The Yankees finished second to last in the American League last year in OBP with a .307 mark that trailed only the Seattle Mariners in futility. Their inability to get runners on base was arguably the leading factor in their thirteenth place finish in runs scored and a long fall from the pitch-taking, count-working philosophy on which Gene Michael built their dynasty era teams. Many of the Yankees' worst offenders in terms of plate discipline from last year - Brian Roberts, Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki - are gone now, but several remaining hitters have seen downward trends that need to be reversed. In particular, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner and Chris Young all fell short of their usual planes in OBP, walk rate and in pitches chased outside the strike zone.
|Player||2014 OBP||Career OBP||2014 BB%||Career BB%||2014 O-Swing%||Career O-Swing%|
McCann was among the Yankees' greatest offensive disappointments last year thanks to a walk-rate significantly beneath his career norm and a shift-stymied .231 BABIP. He may find slightly better luck in 2015 on the BABIP front, but a sub .300 OBP and a sub six percent walk rate really aren't tenable for a middle-of-the-order bat unless you've got superb plate coverage and the ability to spray line drives all over the field like Robinson Cano or Vladimir Guerrero. That's not McCann. He's a fly-ball heavy pull hitter, so he needs to be at least somewhat selective at the plate to be successful. Hopefully McCann's flawed approach in 2014 can be chalked up to first year in New York jitters and the self-imposed pressure he felt to justify his $85 million contract. The Yankees need a hitter who resembles what he was during his final season in Atlanta, and a renewed commitment to taking the bad stuff would go a long way in achieving that.
Unlike McCann, Beltran's slide in plate discipline is a more-than-one-year phenomenon. In 2013, despite a very strong 131 wRC+, buoyed by a career-best line drive rate and a .314 BABIP, Beltran set personal worsts in walk rate (6.3%) and in pitches swung at outside the zone (31.5%). That didn't stop the Yankees from giving the then 36-year-old a three-year contract and Beltran's once outstanding patience continued to be an issue last year. As his body broke down and the line drives and BABIP regressed, he ceased to be an effective hitter. He stumbled to a 95 wRC+, his worst since his sophomore slump season of 2000. This year, Beltran needs to adjust to being 38 by supplementing diminished bat speed and natural power with a more selective plate approach.
Gardner differs from the two hitters above in that his diminished walk rate over the past two years is at least partially intentional. While he swings at more pitches in the strike zone now (56.2 percent in 2014 vs. 51.2 percent career), Gardner hasn't made a habit of going after balls out of it. When the Yankees spent 2013 and 2014 losing many of their best power hitters to injury and free agency, Gardner adjusted, setting back-to-back career bests in slugging and ISO. But his more aggressive approach meant fewer pitches taken. Gardner's walk rate dropped to single digits for the first time in 2013 and remained there in 2014, a far cry from the 13.9% rate in 2010 that helped him post a .383 OBP and a 6.0 fWAR. Gardner's done an admirable job being what the Yankees have needed him to be the past two seasons, but let's face it - if he's being relied on as a principal power source, that's a problem. If hitters like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, McCann and Beltran are healthier and more productive in 2015, it may allow Gardner to revisit his roots as a true table-setter.
Chris Young may be billed as a fourth outfielder, but the way the Yankees are set up, he's going to see the field a lot. Beltran likely won't be able to handle a full season worth of games in right, and Garrett Jones' marginally better bat probably won't be enough to support his barely passable outfield defense for Joe Girardi. Back when Young was an above average hitter, and even an all-star for the Diamondbacks in 2010 and 2011, he managed walk rates of 12.1% and 11.1% respectively. That number has declined each year since, and Young's been worth only 0.8 fWAR during the 218 games he's played in 2013 and 2014, which included a horrific .205/.283/.246 line for the Mets through the first four months of last season. Young's 51.6 percent fly ball rate from 2014 makes him a solid fit for Yankee Stadium, but a return to his 2010/2011 walk rates would go farther in making him an actual threat at the plate.