When Brian Cashman reconstructed the 2010 Yankees roster, even he probably didn’t expect it would produce a 21-9 record over the first 30 games. Of course, that record has been accomplished in spite of the struggles of his three main additions: Nick Johnson, Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez.
So, as the Yankees make their first trip to Detroit, where they will renew acquaintances with Johnny Damon and Austin Jackson, it seems like the ideal time to make an early assessment of Cashman’s off season tinkering. Over in the sidebar, I’ve been keeping tabs on the Yankees major offensive additions and subtractions. Unfortunately for Cashman and the Yankees, the balance has been decidedly one-sided in favor of the castoffs.
Although the Yankees did have some regard for Austin Jackson, I don’t think anyone in the organization expected he would be able to adapt to the major leagues so quickly. Heading into tonight’s game, Jackson leads the American League in hits and batting average, has an impressive OPS of .927 and ranks fourth among outfielders with an UZR/150 of 12.6. In other words, Jackson has the inside track to be the league’s rookie of the year.
There are, however, some warning signs on Jackson. For starters, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is an astounding .511. While his equally impressive line drive rate of 40% warrants a high BABIP, such a lofty rate does seem to suggest some luck has been involved. What’s more, Jackson has shown a propensity to strikeout. He is second in the league with 37 strikeouts, which represents a rate of 28%. Considering his lack of power, such a high percentage of strikeouts could be a sign of future struggles.
After a slow start, Johnny Damon has also played very well for the Tigers. Although his power numbers have dropped off (he only has 1 HR), he has been getting on base at over a 40% rate and seems on track for a season not much different from his previous two. Of course, if Damon’s OBP drops to his career norm and he isn’t able to replace that production with power, he could see a regression. The biggest surprise with Damon, however, has been his defense. According to UZR/150, Damon leads the American League left fielders with a rate of 32.3, albeit in only 117 innings. As a Yankee, Damon’s UZR numbers fluctuated quite a bit, so they do need to be taken with a grain of salt (as do UZR figures in general), but it does appear as if Damon’s defensive demise was somewhat exaggerated.
With both Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson on the DL, and struggling when they were in the lineup, it’s easy to call Cashman’s off season a failure. And, to this point, it has been. That case gets made even stronger when you consider the travails of Javier Vazquez, who seeks to rehabilitate his season when he returns to the rotation on Tuesday. Of course, things can change very quickly in baseball. The Yankees are built to peak in October, not May, so until that point, Cashman’s grade remains an incomplete.