How do the Yankees compare to division rivals through positional production and future projections?

Ed Zurga

The Yankees' hitters have been slumping, but how does the rest of the AL East compare?

Yankees hitters have had a surprisingly rough time in 2014. They entered the season with high expectations after adding several new players to the lineup, but thus far, they have disappointed with a 93 OPS+ and 297 runs scored, both figures which rank among the worst five teams in the American League. Their futility was on display during the weekend series against the Orioles, since they would have been swept and scored a mere two runs in the series had it not been for a ninth inning rally on Friday.  Fortunately, they are not alone in their struggles. The Blue Jays have been the only team with an offense worth a damn in the division thus far. The Red Sox and Rays are right there with the Yankees in the bottom five, and the Orioles have merely hovered around league-average.

The story of Major League Baseball in 2014 has been parity, as really the only standout team in the game is the Oakland Athletics, who are riding with the best record in the game at 47-29 and a crazy +135 run differential. Every other team just seems to be muddled into the same pile of mediocrity. This fact is quite apparent when checking Baseball Prospectus's analysis of AL East production to date by position. Their PECOTA projections aren't typically optimistic, but even they have the teams' positions generally improving as the season goes on. So how do the Yankees compare? The primary measuring stick here is BP's True Average stat (TAv), and I recommend clicking the link if you are unfamiliar with it or need a refresher.

2014 Results to Date

Team C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF DH
Orioles .246 .289 .220 .220 .257 .293 .286 .284 .316
Red Sox .224 .279 .264 .246 .245 .248 .217 .230 .284
Yankees .232 .280 .247 .262 .236 .267 .272 .248 .241
Rays .194 .263 .247 .274 .245 .268 .259 .264 .259
Blue Jays .234 .313 .232 .271 .233 .289 .266 .315 .282

2014 Projections Going Forward

Team C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF DH
Orioles .246 .287 .243 .255 .250 .256 .279 .273 .274
Red Sox .247 .289 .280 .268 .259 .264 .259 .268 .295
Yankees .269 .284 .248 .253 .252 .262 .273 .278 .259
Rays .250 .264 .276 .294 .256 .268 .267 .268 .276
Blue Jays .248 .289 .249 .268 .268 .267 .255 .312 .283

Behind the plate, Brian McCann has been one of baseball's biggest disappointments, as his .284 career TAv was expected to provide a jolt to the Yankees' lineup, but to date, he's only barely hit better than Chris Stewart did last year, with a .229 TAv to compare to Stewart's .219 in 2013. Most people around the game are pretty confident that the 30-year-old will rebound though, and that is certainly reflected in the Yankees' projected TAv at catcher going forward, which would be tops in the division. PECOTA also has the rest of the division improving at catcher, but the improvements there seem a bit more suspect. A .246 TAv from the Orioles' Caleb Joseph, Nick Hundley, and Steve Clevenger seems unlikely, as does the .250 TAv from the Rays' Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina.

First base seems steady across the board aside from Edwin Encarnacion regressing with the Blue Jays, but the Yankees might be in trouble at second base. Their group led by Brian Roberts has seemingly performed to its mediocre expectations, while three other teams appear ready to take a jump, and the Orioles have more reason to be confident in the promising Jonathan Schoop defying expectations than the Yankees should with Roberts. The story's similar at third base, where Yangervis Solarte's hot start has already hit the regression express while stock in Manny Machado and Evan Longoria seem due for rebounds as well. Boston's shortstop/third base situation is a bit unclear at the moment given the logjam with Xander Bogaerts, Stephen Drew, Brock Holt, and Will Middlebrooks, but they should play better at both positions. The Yankees can reasonably hope for a bump up in offensive production from Derek Jeter at shortstop, but so can the Blue Jays with Jose Reyes and the Rays with Yunel Escobar.

The only team whose outfield has been a real weak link is the Red Sox. With Grady Sizemore out, Shane Victorino on the way back, and the young Holt likely to see time out there, they will improve while every other team mostly remains stagnant or incurs a slight decline. At least the Yankees can have some hope for their right fielders (namely Carlos Beltran) to give them a boost as the season progresses. Same goes for the DH spot, where the projections still don't think that Alfonso Soriano has truly washed up from a .300 TAv guy last year in pinstripes to a .230 this year. They also don't buy that Nelson Cruz continues his crazy 52-homer pace in Baltimore.

Projections can only tell us so much, but they do provide a decent statistical argument for what might happen in the AL East going forward. The Yankees do have some improvements coming, but the rest of their competitors aside from the Blue Jays arguably have just as much or more. It will be up to the Yankees to figure out a way to stabilize the offense and at least put up more of a fight than they have thus far. Continuing at a third of a run per game below the league average just isn't going to cut it, but don't give up yet--the numbers suggest that there should be better times ahead.

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