The Yankees went into the regular season with a positive outlook. They had led the league in Spring Training game wins and the young heart of the line-up (Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez) had had a phenomenal spring. There were still large questions about the depth of durability of their pitching rotation but their bullpen was the strongest around. At the very least, they had given themselves hope.
…And then the season began…
By April 8, they were one win and four losses and bottom of the division.
The following morning, Gary Sanchez went on the 10-day disabled list (which replaced the 15-day list as part of the new collective bargaining agreement forged and issued in November 2016). At that stage, Sanchez was batting just .150 with a single home run.
By the end of the month, Greg Bird was batting .107 with twice as many strikeouts as walks, only 3 RBIs and only 1 home run. This, despite the fact that he had a 3-for-3 game against St Louis in the middle of the month to give an artificial sheen to his stats.
And despite all of this, rather than sitting at the bottom of the table, the Yankees were jousting with the Baltimore Orioles for the American League East lead.
Well, first the starting rotation was doing much better than expected (but more on that in our next column) and the bullpen was living up to its advance billing.
But secondly, Aaron Judge newly established as the every day rightfielder in the last few days of the spring was setting a blistering pace, Chase Headley was having an April that was everything that last year’s April was not and the infield pairing of Starlin Castro and Ronald Torreyes was making up for the absence of injured star, Didi Gregorius.
|New York Yankees 2017 – Batting – Month – April|
The Yankees started the season with Tyler Austin on the 60-day disabled list (leaving Bird and Chris Carter as first and second choice first baseman) and with the aforementioned Gregorius on the 10 day list with a strained right shoulder. In corresponding moves, they added (in a move that surprised this writer) Pete Kozma to the 25-man roster to add depth on the bench and Eddy Rodriguez was signed to a minor league contract to give them an extra option at catcher whilst normal Scranton (Triple-A) backstop, Kyle Higashioka made his first appearance on a major league roster covering for the injured Sanchez.
Austin Romine did far better than anyone would have anticipated in April. No-one questioned that in Sanchez and Romine, and later Romine and Higashioka, the Yankees would have two great defensive catchers on the roster but only Sanchez was expected to perform particularly strongly at the plate. Consequently, when Sanchez struggled and was eventually declared unfit, there seemed that there was little to come from this position offensively. So, Romine’s .314 BA with 4 extra base hits came as a great relief to the major league club. Higashioka, as expected, was solid behind the plate but very weak with the bat in his hands. In 14 at-bats, he managed to go hitless and his impatience drew only one walk – leaving him with .067 OBP.
As already indicated, Greg Bird did not achieve much in April and number two first baseman, Chris Carter was not a whole lot better. His .211 BA was boosted by a double, a triple and a homer but it still left a sub-standard production from that position. Fortunately, the rest of the infield picked up the slack. Castro had a .352 BA with 5 home runs and a second-in-the-team 16 RBIs. Shortstop, Ronald Torreyes produced .313 with 5 extra base hits and 13 RBIs. When Didi returned to the lineup just before the end of the month, he was also strong, producing a .467 BA in the 3 games he played in.
Last season, Chase Headley went several weeks into the season before he garnered his first extra base hit. This year, he was hot from the first time he went to the plate and settled any nerves that the Yankees’ management were feeling about their long-term commitment to him straightaway. By the end of the month, he was .301 with 10 extra base hits – the extra base hits total was good enough for second-on-the-team.
Pete Kozma didn’t create much of an impression from the bench. In his 9 at-bats in April, he managed only 1 hit and there is little suggestion that he will have a prolonged stay in pinstripes once players begin to return from injury.
The sole reason why the phrase “second-on-the-team” is used so often in the previous paragraphs is called Aaron Judge. Now I’m not going to join journalistic colleagues in using legal terminology to emphasise just how great he has been for the Yankees during this first month but it is certainly worth a moment of pause to stand in awe of his feats.
10 home runs (team leader), 20 RBIs (team leader), 13 extra base hits (team leader), .750 SLG (team leader).
Like Sanchez at the end of last season, I’m fairly sure he can’t maintain that but what a boost he has been to the Yankees so far.
The outfield has very much been a four-man group, filling the three roles as needed. Aaron Hicks was initially pencilled in has only bench support but has shown himself worthy of being in the outfield somewhere most days. In April, he was used in leftfield on 9 occasions, called upon in centrefield four times and (presumably because of Judge’s success) only twice in rightfield. He ended the month with .295 BA and 4 home runs, overmatching his teammates that were also being considered for those roles.
Jacoby Ellsbury was solid if unspectacular. He was good in the field and produced .277 with 5 extra base hits and 6 stolen bases. By comparison, Brett Gardner was a lukewarm .205 but also with 5 extra base hits and 5 stolen bases.
Matt Holliday needed to produce from the designated hitter role as he wasn’t given time to ready himself at first base in the spring. This was no foregone conclusion as having come over from a National League team (St Louis), he was unfamiliar with the role which is quite different from being out in the field. A .262 BA with 4 home runs is certainly an improvement on what the Yankees have been getting from the position in recent times but some more weeks must pass before everyone is persuaded.
Four other players were used at DH – Gardner, Carter, Ellsbury, Higashioka – but none for more than one game, so this role is very much Holliday’s position to lose and he has given no suggestion that he is about to do that.
And so by the end of the month, the Yankees were 15-8. Now if you’d offered them that at the start of the season, they would have been more than enthusiastic. If you offered them that a few days into the season, when their record was 1-4, they would have snatched it like a dog who had caught sight of a bone.