The Importance of Nick Swisher

(REUTERS/Dave Kaup)

Aside from yesterday’s blowout win, the Yankees slogged through a dreadful offensive slump last week that saw them score just 13 runs in six games. Six of those 13 runs came in Friday’s game, so the other seven were spread across five games. The lineup came back to life on Sunday, scoring ten runs in the win over the Royals thanks in part to the return of Nick Swisher, who homered after sitting out most of the week with a low-grade left hamstring strain.

Obviously Swisher’s presence alone did not account for the offensive outburst, but it didn’t hurt. He’d hit six homers with a .408 wOBA in 93 plate appearances before the injury, joining Curtis Granderson as the club’s second best bat behind the resurgent Derek Jeter in the early going. A player performing like that was going to be missed no matter what, but even moreso when seemingly everyone else in the lineup was battling through some kind of slump, either recent or extended. It was hard not to notice the big gaping hole in the offense last week.

Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira have shown flashes of breaking out recently, but nothing more. Swisher’s return adds a little more thump to the offense and I think the Yankees should consider bumping him up in the lineup, at least temporarily. Batting order doesn’t mean much over 162 games, but in an individual game — especially when the 3-4-5 hitters as a whole haven’t been producing — it can make all the difference. Moving Swisher to, say, cleanup will put him in position to do more damage given how Jeter and Granderson are setting the table. Once the usual 3-4-5 guys get going, they can return to their regular lineup spots.

Just to be clear, I don’t think simply rearranging the batting order will spark A-Rod‘s, Cano’s, and Tex’s bats. I don’t buy into the idea that players perform better in specific lineup spots. I believe those three will improve their offensive performances (to various degrees) in the coming weeks, but right now they’re not getting it done. Swisher has been and moving him a little closer to Jeter and Granderson could actually lead to some more sustained rallies in lieu of stranded runners and frustration. It’s a crazy concept, I know.

The Yankees do a great job of remaining patient and avoiding knee-jerk moves these days, but at the same time they don’t have to ignore little tweaks. It’ll suck seeing Teixeira making $22M+ to bat sixth, but is that really worse than watching him make outs in big spots with men on base? I certainly don’t think so. Winning the division is too important this year for the Yankees to go through another week or two like last. Moving Swisher up will create a little more continuity among the team’s best hitters and hopefully leads to more runs on the scoreboard. If not, then no big deal. Real easy to go back to the way things were.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 7th, 2012

Record Last Week: 3-4 (23 RS, 28 RA)
Season Record: 15-13 (141 RS, 129 RA, 15-13 pythag. record), 4.0 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Rays (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Mariners (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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Yanks, Hughes right the ship in win over Royals

The forecast said they wouldn’t get the game in, and frankly a postponement didn’t sound all that bad given how the Yankees have been playing. Instead, they played all nine innings and the team put together their most satisfying win in what feels like an eternity.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Hughes Da Man

It’s been a very rough season for Phil Hughes and I’ve been pretty hard on him over the last few weeks, but he had his best start of the season (by far) against the Royals on Sunday. Ironically enough, it took him all of three batters to allow a run in the first thanks to an Alex Gordon walk and a Billy Butler double into the gap. Hughes settled down in a big way after that, retiring 12 of the next 14 men he faced before Kansas City pushed another run across in the fifth. His 115th and final pitch was a solo homer by Humberto Quintero with two outs in the seventh, though that doesn’t bother me at all considering the context of the game — late innings, Yanks up big, challenging a bad hitter, yadda yadda yadda.

Pitch efficiency has been a huge problem for Hughes this year, but he threw 15 pitches or fewer in four of his seven-ish innings and never more than 21 pitches in an inning. The PitchFX gun is notoriously hot in Kansas City, but it’s very encouraging that Phil was able to maintain his velocity through his start (pitch-by-pitch plot). Again, I wouldn’t read much into the exact readings — consistently 94-95– because of the PitchFX issues, just that he held it throughout. Hughes struck out seven and walked just one, generating a dozen swings and misses including eight on the fastball. That’s his most whiffs in a single start since August of 2010. It’s going to take more than one good start to show he’s the right guy for one of the club’s five rotation spots, but Phil took care of business against the Royals and I hope he can build on it going forward.

The Offense Returns

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a team underachieve, but the Yankees’ lineup finally came back to life on Sunday. Coincidentally — or maybe not — Nick Swisher played in his first game since coming down with a low-grade hamstring strain last weekend. He hit a solo homer to cap off a six-run third inning, and inning that included a Robinson Cano grand slam. After swinging through a 2-0 changeup from Luke Hochevar, Robbie sat on the pitch in the 2-1 count and hit it just short of the fountains in right. That’s the guy we’ve been looking for.

Raul Ibanez started the scoring with an RBI single in the second and Alex Rodriguez ended it with a three-run homer in the eighth. He’s quietly on pace for 29 homers this year. Every player in the starting lineup had a hit except for Mark Teixeira (two walks instead) and Russell Martin (didn’t reach base). Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, A-Rod, Cano, and Ibanez all had two hits each to highlight a total team effort. The ten runs equaled the Yankees’ output from the previous four games combined and was just their third time scoring double-digits this season — the first time since the big comeback in Fenway Park. It’s been a while, so enjoy it.

Robbie finally has a reason to smile. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Leftovers

Granderson’s third inning single to right was his 1,000th career hit, so congrats to him. Jeter went 2-for-3 with a double and two walks, raising his season line to .397/.439/.595. Teixeira’s walks were his first walks in 75 plate appearances and first unintentional walks in 83 plate appearances. That dates back to the home-opener series against the Angels. Crazy. He’s in a 7-for-49 rut (.143) but did hit a few balls on the screws in this game, including one ball to the warning track that I thought was gone off the bat.

The bullpen — Boone Logan (one out), Rafael Soriano (three outs), and Cory Wade (three outs) — weren’t perfect but didn’t have to be with a huge lead. Wade allowed the only run, though it was unearned. It was the his first run he allowed since the series with the Twins. Losing Mariano Rivera is going to hurt, but the entire cast has been consistently strong this year.

We can smile about this because the run didn’t score, but how about Irving Falu? Kid has spent nine years in the minors — all with the Royals — and he tripled in his first big league at-bat off Hughes. YES showed his family in the standings cheering, it was pretty awesome. Hard not to love stories like that.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Been entirely too long since we’ve seen a WPA graph like this. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some more stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are off on Monday, then will open a three-game set against the Rays at home in the Bronx. I won’t call it a big series this early in the season, but it’s definitely more meaningful than your typical early-May series. Ivan Nova and Jamie Shields get the party started on Tuesday night. RAB Tickets has the latest deals on tickets if you want to attend.

Tampa kinda plays two, loses in 18 innings

Walt Ibarra has been placed on the DL and Jose Toussen was called up to take his roster spot. I haven’t updated the standings yet this season, so let’s do that now. The records shown do not include today’s games…

Triple-A Scranton (7-5 loss to Pawtucket) 14-13 and 2.5 games back in the IL North Division
2B Kevin Russo: 0-5, 2 K
CF Colin Curtis: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
1B Steve Pearce: 1-4, 2 R, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
DH Jack Cust: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K — just seven hits in his last 36 at-bats (.194)
3B Brandon Laird & RF Cole Garner: both 0-3 — Laird drew a walk and committed a fielding error … Garner got hit by a pitch, struck out all three times and got picked off first
LF Ronnie Mustelier & C Frankie Cervelli: both 1-4 — Mustelier drove in a pair … Cervelli struck out and allowed a passed ball
SS Yadil Mujica: 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B
LHP Andy Pettitte: 5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 5/4 GB/FB — picked a runner off first … had more on him earlier
RHP Adam Miller: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 17 of 33 pitches were strikes (51.5%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 20 of 37 pitches were strikes (54.1%)
[Read more…]

Gardner set to begin rehab assignment tomorrow

Via Erik Boland, outfielder Brett Gardner will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Empire State tomorrow. He’s been on the DL for nearly three weeks with a bone bruise and a strain in his right elbow after landing awkwardly during a sliding catch. Depending on how he feels and stuff, Gardner could be back as soon as Tuesday I suppose. A two or three game rehab assignment is more likely, however.

Sunday Night Open Thread

Nice win today, I think we all really needed that. The Yankees hadn’t had a real blow-out win yet this season and given their recent struggles, it was nice to see them get out and punish some baseballs in the early going. Plus it didn’t rain even though it was totally supposed to. Hooray for not having to give up a future day off.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is the Phillies at the Nationals (Hamels vs. Zimmermann), and the Devils are playing as well. There’s also some NBA playoff action going on. Talk about whatever you like here, go nuts.

[gif via Chad Moriyama; here’s the MLB.com video]

Pettitte allows five runs in latest minor league start

Andy Pettitte allowed five runs (three earned) in five innings for Triple-A Empire State today, his latest minor league tune-up start. There was a little defensive funny business going on in the first and second innings — Steve Pearce dropped a pop-up and Brandon Laird booted a grounder — but five runs is five runs. Andy walked two (including the certifiably awful Jose Iglesias) and struck out five, throwing 62 of his 95 pitches for strikes. The stadium gun had him at 85-87 with the cutter, which is normal.

The Yankees said they wanted Pettitte to throw ~100 pitches in two minor league starts before considering him for a call-up, and he’s now done that. Whether or not his command is big league ready is another matter. With Phil Hughes pitching not terribly this afternoon, the Yankees could have Andy throw one more minor league start just to fine tune things some things if they want.