The Yankees ended July losing nine of their last 12 to finish .500 or lower in the month for the first time since 1992. Despite the slide, which has cost the team half of its division lead, Brian Cashman failed to pull the trigger on a major deadline deal, which means if the Yankees are going to persevere in the A.L. East, they’ll have to do so without reinforcements.
Even though the Yankees didn’t make a big move to improve their struggling offense, which has average only 4 runs per game during the team’s summer swoon, the incremental addition of Casey McGehee could provide a bigger boost than most expect. Although he hasn’t come close to replicating the overall production he provided earlier in his career with the Brewers, the corner infielder has actually improved against left handers. If McGehee continues to produce near his current wOBA of .348 versus southpaws, the upgrade over Jayson Nix would help mitigate the loss of Alex Rodriguez.
In addition to providing more offense at third base against left handers, there is another potential benefit that could come from adding McGehee to the roster. In 55 career plate appearances as a pinch hitter, the infielder has hit .292./382/.542, which would rank as the highest OPS in franchise history among all hitters with at least 50 cracks off the bench. Granted, such a small sample spread out over several years is hardly conclusive, but it does seem to at least suggest that McGehee is not handicapped by coming off the bench. That’s not insignificant when you consider some of the most successful hitters have struggled when called upon to pinch hit.
Note: 2012 plate appearances are pro-rated. sOPS+ compares a team’s performance in a split to the league average. A reading above 100 is considered above average.
Under most circumstances, snagging a pinch hitter at the deadline wouldn’t be noteworthy, but for the current Yankees’ lineup, which has been vulnerable to split-based matchups, the addition could take on heightened importance. With Ichiro Suzuki, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez (wOBA versus lefties of .228, .199 and .083, respectively) all performing extremely poorly against southpaws, having another right handed bat available off the bench should help Joe Girardi better manage late-game matchups. In several recent games, including last night’s loss to the Orioles, the Yankees’ skipper has been forced to let his lefties face a pitcher throwing from the same side, and the results have almost always been detrimental. Unfortunately, the team’s pinch hitters haven’t performed much better. In 89 plate appearances, the Yankees have compiled an OPS of .571 off the bench, which is 33% worse than the league average. Such a poor execution rate from the team’s reserves is bad enough, but compounding the problem is a starting lineup whose vulnerability has forced Girardi to use the bench more than at any time during his tenure. Not only do the Yankees already have 10 more plate appearances off the bench than all of last season, but the current pace of 127 would represent the most the team has had since 143 pinch hitters were used in 1993. Clearly, the combination of quantity and a lack of quality hasn’t been beneficial.
It’s also worth noting that although Andruw Jones is capable of pinch hitting against left handers, the addition of McGehee has very little overlap. Not only does the corner infielder provide added depth when Jones is already in the game, but because he plays 3B, pinch hitting for Chavez doesn’t have to require two players. Also, with only one viable right handed pinch hitter, Girardi was often faced with having to decide whether or not to play his hand earlier in a ballgame. With McGehee on board, however, he no longer has to manage so close to the vest.
Casey McGehee is not going to single-handedly help the Yankees emerge from their offensive doldrums. However, he could provide an occasional spark, even if it’s only one at bat at a time. More importantly, if the Yankees hold onto their division lead, and the rest of the lineup rounds back into form, McGehee’s presence on the bench could also wind up being a secret weapon in October. At the very least, it will give Girardi another option and opposing managers something else to think about later in the game.