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Save me (from) Ben Francisco

The Yankees' lineup against lefties is unimpressive and unlikely to get better until the infirmed return. What can be done to avoid seeing Francisco's name in the lineup anymore?

"Wait, how'd you get on this team again?"
"Wait, how'd you get on this team again?"

There was a time not so long ago when lefthanded pitching failed to represent much of a challenge against the Yankees. In 2011, the Yankees hit .281/.360/.467 with a 153 sOPS+ with southpaws on the mound, and in 2012, they hit .263/.339/.438 with a 119 sOPS+. It wasn't quite the season before, but it was still considerably above league average.

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira were crucial pieces of the Yankees' attack against lefties. That should not come as much of a surprise since Jeter and A-Rod are righthanded hitters and the switch-hitting Tex has historically been better against southpaws than righties (.301/.389/.541 vs. .269/.361/.521 overall and .288/.385/.540 against lefties since joining the Yankees). Hell, even though Curtis Granderson struggled with lefties on the mound last year after a surprisingly great 2011, he was still good for the occasional bomb off lefty mistakes (14 last year). With the knowledge last November that all four of these players would be with the Yankees in 2013, it did not seem like there would be any problems against lefties for the Yanks. The possibility that all four would be stricken by injury was a nice joke to laugh about.

Yet here we are, with the Yankees hitting .208/.269/.326 with a 71 sOPS+ against lefties in 310 plate appearances. All four of the previously mentioned players are all gone, and even lefty-mashing Kevin Youkilis, A-Rod's replacement, is on the bench right now with a back injury.'s Bryan Hoch reported that Joe Girardi considered putting Youk on the DL if he was not ready for the lefty J.A. Happ on Saturday, and they're already going to face a lefty tonight in Aaron Laffey.

At the moment, this bastardization of a Yankee lineup has just been terrible thus far and certainly stands a chance to be defeated by even mops like Laffey. There are few bright spots aside from Robinson Cano, who does not cause worry since he is Robinson Cano. Vernon Wells and Francisco Cervelli have been terrific against lefties so far, but there's no telling how long that will last, given how much each has struggled over the past couple years. Brett Gardner is okay, but from there on the lineup gets ugly. Utilityman Jayson Nix is apparently a regular against lefties now. The third outfielder option is either Ichiro Suzuki or Brennan Boesch, both of whom are lefties off to a poor start anyway. Ben Francisco has been used as a platoon DH and has three hits on the season in 29 at-bats against lefties. With Youk's injury, Lyle Overbay is shoehorned into a starting spot against lefties, who dominate him. The Yankees seem to have a lot of faith in Eduardo Nunez as a good hitter against lefties, but he has been some kind of awful against them so far.

The season is only a few weeks old, so there are sure to be some small sample size errors. However, the argument that righties like Francisco and Nunez can't possibly be this bad and are due for some positive adjustments to career norms goes the other way, too. Wells and Cervelli also can't possibly be this good. Ipso facto, the overall numbers against lefties might not actually change that much until some of the vital injured players return.

With A-Rod and Jeter out until after the All-Star Break, and Tex and Grandy's return pushed back, it might be near Memorial Day before we see any of these guys. Furthermore, the first one back will probably be Grandy, who can only help with some power and nothing else. As far as Teixeira is concerned, the wrist injury could be a nightmare that lingers throughout 2013 and affects his swing even after his return. There's no guarantee that he can match his 2012 numbers against lefties. Is there any reprieve in sight or do we just have to pray to Jobu that Francisco goes Shawn Green on us and breaks out of his slump in a ridiculous manner?

For the betterment of his own health, Travis Hafner is not quite a viable option to DH against lefties. He's fragile enough as is, and playing him almost exclusively against righties forces him to the bench for much-needed rest. It's frustrating, but if it helps Pronk stay in the batter's box (can't really say "on the field," since he's allergic to gloves), then so be it. It might have been a mistake by the Yankees to play the equally-fragile Youkilis 16 games in a row to start the season; no need to take the same risk with Hafner.

There are some possibilities in the minors if the Yankees want to try someone fresh to shake up the LHP lineup, as they did when they called Cano up on May 3, 2005. Hard-hitting lefty second base prospect Corban Joseph can't really help, but another former second base prospect could. Scranton third baseman David Adams is new to Triple-A, but so far, he leads Scranton in OPS (.887) and wOBA (.417). His 3-for-8 so far against lefties is not much of a sample to work with, but in 44 games in Double-A last year against lefties, Adams hit .330/.386/.570. He would not hit nearly at that level, but it's cause for some optimism regardless. The fact that he plays a position where the Yankees have a need makes him even more appealing. An easy move putting Jeter on the 60-day DL opens up a spot for Adams on the 40-man roster if they want to try him in the pros. The minimal time in Triple-A is not much of a deterrent; the jump from Double-A pitching to big-league pitching tends to not be much different than the jump from Triple-A pitching to big-league pitching.

Thomas Neal would have been an ideal fill-in since has a few seasons of minor-league success in Double-A and Triple-A under his belt. He hit .301/.383/.407 with a .360 wOBA last year in Double-A Akron, and .338/.393/.429 two years ago in the admittedly hitter-friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Neal was off to a hot start at .339/.382/.435 in Scranton before pulling his hamstring and landing on the DL. Alas.

Ronnier Mustelier would also have been a great player to try as well. He impressed the Yankees with his bat last year and in Spring Training, but a bone bruise suffered in the waning days of March has had him on the shelf ever since. He could play all around the infield and outfield, perhaps a better-hitting version of Nix. After obliterating Double-A pitching in 25 games last year, he was promoted and hit .303/.359/.455 in Triple-A, .294/.345/.480 against lefties. He would absolutely be an option if healthy, but the Yankees will have to wait for him to make it out of extended Spring Training and see how he fares upon his return to Triple-A.

Switch-hitting outfielder Zoilo Almonte is another option, although he does not have the same reputation with the bat as Adams. The bulk of Zoilo's damage in the Eastern League last year came against righties. The lefthanded pitching in Double-A limited him to a .217/.258/.358 triple slash with a .277 wOBA. As fun as his name might be, he probably would not be able to help the Yankees very much.

The Yankees appear unlikely to make a move unless Youkilis's injury forces their hand, but it sure seems like Mr. Adams is worth a chance. Maybe he won't make much of a difference, but it's worth a chance if not only to try something different at the major-league level. Although the future is grim, tinkering to see it what works is better than the stagnant status quo.

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