There may be a few more games left, but the 2011 season for the New York Yankees is over, and it has been a stunning, unexpected success. While it is not the topic of this post, it warrants re-mentioning here: The 2011 Yankees have exceeded all expectations. The Yankees were not meant to win their division, let alone the American League. Now, they are legitimate contender to win the World Series. This is a uniquely satisfying season.
With the playoffs looming, TYA will begin exploring the Yankees’ season, and laying expectations for October. This post examines the team’s offense. All the data are from Fangraphs, and exclude the games played on Sunday.
Simply put, the Yankees have an excellent offense. They’ve had either the best or second-best run output in baseball all season long, occasionally trailing the Red Sox. Far, far more importantly, the team has had a stranglehold on the best run-differential in all of baseball. After game 1 on Sunday, the Yankees had outscored their opponents by 219 runs. Philadelphia is in second place with a run-differential of +175, which isn’t even close.
The big story of the offense this year is, of course, Curtis Granderson. Curtis picked up right where he left off in 2010, when he came back with a new swing in late August, and was transformed into one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. He was a beast for the Yankees in October and hasn’t cooled off this entire year. A leading MVP candidate, Granderson plays a critical role in any scenario that has the Bombers making a deep run into the playoffs.
The biggest surprise from Granderson is also something that carries over to the entire team. Curtis came to the Yankees with a reputation for being a borderline platoon player because he couldn’t hit lefthanded pitching. Well, he can hit it now. Curtis is a better hitter against lefties this season than against righties. The Yankees in general murder lefties, with five players posting wOBAs north of .380 against south paws. This will play a major factor in any series against Texas, Tampa or Boston.
Surprisingly, the lefty-heavy Yankee lineup is not that strong against righties. Only three players on the team have wOBAs of .370 or better against righties.
After Curtis, the second-best hitter on the Yankees has been Robinson Cano. Cano has had about as quiet a .377 wOBA season as a player can have. Part of this is due to Granderson’s emergence as one of the best hitters in the game. Another part of this is probably because Cano wasn’t as good this year as he was in 2010, which remains the best season of his career to date. But here are the facts: Robbie has now put together three consecutive seasons of 25-plus homers with at least a .305/.351/.520 slash line. 2011 may be a bit of a regression from his 2010, but entering Sunday’s games Cano’s 2011 season was tied with 2006 as his second best to date.
Technically speaking Alex Rodriguez has been the third-best hitter on the Yankees this year, after Cano and Curtis, but in truth Nick Swisher has been better. Not only has A-Rod gotten more than 200 fewer PAs than just about any other major contributor to the offense, but he’s also been a ghost since returning from his thumb injury. A-Rod’s bat is always dangerous, but right now he figures to play more of a support role in October than anything else.
Nick Swisher, on the other hand, has put together one heck of a season. After getting off to a miserable start in April, Swisher caught fire and will finish 2011 with a wRC+ of at least 120 (currently 126), marking the third season with the Yankees that he’s been able to do that. More importantly, Nick will lead the team in OBP this year.
Swisher has not hit well for the Yankees in the postseason since joining the team, and he will come into October slumping badly, and suffering from Tendinitis in his elbow. While it would be nice for Nick to turn it on this October, between his history and the injuries that seems unlikely.
The baseball purists of the world will wax poetic about Mark Teixeira‘s third consecutive season in pinstripes with at least 30 homers and 100 RBI. Those purists will be wrong. I’ve posted about this already, but I’ll say it again. Tex is having a bad season, given the lofty expectations of his contract. This will be his second consecutive season with a SLG below .500. It will also be a worse season than his notorious 2010 effort. Like Nick Swisher, Tex has struggled mightily for the Yankees in the playoffs. Last season he managed zero hits in the ALCS before going down with an injury. Tex is the kind of hitter who can get hot at any time. If we’re lucky he’ll catch fire as the weather gets colder, in which case he could possibly carry the team offensively, but right now he figures to strike out a lot, and sprinkle in the occasional big hit.
After those players, the Yankees have gotten good but not great offensive contributions from Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and Russell Martin. Gardner and Jeter each entered Sunday’s games with wRC+’s of 105, while Martin came in at an even 100. The importance of this is that on any given night, depending who the DH is, the Yankees field a team lineup composed entirely of above average hitters. Not even the 2009 team could boast that, because that lineup featured a sub-par Melky Cabrera. As a result, the Yankees feature the definition of a circular lineup, with a variety of weapons from top to bottom. (Derek Jeter gets a shout out for turning his season around. I was convinced he was done earlier this year, and now he may even finish the season with a .300 AVG, which is meaningless, but it looks nice on the back of the baseball card.)
The x-factor for the Yankees in October may very well be Jesus Montero. He’s been the Yankees’ best hitter in September, and is enjoying his indoctrination to the big leagues, to say the least. We all knew Montero would be good, but he’s not this good. At a certain point he’ll slump, opposing pitchers will find his weakness, or both. But neither of those things may happen this year. The logical thing to do is ride Montero’s hot bat until it cools.
Andruw Jones should also get some PAs against lefties, while Jorge Posada will likely receive some opportunities against righties. While that isn’t as enticing an option as Montero, the Yankees could do far, far worse.
The Yankee offense has been a borderline juggernaut all season long. There is no reason to believe that will change in October. If the team goes deep into the playoffs, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano figure to be the one-two punch that carries the team. That recipe worked well for the Bombers last year, and should continue this season. After that, odds are that a number of players will do well at different times. If I had to guess, I’d wager that Derek Jeter and Jesus Montero are also likely to make out-sized contributions to the team. Whoever the key contributors are, the Yankees figure to have perhaps the best offense in October, in either league.
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TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees