Because of injuries, the Yankees’ pitching staff has been widely regarded as the area in most need of improvement. And yet, even with three starters currently on the DL and no timetable for their return, the rotation has more than held its own. However, the same can’t be said about the offense. After last night’s 3-2 loss, Joe Girardi was unwilling to tip his cap to the opposing pitcher once again. “We’ve ran against three pretty good starting pitchers,” the frustrated Yankees manager stated, “but I know we’re capable of hitting better than this.” Girardi’s optimism is commendable, but is it warranted?
After 46 games, the Bronx Bombers haven’t come close to living up to the name. On an aggregate basis, the Yankees have scored fewer runs than the AL per game average, a level of mediocrity achieved with remarkable consistency. Continuing a trend from early in the year, the Yankees have failed to score more than four runs in 63% of their games to date. If pro-rated over the full schedule, that percentage would rate among the franchise’s worst offensive seasons. At the end of April, it was too early to jump to conclusions about the offense, but now that May is drawing to a close, the time is coming for the Yankees to at least acknowledge their lineup’s noticeable limitations.
Yankees’ Percentage of Games Scoring 4 or Fewer Runs, 1901 – Present
Another potentially foreboding early trend regarding the Yankees’ offense has been its relative struggles on the road. The lineup’s 0.768 OPS at home is currently .084 points higher than away from the Bronx, representing the sixth greatest differential and fourth highest tOPS+ (team relative OPS) for the franchise since 1914. The lineup has also homered more than twice as often at Yankee Stadium despite playing four more games on the road. Have the Yankees built an offense so tailored to their home ballpark that it isn’t capable of scoring enough on the road? The peripherals suggest that might be the case, but ironically, the Yankees have actually scored fewer runs per game at home, which means the team is either overdue for a breakout at the Stadium or fortunate to have scored “so often” on the road.
Yankees’ Home/Road OPS Differential, 1914 – Present
Note: A positive differential means the team’s OPS is higher at home than on the road.
Yankees’ Home/Road HR Differential, 1914 – Present
A quarter of the season is a reasonable sample, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees can’t live up to Girardi’s expectations. Of course, “better than this” is a relative term, and so far, the team’s lineup hasn’t been very good. In order for the Yankees to rank among the American League’s top-5 in runs per game, they would need to score nearly three-quarters of a run extra on average, which would represent the franchise’s 13 largest runs per game increase following its first 45 games in one season. History says it can be done, but are there any catalysts to support such a rosy outlook?
Before and After: Yankees’ R/G Before and After First 45 Games, Top-15 and Bottom-15 Differentials
Note: 2014 is based on the amount of runs per game the Yankees would need to score to compile a cumulative total that would currently rank among the top-5 in the American League.
Note: Positive (blue) differential means team scored more runs over remainder of season than in first 45 games. Negative (red) differential means team scored fewer runs over remainder of season than in first 45 games.
The easiest way for the Yankees to bolster their offense would be through reinforcements. However, these aren’t Hal Steinbrenner’s father’s Bronx Bombers. In the past, the team would have spared no expense to not only build a fail proof offense, but quickly supplement it at the first sign of weakness. These days, however, the Yankees aren’t as eager to use their enormous financial advantage. Otherwise, the recently re-signed Stephen Drew and current free agent Kendrys Morales would probably already be wearing pinstripes. So, absent an about face by the team’s front office, any improvement in the Yankees’ offense will have to come from within.
The Yankees do not have any impact bats in the minors, which means the players currently on the major league roster need to collectively boost their production. Is that likely…or even realistic? Brian McCann seems like an obvious candidate for a significant improvement, both because of his track record and freakishly low BABIP, which is sixth worst in the majors. Otherwise, the only player with reasonable and significant upside potential is Alfonso Soriano, but at age-38, even he is no sure thing to revert to his recent career norm.
Not only do the Yankees’ lack likely upside, but there are several areas where regression is a threat. Will Mark Teixeira continue to produce at career high levels? Can Yangervis Solarte continue to defy precedent and maintain an OPS+ above 140? Is Brett Gardner’s offensive breakout for real? If any of these questions are answered in the negative, the Yankees will have even more offensive slack to pick up.
If the Yankees deep pitching staff was healthy, the team might be able to contend with its shallow offense. However, at some point, the injuries could start to take a toll, and the offense will have to fill the void. Will the lineup be able to rise to the occasion? Girardi seems to thinks so, but unless Brian Cashman is more skeptical and Hal Steinbrenner is more committed, continued frustration is a more likely outcome.