Can Jeter and Suzuki continue to battle Father Time and keep the Yankees lineup potent?
2013 will open as perhaps one of the most competitive years the American League East has ever seen. All five teams in the division have valid reasons as to why they should be considered legitimate contenders in late October.
The Yankees are the defending AL East champs, and will open the new season with a less powerful lineup (Nick Swisher and Russell Martin are gone, and Alex Rodriguez is out for most of the year), yet it has potential to manufacture more runs than its predecessor.
Much has been made of the Yankees continued aging, and the numerous injuries they had to endure last year (and will deal with this season), but a closer look at how the offense stacks up against the rest of the division may reveal that this team is not yet ready to slide in the AL East.
This article will compare three characteristics of each AL East team's lineup–Speed, Power and hitting with runners in scoring position–in an attempt to see how this season's version of the "Bombers" will fare against its rivals.
Left Fielder Brett Gardner is the fastest man in a Yankees lineup that can no longer wait for the long ball to get its runs
The New York Yankees' lineup has players who can steal bases; Manager Joe Girardi just didn't get to use them last year.
In 2012, Brett Gardner (averaged 48 stolen bases in the 2010 and 2011 seasons) was out for a majority of the season with elbow and forearm injuries, and Ichiro Suzuki (who has NEVER stolen less than 26 bases in his career) wasn't acquired by the team until the second half of the campaign. Without them in the lineup, and with much slower "power" guys like Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin occupying spots, Girardi depended upon getting runners on base then bringing them home with fence-clearing shots.
The stolen base was virtually ignored.
This season's batting order will have a very different feel to it. Behind the plate will most likely be Francisco Cervelli (four stolen bases in 43 games in 2011), and Gardner, Suzuki, and Curtis Granderson (six straight seasons of 10 or more base swipes) will make up a speedy outfield. Add Derek Jeter (has averaged 19 stolen bases per year)–not necessarily fast, but a very, very smart base-runner–and Eduardo Nunez (33 SB in 41 attempts over last two years) to the mix and suddenly the majority of the lineup is made up of players who can disrupt pitchers and get themselves into run-scoring positions.
By comparison, here is what the rest of the division has to flash on the base paths:
First baseman Edwin Encarnacion not only has power, but he can run the bases as well. In 2012, he stole 13 bags while getting caught only three times.
Providing even more disruption for opposing pitchers will be recent acquisitions Emilio Bonifacio (30 steals in 2012) and Jose Reyes (averaging 47 SB per season since 2005) as well as Melky Cabrera (30 SB with KC in 2011).
With their blend of speed and power, the Blue Jays will be giving pitchers headaches all season long.
Like the Yankees of 2012, the stolen base has not been a big part of the Orioles' game. Their biggest threats when on base will be Adam Jones (28 SB in last 39 attempts since 2011) and Brian Roberts (averaged 40 stolen bases in the three years prior to 2010)–if he can stay healthy.
For the most part, it looks like the "O's" will look elsewhere to generate their runs.
Second baseman Ben Zobrist (averaging 18 SB over past four seasons) and left fielder Desmond Jennings (31 SB in 2012) will provide the Rays with speed on base and Manager Joe Maddon with additional weapons to toy with opposing teams.
The hated Yankees rivals have some very decent speed to couple with the power they will flash in Fenway.
Second baseman, and heart of the team Dustin Pedroia (46 SB in last two seasons), former Phillie Shane Victorino (39 SB in 2012), and Jacoby Ellsbury (averages over 50 SB when playing a full season) will supply plenty of RBI opportunities for the hitters behind them when they are on the base paths.
AL East Speed Rankings
1. Toronto - Reyes and Bonifacio lead a team that will be exciting to watch on the bases.
2. Yankees - Manager Joe Girardi will have no choice but to let his runners run.
3. Boston - A team that many think may again finish near the bottom of the division will at least be exciting to watch offensively.
4. Tampa Bay - Joe Maddon will certainly find imaginative ways to generate runs.
5. Baltimore - Speed just isn't their game.
Curtis Granderson once again led the Yankees in home runs in 2012
The New York Yankees led all of baseball in home runs (245), and slugging percentage(.453) in 2012.
Will they do it again in 2013? Probably not.
Gone are Nick Swisher (24 HR, .473 slugging), Russell Martin (21/.403), and Raul Ibanez (19/.453). Alex Rodriguez (18/.430) will have yet another season where the majority of his time is spent recuperating from surgery.
The four of them are replaced in the lineup with Ichiro Suzuki (five HR in 67 games with the Yankees), Francisco Cervelli (five HR in 148 MLB games), Eduardo Nunez (seven HR in 180 MLB games) and Kevin Youkilis (he can at least match A-Rod's numbers, if not exceed them).
In spite of the drop-offs there still will be long-ball threats in the Yankees order.
First baseman Mark Teixeira, who had his first season since 2003 with less than 30 home runs should rebound for his usual 30 HR, 110 RBI output. Curtis Granderson has hit 84 HR over the past two seasons and there is no reason to believe that he won't hit at least 40 again this year. Finally, Robinson Cano will continue to be the heart of the Yankees offense and build upon his 33 HR, .550 slugging percentage performance of a year ago.
No, the team will not have the power it did in 2012, but it will still have power.
The rest of the division shapes up power-wise like this:
Jose Bautista missed 70 games in 2012, yet still hit 27 home runs. He is Toronto's most feared hitter with good reason. Since 2010, the Blue Jays' right fielder has amassed 124 HR and hit for a .584 slugging percentage.
In addition to Bautista, the Blue Jays' lineup features Edwin Encarnacion (42 HR in 2012) and Colby Rasmus (23 HR last season). Both are capable of clearing the bases on any given plate appearance.
The Orioles' batting order will have above-average power littered throughout. From catcher Matt Wieters (45 HR over past two seasons), first baseman Chris Davis (33 HR in 2012), shortstop JJ Hardy (22 HR last year), and rising star center fielder Adam Jones (32 HR and .505 slugging percentage in 2012) the team will have plenty of opportunities to make up deficits, or pull away from opponents quickly.
As with everyone else in this division, the Rays' lineup will have players with the ability to change a game with one swing. A healthy Evan Longoria (.516 career slugging percentage) will supply the biggest power threat and will be complimented by second baseman Ben Zobrist (20 HR each of the past two years) and right fielder Matt Joyce (17 "dingers" last year).
David Ortiz is the poster child for power in the Red Sox lineup. Since 2003, the quick swing of "Big Papi" has averaged 34 round-trippers and a .571 slugging percentage. Along with Ortiz, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (25 HR in 2012), first baseman Mike Napoli (54 HR over past two seasons), youngster Will Middlebrooks (15 HR in 75 games last year), center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (32 HR in 2011), as well as middle infielders Stephen Drew and Dustin Pedroia will provide consistent power threats throughout the year.
AL East Power Rankings
1. Baltimore - They were second to the Yankees in home runs in 2012. In 2013, they will move past them.
2. Boston - If Napoli's hip issue isn't a threat, his bat will be. The continued growth of Will Middlebrooks will boost the Red Sox power.
3. Yankees - They've lost some, but expect a bounce back from Teixeira and an improved average from Granderson in 2013.
4. Toronto - They were sixth overall in HR in 2012, and their new additions won't change that.
5. Tampa Bay - Their power will improve with a healthy Evan Longoria, but Manager Joe Maddon and their pitching staff is what will be the Rays' bread and butter.
Derek Jeter led the Yankees in hitting with RISP, batting .310 in that situation
The Yankees ranked 17th in MLB, and fourth in the AL East in hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) in 2012. Many consider it to have been the Achilles' heel that resulted in their being swept by the Tigers in the ALCS.
Shortstop Derek Jeter was the team's shining star in that category as he hit .310 with runners on second and third base. Nick Swisher, no longer with the team, hit .301 in that situation. After that, no one else with at least 100 AB was higher than .273.
Given that their lineup will be a little more dependent on station-to-station baseball, it will be imperative for the Yankees to improve on their results in the RISP category.
Left fielder Brett Gardner has hit .304 with RISP since 2011, and he enters 2013 healthy. Ichiro Suzuki has hit .288 with runners at second and third since 2009, and 26-year old Eduardo Nunez hit .438 with RISP during limited action in 2012. Nunez is currently projected to be the DH and primary backup to Derek Jeter, so he may get a full-season's worth of play in 2013.
The bottom line is that there are indications that the team will improve in the highly visible category of hitting with runners in scoring position.
The Blue Jays were 12th in MLB with a .260 average with RISP. Their additions of Jose Reyes (.272 with RISP since 2009), Emilio Bonifacio (.267 in 2012), and Melky Cabrera (.303 in his past two admitted PED-use years) should either keep the team at that spot or improve it–depending upon how Reyes and Bonifacio adapt to American League baseball, and how Cabrera comes back from his suspension.
The Orioles were only slightly better than the "Bombers" with RISP. With few changes to their lineup in 2013, their .256 average in that category won't see significant improvement or decline.
The Rays were the worst in the division with RISP, hitting a paltry .243 and ranking 23rd in MLB. While having Evan Longoria (.304 average with RISP since 2009) for a full season, and the addition of first baseman James Loney (.285 since 2009) will help, like the Yankees the team will need improvement in that situation to find better success.
In spite of their disappointing season, the Red Sox hit .271 with RISP, ranking sixth in MLB. New additions Mike Napoli (.245 average with RISP over past four seasons) and Shane Victorino (.244 last year) could bring that ranking down a bit, but they will be offset by Jonny Gomes (.311 in 2012) and rising star Will Middlebrooks (.321 in 78 AB last season).
How does the AL East division rank when needing to get a hit with runners in scoring position?
1. Boston - They have good clutch hitters, but then again, offense isn't their problem anyway.
2. Toronto - A lot rides on how the players brought over from the National League adapt to AL strategies.
3. Yankees - An improvement is inevitable for the "Bombers."
4. Baltimore - Few lineup changes will mean more of the same. If Brian Roberts can get/stay healthy, he could be a difference-maker.
5. Tampa Bay - Imagine what kind of season they would have had if they just hit a little better with runners in scoring position.