Yesterday, MJR posted a piece about his five Yankees to watch during the second half of the season. I’d like to add two to the list: Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes.
The first is obvious. Jeter rode a bit of a hot streak into the break while collecting his 3,000th hit and hopefully the time off gave him a chance to heal up his injured calf muscle. A healthy Jeter is a good Jeter, so we’ll see if he can rebound in the second half of July and the rest of the regular season. The ZiPS projection has him nailing down a .327 wOBA for the way, which is definitely feasible. If he were to combine that with his current wOBA of .308 (91 wRC+), he’d end with a .317 wOBA. Right now, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski has a .317 wOBA and his wRC+ is 95. A 95 wRC+ from a shortstop wouldn’t be all that bad. I’d definitely accept that from Jeter. His bat won’t be what it used to be, but it will–like it always has–benefit from being used out of an offensively weak position. Jeter’s defense has been not-awful so far in 2010 and if he can keep that up while producing at or around league average, he’ll be valuable.
As for Hughes, I’m a bit skeptical. Maybe I’m being too swayed by his poor second half of 2010, but I’m worried about him. He’s going to make changes going into Sunday so we’ll see how it works, but I can’t help but feel he’s stalled out a bit. I want to see him work his curveball and changeup as we go forward in 2011. If he can’t do that, then I’m not sure how much he can improve. Looking at the rest of season updates for Hughes won’t do us much good since his sample is so limited. The things Hughes needs to improve upon are not necessarily going to be found in the results data, but rather in the process data. His ability to mix pitches is something we’re going to have to track on a game-by-game basis, and even a batter-by-batter basis. Is he hitting his spots with the fastball to set up the cutter? Is he just showing batters the change and curve or is he really using it to keep them off balance? Is he finishing batters off or are they still fouling away two strike pitches that don’t have the deception, movement, velocity, or accuracy to end the at bat?
Both Jeter and Hughes can be compensated for in some way–Jeter’s bat can be covered up by the other sluggers in the lineup (though this is harder if he’s still in the leadoff spot, getting the most PAs) and if Hughes does poorly in the rotation, it can be augmented by acquiring a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. It’s not that either player isn’t important to the team, but the Yankees are in a position that neither player will be expected to carry the team in the second half. Even so, just minor improvements by Hughes and/or Jeter will go a long way in securing the team’s second half fate.
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