Yankee starting pitchers have a 6.08 ERA, almost a full run worse from the terrible Boston Red Sox. Given the personel on the staff, this should be a surprise. Kiroda, Nova, and Sabathia were reasonable good bets entering the season, and are still reasonable good bets going forward, to be very strong contributors to the Yankee starting rotation. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia were more questionable, but I don’t know anyone who expected them to both be this spectacularly bad.
I don’t want to take away anything from how bad the starters have been, but I think something else could be at play here. The Yankee defense could be just as spectacularly bad. Very small samples, even at the team level caveats apply, but the Yankees have an UZR/150 of -13.1, fourth worst in the league. They have a DRS of -16, third worst in the major leagues. Despite an overall team ERA of 4.49, 5th worst in the majors, Yankee pitchers hold a much more respectable 3.97 FIP (16th best) and 3.46 xFIP (4th best). Yankee pitchers have also allowed the 2nd highest BABIP in the league (.323).
A good defense is often the difference between a bad starter giving up 3 runs in an inning and a bad starter getting knocked out of the game by 12 balls in play and seven runs. Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes wouldn’t be good starters had a passable defense, but they might have stayed in the game longer and allowed the offense and bullpen to win games. Sabathia and Kuroda might look much better, and Ivan Nova could be having a positively awesome start. Bad defense has real consequences, even if we can’t know precisely the severity of those consequences.
Who is the problem? It would be easy to pin an inordinate amount of blame on the bench players who are seeing too many balls in the field: Eduardo Nunez, Andruw Jones, and especially Raul Ibanez. They’ve certainly been bad, and even when Brett Gardner was healthy were playing too often. But they don’t play enough innings, or receive enough balls in play, to create a team-wide breakdown on this kind of scale. We can’t trust anything defensive statistics say for individuals right now, but I’d look squarely at Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson if I wanted to find defensive issues to be resolved. Jeter’s range has seemed worse than usual lately, and I haven’t been impressed with Granderson out there lately.
Are there solutions to these problems? Brett Gardner could swap with Curtis Granderson, which I’ve been wanting to see since the day we got Granderson, but not much can be done about Jeter. We’ve all seen that Eduardo Nunez isn’t much better, and I’m not sure we want to disturb Jeter’s bat. Eric Chavez strikes me as a player who should see more time in the field, although that will be tough given the outfield situation.
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