This season the Yankees will play their first April game on the 4th, their season opener against Houston, and will play their last on the the 30th against the Red Sox in Boston. They will play 23 April games in total, which represents only about 14% of their schedule, so it will be impossible to make many broad judgments or predictions for the season without mentioning the unreliability of small sample sizes. However, victories count just as much in April as they do any other month of the season, and the Yankees under Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have made a habit of starting the season with purpose.
Following his only World Series victory as a manager in 2009, Girardi has led the Yankees to hot starts every season since. Most of those seasons the Yankees received unexpected performances from recently acquired players, and the overall health of every Major League roster is typically strongest in April before injuries have had their chance to strike. It certainly says something about Girardi's ability to prepare his team for regular season games that he has finished each April since 2010 with a record at least four games above .500. And, reviewing the specific circumstances that led to each hot start, Brian Cashman deserves credit for acquiring cheap veterans whose April starts have been crucial.
April 2010 was quite notable. Despite almost no help from offseason acquisitions Javier Vazquez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson, the Yankees became the second team in franchise history to win its first five series (the first since 1926). Vazquez went 1-3 in March/April while allowing about 40% of runners to reach base, Granderson couldn't get comfortable at the plate which resulted in a disappointing 86 OPS+, Johnson finished April batting .138, and none of that mattered one bit. The Yankees did not commit an error in 12 straight games that April while adding, for good measure, the team's first triple play since the sixties. They would finish the month at 15-7 with a +39 scoring margin.
April 2011 saw the rise of Bartolo Colon and excellent slugging by Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and new addition Russell Martin, who singlehandedly propelled the Yankees to several early victories. Colon performed much better than expected coming off a 2010 during which he received stem cell treatment for arm issues that prevented him from pitching a single game. The Yankees would hit 27 home runs in the first 14 games, setting a franchise record, and finish April at 15-9.
Following the 2011 season the Yankees moved nearly all their chips into the "veteran experience" basket, re-signing or acquiring the following antiques: CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and Andy Pettitte. Quick calculations indicate a collective 325 years of major league experience in that group. Two Michigan men were the reason the Yankees found themselves at 13-9 at the end of April, though. Derek Jeter got off to perhaps the best start of his career in his age 38 season, carrying an unthinkable OPS of 1.012 into May. Curtis Granderson also got off to a hot start and finished the season with 42 home runs.
Somewhat unbelievably, the Yankees also had a good April in 2013 thanks to the additions of two ancient veterans perhaps less likely to contribute than any mentioned above. Travis Hafner, who had been sidelined much of 2012 due to knee and back issues, made 17 starts and smacked six home runs by the end of April with an OPS above 1.100. Vernon Wells, coming off a 2012 campaign during which he failed to get on base even 28% of the time, matched Hafner's six home runs while managing an OBP of .366. Hafner would immediately crater into the ground in May, hitting .179 on the month, and Wells would follow soon, but the tandem's incredible start helped the Yankees to a 16-10 April record.
The Yankees were actually outscored by 11 runs in April 2014, which makes their 15-11 record a product of cluster luck, but "lucky" would be an inaccurate description of the overall month. Though new addition Masahiro Tanaka had gotten off to an incredible start, the Yankees' other young starting pitcher, Michael Pineda, was caught using pine tar for a second time, earning him a ten game suspension. This occurred just days after it was announced that Ivan Nova required season-ending Tommy John surgery. However, new additions Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran got off to good starts, which combined with Tanaka's mastery to help the Yankees finish April four games above .500.
Last season, April was the month of the mustache. The Brett Gardner-initiated trend caught on with many of his teammates, who played a series of very close games to finish April at 13-9. Andrew Miller converted all eight of his save opportunities that month and helped to drag the Yankees out from a 3-6 start to the season, while Gardner and Ellsbury combined to form the best 1-2 punch in baseball over the first month of the season. Michael Pineda went 3-0 with 32 strikeouts to just two walks, and the Yankees finished the month with the division lead despite almost no production from newly acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius.
How the Yankees start this season may have a huge impact on the rest of the year. They will face a relatively difficult slate of opponents, but will bring excellent health with them through their first several series. Brian Cashman has shown a penchant for acquiring veterans who contribute particularly well in the beginning of the season while Joe Girardi has done a great job preparing his teams for the regular season. Since 2010, the Yankees have built the foundation for a successful season each year by getting off to hot April starts. Without any veteran additions in the offseason, will they nevertheless continue the trend next month?
All statistics via Baseball-Reference.