As the first month of the season ends, the Yankees aren't where they want to be. They remain reasonably close to the top of the AL East, with no team taking hold of the division, but the theme of the Yankees' April is clear: the team is not performing up to snuff. Consequently, in order for a team to under-perform, there need to be under-performing players.
On the position player side, New York has seen a number of underachievers thus far. Among them are such contributors as Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Hicks. These four have not been arbitrarily chosen. Despite being projected to combine for nearly 8 WAR by FanGraphs prior to the season, this quartet has combined for -1.0 fWAR.
All four could have been expected to perform within shouting distance of average at the plate, but their combined line is an ugly .202/.254/.280. The Yankees need them to bounce back as the season proceeds. To get a sense for how likely such a bounce back could be, let's take a look at what the new Statcast data indicates about each player's performance thus far.
Ellsbury hasn't been the worst Yankee this season, but he might be the most disappointing. In the third year of his seven-year contract, there was hope Ellsbury could at least salvage some value for the Yankees with a decent comeback season. That hasn't materialized, as Ellsbury has posted a .241/.268/.354 slash line and a 70 wRC+.
Has bad luck been to blame? His .281 BABIP is far below his career .318 mark. However, a brief look at his Statcast profile dispels that idea. His average exit velocity on 57 batted balls is a below average 88.88 mph, which ranks just 66th among hitters with at least 50 batted balls this season. This, coming off a 2015 season in which his average exit velocity was a mere 86.90 mph.
So Ellsbury struggled last season, connecting at a below average velocity, and has continued that trend this season. It is clearly still early, but if Ellsbury keeps this trend going, fans will cease asking if he can bounce back, and simply accept that this is the hitter he is.
Things have been even uglier for Gregorius, who owns a meek 63 wRC+ in 2016. He has never been renowned for patience, but his measly walk total of one and his BB% of 1.5% have been wretched.
Despite how poor his output has been, his underlying batted ball data may look even worse. His average exit velocity is just 84.90 mph. There are just ten players in MLB with as many or more batted balls as Gregorius and a lower average exit velocity.
Most concerning is how Gregorius has seemingly funneled batted balls into what is referred to as the "doughnut hole". The doughnut hole describes how fly balls struck at a velocity between 75 and 94 mph tend to be easy outs. Softer struck fly balls often are bloop singles, while harder struck ones can go for extra bases. 15 of Gregorius' 42 batted balls this season have been struck between 75 and 94 mph and at a launch angle between 20 and 50 degrees, resulting in just two hits.
As opposed to Ellsbury and Gregorius, Headley may actually deserve better than the results he has received. His 28 wRC+ is awful, as is his .190 BABIP, but both pale in comparison to his respective career marks of 109 and .327. He clearly can perform better than he has shown.
Headley's batted ball numbers help corroborate that idea. He is by no means a laser show, but his average exit velocity of 88.68 mph indicates he has been a bit unfortunate this year. Just last season, Headley posted a lower exit velocity of 87.14 mph, but managed a more respectable 91 wRC+. Some better luck should help Headley move closer to last year's production.
However, part of his struggles may stem from how his batted balls have been split. He has a 92.69 mph exit velocity on grounders, but just an 86.92 mph mark on fly balls and line drives. His relatively weakly struck balls in the air have contributed to his ISO figure of .000 this year, while his well struck grounders have likely helped ensure that all eight of his hits thus far have been singles. So while Headley probably has been unlucky, if he doesn't start striking balls in the air with authority, things will only turn around so much.
Hicks may be a strong a candidate to start performing better, given he's healthy. At first glance, Hicks has been dreadful this season. His .091/.167/.091 slash line translates to a ghastly -34 wRC+. Yes, that's a negative.
Look a little deeper, though, and it seems Hicks has been one of the unluckiest Yankees in 2016. His average exit velocity is above average at just a shade below 92 mph, and his exit velocity of 94.29 mph on fly balls and line drives is potent. It means Hicks has had tough luck in smashing several liners directly at defenders, such as when Danny Valencia of the Athletics robbed Hicks of what looked like a sure double:
In fact, according to Statcast, Hicks has struck ten balls with an exit velocity greater than 95 mph, and just one has resulted in a hit. If Hicks continues to hit the ball with anything near the kind of authority he has, he surely will see better results. It certainly would be difficult for him to see worse.
So, among the four worst performing hitters on the Yankees, a couple, Headley and Hicks, look like they simply need to continue what they are doing and hope for positive regression. Gregorius and Ellsbury, however, appear to need more. It's a long season, and they have plenty of time to straighten things out. If they don't, that long season will feel even longer.