The 2012 New York Yankees have gotten off to a decent start through the first month considering they are one of six teams in the American League with a record over .500. As a team, they are batting .273 and lead the league in home runs with 37 (lead by Curtis Granderson’s eight). The Texas Rangers are 2nd with 36 and the Milwaukee Brewers 3rd with 32. The captain Derek Jeter leads the team in batting average at .389, followed by veteran Eric Chavez at .321 and enigma Eduardo Nunez at .313. Defensive beast and base path trailblazer Brett Gardner was hitting .321 before hitting the disabled list. Gardner should bring back some offensive spark and much-needed outfield help when he returns to the lineup in a week or so.
The Yankees have a +18 run differential, compared to the Rangers who lead the league with a stunning +56 (St. Louis Cardinals 2nd at +53). That run differential translates into 120 runs scored overall behind the Boston Red Sox (127) and the Rangers (124). Granderson and Jeter head team scorer with 18 and 16 respectively.
Another facet of offensive success is their .385 wOBA, which is good for second in the league preceded again by the mighty Rangers. Jeter, Nick Swisher, and Granderson have done a good job getting on base and moving runners along. Swisher was off to a strong start (.333 ISO and .617 SLG) until a hamstring injury knocked him out of the lineup temporarily. Granderson is also drawing a fair share of walks getting a free pass to first base in 15.8 percent of his at bats. Backstop Russell Martin has an OBP of .338 (16.2 BB%) but has struggled mightily at the plate hitting a paltry .167. Speaking of walks, the Yankees are 4th in the league in walk rate (10.1%) while striking out in 15.8 percent of at bats.
Regardless of what the numbers are telling us, there are several Yankees that are struggling. Andruw Jones and Martin are off to very slow starts while Mark Teixeria and Alex Rodriguez have been too inconsistent. New cog Raul Ibanez is passable at this point and is a fright-a-moment in the field. While the same can be said of Nunez’s defense, it seems he may be better suited to play in the outfield.
Despite the apparent offensive success, the weak link is without a doubt their pitching. The pitching staff holds the 7th worst ERA of 4.33 (3.88 FIP) and the 3rd worst .319 BABIP (ahead of the Atlanta Braves and Brewers). The culprit of this deficiency is the starting rotation. They carry the 2nd worst ERA in the league at 5.80 (4.34 FIP), which is no doubt the result of the terrible pitching from Freddy Garcia (12.51 ERA, 5.51 FIP) and Phil Hughes (7.88, 6.39). Garcia has already been bounced from the rotation and Hughes is probably not far behind. No need to go into the tragic outcome of the Pineda/Montero trade. The best starter (obviously) is ace CC Sabathia, while Ivan Nova comes and goes (9.25 K/9 vs 1.85 BB/9), while Hiroki Kuroda is showing signs of turning his bad start to the season around. However, help is on the way from Yankee institution Andy Pettitte; although he’s been less than impressive in his minor league starts. Could it be the Clemens trial is weighing on his mind? In any case, I can’t consider one of the most successful postseason pitchers of all time a given to boost the rotation right away. David Phelps, the long man in the bullpen, is on his way to an audition for a starting job and has pitched well in relief. In 17.2 innings, he has 9.56 K/9 rate and a 3.57 ERA. One concern is his 5.67 FIP meaning he’s gotten a bit of defensive help when he’s on the mound. On the contrary, he does leave 90.3 percent of runners on base.
Speaking of the bullpen, that is where the biggest positive lies. The backbone of the Yankees is 3rd best in ERA with 2.00 (3.15 FIP) and boast 3 pitchers with a K/9 rate over 10. Setup man David Robertson (14.73), lefty specialist Boone Logan (12.54) and middleman Cory Wade (10.97) anchor the relievers. Robertson has been so terrific (0 RA in 11 IP) that if Mariano Rivera goes down, Yankee fans shouldn’t bother looking for a panic switch. Rafael Soriano is also pitching well but he has, by far, the highest BB/9 on the staff with 7.71. Soriano has great stuff but I have a hard time trusting him when he comes in the game. The great thing about how the bullpen has been pitching is that even if they inherit a deficit, the offense has been putting up a good amount of late inning rallies. The bullpen flat out holds the opposition down when needed.
The defense is has been solid thus far. They have a league-best 7 errors (4 fielding, 3 throwing) and are tied for 10th with 51 double plays. Their .983 RZR is good for 5th and have converted 64 ‘out of zone’ (OOZ) outs. In contrast, the team UZR stands -8.3 (zero is considered average). To make sense of this stat, Ultimate Zone Rating gauges how many runs a player (or team in this case) saved or gave up through their defensive play. Although this contradicts with their lack of errors, it means that even though they didn’t make a mistake, they weren’t entirely effective when fielding batted balls. So, there is room for improvement that will be helped by the return of Gardner in left and using Nunez in the right capacity (OF or DH).
There’s been no lack of drama surrounding the 2012 Yanks and yet they have responded fairly well. If the pitching staff tightens up, the team starts hitting more consistently with RISP, and the bullpen keeps up its torrid pace, no question we have yet another playoff team on our hands.