No Derek Jeter? No Mark Teixeira? No Curtis Granderson? No Alex Rodriguez?
No problem for the New York Yankees so far.
When the stars were dropping like flies before the season, everyone and their uncle was expecting the Yankees' offense to be a lost cause until the notables returned from their hurts. But lo and behold, the Yankees enter Thursday's action with the same amount of runs scored as the 12-2 Atlanta Braves. Per FanGraphs, the Yankees also have the third-best OPS in baseball at .814.
It's a surprise, for sure...But it doesn't feel right. Is this for real, or is it a mirage?
As a whole, the numbers say for real. A deeper dive into the numbers, however, says mirage.
Some of the individual numbers raise one's eyebrows. Francisco Cervelli has an .893 OPS. Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells and Kevin Youkilis have all turned back the clock, as each of them has an OPS well over .900 (Hafner's is 1.142) and have combined to hit nine of the club's AL-best 20 home runs.
Indeed, it's the power that's been the surprise. With the stars on the shelf for the start of the season, it was reasonable to conclude that the Yankees were going to have to manufacture runs here and there, an approach that would require contributions from speedy outfielders Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki.
Instead, their contributions haven't been anything special. Ichiro is off to a brutal start with a .532 OPS. Gardner has a respectable .759 OPS, but it's alarming that he hasn't stolen a base yet. The Yankees only have three stolen bases as a team, and they rank towards the bottom of the majors with minus-1.8 baserunning runs above average (see FanGraphs).
Rather than changing, what the 2013 offense has done so far is pick up where the 2012 offense left off.
The 2012 Yankees had a collective slash line of .265/.337/.453 and hit about 1.5 home runs per game. This year's offense has a slash line of .276/.346/.468 and is hitting about 1.5 home runs per game.
This would be the part that stinks.
Even if you're the most diehard Yankees optimist, you have to admit there's something fishy about such a watered-down lineup performing just as well as a lineup that had Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson and, at times, a productive version of A-Rod in it. There has to be a catch here.
And there is.
The big picture looks a little different if you isolate what the Yankees did in the two games they played against the Cleveland Indians on April 8 and 9. Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, here are the key numbers:
In just two games, the Yankees scored about 37 percent of their runs, hit 40 percent of their home runs and compiled an OPS that would make even the 1927 Yankees blush.
And it's not a shock that they did, in retrospect. Cleveland's starting pitching has been atrocious, and the two pitchers the Yankees faced in those two games happen to be particularly atrocious.
The first was Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been a wreck ever since the beginning of the 2011 season. He gave up seven earned runs in 4.1 innings against the Yankees, and is currently sitting on an ERA over 11.00 after another shellacking at the hands of the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.
Then the Yankees faced Carlos Carrasco, who was making his first start since having Tommy John surgery in 2011. He looked a bit rusty, giving up seven earned in 3.2 innings. Major League Baseball suspended Carrasco eight games for throwing at Youkilis, but not before the Indians optioned him back to Triple-A.
Also making an appearance against in relief was Brett Myers, who had been hammered for seven earned runs in his first start against the Toronto Blue Jays. He was called in as a mop-up man against the Yankees after they hammered Carrasco, and promptly gave up another seven earned runs.
We wouldn't be sitting here having this discussion if the Yankees had gone into Cleveland and wrecked some quality pitching. But they went in there and wrecked some truly awful pitching, allowing them to inflate their overall offensive numbers.
Here's a look at how their numbers against the Indians compare to their numbers against everyone else.
Take the two games against the Indians out of the equation, and the Yankees are scoring fewer than four runs per game and have a batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage right around the league average in each category (.252/.318/.399). Their .730 OPS would place them right around the middle of the pack.
This sounds like a more accurate depiction of a Jeter-less, Teixeira-less, Granderson-less and Rodriguez-less Yankees offense.
With those guys in the mix last year, the Yankees had a well above-average offense. They ranked second in baseball in runs, first in homers and first in OPS. With those guys gone and what amounts to spare parts in their shoes, a regression was in the cards.
Not from way above-average to below-average, mind you. Just from way above-average to average. That's about what we expected, and it's not a catastrophe because we know you can get by in baseball with a merely average offense as long as you have good pitching.
And the Yankees have that. Their hurlers didn't get off to such a good start, but the Yankees are now up to 10th in MLB in ERA (see FanGraphs) and climbing. Yankees hurlers have allowed only 17 runs in the last eight games, seven of which have been wins.
Hence the reason I'm not about to spew a bunch of nonsense about how the Yankees are overachieving because their offense is overachieving and are thus in for a swift plummet to rock bottom. Their offensive numbers are inflated, but the turnaround of their pitching has rendered that something of a moot point. As long as the arms hold out, the Yankees should be able to at least stay afloat.
Eventually, the big guns will be back in the lineup, which will become legitimately above-average and support an already solid pitching staff. The Yankees won't become a juggernaut, but they'll have other teams in the AL East wishing those darn Yankees had struggled as much as they were supposed to earlier in the year.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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