A few months ago I talked in this column about two perils that the Yankees faced in the 2016 season. The first possibility was that the senior players would prove to be well past their sell-by date and would under-perform. The second possibility was that although those senior players would perform, they would be laboured by injury. In reality, I overlooked the third possibility – that they would under-perform AND carry injuries.
|New York Yankees – Batting – Month – May|
The team who only batted .233 in April managed to get a fraction worse at .232 in May. By contrast the pitchers gave up less than four runs per game. The Yankees somehow turned that .232 batting average into an average of 4 runs a game. Consequently, they won 16 of 29 games and I bet they still haven’t figured out how.
Let’s dig deep and look for a few high spots amongst the batters:
Austin Romine caught in 9 games in May and batted a very solid .324 on the month with 5 extra base hits. He doesn’t display a lot of patience at the plate and therefore doesn’t draw many walks. He continues to be solid defensively. With John Ryan Murphy‘s move to Minnesota now looking like a complete disaster, the Yankees odd off-season decision now looks like a stroke of genius. Murphy batted .075 at Minnesota and was demoted to Triple-A Rochester Red Wings where he is still hitting around the Mendoza line. By comparison, Romine is doing just great and could be heading for a platoon role.
Talk of a platoon isn’t inappropriate after Brian McCann who has 8 extra base hits in May could still only muster .203 BA. After a strong start to the season – .262 in April – McCann is struggling to collect singles.
When Hal Steinbrenner spoke out against members of the Yankees lineup for the early season struggles and exonerated the management, Mark Teixeira was one of his main targets. Teixeira’s .224 (with 3 homers) in April turned into .159 with no 4-baggers in May. It is not hard to see why the Yankees are not happy. Teixeira played in 23 games in May (22 at first base). His back-up most of the time was Dustin Ackley who after doing enough at the tail-end of last season to see the Yankees want him back as a bench player, has really struggled at the plate. When you note that Ackley has actually improved on his April performance but has still only hit .178 with no extra base hits, the problem of production from the first base corner is very clear.
The centre infield pairing of Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius has remained very solid defensively. At the plate, Castro has cooled particularly whilst Gregorius is slightly improved. The back-up infielder for these roles, Ronald Torreyes, has been the only player used at 2b or ss besides the principal two. He got off to a huge start in April with .381 batting average and a double and a triple. By contrast, in May he hit less than the Yankees would have been hoping for. His .185 BA was accompanied by another triple (one of only two Yankees players to hit a triple in May) but it is not hard to think he will fade out of the reckoning if this form continues into June.
By contrast, Chase Headley who didn’t hit a single extra base hit in April, was massively improved in May. He hit .298 with 6 extra base hits which resulted in him having the second best on-base percentage in the whole team. He is perhaps the only one of Steinbrenner’s targets who has responded positively. Torreyes has been the back-up third baseman.
Jacoby Ellsbury‘s .320 BA with 8 extra base hits and 6 stolen bases has made him a vital part of the Yankees’ offense when he has been fit. Whilst he is not quite the complete package that the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed him from the Red Sox, he is amongst the best they have at this stage. Aaron Hicks appeared in 10 games at centre field, 17 in right and 7 in left but there is no question that what he mainly brings to the Yankees is defensive prowess. His .222 in May did not sparkle.
Used 2nd most in right field as well as covering for Alex Rodriguez at designated hitter was Carlos Beltran. His .276 with 17 extra base hits will do very nicely, thank you and if this year he can perform through the whole season, he will have been a real asset. Brett Gardner‘s 26 games in left field in May saw him produce a miserable .184.
Ben Gamel was a surprise call-up from Triple-A to fill a vacuum whilst injury had laid several players to one side for a few days. He appeared in five games, each time in right field, accruing 8 at-bats and a .125 batting average before catching the train back to Scranton. Another temporary addition was Rob Refsnyder who was given a couple of games in right field and produced a .286 average in another short stay in pinstripes.
Alex Rodriguez, dogged by injury, only hit a lousy .130 in May but all of his three hits went for extra bases so when he shakes off his injury and when the Yankees have the good sense not to try to make him play every day, he will still have something to contribute. With A-Rod’s injury, Beltran took the bulk of the time at DH. Five other players took time there. Most interestingly, the much vaunted young power-hitter Gary Sanchez made a 1-day shuttle visit from Triple-A Scranton, going 0 for 4 and is still looking for his first hit in the majors. He has now played bit parts in the last two Major League seasons. He returned to Scranton only to injure himself and is currently on the Minor League disabled list.