The Yankees have got off to a surprisingly good start to the season with a 14-8 record in April. This becomes doubly surprising when we consider that they got off to a 3-6 run in their first nine games. Both the bullpen and large sections of the offensive line-up have done better than we had any reason to expect and whilst there are more than a few weak links, there is good reason to think they can at least stay with the pace of a division which doesn’t have a clearly outstanding team.
Let’s survey who is doing well and not so well…
|New York Yankees – Batting – Month – April|
|Murphy, John Ryan||9||19||4||5||1||3||0||0||4||7||0||1||0||.263||.421||.375|
Brian McCann is, as expected, the first choice catcher. He has been solid behind the plate and is batting .266 with 7 extra base hits over this first month. He has reason to be pleased with himself. Last year he was .232 with roughly the same amount of extra base hits on average per month. His home run count is down – he only has 2 in April but there is a lot of time for him to warm up in that category. He is starting against 3 or 4 of the starters in each rotation but this doesn’t seem to have settled into any regular battery partners. Last time around, John Ryan Murphy started with Eovaldi and Pineda but McCann partnered them on the previous go-around.
Murphy, himself, having beaten out Austin Romine at the end of Spring Training, started the season with some defensive difficulties; a defensive error here and a passed ball there. However, he seems to have settled down and his .263 average with 3 doubles is respectable. Indeed, his doubles total is only one behind his total for the whole of last season – a season where he had 32 appearances. He has 9 appearances so far in 2015.
Romine is .196 at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders (AAA) as the principal catcher on the club but frankly unless there are injuries it would seem his time on the big league club is at an end.
Mark Teixeira is off to a good start in terms of power but this is combined with his usual slow start in terms of just getting on base when the ball is not headed out of the stadium. He has 13 extra base hits in April (8 of them homers) compared to only 3 singles although his patience at the plate is showing up well with 13 walks.
Backup first basemen have been Garrett Jones, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann but all of these have played more at other positions and so you will find our assessment of them in other parts of this report.
Second base? Only two people have been used in this position. Both Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela who might have expected to see a little time there, have been injured all month and remain on the disabled list with Pirela looking likely to return first.
First choice has been Stephen Drew but mostly for reasons that only the Yankees can fathom. He has hit with some power and has 4 home runs and 3 doubles but like Teixeira his ability to hit a straightforward single is almost non-existent. He also has only 9 walks compared to 16 strikeouts. He strikeouts in more than one-in-four of his at-bats which is marginally better than last season but still very poor. It must be his defence and those homers that are keeping him around because there seems to be precious little other reason. Last season, he batted .150 and everybody said it was because of his bull-headed decision to hold out for more money and miss Spring Training. This year he had a full Spring and is batting .177 in April. Will he ever see that Mendoza line again?
Back up second-base man is Gregorio Petit who came in at the last minute for the injured Ryan and has already endured one reassignment to Scranton albeit one with an immediate recall attached when pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, went onto the disabled list. The very fact that the Yankees thought they could manage without him when no-one other than him or Drew has played a single innings at 2b is quite telling. He is batting .192 with 3 doubles and 11 strikeouts in 26 at-bats in April and everything suggests he doesn’t have a long-term future in the Yankees major league uniform.
The other middle infield slot has belonged to Didi Gregorious with only Stephen Drew, who we have already mentioned, also seeing some playing time there. Gregorious is certainly no Derek Jeter but so far he may not even be the best Didi Gregorious that the Yankees had hoped for. His defensive work has been weak at times and his batting has suffered and he seems to have lost confidence. In April, he finished at .206 with only a couple of extra base hits and 4 walks to show for his time at the plate which leaves him with a lower OBP than Stephen Drew. It is fair to say that the middle infield is not going to be an area where the Yankees are looking for much offensive production.
The hot corner belongs to Chase Headley with Alex Rodriguez and Gregorio Petit seeing a little time at third-base also. Headley was .262 for the Yankees last season and so far has failed to reproduce that form and is showing a lack of patience at the plate which is leading to too many strikeouts. He has 6 extra base hits but very few walks and needs to press less and wait for the right pitch to draw more walks and reduce those strikes.
Left-fielder, Brett Gardner is off to a good start to the season. In April, he managed to bat .311 with 6 stolen bases. In the first games of the season, the Yankees base-running and stealing was a mess and General Manager Brian Cashman was very vocal in his criticism of the team in this area but they have settled down and as might have been expected Gardner and cf Jacoby Ellsbury have led by example in this category. Chris Young has also seen a healthy quantity of playing in left and Garrett Jones appeared there in one game.
Ellsbury has picked up the pace in centre field and leads the team in batting average, stolen bases, and on-base percentage. If he can continue this into May then the top end of the line-up will really benefit with Ellsbury and Gardner consistently getting on base and Teixeira and McCann coming up with power behind them.
Rightfield has been a little more complicated – as it was in 2014. The plan was that Carlos Beltran would come back strongly from injury and return to the batting form he showed earlier in his career and Chris Young would spot him and see some late innings defensive work.
The reality has been that Beltran has been terrible offensively. He is last in batting average and second last to Gregorious in slugging. Only Garrett Jones is worse than him at getting on base. This has meant that Chris Young is actually playing more than Beltran, albeit that Carlos is still taking the lion’s share of time in the rightfield and it is working well.
Like last season, Young is proving a real find for the Yankees. In .2014, Young, as a late season acquisition when he was cut by the Mets, hit .282 with 11 extra base hits in 23 games. So far in 2015, he has 10 extra base hits (5 home runs) and .305 batting in 20 games meaning that he has, astoundingly, exceeded his 2014 figures. He leads the team in slugging and is not far from becoming the everyday rightfielder.
Garrett Jones started the season well whilst the team around him struggled but as the team warmed up, he has slowed down hugely. He has a .185 batting average and if you add to this his only one walk – compared to 8 strikeouts – it gives him a team worst .214 on-base percentage. The bulk of his time as come in rightfield and, at the moment, he is merely adding to the problem that Beltran presents.
After a frankly ridiculous policy where anybody who was half-fit or didn’t fit in the team elsewhere was used at DH by the manager, Joe Girardi, in 2014, the Yankees finally have an everyday designated hitter in Alex Rodriguez. Whilst A-Rod might not be to everybody’s taste, this has already led to an upsurge in production from the position this season in April. Whilst the poorly-performing Beltran and Jones have seen a little time at the position, all the improvement at the position has come from Rodriguez. Whilst this has been rather over-stated in the press – he finished the month with a .232 batting average – there is no question that the Yankees have seen more power from him than they had any reason to hope for. In April, he has 9 extra-base hits which gave him a .507 slugging percentage which is 2nd on the team behind Young. If he can stay fit, he is defying all predictions.
Next time, we look at the pitchers in April. Sub-standard starting, outstanding relief.