The Yankees were much better than expected during the month of April and a large reason for that was the superb play of both Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells. However, since May Hafner both players have gone in the tank and the Yankees offense has followed it.
Just take a look at the difference:
- Hafner in April: .318/.438/.667.
- Hafner in May: .179/.286/.299.
- Wells in April: .300/.366/.544.
- Wells in May: .220/.250/.360.
Those are just the results though. Let’s take a further look into the numbers to see what’s happening.
It’s important to remember that Hafner dealt with a bit of a shoulder problem earlier in May which certainly could have had an impact on his numbers. He’s been back and playing every day for nearly two weeks now though so it’s probably not the biggest contributing factor.
Hafner has stopped hitting the ball with authority though. His line drive percent was a robust 20.4% in April and it has dropped to just 11.6% in May. This could be because pitchers are throwing him significantly fewer fastballs while throwing more changeups, curves, and sliders.
Considering that he hit .345/.486/.966 against fastballs in April then, yeah, it’s going to bring his numbers down. He did well against the offspeed stuff in April too, but that came with a .500 BABIP and a lower LD% that was just unsustainable. Pitchers seem to have begun to recognize him as the trouble spot in the Yankees lineup and are not giving him anything good to hit.
As a result, Hafner is not chasing more pitches, but he is pulling the ball more often and hitting it on the ground more too. In April he pulled the ball just 30.6 percent of the time while in May that number jumps to 46.5 percent. His ground balls have jumped to 44.2 percent in May versus just 28.6 percent in April.
Hopefully as players come off the DL, Hafner will get better protection and a diet of more fastballs will correct this. However, we can’t know that for sure right now because the sample sizes are just too small. We’ll have to wait and see how it works out.
Wells has had no injuries so this is just regression after an amazing, and unlikely, month of April. The same basic thing seems to be going on with Wells as with Hafner — he’s seeing fewer fastballs while pulling the ball more often and hitting the ball on the ground more.
His ground ball rate is up from 35.5 percent in April to 44.0 percent in May. He’s also pulling the ball more — 39.5 percent in April versus 47.6 percent in May.
The biggest difference for Wells though is how he’s hitting, or not hitting, against lefties. He crushed them in April to the tune of .342/.395/.632, but that has dropped off a cliff to just .259/.310/.259 in May.
From looking at the data it appears that lefties have begun to pitch away to him more often, 34.6% pitches on the outside of the zone in April versus 45.6% in May. Meanwhile, he’s trying to pull the ball more than ever, 36.4% in April versus 47.8% in May (these numbers are all against LHP only).
The other thing with Wells is that he’s hitting much better on the road than at Yankee Stadium. It’s not like he’s killing it on the road though, hitting just .258/.270/.435 in May, but it is the difference of nearly .250 OPS points. It could be just a small sample size, but considering that part of the problem is that he’s pulling the ball more often, perhaps YS is making him pull happy.
Maybe with fewer fastballs, he’s feeling pressure to compensate and pull the ball more often. Maybe just playing in YS has led to bad habits. Whatever it is, he’s really hurt his offensive production. Like Hafner, hopefully this goes away a bit when players come off the DL and the pressure gets taken off of him. However, based on his lack of success over the last two seasons prior to joining the Yankees, I do fear that he’s potentially just fallen into a bad habits and what we saw in April was the result of a lot of good luck.
• It’s official, Andy Pettitte will be back on Monday to face the Indians. What’s not official is who will get sent down, but it will probably be Vidal Nuno (unless he’s not sent down today for Teixeira or Youk).
• Brian Cashman hasn’t said what the club intends to do with Michael Pineda once he comes off the DL roughly a month from now. Cash said it’ll be based on, “whatever the circumstances dictate at the time.” The Yankees could delay his free agency by a year if they send him to the minors for a little more than two full months.
• Curtis Granderson agreed to donate $5 million to his alma mater, the University of Illinois-Chicago, for a new baseball stadium. The stadium will cost $7 million and will be called Curtis Granderson Stadium.
Photo credit: (April 26, 2013 - Source: Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America).