Are the Yankees' Problems Fixable?

The focus of the Yankees problems of late has been on the offense. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m more troubled by a pitching staff that, in a league in which the average hitter is slugging .405, is allowing a slugging percentage of .454. That’s not something you can credit solely to Yankee Stadium and it’s too-generous right field porch—the pitchers have allowed a home run every 26.6 at-bats at home and one every 27.2 at bats away.

Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, and Ivan Nova have allowed road slugging percentages of between .467 (Sabathia) and .622 (Nova). Combined, they have allowed 20 home runs in 441 at-bats when on the road. The Yankees’ defense currently ranks last in the American League in defensive efficiency, the percentage of balls in play turned into outs. That will get a little better when Brett Gardner reclaims left field from Raul Ibanez, but that alone won’t solve the problem—the shortstop and third baseman are old and the center fielder might be better off in left. The problem is, you can’t fault the defense for not catching balls that go over the wall.

So, the pitching staff has problems, but the offense has hardly been great. The team has been shut out four times already this season and has been held to one or two runs in ten other games. During the ten games prior to last night’s win, in which the team went 3-7, it hit only .225/.302/.383 and averaged 3.1 runs a game. Last night’s three runs didn’t change that picture a great deal.

What’s the secret? There really isn’t one except perhaps that it’s hard to play with a short lineup, even when other hitters are performing well. Compared to the league averages, the Yankees have received subpar production from catcher (.199/.314/.324), first base (.246/.297/.345), left field (.207/.290/.359, Andruw Jones, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and Dewayne Wise having hit .125 to undo good work by Ibanez and Gardner), and right field (.236/.289/.442). The other positions have been fine, but when you have that many dead spots in the order it’s like trying to drag a lead weight to home plate.

The Yankees’ poor numbers with runners in scoring position. That’s a red herring. The numbers are weak for almost everyone on the team, with a special citation going to Robinson Cano for averaging .167 in such situations. On the whole, though, those numbers should come to reflect the overall quality of the hitters. The Yankees don’t have a lot of high-average hitters right now, just Cano and Derek Jeter, so you won’t see batters hitting .350 with runners on unless they have a streak of crazy luck, simply because they’re not .350 hitters. What you should see is walks and power, just like the rest of the time, and ultimately you will.

That will get better. The defense, the pitching staff and it’s home run habit, those are more complicated. We’re past the point of the season where you can dismiss these results as being flukes. There are real problems here, things that need addressing. The Orioles will come back to the pack and the Yankees will rise simply as part of that process, but is this a championship team right now? Heck no; there is a great deal of work for Brian Cashman to do, but it’s not clear if the resources exist for him to do it—he will be competing with other disappointing contenders for the few band-aids that will be available on the trade market.

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