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On Injuries And Changing Approaches

and cough.
and cough.

The Yankees are not playing good baseball as the season gets closer to the end. To anyone that has been watching the games or following along in another way on the Internet, this has been pretty obvious. The offense is out of rhythm, the starters have been spotty and the bullpen has been a much larger spot. One no amount of bleach is going to hide now. If this is the first you're hearing about the Yankees' struggles, welcome to the Internet. Things aren't always like this and will improve. At least they should.

Every team faces their fair share of injuries, but unless you can find the time to follow along with every team, the effects aren't as obvious as they are to this one. For the most part, the Yankees have done pretty well to make the effects on the offense little more than an annoying sting. If there was anything good about the injury situation, it was that they happened somewhat early and weren't to the players tasked with carrying the offense. Post-All-Star break has been a bit different, with Murphy's Law grasping the middle of the order and hanging on for dear life.

At first it was Nick Swisher. This one wasn't too bad. He wasn't going to be out long, they traded for Ichiro Suzuki a couple days later and had a few other options as a short-term replacement. He came back, and then it was just Alex Rodriguez. Just, as if he isn't a key component in the middle of the roster. A-Rod was going to be out a little longer, and for awhile, the replacements picked up the slack. Like any good replacement, though, the effectiveness eventually wore off. Then, just as A-Rod is ready to come back, Mark Teixiera ends up with an injury that will keep him out anywhere from a couple more games to the end of days. Now the effects are starting to manifest in a more obvious way, right when they can least afford it.

All injuries, large or small, have their affect on a team. There's always a trickle down to the other players to limit the damage and hold down the fort until that guy gets back. Sometimes it happens, other times it doesn't, but it's unquestionably an easier task when it isn't multiple key guys at once. The trickle down is more than just a few batting order/positional shifts or some less than desirable players seeing starts where they shouldn't; it can change the whole way the healthy guys approach their at-bats.

July O-Swing% Aug O-Swing% L7 O-Swing% July Z-Swing% Aug Z-Swing% L7 Z-Swing%
Derek Jeter 25.50% 32.40% 36.50% 74.70% 75.50% 69.10%
Curtis Granderson 33.60% 30.00% 37.50% 63.80% 63.10% 51.90%
Nick Swisher 22.40% 20.70% 26.80% 63.80% 63.50% 69.40%
Robinson Cano 40.70% 35.50% 40.40% 76.00% 69.10% 55.60%
Mark Teixeira 23.60% 28.20% xxxx 58.30% 62.80% xxxx
Eric Chavez 32.40% 27.70% 31.80% 61.80% 64.00% 47.10%
Raul Ibanez 31.30% 29.70% 23.50% 66.70% 68.70% 76.90%
Andruw Jones 41.00% 21.20% 20.60% 63.80% 55.80% 70.40%
Jayson Nix 35.50% 28.20% 21.40% 72.40% 73.20% 63.60%
Russell Martin 19.60% 27.80% 40.00% 65.90% 67.90% 76.90%

The numbers themselves aren't all that interesting, but when you attach them to players? Wow! That's somewhat interesting! While A-Rod was out in August, the only players who really saw any kind of noticeable change in how much they were swinging, at least in terms of increase, were Jeter, Teixeira and Martin. Jeter was on a hot streak for a good part of August, so it isn't too surprising to see him willing to expand his strikezone a bit. He's been doing that for the last couple seasons, so really, it was more of a return to the new norm after a month as his former self. Teixeira is largely the same way, though it's possible he was willing to hack slightly more in a 'pick up the slack' role as the cleanup hitter.

And Martin? Martin. Yeah, Martin.

That's only without A-Rod in the lineup, though. Yes, they lost his presence as a better than Chavez or Nix option, but it really equated to an extended batting order change in terms of affect on the other hitters. Then they lost both A-Rod and Teixeira. At the risk of falling into grand conclusions based on a week's worth of data, the offense has been attacking, and apparently getting attacked, in a much different way.

Minus their middle of the order bats, it’s been hacks away; especially for the guys that really need to not do such things. Almost across the board, the top of the lineup hitters are swinging outside the zone. While it’s impossible to draw a direct connection, it does look like the big bats are forcing the issue while pitchers take their chances against the replacements and other forms of riff raff.

A quick glance shows Jeter, Swisher, Cano and Granderson swinging at pitches out of the zone a decent clip higher than they had in previous months and, with the exception of Swisher, swinging less in the zone. Some of that can be chalked up to small sample size, but given how the bottom of the order hitters are swinging at a higher percentage of pitches in the zone, it’s reasonable to assume they're seeing the better pitches. Jones and Ibanez aren’t up at the plate to walk, and apparently neither is Martin. Problem is they give the pitcher enough of a reason to not challenge them in the zone. Sub-par hitters are seeing the pitches to hit while the players who need to hit are getting more outside stuff, and waving anyway. The end result is a bad stretch of worse baseball.

When A-Rod first got injured, I wrote that the Yankees couldn't afford to lose him for an extended period of time. While some of that was in the moment overreaction, the main reasoning was the same as it would have been for any key player like him; an injury like that puts the offense one injury away from being a mess, even one as strong as the Yankees’. A good team can lose one key guy and keep on going, but when the injuries start to pile up, the constant shuffling of roles and revolving door of bench players forced into starting roles will begin to wear on the offense.

They averaged four-point-eight runs per game during the 36-game stretch without A-Rod. Without both A-Rod and Teixeira, they averaged three runs per game. Now with A-Rod back, Cano may have done something that can linger or cause him to miss time. Bad things supposedly happen in threes, but in the middle of a pennant race, two is bad enough.