Just beneath the surface, however, lurks a more nuanced picture. June was a divergent month for the team. In April and May the Yankees fielded one of the AL's best offenses, with a good but not great pitching staff. In June the bats vanished, which was clear to anyone following the team. It was not clear, to me at least, just how badly the bats vanished until I saw the numbers. After having the AL's best offense in the first 2 months of the season the Yankee bats became a bottom half offense in the AL. The team declined significantly in every major offensive category, and allowed the Red Sox to overtake them as the AL wOBA leader.
The good news is that while the offense declined (badly), the pitching improved, albeit slightly. The team walked too many batters in June (thanks A.J.), but compensated with more strike outs, while doing a solid job of keeping runners off base and runs off the board. It's far from all good with the staff though, and we'll come to that later in the post.
Although the big picture for the team remains stellar, the Yankees have to address structural problems moving forward. In the first 2 months players like Brett Gardner, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher over achieved and propelled the team. In June many of the over achievers came back to Earth, while the mainstay stars continued to struggle. This is not a recipe for prolonged success, and that's before we get to the bullpen.
Click on all the tables to enlarge them.
Here are the individual numbers for the starting 9, as penciled in on opening day:
Here are some of the highlights (lowlights?), beginning at the top of the lineup. Derek Jeter continues to have a perplexing season. On the one-hand, this would be the worst offensive season of his career. On the other hand, he's been the 4th best shortstop in all of baseball, and could easily finish as the best in the AL with a strong 2nd half. That conundrum will make his contract negotiations this offseason difficult. In the meantime, the Yankee Captain has gone from being a .390 wOBA hitter last year to a .337 wOBA hitter this year. That's bad.
Nick Johnson's presence in the table serves only as a reminder that the team needs a real DH. It's unfortunate that Johnson injured himself just as he was coming out of his April slump, but the team needs to address the issue, particularly if the top of the order will perform as badly as it has.
Speaking of under performing hitters, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez continue to underwhelm. The good news for Tex is that his season this year has followed the trajectory of most seasons in his career. April looks like it will be his worst month and he's been consistent since then. The bad news is that he's been consistently mediocre. At this point I see no way for him to have a good season (by his standards). If we're lucky Tex will heat up and have a solid 2nd half. I'm not holding my breath.
Moving on to A-Rod, Alex had a bad June, probably due to injury. All we need to know about his season to date is that Brett Gardner has a higher wOBA. There is a silver lining to A-Rod. He started hitting again at the end of June, and while his OBP is subpar, he's one sustained hot streak away from having a respectable BA and SLG. The Yankees desperately need A-Rod to perform if the team will keep pace with Boston.
We need only look at the bottom of the order to understand why A-Rod (and Jeter, for that matter) needs to start hitting. Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher all had bad months in June. It's hard to criticize Jorge and Swisher, who had been carrying the team until then, but the performance from Granderson is upsetting. Right now Detroit got the better part of the trade, in Austin Jackson.
The only bright spots in the Yankee lineup in June were Brett Gardner (who'd better make the All-Star team) and Robinson Cano (who will make the team). Gardner put up a .455 wOBA in June. 'Nuff said. Robbie, meanwhile, continued to pound the ball.
I'm particularly excited to see what Cano does in the 2nd half. Over the past 3 seasons Robinson has been a much better hitter after the All-Star break. Hopefully that trend continues, adjusted upwards for his strong performance on the season so far, of course.
Here's the bench and the guys who left the team:
The Yankee bench is ugly. Francisco Cervelli isn't batting .400 anymore and the best player on the list, Marcus Thames, is injured. The Yankees could use a versatile player with a decent bat, someone who isn't a total liability in the field who can also be penciled in as an everyday DH. Rumor has it that the team is interested in Ty Wigginton. Wigginton leaves me cold (perhaps a personal aversion to an Oriole?), but he represents the kind of player the Yankees could use.
Finally, with the exception of Austin Jackson, does anyone feel bad about the guys we let go after looking at their seasons? I believe that Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui would have better numbers in lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium, but unless they have hot 2nd halves I believe the team made the right decision to get younger. Curtis Granderson may not be the answer, but he's the kind of player who is a step in the right direction for the team, given its commitments in the infield.
Here are the starters:
There's something to be happy about. CC Sabathia has been far and away the team's best pitcher in June. Last season CC was light's out in the 2nd half. Hopefully his June was the start of another summer run. Meanwhile, the team continued to get solid numbers from Andy Pettitte, and Javier Vazquez has become stronger each month of the season. Let's hope both those trends continue.
Phil Hughes was roughed up for the first time this season in June. His peripherals are still strong, despite the bad ERA. Phil has shown me enough that I'm not worried. I genuinely believe the team is in the process of developing its first starter since Pettitte. Hopefully the Yankees can manage his innings limit without messing up his mind.
Speaking of head cases, we all know the kind of month A.J. Burnett had. June is over. Dave Eiland is back. He was strong in his most recent outing. For the love of god, A.J., put this rough patch behind you!
It's all ugly from here. The baseball squeamish may consider aborting the article here ... with the bullpen:
The easiest way to understand how bad the bullpen has been is to look the team's ERA+ stats. Ugly, aren't they. That's just a lot of replacement level players, and worse. Boone Logan is above average due to his strong June, but otherwise, the Yankees 2 best relievers, Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves, are hurt. No one else has posted an ERA+ above 100, except, of course, for Mariano Rivera (there's a reason I went with that photo - who doesn't want to hug Mo).
Mo has been flat out incredible. As I write this I'm watching the July 3rd game and YES has announced that if this trend continues Mo will post his lowest ERA before the All-Star break, EVER. Usually when a closer only gives up runs in 1 month of the year he's having a good season. I don't want to focus too much on how dominant Rivera has been for fear of jinxing him, but I will say that if this trend continues he needs to figure into the Cy Young conversation, probably more as a lifetime achievement award than anything else, but still.
The problem, of course, is getting the ball to Rivera. Joba Chamberlain doesn't seem up to the task right now. I know that his peripheral stats are good, but FIP and xFIP are only indicators and don't tell the whole story. For example, on July 2nd when Joba blew the lead the Blue Jays were hitting the ball everywhere. A hard hit ball may not carry for a homer, but that doesn't mean the defense can get to it. At a certain point a player's performance tells the whole story, regardless of what FIP or BABIP may indicate is possible in the future, and Joba has underperformed. Maddeningly, there is no other reliever who looks up to the 8th inning job.
The Yankees will need to address this soon, because right now Joe Girardi seems to be trying to get 8 innings from his starters to give the ball directly to Mo to win games. This seems like a recipe for tiring out the team's best pitchers who will be needed down the stretch. Hopefully the Yankees are also looking for bullpen depth as well as bench relief as the trade deadline approaches.
Here are some of the other pitchers who may be of interest:
Romulo Sanchez and Ivan Nova barely smelled the coffee in the majors this year. Their names don't come up as much when other sites discuss the farm system. I'm guessing they don't make the short list for bullpen solutions. Meanwhile, don't let Gaudin fool you. Those are his numbers with the Yankees. He's been much worse this year if his performance with the A's is included. He doesn't inspire confidence as a bullpen solution.
Ian Kennedy is having a solid year for the Diamondbacks. It may be trite, but I believe that certain players - in any sport - just can't perform well in New York. I don't believe that is the season he would have as a starter in the AL East.
My personal feeling about the team right now is pessimistic. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If Jeter, Tex and A-Rod were propelling the Yankees I'd know what to expect, but so far it's been our role players. The offensive lapse in June occurred when the team had a downward correction from the overachievers without a corresponding upward correction from the underachievers. Unless the $100 million infield starts performing the way it has in the past the Yankees may continue to struggle to score runs. Given the weakness of the bullpen, the offense has to contribute to take pressure off the starters and Rivera. I'll plead guilty as charged if this comes across as baseless Yankee-fan whining. Be that as it may, the Red Sox look fantastic (injuries aside) and the Rays could easily return to form. The Yankees need to be firing on all cyclinders down the stretch.