It hasn't been a great start to the 2016 season for the Yankees. The bullpen has been dominant, but they haven't gotten many strong performances from starters other than Masahiro Tanaka, and the offense has been stagnant. Entering Tuesday's contest in Texas, the Yankees were 8-10, scoring just 3.83 runs per game, 20th in baseball. Over their past 12 games, they've averaged a lowly 2.58 runs.
The Yankee lineup has a handful of guys who have historically been slow starters, so it's not overly surprising. However, this is an offense that scored the second most runs in baseball last season, and they were expected to be potent again this year. Given the older lineup's lack of production so far, there's concern in the Yankee community that the offense is going to struggle this year. When you look further into it, though, it becomes clear the offense is primed to breakout.
Here are some reasons to turn all that pessimism into optimism.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are playing well
Before the season, I wrote about how Ellsbury and Garder being healthy and productive is the key for the Yankees offense. They can get on base and then wreak havoc on the base paths, setting the table for the big bats behind them. The Yankees saw early last season what a dynamic duo they can be, and then saw how much they need the two outfielders to be healthy and productive when they eventually struggled.
So far, "Ellsgard" looks more like the early-2015 version than late-2015 version. Gardner has on .808 OPS, .363 wOBA, and 139 wRC+; he's smacked two homers (including the walk-off shot on Saturday), is drawing walks at a high clip (14.7 BB%), and has made his presence felt on the bases with three steals. Ellsbury, meanwhile, only has a 93 wRC+ and .301 wOBA, but he's looked better recently and has easily passed the eye test. Over his last five games, he's 8-22 with a home run. He's also stolen five bags already. His swipe of home showed how exciting and dangerous of a player he can be. Both guys are playing well, and there's no sign that they'll slow down soon, which is great news for the offense.
A-Rod should turn things around soon
Hitting just .145, striking out over 30% of the time, and now on the bench with a slight oblique injury, Alex Rodriguez has some worried with his slow start. Here at PSA though, we've suggested multiple times that he's going to start hitting sooner rather than later. He has shown solid plate discipline and is still making good contact. His BABIP is just .176 even though he has a 25 LD%, average soft-contact and hard-contact percentages, and well above-average exit velocity off the bat. Basically, he's hitting the ball hard and just getting a bit unlucky. Things will turn around for A-Rod soon.
They have great plate discipline
A-Rod isn't the only one with good plate discipline. The entire lineup is drawing walks 9.4% of the time, the sixth best mark in baseball. They're (somewhat surprisingly) only striking out 19.9% of the time, which ranks eighth among the rest of the league. It adds up to them having the fifth-best BB/K ratio in the majors.
One reason for their strong plate disciplined is that they're only swinging at 23.5% of pitches outside the strike zone–the third-best mark in baseball. They've been great at diagnosing what pitches to swing at and don't often miss good pitches to hit. For pitches in the strike zone, the team is making contact 89.7% of the time that they swing, which is the second highest percentage in the majors. These are all great signs for the offense.
They haven't suffered any major injuries
Everyone talked a lot this offseason about how important health was for this team. Two weeks in, and the Yankees are beginning to lose some of their depth, but they haven't had to place any key hitters on the disabled list so far. A-Rod tweaked an oblique, but he's not expected to miss more than a couple of days or so. Aaron Hicks is day-to-day after hurting his shoulder, but there's a good chance he avoids the disabled list. Even if he does hit the DL, the team's starting outfield would still be intact. If you told me that any of Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, or Carlos Beltran were out for an extended period of time, I'd start counting the days until 2017, but it's so far, so good on the Yankee injury front.
Statistically, the offense just has to be better (right?)
This is basically just a case of regression to the mean. The Yankees may not have the Cubs' offense, but they're not going to average less than three runs per game all season. There's too much talent in the lineup and there's too many signs suggesting they'll turn it around.
As a team, they're hitting just .190 with RISP, the second worst mark in baseball, and they leave runners on base like it's going out of style–they just can't stay that bad forever. Their plate discipline is too good and the peripherals suggest struggling players will turn it around.
Also, it's not like they have anyone setting the world on fire who's going to regress backwards. Their best average for a starter is .290 (Starlin Castro). Everyone is a good bet to at least stay the same, while most are a good bet to be better.
It's been painful watching this offense these last couple of weeks, but it'll only get better. I promise.