The Offensive Slumps

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Yankees seem like a relatively close-knit group of guys this year. They always appear to be enjoying each other’s company and whatnot in the dugout and off the field during various public functions. I don’t think the whole “25 guys, 25 cabs” theory applies to this team, just speaking as an outsider. The Yankees are so close-knit that they even slump together, as we’ve seen the offense do for stretches of time this season. There was The Great RISPFAIL Tragedy in May, and more recently a number of players have simultaneously hit the skids.

During this ugly 6-11 stretch, the Yankees have hit just .255/.313/.407 as a team and have averaged 4.4 runs per game. That’s down from their season marks of .264/.335/.458 and 4.8 runs per game. Slumps happen, they’re part of the 162-game season, but when a team plays .780 ball for nearly 50 games and suddenly hits a wall, it’s very easy to notice. Here are some of the top offenders…

PA AVG OBP SLG HR K% BB%
Mark Teixeira 41 0.147 0.244 0.235 1 31.7% 12.2%
Ichiro Suzuki 52 0.240 0.269 0.340 1 5.8% 0.0%
Curtis Granderson 84 0.205 0.262 0.372 4 37.1% 15.8%
Nick Swisher 114 0.213 0.342 0.319 2 30.7% 15.8%

Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and to a slightly lesser extent Raul Ibanez have been carrying their weight during this slide, but otherwise that’s basically half the lineup in some kind of slump. Teixeira’s coincides with his wrist injury (fun!), Ichiro‘s with his arrival in the Bronx. He was supposed to be a platoon player but has instead started every game the Yankees have played since being acquired. So much for that platoon idea.

Now, this is the definition of arbitrary endpoints here. You go back as far as the data lets you prove your point and then stop right there, the laziest kind of “analysis” out there. Teixeira’s is slightly less arbitrary because of the injury, but whatever. The point is that there are a number of players in the lineup right now who just aren’t performing as well as they usually do regardless of how long it’s been going on, and it’s contributing to the losing. Ichiro might not snap out of it because he’s 38 years old and rarely hits anything with authority, but Granderson and Swisher should get themselves right in due time and hopefully Teixeira will do the same as he gets further away from the wrist problem.

As poorly as Ivan Nova pitched yesterday, the Yankees still only mustered two unearned runs against Justin Verlander. He’s a great pitcher and all but the Yankees have gotten to him before, including twice this season. There was no way the team was going to continue to play .780 ball through the end of the season, but the Bombers have lost some very winnable one-run games during this stretch because nearly half the lineup — including three key top-five hitters in the batting order — just haven’t been themselves. I suppose that’s just the natural order of baseball’s balancing act.

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Mailbag: Swisher, Ynoa, Phelps, Montgomery

Got five questions and four answers for you this week. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us any links, comments, or questions throughout the week.

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Donny asks: With qualifying offers expected to be in the $13.3-13.4 million range, there seems to be a very small possibility that Nick Swisher could take that as his overall deal even though he would collect more on the open market, but I doubt his AAV would not approach that. Could you see more FA’s taking this route going forward?

Nick asks: Is it almost certain that Swisher will not be around next season? All this talk of getting a fill in third baseman for the rest of the season and then turning him into a right fielder has me thinking. A lot of the recent talk on RAB seems like he’s out of the picture come next season. As a fan favorite and clubhouse favorite it’s gonna be hard to see him go.

Might as well lump these two together. You’re going to see a ton of players decline that one-year, ~$13.5M qualifying offer in favor of a potential multi-year guarantee on the open market. It’s a similar process to arbitration but the stakes are much higher given the money, so that just means we’ll see fewer qualifying offers overall. I highly doubt you’ll see the same kind of handshake agreements we’ve seen in the past just because that’s so much cash. Fading stars will have a tough time turning that down, but otherwise guys like Swisher will pass in favor of the bigger payday. That’s what I would do at that point of my career. Get the multiple years while you can.

As for Swisher, I don’t think it’s 100% certain that he will be gone next year. It’s just that he’s going to require a pretty significant contract and it’s unclear if the Yankees will go that far for a player soon to be entering his decline years with the 2014 payroll plan looming. I’m sure the team would absolutely love to see him accept the qualifying offer, giving them a quality player on a short contract and buying them another year to find a long-term outfield solution. I just can’t imagine that happening, Swisher’s looking at a multi-year pact worth eight-figures annually given the state of the corner outfield market.

Andrew asks: I was looking over at MLBTR about Michael Ynoa the other day. I remember the Yanks had a deal with him but he went back on it; saw that the Athletics have to either add him to the 40-man or expose him to the Rule 5 in the offseason. Worth a shot to take him in the Rule 5 and stick him in the bullpen next year to see if his fastball plays up? If he’s bad send him back, if not, we hold him for a year, then send him down to stretch out as a starter in ’14 when he’ll only be 21 still.

Ynoa has battled a number of injuries through the years, facing just 37 total batters from 2008-2011. He’s healthy now and is pitching poorly in Rookie Ball, with more walks (11) than strikeouts (six) in 12.1 innings. In last week’s chat Keith Law provided an updated scouting report after the seeing the right-hander in Arizona: “89-93, touched 94 once, really loose and easy, so there’s potential there, but all the lost time means he hasn’t advanced much if at all in four years.”

The A’s haven’t gotten what they expected when they broke the bank and signed Ynoa for a then-record $4.25M bonus, and I have a really tough time thinking he can provide a big league team with any value right now. He’s more interesting than most Rule 5 Draft guys given the upside, but carrying someone on the 25-man active roster means you think he can help you win games. I’m not sure he’s capable of doing that right now. The Yankees have a number of internal options capable of being a long-man next year, forcing the issue with someone like Ynoa seems doomed to fail.

(REUTERS/Dave Kaup)

Johnny asks: With this setback for Andy Pettitte, do you think it’s time to give David Phelps a rotation spot? I really like this guy and think he can go places and be a mainstay in the rotation for years to come.

Yeah I think so. Freddy Garcia has been perfectly fine and serviceable as the fifth starter since moving back into the rotation, if anything Ivan Nova has been the weak link in recent weeks. The Yankees aren’t going to take him out of the rotation though. Phelps has at least shown the ability to get big league hitters out and given the perpetual need for quality starting pitching, it makes sense to given him a little two month audition to see what he has. At the same time, I don’t think it’s some kind of huge injustice. I don’t see Phelps as some kind of ace in the making and he can be very valuable to this year’s team as a multi-inning setup man.

Travis asks: Do you think, even though he is currently at the Double-A level, that Mark Montgomery is a viable bullpen option for the start of 2013? Do you think they give him a September call-up?

I was planning to write about Montgomery yesterday, but Eric beat me to the punch. I might as well chime in with my thoughts here. Montgomery has obviously impressed in the minors and the easy comparison is David Robertson because they’re both sub-6-foot right-handers with nasty breaking balls who rack up strikeouts. There is a difference between a curveball pitcher (Robertson) and a slider pitcher (Montgomery) though, only because the latter tends to have more of a platoon split. Then again, Montgomery’s slider could be so good that it doesn’t even matter.

Barring injury or some kind of completely unexpected performance breakdown, I think it’s all but guaranteed that Montgomery will debut in the big leagues at some point next year. He has eight whole innings above Single-A to his credit so I’m not sure if a September call-up is in the cards this year, however. I suppose it could depend on the need at the big league level, if some guys get hurt or collapse Cory Wade-style, the Yankees could be forced to turn to him. As good as Robertson is, he was an up-and-down guy in 2008 and early-2009 before finally settling into a full-time role in 2010. Minor league relievers can be tricky to project because the numbers are so good, but I’d always say the odds are against someone coming up and having an immediate impact. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen though.

Injury Updates: A-Rod, Swisher, Joba

Got some late-evening injury news for you, courtesy of Marc Carig and Erik Boland

  • Alex Rodriguez (hand) had a cast put on today and isn’t expected to miss any more than eight weeks. No word on the earliest possible return, but I suppose six weeks is a reasonable estimate. Either way, the Yankees expect to get him back before the end of the regular season.
  • Nick Swisher (hip) came through today’s workout fine but Brian Cashman said “he’s not a player for us tomorrow (against the Red Sox).” He didn’t rule out a return Saturday or Sunday but insisted the team will play it safe.
  • Joba Chamberlain (elbow, ankle) will throw a bullpen session for the big league coaching staff tomorrow and make another minor league rehab appearance — with Double-A Trenton or Triple-A Empire State — on Sunday. Cashman acknowledged that Joba is “getting closer” but wouldn’t say when exactly he’ll be activated.

Swisher felt fine in batting cage, may not return until Saturday

Via Meredith Marakovits and George King, outfielder Nick Swisher took some swings in the batting cage yesterday and everything went well. He’s nursing a mild left hip flexor strain. Swisher won’t play today and Joe Girardi indicated that he will return to the lineup “probably Friday or Saturday.” The Yankees are off tomorrow and open a three-game series with the Red Sox at home on Friday.

With Alex Rodriguez going down for several weeks with his hand fracture, the club needs to get Swisher back into the lineup pretty soon to add some depth and power. He, Mark Teixeira, and Andruw Jones are the team’s only consistently sources of right-handed power at the moment, and of course the first two are switch-hitters while Jones only starts against lefties. A lineup without Swisher and A-Rod is quite short, so hopefully it doesn’t last very long.

Update: Swisher day-to-day after MRI reveals strain

11:48pm: Joe Girardi confirmed that Swisher has a mild strain of … something. Groin, quad, who knows. He should be able to avoid the DL and the Yankees are just going to play shorthanded for the final four games of the West Coast trip.

6:32pm: Via Marc Carig, outfielder Nick Swisher went for an MRI on his left hip flexor and will be out at least until the Yankees get to Seattle on Monday. The results of the MRI aren’t available yet. Hopefully he can avoid the DL, the last thing the Yankees need is to lose another outfielder.