In an earlier article. I pessimistically asserted that I saw similarities between the Yankees squad of 2016 and that of 1989. The 1989 team finished 5th in the American League East. That was pre-expansion when there were 7 teams in the division. Consequently, that would mean that it was likely that the Yankees would finish 4th or 5th in the 5-team division and be well out of contention.
However, there were a few positive signs in Spring Training which gave me pause for thought. And then the real season began…
|New York Yankees – Batting – Month – April|
The team started with 4 wins in their first 6 games but after that the characteristics that I’d expected to see set in – aging, creaking veterans, too little power, weak starting and a general malaise. This left them at 8-14 by the end of the month. Let’s see who was struggling and who were the few who were keeping up with the pace.
This was one area where the Yankees weren’t weak. Principal catcher, Brian McCann delivered solid defense and, particularly in the opening days of the season, led the team in offense. By the end of the month, he had cooled a little with the bat but still his .262 with 3 home runs was as good a combination of steady hitting and power as anyone on the team. Austin Romine is always going to lack power and doesn’t always display a lot of patience at the plate (only 1 walk and 1 double on the month) but he was hitting better than the team were hoping for (.294) and he is good defensively. These two are looking a much better combination than they did going into the season and Gary Sanchez is chomping at the bit at triple-A if Romine should begin to struggle.
The rest of the infield is, however, a rather different story. Mark Teixeira, at first base, leads the team in walks so he is showing patience but the big hits are simply not coming his way. His .224 average is not atypical for him at this point of the season (he has always been a slow starter) and his 3 home runs is not too bad but on this team where there is way too little powerful hitting, the Yankees need much more.
Chase Headley is an almost invisible offensive presence and to this point alarmingly hasn’t hit a single extra base hit. His fielding and, in particular, his throwing are bouncing back and there is less of a sign of him becoming another Chuck Knoblauch but his .150 batting average and (of course) .150 SLG are alarming especially since he also is waiting on the right pitch to come but as with Teixeira the right hit just never seems to arrive.
The centre infield positions are much better with Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro proving a great double play pairing and hot bats. However, there are some signs that those bats which were so dependable through the Spring and in the opening days of the season are starting to cool a little. Now this will happen during a season and is nothing to be concerned about but there is no-one stepping up to take up the slack. Didi especially who was at .286 in the middle of April was down to .224 by the end of the month. That figure will rise again but there needs to be better hitting across the other 8 batters to compensate on quiet days and it is simply not there. Castro has had no trouble adapting to second base and is looking great with the bat, closing out the month at .305 with a team-leading 8 extra base hits.
On the benches, Joe Girardi has principally depended on Ronald Torreyes. After surprising most everyone by making the 25-man roster for opening day, the slightly built Torreyes has been a revelation in his limited role which many players would struggle to adapt to (including some 2016 Yankees – see below). Torreyes is, in his part-time role, producing figures that challenge the everyday players. In his 10 appearances (21 at bats), he has a .381 batting average and .524 slugging percentage which puts him at the head of our table above. He doesn’t draw walks but this has been one of his few weaknesses; his work in the field has been good also. Up to this point it is likely that May will see him taking at bats away from Headley.
The performance of the three main outfielders has been slightly below average and there is really nothing being produced by the late innings bench substitutes. Brett Gardner has the slightly better batting figures but it appears to be Carlos Beltran who is the player starting to warm up. Jacoby Ellsbury has made some basic mistakes in the field and his .235 with 1 homer is not good enough. He is leading the team in stolen bases but he needs to do more to get himself on base.
The two bench players, Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley are at the bottom of our table in more than just batting average. To be fair, Hicks has been outstanding, even stunning, in the field but he hasn’t adapted at all to the role of pinch-hitting and late innings appearances and being in the team every few days. His .087 with no extra base hits is serving only to make Headley look good.
Meanwhile, Joe Girardi just doesn’t seem to have much time for Ackley at all, awarding him an appearance in only 7 games. Anyone would be hard-pressed to impress on that kind of diet and Ackley is no exception with only 1 hit in 16 at bats.
And designated hitter is, of course, Alex Rodriguez. Any regular readers of this column will know that I am no fan of A-Rod. To be fair to him, he has a team co-leading 4 home runs (with Beltran) but there is nothing else good to say about the guy who can no longer field and has produced .185 in April across 18 appearances and 65 at-bats. The team should have had the courage to cut him loose.
The three game sweep by Boston which closed out April will have done little to lift the spirits of the Yankees faithful and there is little to suggest that offensively they can turn a corner to greener pastures.