Which Slow Starts Should Concern The New York Yankees?
Despite a sparkling record good for second place in the tough AL East, a number of Yankee hitters are off to poor starts.
Mark Teixeria, Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson and Alex Rodriguez are all struggling mightily.
So which of the four are likely to turn it around? Advanced statistics can help us with that one. All of this data is available at fangraphs.com or baseball-reference.com
The line: .250/.337/.440 2 HR's.
Prognosis : Good, but remember, he's getting up there in years.
Yes, the power drop is disconcerting, but according to fangraphs, there's nothing to worry about. Right now, just 6.7 percent of the fly balls Rodriguez has hit have gone for home runs. That's absurdly low. For his career, that number is 23.4 percent, and it has never gone below 19.3 percent
According to Fangraphs, A-Rod's hit 30 fly balls this season, so you would expect him to have seven home runs or so by now. Additionally, Rodriguez is making contact on 86 percent his swings, but his Batting Average on Balls In Play is .268, which is 53 points below his career average. This should also go closer to normal levels soon.
While it's possible his home run numbers will start to drop—he is older, after all—there's no reason to believe they'll stay this low. And some of those other balls are likely to fall in as well. But any time a guy starts getting older, you see a drop in production, so it's something to monitor.
The line: .138/.383/.224.
Prognosis : Good, if he wants it to be
I'll be honest: Guys like Johnson drive me nuts. It's not that I don't know the value of a walk, it's just that sometimes I get the sense that all they're going up there to do is try to draw a walk, and they forget about attempting to swing the bat.
And right now, that's Johnson's biggest problem: He just doesn't want to swing the bat. He's only swung at 28.6 percent of the pitches he sees, down from 36.8 percent for his career. Additionally, he's only swung at 42.6 percent of pitches in the strike zone, down from nearly 60 percent.
The maddening thing is, when he bothers to swing, he's making contact. Johnson's contact rate of 89 percent is good, and he's only got a swinging strike rate of 3.3 percent. The problem is, the balls he hits aren't finding the ground.
A .194 BAPIP is stunningly low, but, as it's 115 points below his career average, it's going to go up, especially considering his line drive percentage of 24.3 is right in line with his career numbers. Line drives are a type of hit very likely to result in a base hit — Johnson, for example, has a .777 career average on line drives.
For Nick, it's a simple as taking the bat off his shoulder.
The line: .136/.300/.259, 2 HR
Prognosis : Good, at least for the average
Much like Johnson, Teixeria's been a victim of bad luck. His BABIP of .148 is half of his career average, and it simply cannot stay that low. He's only hitting .500 on his line drives, 250 points below his career average. And, he's only 30, so unlike A-Rod, he's not at a dangerous age for dropping off.
While he is hitting more balls on the ground (unlikely to result in a hit for a player like him), it's the fly balls that are also hurting him, as only 8 percent of the fly balls he hits turn into home runs, about half of his average.
That's problematic, because even four home runs is low for a guy like Teixeria. So while the power numbers may be able to improve only so much, don't expect the average to stay below the Mendoza line
The line: .221/.310/.377
Prognosis: Not good
Here's the problem with Granderson: While his BAPIP is low for him—.259 as opposed to .319 for his career—he's also hitting a much higher percentage of line drives, which, if anything, should make that average go up. And while his average on line drives is low for him (.500 in 2010 as opposed to .743 for his career), it's also likely he'll hit fewer of them.
The ground presents a similar problem: Granderson's speed makes him a threat to get on base with ground balls—his career average on ground balls is .275—but his ground ball percentage this season is virtually identical to his career numbers, and his average on them is .318, which means it's also likely to drop.
The problem is, the increase in line drives has come at the expense of fly balls, which, unless they go out of the park, don't often result in hits. So if Granderson reverts to the norm and some of his line drives turn into fly balls, well, you can see where it's going. For his career, Granderson hits .139 on fly balls that aren't home runs, so it ain't pretty.
While Granderson's only seeing 8.7 percent of his fly balls turn into home runs, it's not that much lower than his 12.1 percent career number.
Regardless of the reason, these four Yankees need to start hitting, because other players are unlikely to see their hot starts stay so hot.
Robinson Cano is not going to have 28.6 percent of his fly balls turn into home runs all season, nor will Jorge Posada see 29.4 percent of his fly balls leave the park — for comparison's sake, Albert Pujols' career rate for that is just over 20 percent.
And Derek Jeter's not going to hit .335 if he hits 71.3 percent of balls on the ground with only 12.6 percent on a line—and Jeter, like A-Rod is getting up there in years.
And call me crazy, but I just don't see Brett Gardner, who was a .289 hitter in the minors, maintaining his .323 average all season.
Hopefully, Teixeria, A-Rod and Johnson can turn it around before the Gardners, Canos and Jeters come back down to earth.
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