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Yankees hope to find offensive consistency this April

The Yankees cannot afford another slow offensive start. After poor performances in April 2015, how will these three players respond this spring?

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

April was an interesting month for the 2015 New York Yankees. The team had a .741 OPS over the month, which actually ended up being close to their final OPS of .744, however, April was nowhere near what you would call consistent. After starting the year 3-6 with three consecutive series losses to division foes (Toronto, Boston and Baltimore), the Yankees regrouped to win their final four series with an overall 10-3 record. The manic-depressive nature of the month can be chalked up to several extreme individual performances.

In examining individual April performances, a traditional baseball fan may be inclined to speculate on the root of an offensive outburst or month-long morass, whereas many statistically-steeped analysts seem obliged to cry Small Sample Size and Cluster Luck. Though 80 to 100 plate appearances cannot possibly constitute a large enough sample size to surmise anything substantial about a player's preparation or work habits, comparing past April performances with those from 2015 may be constructive in predicting whether certain players are likely to repeat their performances.

Carlos Beltran

Certainly the most extreme example of an April outlier would be Carlos Beltran's abysmal 2015 start. After undergoing a procedure on his knee in January 2010 that held him out until July, Beltran has not since missed an April, and his consistency within the month has been impressive:

2011: .832 OPS
2012: .838
2013: .885
2014: .827
2015: .481

Coincidentally, Beltran's birthday falls in April on the 24th, when he will turn 39 years old. With Alex Rodriguez slated to start another season as the full-time DH, Beltran's challenge will be to see if he can perform well enough in right field to earn the chance to repeat his 2015 season. He accomplished that feat May through August of last year, so Yankees fans know he is capable of hitting. Expect Beltran to start 2016 with better offensive numbers, like he has accomplished almost every season in the past. If he starts off the season mired in an extended slump again, he may have Aaron Judge breathing down his neck.

Didi Gregorius

Another unpleasant surprise to start last season was Didi Gregorius' total inability to hit. Though he outpaced Beltran's OPS by .018, Gregorius did not have nearly the pedigree Beltran brought, so Yankees fans offered substantially less mercy. This is the guy who is replacing Derek Jeter? Indeed, Gregorius' April was abysmal, but it was also his worst offensive month by virtually every measure. The speedy infielder with a slashing style at the plate could only muster two extra base hits in 69 plate appearances, both doubles.

The only other time Gregorius has suffered such a cold streak throughout a reasonably full month was August 2014, when he could only muster 12 hits across 87 plate appearances for a .474 OPS. That August followed a July that saw Gregorius bat .295 and slug .508, and was proceeded by a September performance during which he batted .260 with four doubles, so he recovered well enough. One could conjure plenty of reasons why Gregorius got off to such a rough start in the Bronx, including the pressure he faced to replace Derek Jeter and his general move to New York City. He bounced back gracefully, though, and can be expected to start the season with less reticence.

Chase Headley

Lastly, the Yankees missed production from third base through long stretches of 2015, perhaps most noticeably in April and September. Headley had an interesting season over multiple phases of the game, as he committed an uncharacteristic 23 errors at third base, despite his reputation for defensive consistency, but his slow April seems to represent the continuation of a trend. Headley has been an everyday player since 2009, with the following range of April OPS:

2009: .721 (.734 season) Decent Start
2010: .783 (.702 season) Great Start
2011: .714 (.773 season) Decent Start
2012: .858 (.874 season) Great Start
2013: .842 (.747 season) Great Start
2014: .597 (.700 season) Slow Start
2015: .674 (.693 season) Slow Start

What was said for Beltran's consistency cannot be applied to Headley, as his April numbers since becoming a regular have been all over the place. In 2014 and 2015 Headley needed to bring his defensive tools to work every day in order to provide value in the eight digit salary range, at which he flatly failed last season. Fortunately, Headley will almost certainly rebound from his terrible fielding in 2016 and beyond. Unfortunately, he has only provided three months of greater than .800 OPS in the past two season. Headley's April 2015 is an indicator of his new norm, not because he has become a poor offensive player, but because he lacks any semblance of consistency. If he can manage to time his prolonged slumps when the offense is otherwise booming, Headley can avoid the same scrutiny he suffered last April and especially September.

With more competition due in the American League East this season, the Yankees will not be able to afford the same slow start they suffered last year. It will be interesting to see where they find their largest contributions, and how the above three players are able to perform this Spring.