Prior to the season, the Yankees expressed a desire to be more proactive when it came to resting their veterans. The reasoning was straightforward: resting the lineup's aging hitters would help keep them fresh during the latter stages of a rigorous season. With a lineup sporting a weighted batters' age of 31.1, being careful with playing time seemed like a sound idea.
Manager Joe Girardi's reticence to ride the veterans into the ground likely stemmed from the Yankees' late season problems in 2015. Several players on the wrong side of thirty, such as Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Alex Rodriguez, struggled mightily in the second half. The team limped to a 29-31 finish in the final two months, and watched a six game AL East lead evaporate.
Have Girardi and the Yankees' been able to back up their promise to ease off playing time in the early season, in order to better set up the veterans for the stretch run? Let's take a look at each veteran's playing time so far this year.
2015: 36 G, 150 PA, .252/.367/.585
2016: 36 G, 148 PA, .211/.318/.313
Through Tuesday night, the Yankees had played 38 games. Thus, I've compiled each player's games played and plate appearances through the team's first 38 games in both 2015 and 2016, along with their triple slash lines for context with regard to how they were playing at the time. Teixeira has reverted to his career his career norm of starting slowly, but he hasn't seen a dip in playing time. Despite a 300 point drop in OPS, Teixeira's playing time in 2016 has almost exactly matched his 2015 playing time.
2015: 31 G, 127 PA, .237/.291/.404
2016: 32 G, 124 PA, .266/.355/.440
McCann's numbers tell a similar story. Since McCann's first full season, in 2006, he leads all MLB catchers in games played. He has established himself as one of the most durable players in the game, and things have not changed so far this year, as his games played and plate appearance totals are right in step with his pace from last season.
2015: 33 G, 137 PA, .305/.383/.458
2016: 35 G, 145 PA, .233/.361/.375
Gardner has actually seen his time on the field increase so far this year. Given Gardner's historical tendency to falter down the stretch (115 career wRC+ in the first half, 88 wRC+ in the second half), it seemed reasonable to expect Girardi to ease off him early on, in an effort to help Gardner sustain production deep into the year. That hasn't happened, as even though he has cooled off recently, Gardner still has the third highest wRC+ on the team, and is sorely needed in the lineup.
2015: 32 G, 129 PA, .233/.271/.383
2016: 38 G, 145 PA, .244/.276/.474
Beltran's numbers stand out a bit. He has had the relative luxury of playing the designated hitter role several times this year, but it is a little jarring to see that he has appeared in every single game the Yankees have played this year. Beltran did not fade at all last year, hitting .292/.364/.513 in the second half of 2015. Still, given his advanced age of 39, it is somewhat surprising the Yankees haven't given Beltran much of a breather in 2016.
2015: 37 G, 147 PA, .228/.279/.382
2016: 34 G, 122 PA, .196/.287/.262
Finally, a player who has gotten a breather relative to his 2015 playing time. Of course, in Headley's case, this probably stems from his horrendous production at the plate, rather than an effort to keep him rested. In all likelihood, if Headley had performed anywhere near his career averages, his playing time would not have dropped at all, as his main replacement, Ronald Torreyes, has seen his wRC+ fall all the way to 66.
2015: 25 G, 120 PA, .358/.433/.415
2016: 27 G, 112 PA, .260/.321/.380
Ellsbury suffered an injury 27 games into the season, so I pulled his numbers through 27 games in 2015 and 2016. Ellsbury had appeared in every 2016 game prior to his hip ailment, though he had recorded more plate appearances in fewer games in 2015. Still, his overall playing time had not decreased before his injury.
2015: 22 G, 89 PA, .243/.371/.541
2016: 20 G, 80 PA, .194/.275/.474
Rodriguez's numbers reflect his playing time through the team's first 24 games, the number of games the Yankees played before he hit the disabled list. Rodriguez did see a small drop in playing time before injuring his hamstring, but most of that fall can be explained via his minor oblique injury that caused him to sit for two games. Assuming he would have actually played those games without the oblique strain (not a bulletproof assumption, given the man is older than 40), his playing time figures would be virtually unchanged this year.
So, with the exception of the notably struggling Headley, all of the Yankees' veterans haven't seen their playing time cut. In fact, a few, including Beltran and Gardner, have actually seen their time on the field increase. This seems counter-intuitive, but part of the trend can be explained by injuries. With injury befalling Ellsbury and Rodriguez, Girardi was met with a difficult conundrum: risk running his veterans out there every night, or be forced to trot out the likes of Dustin Ackley, Austin Romine, Ben Gamel, and Torreyes more than was palpable.
This does not bode well for the Yankees' fortunes. Resting the veterans early on seemed like a reasonable way to try to prevent second half fades from said veterans. Not only has that not materialized, but the Yankees' schedule only gets tougher late in the season, as has been touched on previously. The Yankees have already dug themselves a hole, and as the season heats up and the veterans tire, the schedule will only get more unforgiving.