After pounding the Tigers into submission on Tuesday, the Yankees won a tidy 4-2 ballgame on Wednesday behind Chien-Ming Wang and then finished off the sweep with a nifty 4-3 comeback win behind Kevin Brown last night. Brown allowed just three runs on ten hits in seven full while striking out four and walking none (70 percent strikes) to earn his fourth-straight win. The big hit in the game was a two-run bomb by Alex Rodriguez in the fifth that brought the Yankees back from a 3-2 deficit.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays finished off a sweep of their own . . . of the Red Sox. As a result the Yankees and Blue Jays remain tied in the AL East, but for second place, a half game ahead of the now fourth-place Red Sox, who come to the Bronx to night for a three game series.
The Yankees are now 15-2 over their last seventeen games and with a little more than a week having passed since the season passed the quarter mark, now seems as good a time as any to take a player-by-player look at how things are shaping up in Yankeeland. We'll start today with the offense.
Let's go according to the batting order:
Derek Jeter After a smokin' April (.344/.465/.467 - .326 GPA), Jeter has cooled off in May (.264/.309/.374 - .233). The most significant part of this cooling off is a severe drop in his walk rate. After walking 19 times in 25 games in April, Jeter has drawn just six more walks in 23 May contests. Still, if he splits the difference the rest of the way, he'll draw more walks than in any season since his should-have-been-MVP year of 1999. A secondary concern is a dip in his slugging. His current .416 SLG would be his lowest since 1997.
Back on positive side, Jeter's defense, which was league average for the first time in his career last year, continues to improve. Thus far he's posted an outstanding 107 Rate (seven runs above average over 100 games). Oh, and he's only dropped down one sac bunt. B+
Tony Womack I've confessed to my inability to really dislike Tony Womack because of his ability to make pitchers work, his outstanding baserunning (in addition to pacing for 52 steals at an 83 percent success rate, he has a Jeter-like ability to take the extra base), the fact that he seems to get a hit almost every day (just five 0-fers in May), and, yes, his hustle.
Of course, I recognize that that's all just lipstick on a pig. To begin with, those deep counts rarely result in walks (just one every 18.4 plate appearances on the year), and those daily hits are all singles and rarely does he get more than two per game (just twice all year). As a result, he's not on base enough to make proper use of his best skill. Meanwhile, after playing an uncharacteristically excellent second base and looking solid after being shifted to left, Womack's defense has started to show its holes after about 20 or so games in the outfield. While he's basically done an admiral job, he's developed knack at botching the borderline balls, which has negatively impacted his range, dropping him to a 94 Rate in left.
Any fondness one might have for Womack instantly evaporates upon glancing at his batting line: .274/.318/.310 (.221). The first two numbers are dead-on with his career, but his slugging is, incredibly enough, fifty points below Tony Womack's career slugging percentage. He was thirty points below his career in April and thus far has just one extra base hit in May (a triple back in Oakland) for a .296 slugging percentage. I cannot italicize enough. D
Gary Sheffield Sheff is as Sheff does. There are few players who could call a .330/.389/.457 (.289) April disappointing. Gary Sheffield is one of them and has upped the ante with a .307/.435/.587 (.343) May. The best part is that Sheffield has yet to really find his homer stroke (with just 7 on the year, he's on pace for a mere 24), which is one reason those numbers have gone largely unnoticed this month. Sheff's keeping things league average in the field. Meanwhile, he's rediscovered his knack on the bases, on pace for 21 steals at a 86-percent clip. A
Hideki Matsui Hideki Matsui hit three homers in the Yankees' first four games of the year. On April 20 he was hitting .323/.377/.532 (.303) and looked to be well on his way to repeating last year's breakout numbers. He then went 3 for 26 over the last nine games of April to drop his line to .250/.330/.413 (.252). By May 10, Matsui was down to .233/.315/.372 (.235) and had just one extra base hit in his previous nine games and the name "Groundzilla" had made an unwelcome return.
The next day Matsui went 2 for 5 with a double and three RBIs in the wild Moyer v. Pavano day game at the stadium. After an 0-fer the next day, he began a still-active eleven-game hitting streak in which he's gone 19 for 51 (.373) with 14 runs scored. Unfortunately, he's walked just twice during the streak and his only extra base hits have been six doubles. Matsui has yet to hit his fourth homer of the year, having now gone 43 games without a round-tripper. Meanwhile, he's been overextended in center field, posting a 93 rate that's just one run better than what Bernie was doing out there. C
Alex Rodriguez Rodriguez has taken his lumps from myself and others for his defense at third this year, and he certainly deserves it. His seven errors are more than half of what he committed last year (with less than one-third of the current season having elapsed) and nearly all of them have been costly. Even more troubling, most of them have come on the easiest of routine plays. Adding injury to insult, Rodriguez's 87 Rate is downright brutal. By way of comparison, as a converted catcher Joe Torre played a better third base, as does the Devil Ray's would-be DH, Aubrey Huff. Heck, Bobby Bonilla was a better third baseman than Alex Rodriguez has been thus far this season.
Fortunately, Rodriguez has more than made up for allowing Medusa to borrow his glove, by having Midus handle his bats. The most obvious statistic is his major-league leading 17 home runs, a total that's nearly a third better than his closest rivals, the NL's Adam Dunn and Troy Glaus, who have 13 each. Rodriguez also leads the majors in runs and RBIs and is second to only Brian "Brady" Roberts in slugging.
Looking at some Baseball Prospectus stats, he's tied for fourth in the majors in EQA and also ranks fourth in VORP. His cumulative line of .324/.421/.659 (.354) is staggering, as are his projected totals of 148 runs, 200 hits, 59 homers and 169 RBIs. You'd have to go back to Mickey Mantle's prime to find a Yankee batter with totals that even approach those (Mickey himself was never healthy enough to put up those kind of counting stats) and back to DiMaggio and Gehrig in 1937 to find totals that could match them.
Of course, it is extremely unlikely that Rodriguez will be able to maintain his current pace. After all, he's in the middle of a nine-game hitting streak of his own (12 for 28 with a double, five homers and eleven walks: .429/.590/1.000, not counting HBPs), which skews his rate stats upward a bit. Besides which, his current OBP and slugging would be career highs, which seems an unlikely eventuality for a player I previously determined had peaked in 2000 (speaking of Rodriguez's OBP, I found Jeter's missing walks, Alex took them).
Still, it's an undeniable fact that Alex Rodriguez is having the sort of season most players (and fans) can only dream about. So do should we care that he's not stealing bases (3 for 6) or that Baginsky is playing a better third base right now? Not as long as he's making like Gehrig at the plate. A+
Tino Martinez A case study in motivation. Before Andy Phillips made his first start at first base, going 2 for 4 with a double and a home run and 4 RBIs, Tino was hitting .200/.310/.360 (.230). Since Phillips was demoted to make room for Ruben Sierra, Tino has gone 2-for-14 with a double and a pair of walks (.143/.250/.214). In between he went 21 for 62 (.339/.423/.839) with ten home runs, including eight in an eight game stretch.
It seems unlikely that Tino will be able to replicate that hot streak. He's also seen an unusual dip in his fielding rate at first thus far this year. Still, for playing a key part in turning the team's season around (his streak of eight homers in eight games coincided with the first eight games of the Yankees' recent ten-game winning streak) and for temporarily sharing the major league homer lead with the impossibly hot HR-od (new nickname!), I have to give him a solid grade. A-
Jorge Posada The splits tell this story by themselves:
Holy schlamolies! Jorge was completely without a power stroke in April but has more than doubled his April slugging percentage thus far in May. It sure is nice to have Jorgy back. I hope he plans on sticking around. B
Jason Giambi Anyone see him hit a 90-plus mile per hour fast ball with authority yet? I haven't. Given an ultimatum before the recent west coast swing, Jason went 8 for 25 (.320) with a double and a homer on the trip with a hit in all six games. But he walked just twice and that double and homer remain his only extra base hits since April 19. Even isolated to those 25 west coast at-bats, those two multi-base knocks only amounted to a .480 slugging percentage. On the season, Jason's slugging just .348, which doesn't even meet Tony Womack's career standard. Add to that the fact that he's now gone 27 plate appearances without a walk and I'm really hard pressed to find any way in which he's contributing to this team. F
Robinson Cano I must say, I've been impressed with Cano thus far. He has some areas that need significant work, most of all his reluctance to draw walks (just two in 74 PA thus far for a .294 OBP), but he appears to be comfortable both at the plate and in the field and, while I still think he was rushed, I could see him developing into a valuable player over the next few years.
It took Cano seven games to really reveal himself at the plate. In his first 23 at-bats he picked up just two singles and developed a maddening habit of grounding out to second base. He then tore off an eight-game hitting streak in which he went 16 for 34 with six doubles (.471/.486/.647), hitting the ball with authority into the outfield power alleys. Since then he has just 1-for-15, but the one was his first major league home-run, a no-doubter upper-deck tack-on shot on Tuesday night.
A few interesting trends have emerged in Cano's hitting. The first is that he hacks. He's seen just 2.73 pitches per plate apperence and walked just twice in 74 trips. The second is that he has a disturbing habit of grounding out to the right side. Of the 50 balls he has put in play, nearly two thirds of them have been grounders, which is a Groundzilla-level problem. But check out what happens when he hits the ball in the air. Of those 50 balls in play, 17 have been in the air. Meanwhile, he has 19 hits, but the first two came on grounders through the right side on the slick Tropicana Dome turf during his second major league game. Now those remaining 17 hits and those 17 fly balls are not exactly one and the same, but they're mighty close. One wonders if this is the sort of trend that Mattingly can help Cano exploit, certainly it bodes well if all Cano has to do to be productive is keep the ball off the ground.
Cano remains a work in progress, but he's worth the investment and, despite the hacking, is preferable to Womack because of his considerable potential for improvement and already superior power stroke. C
Bernie Williams Our collective love for Bernie has lead us to overvalue the few times he has come through. His inability to play center became so obvious that the Yankees were finally forced to benched him because of it. Meanwhile, he's hitting just .235/.311/.326 (.221) on the season without an encouraging smaller sample. I'd still rather have Bernie at the plate than Giambi in a big spot, but other than the fact that Bernie can still get around on the fastball, I can't make a convincing case as to why. F
John Flaherty he hasn't hit his homers yet, so his slugging is down, but otherwise, same old from the same old. D
Rey Sanchez just one double and just one walk, but for some reason Sanchez keeps getting singles, hitting .357/.400/.393 (.278) in extremely limited time. Still, I can't figure out why he's on this team, especially now that Russ Johnson's around. C+
Ruben Sierra Big Ru has just three hitless pinch-hit at-bats since returning from the DL. Before that he had seven hits, all for extra bases, and two walks for a very Seirra-like .290/.621 OBP/SLG (.286 GPA). Same old here, but now he's strictly a pinch-hitter, which all he should be. C
Russ Johnson I'm glad he's here, and he already has a walk in just four PA, but it's too early to tell if he can deliver the OBP plus doubles and defense I expect him to be able to. NA
Andy Phillips It all seemed so promising, but when the dust cleared, Andy had no walks and a five-strikeout game to his credit (all swinging), and that just won't do. When he hit the ball, he hit it hard, with all five of his hits going for extra bases, and he worked the count, seeing 4.06 pitches per at-bat, a Giambi-like number. He just never got ball four, and thus swung his way back to Columbus. I'm hoping Andy will remember how to walk and find his way back to the big club (right now he's crushing the International League to a .400/.419/.800 tune, but has just one walk on the minor league season), but with the DH/1B situation crowded and Russ Johnson in pinstripes, it will likely take another injury or a space-clearing trade to get him back before September. D
Bubba Crosby I think we've seen the last of Bubba. After going 2 for 12 (.167) with one walk and no extra base hits with the Yanks, he's hitting a pathetic .238/.296/.333 off the bench in Columbus. Thanks for the memory, Bubba. F
What's missing? A centerfielder. The Yankees need one in the worst way. Marlon Byrd would have worked, though they should really go for defense first. I assume almost anyone they get would be able to out-hit Womack, who has been unable to keep this offense from being the best in the majors. Womack could then go to the bench as a utility man, pinch runner, bumping Sanchez off the roster and Matsui could shift back to left.
It doesn't really look like it, but that there's the best offense in the major leagues. Too bad it's also the worst defense in the major leagues. Still, credit for the offense's standing goes to HR-od and Sheffield for carrying the team and the cascading hotness of Jeter-Tino-Jorge for providing a steady third wheel. Now imagine if Matsui can find his power stroke and the big five (Jeter, Sheff, Ziller, HR-od, Jorgy) can all get it in gear at the same time. Can you say unstopable?