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NY Post
New York Post
22 Apr 2023

NextImg:Injuries have Yankees’ lineup in survival mode despite near 100-win pace

The Yankees began the weekend as the only team not to lose a series in 2023. They had won two of three in each of their five three-game series and had split a four-game set against the Twins. The Yankees were 12-8 after losing to the Blue Jays on Friday night.

Yet, it felt as if the Yankees have been fine rather than on a near 100-win trajectory.

Perhaps it speaks to their winning DNA or their meh-or-worse opponents. But even manager Aaron Boone mentioned to me that he feels his club has been in survival mode until it can get key contributors back from an injured list stacked with 12 players. Harrison Bader, however, was the only one close to returning who could offer impact.

The Yankees’ series success to date revolved around run prevention, notably due to Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, the length of their bullpen and above-average defense, which Bader should only help in center — and even he is about two weeks away.

Entering Saturday, the Yankees were tied with the Rays for allowing three or fewer runs most often. Tampa Bay was 13-0 in such games, the Yankees were 12-1. Some of the uneven feeling was being caused by the absence of three expected starters and, in particular, Clarke Schmidt’s poor performance filling in.

But it is more about an offense that has been inconsistent despite ranking among the MLB leaders in homers and steals. The lineup has been hurt by lack of length, too much swinging and missing and remaining batting-average challenged.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa has managed just a .161 batting average and .373 OPS in limited plate appearances.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Perhaps Bader’s five-homer outburst in nine postseason games was a coming attraction, and he will abet more than the defense. Boone also remains optimistic (despite the numbers since the beginning of last season) that Josh Donaldson will heal from his hamstring injury and help the offense. But even within small sample sizes, the attack has shown concerns worth monitoring:

Lineup Length: The Yankees (rightfully, in my opinion) have valued pitcher comfort and confidence with their catchers. Thus, they sacrifice offense with Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka. That puts pressure on the other eight spots — and the Yankees have a left field and bench problem that will not easily be solved internally (gentlemen, restart your Bryan Reynolds rumors).

Want to catch a game? The Yankees schedule with links to buy tickets can be found here.

Neither Jose Trevino (pictured) or Kyle Higashioka have hit above .220 for the Yankees this season.

Neither Jose Trevino (pictured) or Kyle Higashioka have hit above .220 for the Yankees this season.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

These are the OPS-plus of the players mainly used for left field and depth (100 is league average): Franchy Cordero (108), Oswaldo Cabrera (60), Willie Calhoun (16), Aaron Hicks (2) and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (8). Combine that with the catchers, and there are a lot of outs daily in the back end of the Yankees’ lineup.

Cordero had four homers, but there is just too much swing-and-miss to trust for a whole season. I still believe in Cabrera and will address him in another section. Calhoun might lose his roster spot when Bader returns. Kiner-Falefa’s ability to run and defend several positions, including now center field, makes him passable as a 26th man. That brings us to this question: How long before Hal Steinbrenner is willing to eat a big portion of Hicks’ contract?

Madison Bumgarner had a year-plus and $33 million-ish left when the small-market Diamondbacks designated him for assignment last week. Robinson Cano had a year-plus and $38 million-ish left when the Mets DFA’d him in May 2022. Hicks has two-plus years and roughly $29 million still owed him through 2025.

Boone verbally supports Hicks, but the way he uses him (or doesn’t use him) speaks louder — perhaps to his bosses. Hicks had started just seven of 20 games. Boone also has insisted the booing crowd isn’t bothering Hicks, but the numbers speak loudest there. Hicks was 0-for-13 at Yankee Stadium this year, and since the jeering intensified in the second half last year, he was 4-for-65 (.062) at home — the worst among anyone at home with that many at-bats.

Plus, to balance a righty-leaning lineup, the Yankees need lefty value from Hicks. But since left wrist surgery ended his 2021 season, Hicks’ slash line the past two years batting from the left side was .201/.322/.286, which included a 2-for-19 this season.

At what point (if any) do the Yankees determine Hicks’ roster spot can be better used in addressing left field and bench deficiencies?

Righty Surprise: For all the concerns about the lack of lefty bats, the Yankees’ righties just have not hit lefties yet. Going into Saturday, the Yanks were at .201 vs. southpaws with a .306 slugging percentage.

The biggest offenders were Aaron Judge (1-for-15) and DJ LeMahieu (1-for-14). The only homers were by Cabrera, Donaldson and Trevino. It is not a big sample size (just 177 plate appearances as a team vs. lefties), but the composition of this lineup demands they punish the opponent’s decision to use southpaw pitching.

DJ LeMahieu and the Yankees entered the weekend hitting just .201 against left-handed pitchers this season.

DJ LeMahieu and the Yankees entered the weekend hitting just .201 against left-handed pitchers this season.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Whiffs: The new rules have done little to reduce strikeout rates, which had remained near historic highs at 22.8. MLB batting average was up two points from last year to .245 and on-base percentage was up nine points to .321 while the Yankees were down in both categories (.237 to .229, and .322 to .315) to some large extent because their strikeout rate of 24.5 percent would tie their 2021 team record. There are not enough balls in play or baserunners.

The Yanks’ 4.65 runs per game was below league average, in part because they might have been fourth in homers (28) but were 16th in homering with runners on base.

Judge is always going to strike out, but was doing so (34.1) in more than one-third of his plate appearances. Cordero was at 31 percent. LeMahieu, one of the best contact hitters of this era, was at 29.9. Cabrera’s was at 28.6 percent and Anthony Volpe’s at 28.4. Those last two could be young hitters still familiarizing themselves with the majors, particularly Volpe.

But there are just too many all-or-nothing swings from that duo. Home runs will be part of both of their games. But they should not be selling out for power as often as they have been. The way the game is played now, their speedy presence on base is magnified in importance.

For Volpe, a piece of that will be a keen eye that brings walks. But both can provide higher batting averages. Both have shown high baseball IQs for young players, so adaptation should be part of their skill set. Plus, they are central to getting the Yankees away from the all-or-nothing approach that has doomed them annually in the postseason.