of the season, as he hit a solid .288/.354/.508 through the team’s first 15 games. Teixeira fell off in a big way after that, hitting just .135/.185/.220 in his next 16 games. He got hot a few games after that, but then Girardi decided to sit him for three games due to an ongoing cough that has since been diagnosed as nerve damage to his vocal cords.

The rest helped the cough and at some point during those three days, Teixeira decided to abandon everything he’d been working on and get back to being a pull-happy slugger. What he was doing before just wasn’t working. The early returns were positive — four homers in his next seven games — but Teixeira’s production soon slowed down once again. Through the team’s first 85 games, their first baseman is hitting .250/.334/.473 after putting up a .248/.341/.494 batting line last year, the second worst of his career outside of his rookie season.

Teixeira’s production has been better than league average but again, below his normal standards even if you were expecting him to simply repeat last year. His 15 homers are well behind his usual pace — he had 25 at the break last summer — and his walk rate has dipped from 13.1% in 2010 to 11.1% in 2011 to 10.7% in 2010. A ten-point boost in BABIP from last year hasn’t helped his average much, unsurprisingly. The big problem right now is that not only has his average and OBP suffered, but he’s not hitting the ball out of the park as often either. His defense is still all-world, but Teixeira’s production at the plate has declined for the fourth straight season.

(Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Nick Swisher & Russell Martin
The Yankees can survive a few sluggish bats because they have a deep lineup, but even the production from lower down in the order has suffered. Swisher is in the middle of a contract year but is hitting just .262/.336/.477 so far. The power production is obviously fine, but his 10.1% walk rate is the second lowest of his career and well below his 13.3% career average. Swisher’s strikeout rate (22.0%) is up slightly compared to recent years, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s swinging at 23.6% of the pitches he sees outside of the strike zone. Last year it was just 17.5%. He’s doing damage when he makes contact, but a big part of Swisher’s value is his ability to be get on-base in ways other than a hit. He hasn’t done much of that in 2012.

Martin, on the other hand, hasn’t done much offensively at all. His .179/.300/.348 batting line is below average even for a catcher, and although he’s shown signs of breaking out on occasion, it never lasted. Martin will have a good game or two every once in a while then slide back into a prolonged slump. He’s striking out way more than usual (20.2% strikeouts this year, 14.6% career) despite swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone (15.4%) than ever before. His .193 (!) BABIP should improve in the second half just by pure luck, but the quality of Martin’s contact has not been good all year. You really can’t understate how awful he was in the first half.

Freddy Garcia
Although he just turned in a damn fine start against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, Garcia has been a disappointment overall. His first four starts in April were a total disaster, I’m talking a 20 runs in 13.2 innings kind of disaster. The Yankees shipped him off to the bullpen where he worked sparingly in low-leverage situations, then reinserted him into back into the rotation once CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte hit the disabled list. Freddy has pitched well in his two starts back, but that doesn’t wash away the stench of April. Overall, Garcia has pitched to a 5.23 ERA (4.16 FIP) in 43 innings. Here’s to a much more successful second half.

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Eduardo Nunez
When the season opened, the Yankees planned to give A-Rod and Derek Jeter time at DH against left-handed pitchers while Nunez filled in on the infield. They did just that for a few weeks, but Nunez’s defense — four errors in 20 games plus several other botched plays — became such an issue that he had to be demoted to Triple-A in early-May. He was hitting just fine, especially for a utility infielder (.294/.356/.373), but the glovework just could not be tolerated anymore. Nunez committed two errors in four Triple-A games before being placed on the DL with a thumb injury. He had a chance to really step up and force his way into the team’s long-term plans this season, but now he doesn’t even have much trade value.

Cory Wade
For the first two months of the season, Wade was absolutely lights out while David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were on the DL. He also threw a lot of innings and made a lot of appearances, and that may have contributed to one of the worst pitched months in recent Yankees history. Wade has allowed 25 hits and 18 runs in 10.1 innings since the calendar flipped to June, earning him a demotion to Triple-A. His ERA climbed from 3.34 to 6.48 in his last three appearances alone (13 runs in 3.2 IP). It’s all about command with him; when he missed his spots with his soft stuff, it got hammered. Wade was tremendously useful last year and at the start of this year, but now the Yankees have to be wondering if he’s even salvageable.

Examining the RISPFAIL at the break

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have the best record in baseball right now but you wouldn’t know it based on their performance with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Bombers are hitting .231/.335/.418 in those spots, a .321 wOBA and 97 wRC+. They rank 27th in AVG but 15th in wRC+ because when they connect, they really connect — their .187 ISO with men in scoring position is the second best in the AL. That said, their hitting in those spots has been a problem, which is why they only* rank sixth in runs scored despite having the best wRC+ in baseball (114) by two points.

But you knew all that already, right? It’s no secret that that the Yankees have been having a hard time with runners on second and/or third, we see it game after game. The players were obviously pressing in those spots — especially in mid-May, that was ugly — and it was negatively affecting the quality of their contact. At the same time, they have the second best walk rate (12.9%) and the ninth best strikeout rate (17.8%) with runners in scoring position, so they can’t be pressing too much.

New York bottomed out at .222/.318/.399 with runners in scoring position on May 21st, a total of 419 plate appearances. They went 0-for-13 in those situations that night against the Royals, a 6-0 loss that dropped them into a last place tie with the Red Sox at 21-21 overall. It was ugly and the natives were restless. There’s nothing in baseball more frustrating than leaving men on-base and the Yankees had made it their specialty.

“The beginning of the season, we struggled,” said Andruw Jones over the weekend. “Everybody was saying that we’re old, we’re not getting the job done, but this is not a sprint. This is a marathon. We kept battling and kept playing – plug here, plug that (guy) in – until we got in a groove. We’re on a really good groove right now. We’ll take this break, take the time off, and come back in the second half and get the job done.”

Andruw was right, the Yankees did get in a groove. Dewayne Wise turned the season around (!) with a bunt single to load the bases in the fifth inning on May 22nd, which led to a Derek Jeter single that drove in the game-winning run. Since that game, the Yankees have hit .240/.352/.437 with runners in scoring position, a span of 436 plate appearances. That’s still not great, but it is definite improvement. Not coincidentally, the Yankees are 31-12 and have opened a huge lead in the division during that time. Those few extra knocks with men on-base went a long way.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the Bombers were bound to improve with runners in scoring position just because they were hitting into some bad luck. Don’t get me wrong, they were definitely hitting poorly in those spots, but they were hitting poorly and getting unlucky. In those first 419 plate appearances, they had a measly .238 BABIP. In those last 436 plate appearances, it’s .269. Better but there’s still room for even more improvement. The Yankees aren’t going to stop hitting homers, they’re just going to supplement them with more non-homer hits with men in scoring position as the season continues.

* Spoiled Yankees fan syndrome, activate.

NL shuts out AL in 2012 All-Star Game

The National League wrecked the American League on Tuesday night, winning the 2012 All-Star Game by the score of 8-0. Starter Justin Verlander gets most of the blame after allowing five runs before his teammates even got to hit in the first inning. Former Yankee Melky Cabrera took home the MVP Award thanks to his 2-for-3 showing. He hit a two-run homer off Matt Harrison. It was the NL’s third straight All-Star Game win.

As for the Yankees, captain Derek Jeter went 1-for-2 with an infield single off Matt Cain. Robinson Cano went 1-for-2 with a ground ball single up the middle (off Stephen Strasburg) and Curtis Granderson went 0-for-2 with a fly out and a ground out. All three started the game at their regular positions and played five innings in the field. CC Sabathia was selected to the game but did not pitch due to his groin strain. Cano left his good friend Melky hanging on the above high-five attempt following his homer, so that was pretty funny.

More importantly, the National League has clinched home field advantage in the World Series. That’s pretty unfortunate. The Yankees are legitimate contenders and should they make it to the Fall Classic, it would have been nice to both open the series as well as play a potential Game Seven at home in the Bronx. Oh well, they’ll just have to do it the hard way.

[box score] [WPA graph] [.gif via  @bubbaprog]

Refsnyder debuts in Charleston loss

Small bit of news: RHP Graham Stoneburner will be used out of the bullpen moving forward. He’s coming back from a groin injury (his second of the season) and also missed a bunch of time with a neck problem last year. The bullpen always seemed to be his ultimate destination, hopefully his stuff plays up a grade or two.

Low-A Charleston (6-1 loss to Asheville)
2B Ali Castillo: 2-4, 1 R, 1 CS
CF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 2B, 3 K — 13 hits in his last 42 at-bats (.310)
RF Rob Refsnyder: 1-4 — this year’s fifth rounder was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player a few weeks ago … he skipped right over the two short season leagues, obviously, a rare move for this organization … apparently the plan to convert him to a second baseman is on hold for the time being
C Tyson Blaser: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 PB, 1 E (throwing)
3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 1-4, 1 E (throwing)
1B Rey Nunez: 1-3
SS Cito Culver: 0-3, 1 K
DH Kelvin DeLeon: 0-3
LF Eduardo Sosa: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 K — got picked off first
RHP Bryan Mitchell: 4 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, 3 WP, 1/2 GB/FB — 50 of 86 pitches were strikes (58.1%)
LHP Dan Mahoney: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 18 of 27 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … picked a runner off first
RHP Mariel Checo: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 19 of 37 pitches were strikes (51.3%)
LHP Fred Lewis: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 11 of 18 pitches were strikes (61.1%)

[Read more…]

2012 All-Star Game Open Thread

The Yankees have World Series aspirations every year, which is why the All-Star Game should be a bit more than a midseason exhibition to them and their fans. Home field advantage in the World Series is on the line, and it sure is nice to kick off the Fall Classic at home rather than on the road. The 2009 Yankees had home field advantage against the Phillies thanks to one of their own, just not at the time. Curtis Granderson, then with the Tigers, tripled off Heath Bell in the eighth inning before coming in to score the go-ahead and game-winning run on Adam Jones’ sacrifice fly. Mariano Rivera then nailed it down with a perfect inning for his record fourth All-Star save.

Four Yankees were selected to this year’s game but only three will play since CC Sabathia is currently on the DL with his groin strain. The other three are all in the starting lineup…

National League (roster)
DH Carlos Gonzalez
CF Melky Cabrera
LF Ryan Braun
1B Joey Votto
RF Carlos Beltran
C Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
2B Dan Uggla
SS Rafael Furcal

RHP Matt Cain

American League (roster)
SS Derek Jeter
2B Robinson Cano
LF Josh Hamilton
RF Jose Bautista
1B Prince Fielder
3B Adrian Beltre
DH David Ortiz
C Mike Napoli
CF Curtis Granderson

RHP Justin Verlander

The broadcast starts at 7:30pm ET and can be seen on FOX, though that’s just the introductions and stuff. The game itself probably won’t start until 8-8:15 or so. Talk about that or anything else you’d like here, it’s all fair game.

Site News: We’re happy to announce that we’ve added a new writer, someone you’re probably familiar with already. His name is Eric Schultz, and you’ve seen him at The Yankee Analysts (archive) and the now defunct Pending Pinstripes. You can follow Eric on Twitter at @Eric_J_S. Welcome him aboard.

Steve Serby’s Q&A with Brian Cashman

Steve Serby’s Q&As are a weekend staple of the NY Post, but today he published an exclusive — and longer than usual — midweek chat with GM Brian Cashman. The two spoke spoke about a number of topics, including the current Yankees team, the Michael Pineda trade, the declining Alex Rodriguez, George Steinbrenner, his relationship with Joe Girardi, and lots more. Make sure you check it out, it’s a quality read.

2012 Draft: Hensley expects decision to come down to the wire

Via David Collier, first rounder Ty Hensley said he expects his decision about whether to sign with the Yankees or attend Ole Miss to come right down to Friday’s 5pm ET deadline. The two sides have already wrapped up negotiations, they’re just waiting on his decision. If Hensley does not sign, the Yankees will receive the 31st overall pick in next year’s draft as compensation, but obviously they’d rather have the player now. One way or another, we’ll have an answer in less than four days.