Ah, New Year’s. It is a time for all of us to evaluate our lives and declare with conviction that at least one manner of living will be greatly improved. Then suddenly, McDonalds releases the “McPick 2” and Wendy’s reveals the “4 for 4” deal and your resolution hits the skids before it ever truly begins.
Meanwhile, the New Year also means that spring training is sneaking up on us, and it is time for the Yankees to go to work. Of course, every player has areas where they will look to improve after evaluating their 2016 campaigns, but some have glaring needs that need to be addressed once the ball drops in Times Square this weekend. Let’s start with the outfield group.
We begin with the outfielder that carries the most interest into 2017. Judge introduced himself to the Bronx with a bang in 2016 by crushing a home run that hasn’t landed yet in his first major league plate appearance. After the euphoria, Judge showed his weaknesses at the plate and finished with a batting average below the Mendoza Line, while his season was cut short due to an oblique strain.
For Judge, his resolution is obvious: cut back on the strikeouts! His 44.2 K% during his MLB tenure was frustrating, but he has plenty of room to grow and improve as a hitter considering he was drafted just three years ago. Still, his strikeout percentage will not decrease until he proves he can hit a breaking ball. Judge struggled mightily with major league off-speed pitches in 2016, and will have to prove he can handle them so he can see more fastballs and drive them over Monument Park.
Recommendation: Seek the help of Pedro Cerrano, and learn how he conquered his curveball demons
He’s 33 years old, but 20 stolen bases isn’t enough from a top-of-the-lineup guy. Ellsbury actually improved in terms of reaching base in 2016, but still declined in stealing bases. Many complained throughout the year about his lack of aggression on the basepaths, including myself. I was constantly watching Ellsbury take microscopic leads off of first base and shaking my head in frustration. Come on Jacoby, B-E aggresive!
I understand there are other areas Ellsbury needs to improve, specifically in the power numbers category. I just don’t see Ellsbury improving much beyond his putrid nine home runs and 29 extra-base hits at this point in his career. If he can return to being a threat on the bases, he would give the top of the Yankees’ order some sort of potency.
Recommendation: Take a half-step up in the box. Maybe you will make more contact with the baseball instead of catchers’ gloves
Ellsbury wasn’t the only Yankee outfielder who struggled to square up the ball at the plate. The homegrown Gardner posted a career high 52.3% groundball rate, which resulted in just seven home runs. Gardner has never been a power hitter by any means, but seven home runs is deflating to see after he slugged over 15 home runs in 2015 and 2016.
Gardner will be 33 years old when Opening Day arrives, the same age as Ellsbury. Still, something tells me he can find the short porch in right field a few more times this season and increase those power numbers a bit. His home run drop-off should be his main focus this spring.
Recommendation: Secondary resolution should be to improve your acting skills. Your Scott Smalls imitation was painful
Hicks finished the season strong in 2016, despite having to maneuver around some injuries down the stretch. Still, it is hard to look at his overall slash for 2016 (.217/.281/.336) and see where the positives were. Hicks had an abysmal season in almost every aspect of the game, and has plenty of areas to focus on for the New Year. It is hard to believe Hicks is a former first round pick and still just 26 years old.
Hicks may have started his New Year’s resolution early when he adopted a leg kick to use as a timing mechanism in the latter parts of the 2016 season, and it seemed to help. For Hicks, keep the leg kick and see what a full year with it can do, while also looking to find some accuracy to compliment that cannon of an arm.
Recommendation: Make the climb to the press box and talk to Paul O’Neill. He may be able to teach you the ways of the leg kick