Throughout the history of the New York Yankees, there have been many things synonymous with the club: the classic pinstriped uniforms, the familiar façade of Yankee Stadium, and the fearsome power of left-handed batters in the Yankee lineup.
The short porch in right field of Yankee Stadium is an inviting target for southpaw sluggers. Over the years, legends like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson, plus switch-hitters Mickey Mantle and Bernie Williams, all made their mark from the left-handed batter’s box at Yankee Stadium.
This year though, the Yankees are dangerously short on left-handed power. Save for Didi Gregorius, no other Yankee in the current lineup provides that much-needed lefty thump. While the Yankees have won 17 of 18 games and have cruised to the best record in baseball, this lack of lefty power could prove to be a potential problem in the postseason unless it is corrected fast.
Going back to the last World Series championship team of 2009, the Yankees had just two full-time righties in the lineup, being Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Everyone else was a lefty or a switch-hitter, which gave the Yankees a massive platoon advantage. It is usually easier for a left-handed batter to hit a right-handed pitcher because he can see the ball better out of the pitcher’s hand. This was one of many things that broke right for the 2009 Yankees, who stormed their way to their 27th World Series title.
Now, the Yankees have five regulars in their lineup that bat righty, and not a single lefty on the bench. This right-handed construction has helped them against left-handed pitchers, a previous nuisance for the Yankees. Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez have mashed southpaws, and even old nemesis Dallas Keuchel was not immune to the Yankees’ righty dominance, giving up two home runs and losing earlier this month to the Bronx Bombers.
However, according to SB Nation’s Beyond the Box Score blog, left-handed pitchers comprised just 25.69 percent of all innings pitched last year. This means that for the remaining three-quarters of their at-bats, the Yankees are at a platoon disadvantage. And so far this year, it has been noticeable: Stanton is hitting .400 with six home runs off lefties, but just .193 with three round-trippers versus righties. Sanchez is hitting .189 off of righties, compared to .259 off lefties with a .667 SLG.
When the Yankees’ big bats aren’t getting the job done against righties, it’s only natural to see how the rest of the team has been doing. And while Gregorius’ blistering start has sort of masked this issue, if you dig deeply enough, it’s easy to see that the Yankees don’t have enough power from the left side. Brett Gardner and Neil Walker have been anywhere from underwhelming to bad so far this year, and while Aaron Hicks does swing better from the left side, his power stroke remains a work in progress. The Yankees have just 19 extra-base hits from lefties not named Didi Gregorius, and that’s over a span of 299 at-bats.
This problem manifests itself against right-handed starters, in particular. When the righty-heavy lineup starts to struggle against a northpaw, manager Aaron Boone could really use a lefty bat to come up and poke a fly ball into the right field seats. We’ve seen righties like Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy and even Andrew Cashner shut down the Yankees in the early going this year, which is a wide range of skill sets.
So how can the Yankees correct this problem when they already have a logjam of position players and their best possible internal options, Brandon Drury and Clint Frazier, are both right-handed as well? Well, getting Greg Bird back will help this. The first baseman has played just 94 regular season games in the big leagues since 2015, but was expected to bat in the heart of this stacked Yankee order.
We saw the type of impact Bird can have in the 2017 playoffs, where over 13 games, he had three home runs, six RBI and 12 walks, good for a triple slash line of .244/.426/.512. Bird is hard to count on given his injury-riddled past, and the Yankees would be wise to think about adding another lefty bat to their lineup. A low-cost trade deadline acquisition, a la Eric Hinske, Jerry Hairston Jr., Xavier Nady or Martin Prado of years past could help fit the bill.
Additionally, the Yankees could really benefit from Gardner and Walker improving in the batter’s box. There have been recent signs of the vets picking up the pace and coming out of the ruts, and the Yankees need these guys to be the timely hitters they are expected to be. Also, don’t forget about Tyler Wade in AAA, and there could even be hope for a potential return of Jacoby Ellsbury, which would add some speed and lefty pop to the bench.
Right now, the Yankees are rolling on all cylinders. There don’t seem to be too many red flags as they have taken over first place in the division. However, the current lack of left-handed power is something that needs to be addressed. There are reinforcements on the way, but if the Yankees keep getting flustered by right-handed pitching, general manager Brian Cashman may need to shake things up.
*Hey guys, I appreciate the chance to audition as a writer at Pinstripe Alley. I have extensive writing experience both personally and at Quinnipiac University, and I'd love to continue advancing my dream of working in sports media. Best of luck to whoever gets the position!*