In 2015, the Yankees' lineup will look very similar to the same one that floundered through the 2014 season. Yet there's still hope that the offense will improve because the argument can be made that they were extremely unlucky last year. Luck, or lack thereof, can be somewhat quantified in the baseball world by using BABIP (batting average on balls in play). As explained in this FanGraphs post, one of the biggest factors for the fluctuations in a player's BABIP from year to year is luck. That means a player could be seeing the ball well, hitting it hard, but not seeing results because those well-hit balls are finding an opposing fielder's glove at a higher rate than usual.
The Yankees took advantage of this phenomenon prior to the 2009 season when they acquired Nick Swisher from the White Sox. In 2008, Swisher had what most considered a miserable season, hitting just .219 with a career-low 69 RBI. However, his .249 BABIP was well below his career standard and it was coupled with a line drive rate of 20.9%, by far a career-high. So while his baseball card numbers were suffering, the reality was that Swisher was hitting the ball harder than he ever had, just right at defenders. Luckily for Yankee fans, Brian Cashman recognized that Swisher was due to rebound in a big way while White Sox GM Kenny Williams apparently did not. He was sent to New York for next to nothing and became an everyday force in a lineup that eventually won the World Series. Thanks to his improved luck he went from below average in 2008 to about 25% above average in 2009.
The table below lists the 13 Yankees who are likely to contribute the most for the Yankees in 2015. Their 2014 BABIP and line drive rates are given in comparison to their career rates to see if there are any candidates for a Swisher-esque rebound this year. Please note that the career line drive rates given here are only since 2002, when FanGraphs started tracking them.
|Brian McCann||.231||22.2 %||.283||20.2 %||-.052||2.0%|
|Mark Teixeira||.233||21.2 %||.287||20.9 %||-.054||3.0%|
|Stephen Drew||.194||17.4 %||.299||20.8 %||-.105||-3.4%|
|Didi Gregorius||.257||19.6 %||.280||20.2 %||-.023||-0.6%|
|Chase Headley||.301||27.4 %||.331||21.0 %||-.030||6.4%|
|Brett Gardner||.305||21.6 %||.321||20.5 %||-.016||1.1%|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||.296||24.7 %||.321||21.0 %||-.025||3.7%|
|Carlos Beltran||.252||16.5 %||.301||19.7 %||-.049||-3.2%|
|Alex Rodriguez*||.292||20.4 %||.318||17.9 %||-.026||2.5%|
|Chris Young||.247||19.5 %||.272||18.6 %||-.025||0.9%|
|Garrett Jones||.290||19.7 %||.286||19.2 %||.004||0.5%|
|Brendan Ryan||.221||15.3 %||.277||19.1 %||-.056||-3.8%|
|J.R. Murphy||.379||27.1 %||.347||25.3 %||.032||1.8%|
*2013 rates for A-Rod as he did not play in 2014
The general inference from this table is that the Yankee offense should improve across the board this year. Out of the 13 players given, 11 of them had BABIPs last year that were lower than their career mark, and nine of them hit line drives at a higher rate than they usually do. Good things tend to happen for players in this situation.
Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and Stephen Drew seem to be due for the biggest improvement according to these metrics. While promising, it's probably unreasonable to expect McCann and Teixeira to return to their career BABIP level when they're constantly facing a defensive shift. Still, if a change in luck bumps their BABIPs to .250 or above, it could pay some serious dividends for the Yankees. As for Drew, there's no way he could possibly be worse in 2015 than he was last year. After missing the entirety of spring training in 2014 due to a lack of contract offers, the key to his improvement might be a full training camp.
Another reason for optimism here is that the three best hitters on the Yankees last year show no signs of slowing down heading into 2015. Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury are all clearly still in their primes and are hitting the ball as well as they ever have. Barring injury, they should continue to anchor the Yankee offense and could even be due for a slight bump in production this summer. Lady Luck might just be on the Yankees' side again.