The New York Yankees offense has all but disappeared during their recent 1-7 slide. Their 79 wRC+ over the past week ranks 20th in the league, behind the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, and Oakland Athletics. While it is certainly too early to panic, the Yankees are sinking further into the basement of the AL East with every loss. In a division race that is expected to be among the closest in baseball, these games are just as crucial as those that will be played down the stretch. The sooner they can stop the bleeding, the easier their climb out of last place will be.
New York has averaged just over two runs per game over their last eight contests, and it’s difficult to pin the blame on any one cog in the team’s lineup. The slump has largely been a team effort. Only three Yankees have a wRC+ over 100 in the past week, and one is Austin Romine, who has exactly five plate appearances. Carlos Beltran has been the team’s best hitter all season, leading the club in batting average, slugging, wRC+, and fWAR while playing in all 14 of the team’s games. Brett Gardner has been the offense’s only other bright spot lately, although he was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup because of a stiff neck. With his recent history of nagging injuries affecting his performance (he had a 67 wRC+ in the second half of 2015 because of a lingering wrist issue), that is a major red flag.
While their overall numbers on the season are right where they should be, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann are 2-for-23 and 2-for-22 respectively over the last week. They have been the guys hitting behind the red-hot Beltran and Gardner, which is the main reason for the Yankees poor performance with runners in scoring position. Hopefully their twin cold streaks are just bad timing, because the struggles of some of the team’s other batters could potentially be more permanent.
Jacoby Ellsbury was one of the worst hitters in the major leagues in the second half of 2015, and it’s looking more and more like this may be the new normal for him. His 59 wRC+ was the fourth worst in MLB after the All-Star break, and his 63 wRC+ in his first 55 PAs of 2016 is only a slight improvement. The $153 million dollar man has the second most plate appearances on the team and is still a fixture in the leadoff spot despite his performance. Joe Girardi had the sense to drop Alex Rodriguez down in the lineup following an 0-14 skid, but bumping Ellsbury would be much more fraught given all the years remaining on his deal and the lingering controversy from being benched in last year’s Wild Card game. Sooner or later Girardi will be faced with a difficult decision. He can’t keep giving this many plate appearances to his worst hitter. The question is, are the Yankees going to pay Ellsbury $21 million annually for the next five years to bat seventh or eighth? That seems unlikely, even if they have a replacement leadoff man ready to go in Gardner. Starlin Castro would be a good fit in the two spot if he maintains his early production.
Aside from dropping Ellsbury and A-Rod down in the lineup, the Yankees don’t have a lot of options when it comes to shaking up their offense. Dustin Ackley and Aaron Hicks are a combined 2-for-29 this year, although their playing time has been extremely sporadic. There’s no real reason to think they’d be an improvement over any of the regulars. Ronald Torreyes is 6-for-14 on the season with a double, a triple, and three RBIs. There’s something to be said for riding the hot hand. He makes tons of contact, has some speed, and could be used to spell Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius, neither of whom have been world-beaters lately. It may sound a little crazy, but Nick Swisher is the hottest hitter for Triple-A Scranton at the moment, batting .381/.440/.571 in his first 25 PAs. Does that mean much of anything? Not really, but Swish is a veteran and was a solid power bat as recently as 2013. If his knees hold up there may still be something there.
More realistically, Girardi and the Yankees will cross their fingers and hope for a turnaround from last season’s key contributors. Teixeira, McCann, and Castro were off to strong starts before their recent lulls. Hopefully extra rest will help get Ellsbury and Gardner to full strength at some point, because the team’s attack is considerably less potent without them at the top of the lineup. Cory Fallon (@BaseballQuotes1) recently speculated that the cold weather may be a factor in Alex Rodriguez’s early season slump and expressed optimism for a turnaround. If the Yankees are going to contend, they will need to squeeze a handful of vintage performances out of this collection of former stars. They have been walking a fine line between “veteran team” and “washed up” the past few seasons and time will tell whether they’ve finally crossed over.