The Yankees returned home from Minnesota last Friday having lost 11 times in their previous 18 contests, averaging just 4.28 runs per game during that stretch. The big league average is roughly four and a half runs per game, and a subpar offense is not what we’re used to seeing. Returning to Bronx not only brought the comfort of some home cooking, but what also felt like a mid-season trade pick up: the return of Curtis Granderson.
The Yanks’ every day centerfielder had been on the shelf basically all month with an injured groin, and during his absence the team’s leftfielders posted just a .303 wOBA. Regular leftfielder Brett Gardner slid over to center for defensive purposes, but he also moved up in the lineup as other injures tore through the Yanks’ roster. He put up just a just a .297 wOBA in 72 plate appearances as the number two hitter while Granderson was on the DL, which certainly contributed to the team’s overall lousy offense. I don’t know if Gardner couldn’t adjust to hitting higher in the order or if he was putting too much pressure on himself or if it’s just small sample size noise or what, but he simply didn’t get the job done in that role.
Granderson’s return was going to lengthen the lineup regardless of where he hit, but moving him up to the two-spot and Gardner down to the bottom of the order has improved the production of not just one lineup spot, but two. Granderson has always been a fastball hitter and hitting between Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira should (theoretically) increase the number of fastballs he sees, and sure enough all four of his hits against Cleveland came on the ol’ number one. All told, he’s reached base seven times in 15 plate appearances since returning, seeing a total of 66 pitches (4.4 per plate appearance). That’s what the Yankees need in front of Tex and Alex Rodriguez, and frankly it’s what Nick Johnson was supposed to give them.
As if getting a production from the number two-hitter wasn’t enough, Gardner returned to the bottom third of the order and reached base eight times in 17 plate appearances over the long weekend, giving the lineup a much more circular feel. He was their second leadoff hitter, basically, getting on base at the bottom while Granderson was getting on base at the top. Unsurprisingly, the offense took off.
Granted, plenty of that had to do with the general awfulness of the Cleveland bullpen, but it would take a really good argument to convince me (and pretty much everyone else) that the lineup didn’t fill out much more nicely with Granderson hitting second and Gardner hitting at the bottom. For whatever reason, the latter just seems to fit better hitting down in the order, and Grandy’s return puts him back in that role full time.
Brett Gardner may one day grow into a good number two – or even leadoff – hitter for the Yankees, but right now is not the time for him. Granderson brings not only better pure hitting ability to the two spot, but also experience hitting high in the order. I don’t put too much stock in intangible stuff like experience and what not, but it most definitely has an effect on the game. It becomes painfully obvious at times, too.
The Yankees aren’t going to get much healthier than they are right now; Jorge Posada should return within a week, but beyond that all you have is long-term issues with Johnson and Al Aceves. Pretty soon, what you see is what you’re going to get for the summer. Healthy bodies help put everyone in roles much more suited to their skill set, and that’s exactly what Granderson’s return did for the Yanks.