The Yankee offense has been both exciting and frustrating over the first 5 weeks of the season. Exciting, because they’re mashing home runs like it’s 1961 again. Frustrating, because they seem to leave runners on the bases every inning.
Three players have particularly drawn attention due to their offensive liabilities: Brett Gardner and two Yankee stalwarts, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Of the three, Jeter is the one I’m least concerned about. First, if you look at him in terms of playing his position, he still rates as a top 5 shortstop. Yes, the numbers this season (.276 BA, .331 OBP) are far from the numbers Jeter has put up over his career. But if anyone honestly thought he was still a .320 hitter at age 37, they probably need a good psychiatrist. Here’s how Jeter stacks up with other AL shortstops right now:
Jeter is 2nd in batting average, 4th in on-base and 5th OPS. This list also represents only those AL shortstops who have amassed at least 100 plate appearances – something has to be said about durability. Note that none of the other players on the list have hit their 30th birthday yet. The other reason I’m not worried about Jeter is who knows how the chase for 3000 is affecting him? I doubt the added stress is helping. Let’s see how he does after hit #3000 is in the books before passing judgment.
We may be seeing all we’re ever going to see out of Gardner: a guy who can fly but lacks aggressiveness, both at the plate and on the basepaths. Working a count is one thing, but taking strike one on fastballs down the middle is ridiculous. As is his approach on the bases: great basestealers don’t read pitchers; they force pitchers to read them. Maybe the Yankees can hire Rickey Henderson as a special instructor and have Gardner hang out with him for a couple of weeks. If he doesn’t go completely insane, he may just pick up some of Rickey’s attitude.
That leaves us with Jorge. I’m afraid that Posada may be done and we’re seeing the death throes of a terrific career unfold before our eyes. I wouldn’t be so worried about him except for this: Posada has always demolished pitchers in April and May during his career; slumped badly in June and July and then picked it up as the playoffs approached. But this year’s numbers look nothing like a typical Jorge Posada April and May:
The drops from a typical Posada season to this one are alarmingly extreme: he strikes out more often and when he hits the ball, it’s without much authority. The result is the 130 point drop in batting average and 261 point decline in OPS. While he is homering more frequently, this looks more like the career of Rob Deer than Jorge Posada. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so lost at the plate, lunging at breaking pitches and unable to catch up to fastballs. Maybe the switch to full-time DH this year affects him more than he lets on. Regardless, I doubt either Joe Girardi or the front office will put up with this for too much longer, and I would hate to see one of the all-time greats go out on such a sorry note.