Derek Jeter’s Hot Streak

The Yankees are currently in first place in the American League East, but that’s not what fans are talking about at the moment. They’re not talking about how the Yanks are playing better than the heavily favored Red Sox or about Curtis Granderson’s MVP-caliber season or even Jesus Montero being stuck in Scranton. They are talking about Derek Jeter.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Heading into 2011, I was expecting a bounce back year from Jeter. He was coming off a career low slash line of .270/.340/.370 and even though I had no reason to believe that the aging captain just had a flukey season, as a die-hard Yankee fan, I just wanted to dream. And through the first half of the season Derek gave people a reason to think that he was certainly declining.

In April, he hit .256/.313/.278, in May he hit .274/.338/.371, and in June he was at .239/.314/.304 until getting injured and hitting the 15-day disabled list. While rehabbing in Tampa, he made a slight tweak to his swing, according to the DJ3K documentary that aired on HBO. Jeter did look much better when he came off the DL as he was hitting balls with more authority and to the gaps, kind of like he did in the good old days.

After the All-Star Break and after he got his 3000th hit, he continued to hit. So far in the second half, he is hitting .336/.393/.443 with a wOBA in upper .300’s as opposed to one hovering around .300 as it was in the early part of the season. The answer clearly lies deep within the numbers. If we take a look at the captain’s stats this year as opposed to 2010, one can see that he is hitting more line drives and less ground balls, something that backs up the fact that he is hitting the ball with more authority.

The thing that is so crazy about this is that he hasn’t really changed his approach at the plate. He is being just as aggressive as ever, walking around the same amount, and is swinging through the same amount of pitches. Instead, I think it lies with the way he is hitting the fastball. Last season, he posted the wFB of 1.4 and that is now up to 3.7 this year. With that, his runs above average have gone up with almost every other pitch. I don’t know if he is quicker to the ball or what or if he’s reading pitches better, but whatever it is, it’s working.

What’s going to be interesting to see is whether or not Jeter can sustain this type of performance. He is no doubt red hot right now (.395 BA in last ten games), but can he keep his current season average (.290) through the rest of the season, the playoffs, and beyond 2011. A lot of people thought the Bombers would have a dead weight at shortstop for the next two plus years and that might still be true, but at least this little hot streak will give us something to dream on for the time being.


Robbie Cano’s ‘Down’ Year

Through all of the talk about the starting rotation, the bullpen, and the struggles of Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, the other pieces of the team have kind of been lost in the shuffle. Robinson Cano is one of these pieces and this is mostly because he’s not having an overly good year or an overly bad year, but kind of in the middle. His numbers have certainly digressed from his break out year last season, but why?

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Let me just say this first: I do not think that Robbie is having a bad year at all. He is hitting .295/.343/.501 with 16 homers and 70 RBI’s. You can take an even closer look and still see he has very good numbers as he has posted a .366 wOBA and a .206 ISO. I am just saying that he is definitely capable of more, as he showed us in 2010.

The reason for the decline in production is without a doubt his plate discipline. His BB% is down almost 3% from last season while his K% is up 2.5%. If you take an even closer look, Cano is also swinging at 4% more pitches out of the strike zone and 2% more pitches in general which is forcing pitchers to throw him less strikes. Although, you don’t need the numbers to tell you that he is swinging at bad pitches. If you’ve been watching the games, you can tell that that his plate discipline has taken a step back.

If Robbie were able to find a way to swing at less pitches out of the strike zone, it would make pitchers throw him more pitches closer to the strike zone and he would be able to make better contact and drive that average up. I would personally just like to start with him taking better at bats and gradually start taking more walks. After that, things would start to take off. I know it’s a lot harder than I made it sound, but still.

The only reason I’m writing this is because I was kind of hoping that while Alex Rodriguez was hurt, Cano would step up and start to hit a little better and almost carry the offense, but he hasn’t. I don’t think it’s because of the Home Run Derby, like some people think, but rather he just hasn’t found it yet. He hasn’t gone on that tear to drive up his numbers and I’m sure A-Rod coming back will help him. I realize Robbie’s not having a bad year, but he could take it to the next level, and I think he has to.


Why Grandy Bats Second

With the Yankees recent offensive struggles, there has been a lot of talk about shuffling the lineup.  In fact, Joe Girardi has actually made a few changes by moving Russell Martin up and Nick Swisher down.  However, something I was thinking of was moving Curtis Granderson down to provide some protection for the cold middle-of-the-order hitters.

(Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

However, tonight reminded me why the Grandy Man bats second.  First of all, I am a big believer in if something is not broke, don’t fix it well.  Well, Granderson has been raking in the two spot batting .275/.343/.618 with a .416 wOBA.  He has been carrying the team offensively.  It almost seems like no one else is hitting, especially with runners in scoring position.  As long as he keeps hitting, he shouldn’t be moved in the lineup.

But something I saw last night proves why Granderson hitting second is the right call.  Down 4-3, the Yanks had a runner on third with two outs and Curtis came to hit.  If Girardi would have went with my plan of hitting him further down in the lineup, Russell Martin or Nick Swisher (both high OBP guys) would be up and who knows what would have happened.  Instead, since Grandy was further up in the order, he got the extra at-bat later in the game which was crucial since he is the Yankees hottest hitter.

So no matter how bad things get offensively for the Bombers and how much they switch the lineup, they should not move Curtis Granderson from the two spot as long as he continues to hit.  All Girardi should do is play with the bottom of the lineup if anything, but overall the offense does look a lot better than it did a week or two ago.


Robbie Cano And His Plate Discipline, Or Lack Thereof

Right from the start, people said Robinson Cano was going to be a great ballplayer.  He had a flawless swing, a good glove, a great arm, and decent enough speed.  It was just going to be how hard he worked and how much he developed the fine points of his game.  In regards to the former, his work ethic has come to question in the past due to his effortless ways that are sometimes perceived as lackadaisical, but he has put those to rest in the last couple of years.  And to the latter, the one part of his game that has needed the most work is his plate discipline.

(Antonelli/News)

Last year, Cano threw his name into the best hitter in the MLB discussion with a break out year.  He hit .319, which wasn’t too off from what he has done in the past, but his on-base percentage went up to .381, almost a thirty point increase from the year before.  This could be because his BB% went up from 4.5% in 2009 to 8.2% and he walked 27 more times overall.  He was being more selective at the plate, something that did not come naturally to him, but was helping him see better pitches and wearing down the opposing pitcher.

Robbie, this is the face I make when you swing at all those bad pitches. (SI Kids)

To say that Robbie’s discipline has regressed in 2011 would be a pretty big understatement.  He is hitting .285/.325/.522 while sporting a BB% of 4.1% and a K% of 17.2% (his K% in 2010 was only 12.3%).  So not only is he swinging at too many pitches not allowing him the opportunity to draw walks, but it also is forcing him to swing at more balls out of the strike zone which is dramatically increasing his strikeout rate.  This is proven by the fact that he is swinging at 5.4% more pitches than he did last season, including 5.2% more pitches that are out of the strike zone.

According to Jack Curry, hitting instructor Kevin Long apparently had a ‘heart-to-heart’ with Cano about his lack of discipline, and how he’s seeing only 3.22 pitches per at-bat, which is good for 98th worst in the American League.  Even in last night’s game, on the game-winning hit he had, he swung at the first pitch that Mike Gonzalez threw on the night.  In a post-game interview with YES’ Kim Jones, he said he was going to keep swinging and doing his thing.  While I feel a hitter should do what is comfortable for them, he’s gotta do something a little differently.

Despite the fact that Cano isn’t taking too many pitches, he’s still having a decent offensive season (.370 wOBA).  I think that he will start to pick things up soon, but he needs to find a happy medium between swinging and swinging at everything or he is going to start having trouble.


Diagnosing The Offensive Struggles

We are almost a month into the season, and like all teams, the Yankees have some players hitting the ball well and others that aren’t.  Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira Alex Rodriguez, and Russell Martin are all hitting the snot out of the ball while Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher have been doing quite differently.  But why?

(NY Daily News)

A lot of people who are reading this probably just rose their eyebrows when they saw I wrote that Cano has been struggling.  I mean he had a 13-game hitting streak and his hitting line is .304/.309/.544.  That isn’t cold at all.  Well, he can be doing a lot better with his plate discipline.  The reason that Robbie was able to raise the level of his game so much last season was because he walked a career high 57 times and had an OBP of .381 (also a career high).

However, this has regressed greatly in the early-going in 2011 as his BB% is only 1.2% while his K% is at 17.7%, about 5% higher than 2010.  His swing% has also gone up by more than 5% as it is at 57.9%.  If this isn’t enough, you can just look at his line and see that his OBP is only five points higher than his batting average.  Cano needs to relax a little more and start working counts a bit more.  He can’t start swinging at pitches way out of the strike zone, something I have seen him a do a few times so far in this young season.

Jorge Posada is a little bit of a different story than Cano.  Posada has not hit for average at all.  His line is only .145/.243/.435.  Now there are some positives here as he walking quite a bit as shown by the OBP and he is obviously hitting for the power as shown by the relatively high slugging percentage.  However, that average is not good.  His K% is at 30.6%, about 5% higher than last year and with six of his nine hits being homers, his BABIP is a horrendous .081.  This could be because his LD% and GB% are down while his FB% is way up.  Posada has to get that LD% up in order to get that average up and become a little more productive.

As you can see, Posada's 2011 K% is something he's not used to. (Fangraphs)

Another guy who’s struggles have definitely not slipped through the cracks is Brett Gardner.  Gardner is batting .136/.190/.256.  His biggest problem is that he is striking out a lot more and walking a lot less than last season.  His BB% is down to 6.2% from 13.9% and K% is up to 32.2% from 21.2%.  This is because he is being more aggressive.  According to Fangraphs, not only is he swinging at more pitches in the strike zone, but he is also swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone.  I think he was being a little more anxious in the lead off spot and that has caused the rough start.

The last guy I am going to write about is Nick Swisher.  This is the toughest case of them all because year to year not a lot has changed in his numbers.  His LD%, GB%, and FB% are all about the same as they were in 2010, except he is walking quite a bit more and striking out quite a bit less.  However, his batting average is only .227 with a .341 OBP, however.

He is also the only everyday player besides Derek Jeter to not have a homer so far.  This is odd for Swisher because he 29 home runs in each of his first two years in pinstripes.  I don’t think his low average has anything to do with him doing something wrong (although he did have some mechanical flaws from the left side that needed fixing), but rather just bad luck.  He has hit the ball hard a lot, but it just gets caught.  If he keeps these numbers up, the average should start to climb by itself.

It's been frustrating for us too, Nick. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

So there are the four main Yankee strugglers and why they are having trouble.  The good news is that it is only April and the team is getting by without them so far.  But as things start to change and the weather starts to get warmer, hopefully their bats start to warm up because the others won’t keep up what they’re doing for the entire season.


Analyzing The Yankees Offense

With the issues of the starting rotation and Rafael Soriano, the Yankee offense has kind of gone under the radar.  What I mean by this is that even though it hasn’t been great, not many are questioning it because of other problems.  But is there really anything to question?

As of right now, there are two ‘problems’ that I see in the Bomber offense.  First of all, they are relying a little too much on the homer.  They are tied for the most homers in the MLB with the Rangers with 18.  However, the Yanks are 5-4 and Texas is 9-1.  Does anyone else see something wrong with this?

(Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

Well, let’s a take a look deeper inside the numbers.  The Rangers are batting .265 as a team, while the Yankees are at .236, Texas has a team .333 OBP, while New York has a .311, and despite the equal amount of homers, Texas is slugging .517 as a team, while New York is only at .471.  This shows that the Rangers have a lot more extra base hits that are not homers.

So even though the Yankees are hitting a lot of homers and driving in a lot of runs this way, they should be doing more.  The Rangers have been scoring more runs by stringing hits together and putting together big innings.  Sure their starting pitching has been a huge surprise for them, but the hitting has helped a lot also.  This is a strategy that the Bombers should start trying to use a little more.  They need to be more of a base hit and walk team rather than a homer team.  This is part of the reason why I think they should be running a little more.

The other question I have about the offense is the top three in the lineup.  Brett Gardner is batting .167, Derek Jeter is batting .206, and Mark Teixeira is at .182.  What do these three guys need to do to get to mid-season form?

When I watch Brett Gardner at bat, it’s like having deja vu.  Every time he takes strike one basically down the middle and then takes strike three looking.  He needs to be a tad more aggressive and take advantage of pitches he can hit.  I don’t want him to change his approach too much though because his OBP is almost 100 points higher than batting average which shows he is still getting on base.  Also, as the lead off hitter he needs to see as many pitches as possible to give the rest of the team an idea of what the opposing pitcher has that day.

Next up is Derek Jeter.  Jeter, starting last Thursday against the Twins, abandoned the new mechanics that he and hitting instructor Kevin Long had been working on and went back to his old stance and the double tap.  He has actually improved a good amount as he his hitting the ball a little harder and his numbers have slightly risen.  He just needs to start hitting more line drives and less ground balls because it is no coincidence that the year his GO/AO ratio went up to 2.91, the highest it has ever been, he hit a career low .270 (2010).

There's been too many of those looks this year. (Antonelli/News)

Mark Teixeira is the trickiest of the three. He is notorious for his slow starts, but in the first five games, he hit four homers and it looked like he had gotten past that.  Yet, a week later, it’s back to the same old.  He is now 0-for-his-last-15.  Although his average is very low, his OBP is still at .325 and he is slugging .545.  This shows he is still getting on base and when he does hit the ball, it is going far.  If Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano get hot, it could help because it will allow him to see better pitches.  I’m not sure if there is a cure for Tex, except to just wait it out and hope it doesn’t take as long as last year for him to snap out of it.

With the starting rotation being a pretty big question mark, the Yankees are going to need to score a lot of runs to win games.  They can do this many different ways, but they should start getting away from the home run and start becoming an extra base hit and walk team.  But the most important part to this is getting the three guys at the top of the lineup going.