Even my friends who are just casual Yankee fans are aware of the fact that the team usually gets off to slow starts. That's why the team's strong play this early April, further underscored by yesterday's 7-5 win over the Halos in the home opener, has come as such a welcome surprise to all Yankee fans, die-hards and the other kind.
Larry has already pointed out that it's been a while since the Yankees last started this well. After 7 games in 2009 the team was below .500, with a 3-4 record. I became interested in better understanding the differences between this season and last season -- at least through 7 games. The following observations are in no particular order.
- Alex Rodriguez: So far the Yankees aren't getting their $27 million worth, but A-Rod has managed three consecutive multi-hit games and is already on pace to knock in 139 RBI. That's a lot more than the team got from Cody Ransom. Too bad you don't get points in baseball for jumping high.
- Curtis Granderson: Everyone's newest favorite Yankee has exploded out of the gate. Through 7 games he's hitting .357/.419/.607. He's even been effective against left-handers, putting up an adequate .300/.364/.300. By contrast, through 7 games last year Johnny Damon was hitting .227 with a .626 OPS.
- Chien-Ming Wang: It hurts me to write this, since I was always found of Wang, but at this point last season his ERA was 28.93. Javier Vazquez, by comparison, only has an ERA of 12.71.
- Hideki Matsui: Godzilla was batting .125 with a miserable .484 OPS through 7 games last year. He was so bad I was telling friends that he was finished, stick a fork in him. This year Nick Johnson has an .829 OPS. He may only have a .200 average, but his OBP is .429.
- Derek Jeter: The captain is off to a solid start, and hit a beautiful home run today. At this point last season his average was almost 100 points lower than it is now and his OPS was less than .600.
- The Bullpen: Alex's return gets all the credit, but statistically the difference between the team in April and the rest of the way came from the relief pitching. The Yankees actually scored slightly fewer runs once A-Rod returned to the lineup, but the bullpen got itself together and the team began giving up far fewer runs as well. This season the bullpen has gotten off to a more stable start, diarrhea and all.
Not making the list:
- CC Sabathia: Fans seem to remember the 6 runs CC allowed in 4.1 innings in the season opener versus Baltimore. We seem to forget that he was lights out the following game (granted, against Kansas City) allowing zero runs over 7.2 innings with 6 strike outs. So far he's trending slightly better, but eerily similar through 2 games. If this translates into a slight improvement on last season then sign me up.
- Mark Teixeira: I'm not sure if it's worse to have Tex in the lineup right now, or out of it. Tex only played in the team's first four games last season before sitting out with a wrist injury. After he returned his performance fell off a cliff, but he wasn't as bad through the first four as we remember, batting .250 with a .931 OPS.
- Nick Swisher: His offense is just as good this year as it was last year through early April. Instead, it's his pitching, as in the pitching he isn't doing this year that the team needed him to do last year.
Put those changes together and it accounts for two extra wins and a much improved attitude among the fan base.