Curtis Granderson's Injury Gives Yankees Worst Opening Day Lineup in 21 Years

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Curtis Granderson's Injury Gives Yankees Worst Opening Day Lineup in 21 Years

Considering the amount of power the New York Yankees lost over the offseason, the last thing they needed was for their leading home run hitter to get hurt during spring training.

Evidently, they've done something to anger the baseball gods.

Curtis Granderson, he of the career-high 43 homers in 2012, took a fastball to his right forearm from Toronto Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ during an exhibition game on Sunday. X-rays revealed a fracture, and the prognosis, via the Yankees' official website, is that he'll need 10 weeks to recover.

That puts Granderson's return somewhere in late-April/early-May territory. He certainly won't be ready by Opening Day, anyway. That means the Yankees are going to field an Opening Day lineup that will be even more unimpressive than it was already projected to be, for in place of Granderson's 40-homer power will be a great big pile of "meh."

You have to go back pretty far to find an Opening Day lineup as punchless as the one the Yankees are projected to have this year. In 1992—the year before Bernie Williams, Wade Boggs and Paul O'Neill found their way into the club's lineup on Opening Day—the Yankees' Opening Day lineup looked like this:

  1. Randy Velarde, SS
  2. Don Mattingly, 1B
  3. Roberto Kelly, CF
  4. Mel Hall, LF
  5. Danny Tartabull, DH
  6. Matt Nokes, C
  7. Jesse Barfield, RF
  8. Charlie Hayes, 3B
  9. Pat Kelly, 2B

This lineup featured three players in Velarde, Hayes and Kelly who had posted an OPS in the .600 range in 1991. The only player who had posted an OPS over .780 the previous season was Tartabull, who had a .990 OPS in an All-Star season for the Kansas City Royals.

The lineup the Yankees are projected to have on Opening Day this year has the 1992 lineup beat in the numbers game, but it's reminiscent of the '92 lineup in that it doesn't have the typical Yankees fear factor we've grown accustomed to over the last two decades. 

A one-by-one look at the particulars should give you an idea why that is.

 

1. Derek Jeter, SS

This is where my take on the situation differs from the one Dan Szymborski presented in an ESPN Insider post. He recalled the Yankees' 1991 lineup under the assumption that Jeter won't be back by Opening Day, in which case the Yankees lineup will indeed be that atrocious.

It's not set in stone, but I'm operating under the assumption that the captain will be there on Opening Day. It's what he's been aiming for ever since he first fractured his left ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS, and he told Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger last week that his plans haven't changed.

Jeter looks like as vital a part of the Yankees offense as ever following a year in which he hit .316 with a league-high 216 hits, but people shouldn't get their hopes up too high for him to do it again in 2013. There are a couple of things working against him.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jeter had a 21.7 line-drive rate in 2013, yet another thing that may not be sustainable.

One, obviously, is his surgically repaired left ankle, which could impact his hitting.

Just as important—or maybe even more important—is Jeter's age. He's heading into his age-39 season, and history says the odds are against him repeating the .347 BABIP that made his 2012 season such a success.

Only three 39-year-old players in history have ever posted BABIPs over .340: Paul Molitor in 1996, Andres Galarraga in 2000 and Eddie Collins in 1926. The ZiPS projection system doesn't like Jeter's chances of joining their company, as it has Jeter finishing with a .313 BABIP and a .277 average in 2013 (see FanGraphs).

If so, he's basically due to revert to the player he was in 2010 and 2011. Rather than great, he'll be decent.

 

2. Ichiro Suzuki, RF

Ichiro is also heading into his age-39 season, and that means that he will also be looking to defy what history has to say about 39-year-old players.

Besides that, Ichiro has the added difficulty of proving that he wasn't overachieving with the Yankees in 2012 after coming over in a trade from the Seattle Mariners. He hit .261 with a .279 BABIP in Seattle, and then hit .322 with a .337 BABIP with the Yankees. 

Such spikes often aren't sustainable, and ZiPS doesn't like Ichiro's chances of carrying over his 2012 success any more than it likes Jeter's. The projections have him hitting .282 with a .296 BABIP.

The projections also see the power that Ichiro showed off with the Yankees last season coming down. He had a .454 slugging percentage in pinstripes, but it projected to manage just a much more Ichiro-like .393 slugging percentage in 2013.

 

3. Robinson Cano, 2B

For the moment, this is where the negative buzz stops.

USA TODAY Sports
No worries here.

Cano is coming off a career-best season in which he hit a career-high 33 home runs with a career-high .929 OPS, and there are few reasons not to expect a decline in 2013. He's still in his prime, and he'll be looking to have a huge season to further boost his free-agent stock.

ZiPS thinks he will, as it has Cano finishing with an .881 OPS and 29 home runs. He'll likely do better than that, but that's a perfectly reasonable baseline projection.

So don't worry about the No. 3 spot in the Yankees' lineup. It's all good.

 

4. Mark Teixeira, 1B

Here's where the negative buzz picks up again...to a degree.

Teixeira's career is trending in a direction that's hardly encouraging. His OPS has declined little by little ever since the 2007 season. It bottomed out at .807 last year, and it could finally dip below .800 if his BABIP doesn't rise higher than the mid-.200s and his power is sapped by his age.

However, ZiPS is giving Teixeira the benefit of the doubt. It has him finishing with an .822 OPS to go along with 26 home runs in 574 plate appearances. If he stays healthy enough to log over 600 plate appearances, he should hit around 30 home runs.

Those aren't the kind of numbers he used to be known for, but the Yankees will take them.

 

5. Kevin Youkilis, 3B

Youkilis is another guy who's no longer capable of putting up the numbers he used to in his prime. The best the Yankees can hope for is that he'll at least be solid filling in for Alex Rodriguez at third base.

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports
Another thing to keep in mind: Youk had a .557 OPS in road games last year.

Youk gave the Chicago White Sox a .771 OPS and 15 homers in 80 games, and that sort of production would suit the Yankees well enough. ZiPS has Youk doing surprisingly well in 2013 with an .824 OPS and 20 home runs.

Achieving that kind of production will require Youk to stay healthy and avoid reverting to the form he showed with Boston last season. He hit only four home runs in 42 games, and he posted a mere .692 OPS.

If that version of Youk returns, the Yankees could find themselves missing A-Rod.

 

6. Travis Hafner, DH

The Yankees made a low-risk, high-reward play in signing Hafner off the scrapheap, but they shouldn't be too excited about the "high-reward" part actually panning out.

That will require Hafner to stay healthy, and odds are he's not going to do that. He's played in over 100 games only once in the last five seasons, and he's coming off a year in which he played in only 66 games.

ZiPS doesn't see Hafner staying very healthy this year. He's projected to get only 322 plate appearances, in which he'll hit only 13 home runs.

In other words, par for the course.

 

7. Juan Rivera/Matt Diaz, LF

Who will be in left field for the Yankees when Opening Day rolls around?

Harry How/Getty Images
Rivera's OPS was over .800 in 2009. It's been sharply declining ever since.

Your guess is as good as mine, really, but odds are it's going to be either Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz, both of whom the Yankees picked up for pennies over the winter.

Neither player is very intriguing. Rivera will be 34 on Opening Day, and he's coming off a season in which he had a mere .661 OPS. Diaz will be 35 on Opening Day, and he posted a mere .613 OPS in a 2012 season that was marred by a bad thumb.

ZiPS foresees a .716 OPS for Rivera and a .675 OPS for Diaz. I foresee Yankees fans getting in the habit of taking restroom breaks when either one of them is at the plate.

 

8. Chris Stewart, C

Here's another area where your guess is as good as mine, but I've liked Stewart to beat out Francisco Cervelli for the Yankees' starting catcher job for a while now and I see no reason to reverse course.

Stewart is the stronger defender between the two, as evidenced by his 2.4 defensive WAR over the last two seasons (see Baseball-Reference.com). He's also more familiar with the Yankees' current pitching staff from having played 55 games in the majors last year. Cervelli was down in the minors for all but a couple of games.

Stewart's bat won't be the source of much production, though. He had a .611 OPS last year, and ZiPS sees him finishing with a .633 OPS in 2013. He's also only projected to hit three home runs, or 18 fewer than Russell Martin hit in 2012.

Good defense behind the plate can cure many ills, but not such a huge loss of power.

 

9. Brett Gardner, CF

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
The Yankees missed Brett Gardner in 2012.

If there's a bright side to Granderson's injury, it's that it will force Gardner into center field. The Yankees can therefore look forward to getting tremendous defense in center during Granderson's absence, and they could be convinced to keep Gardner in center even after Granderson comes back.

Offensively, Gardner is a perfect second leadoff man at the bottom of the order. He had a solid .364 OBP over the course of 2010 and 2011, and ZiPS sees him posting a solid .355 OBP with 28 stolen bases in 2013.

But that's only over 342 plate appearances. If Gardner stays healthy enough to log over 600 plate appearances, he'll easily steal over 40 bases. Those won't come with much power, but the Yankees will be glad to have Gardner's speed again after sorely missing it in 2012.

 

Conclusion

Is this a bad lineup?

When compared to what teams like the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros are going to be trotting out there on Opening Day, not at all. They're just a couple of several teams around the league that would love to have a lineup like this one.

But is it a bad lineup by Yankees standards?

Make no mistake about it. The Yankees have grown accustomed to having powerful lineups with few easy outs, and this is a lineup with relatively little power and a potentially glaring number of easy outs.

Assuming the Yankees go with Rivera in left field and Stewart at catcher, their Opening Day lineup will feature nine players who combined to hit 122 home runs in 2012. That's a little less than half of the Yankees' final home-run total of 245 from last season, which was a franchise record.

The only player who projects to have a really excellent year is Cano, which is no shocker given the fact that he's the only player in the Yankees' projected lineup who's still in his prime. Jeter and Ichiro, the two elder statesmen of the lineup, are both due for a return to earth in 2013, and neither Teixeira nor Youkilis should be expected to turn back the clock.

After Youkilis' turn in the No. 5 spot is where things really get dicey, however. The Yankees could have had Granderson and his 40-homer power sitting behind Youkilis on Opening Day. With him gone, an over-the-hill Hafner is going to occupy that spot. He'll be followed by two extremely weak bats and a hitter in Gardner who is much more of a threat on the basepaths than he is at the plate.

Will the Yankees' record in Curtis Granderson's absence be over or under .500?

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When facing the Yankees in the past, pitchers had to worry about negotiating a minefield littered with tough outs and home-run power. Pitchers will have it much easier in the first month or so in 2013, as they'll be negotiating a lineup with too many aging players that gets weaker as it progresses. Pitchers won't be shaking in their boots at the mere sight of it.

There will be pressure on the Yankees' own pitchers to put as many zeroes up as possible to compensate for the team's lack of offensive punch. It bodes well for them that they have the mound staff to handle a job like that, so things could definitely be worse.

In addition, the fact that Granderson is only going to be out a month, rather than the whole season, is another thing that could be worse. Their chances of contending once again in 2013 haven't been completely derailed.

But Yankees fans should prepare themselves for what's to come in the first few weeks of the 2013 season. As long as Granderson is gone, it's going to feel like the bad old days have returned.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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