Tuesday, June 10, 2014

New Yankees Struggling

Hitting has been hard to come by for Jeter and the Yankees (NYTimes)
When a team spends roughly half a billion dollars in one offseason, they're supposed to improve. For the New York Yankees, however, that hasn't happened. Most of their investments haven't panned out, and as a result they've actually gotten worse.

After scuffling to 85 wins and a third place finish in the AL East last year, Brian Cashman opened up his checkbook and reeled in a fleet of free agents to restore New York's winning ways. He inked All-Stars Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran to bolster an impotent offense that could best be described as Robinson Cano and a bunch of guys. On top of that, he signed Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka, brought back Hiroki Kuroda, extended Brett Gardner, and added Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Matt Thornton. All that talent was expected to compensate for the departures of Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez, not to mention get New York back to the postseason after a rare miss for them in 2013.

Instead, the Yankees have more or less remained the same. Entering play today, they're exactly where they finished last year--in third place. They've lost as many games as they've won, which in and of itself is a minor miracle considering they've allowed 31 more runs than they've scored. The influx of talent hasn't led to an ounce of improvement thus far, but when you look at the numbers it's easy to see why.

New York's hitting, as terrible as it was last year, has been even worse this year. The team-wide slump is perhaps best exemplified by McCann, who's putting up the worst numbers of his career and has been a major bust. Most people, myself included, thought moving to Yankee Stadium would boost his batting stats, and his power figures in particular. It hasn't. His batting average, OBP and slugging are roughly 50, 65, and 100 points below his career averages. He's barely been replacement level, which is obviously unacceptable for an in-his-prime player making $17 million.

Beltran's been equally horrendous, fading fast after a strong start and missing more than three weeks with bone spurs in his right elbow. Since April 17th, the 37 year-old's batted .156/.214/.244 with one home run and seven RBI in 98 plate appearances. That's not exactly the kind of production the Yanks thought they were getting when they signed the Hall of Fame-caliber outfielder to a three-year, $45 million deal.

But they're hardly alone. Both have an OPS right around .650, but so do Roberts (.667), Johnson (.671), Alfonso Soriano (.651), and Derek Jeter (.612). Even Ellsbury's was sitting at .700 a couple weeks ago before he went on a tear and lifted his numbers back up to their previously established levels (even so, he's only bringing speed to a club starved for power).

Still, that means six out of New York's 11 most used position players are sporting ugly OPS numbers at the moment. All are at least 15 percent below average when adjusted for league and park. With so many holes in Joe Girardi's lineup, it's hardly a surprise to see New York ranked third-to-last in the American League in runs. There's too much deadweight for the few players hitting well--Gardner and Mark Teixeira and Yangervis Solarte (I refuse to include Ichiro Suzuki, who has no home runs and is batting an empty .320)--to make much of a dent in opposing pitching. Seeing as how everyone minus Solarte is on the wrong side of 30, there probably isn't much positive regression to the mean coming, either.

The only Yankee free agent addition who's earning his keep is Tanaka, and he's been better than anyone could have imagined. But he only pitches every fifth day. New York needs more production from the guys who play everyday. If that happens, they'll stop hitting like one of the worst teams in the league and separate themselves from the numerous teams clustered around .500.

But until it does, they're not going anywhere, and that could mean missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, something that hasn't happened since the dark ages known as the early '90s (aka the twilight of Don Mattingly's career). And if that happens, one can only imagine how big Brian Cashman's bill is going to be next winter.

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