(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
The Yankees offense currently ranks second among American League teams in just about every meaningful category, including wOBA, OPS+ and runs per game. However, the lineup has seemed to lack consistency as well as a definitive positive trend. As a result, the aggregate numbers look good, but to the naked eye, something seems to be missing.
Most recently, that “something” has been Alex Rodriguez. In the eight games played during his absence, the Yankees has posted a line of .244/.307/.333 along with a wOBA of .294 and per game output of four runs. Thankfully, the pitching staff, namely C.C. Sabathia, has been good enough to give the team a 5-3 record in that span, but if the bats don’t pick up, the Yankees may not be able to keep up with the division leading Red Sox.
The Red Sox have been able to pull ahead in the American League East because of the prolific production by their lineup. Granted, the Red Sox have taken considerable advantage of FenwayPark (wOBA of .376 versus .333 on the road), but nonetheless, the bats have been booming in Beantown. In terms of runs/game versus the league average, the 2011 Red Sox not only rank second in franchise history to the 1950 squad, but also compare favorably to some of the best offenses of all time. Currently, Boston has outscored the league average by 27%, a rate that, if maintained, would rank eleventh among all teams since 1901.
The Yankees have traditionally measured themselves up against the best, not the rest. That’s why the current offensive gap between the Yankees and Red Sox is more important than the team’s performance relative to the rest of the American League. Besides, the Yankees’ #2 ranking is far from secure. Thanks to an incendiary July, the Texas Rangers are now nipping at their heels in many of the aforementioned categories. Considering Boston and Texas are two likely postseason opponents, the Yankees’ lack of an offensive advantage puts even more pressure on an already fragile pitching staff.
Note: Data as of July 20, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
So, what should the Yankees do about their offense? The most obvious solution would be to acquire an impact bat to take over as DH, the position that nets the largest WAR gap when comparing the Yankees and Red Sox head to head. Carlos Beltran seems an ideal candidate to fill this role, but the Yankees and Mets have never made an impact trade, so it doesn’t seem likely they’ll agree to one now. Instead, Cashman may need to aim for a second tier hitter, such as the Athletics’ Josh Willingham (who just so happens to be coming to the Stadium this weekend), and hope some of his slumping stars can carry the team until Arod returns in August.
In spite of the offense’s recent struggles, the team isn’t in dire straits. If Arod returns to the lineup healthy and Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and Robinson Cano can perform to last year’s standard, the Yankees’ should have more than enough offense to make it through the season. After all, it was only a month ago when the Yankees were on a historic offensive pace, so the potential is there for a revival.
Meanwhile, the Yankees pitching staff also poses the same dilemma. Although the team currently ranks second in the AL with an ERA+ of 117, the Yankees rotation is punctuated by uncertainty. In addition to its one exclamation point (Sabathia), question marks comprise the rest of the staff. As with the offense, the aggregate numbers are there, but uncertainty about the future abounds.
Only twice (1997 and 1998) since 1961 have the Yankees had a higher run differential than the one they’ve compiled in 2011. However, more than any time in recent memory, it seems as if the team is entering the stretch run with heightened uncertainty. Although it seems clear that the Yankees are missing “something”, the question remains what? That’s why Brian Cashman’s real challenge over the next 10 days won’t be finding the right player, but figuring out what the Yankees actually need.