Much is being made lately about how the Yankees would fill Nick Swisher‘s shoes in terms of power numbers. It’s true, the outfield is usually reserved for players who possess the power gene, especially right field. That came with the caveat that a middle infielder doesn’t hit 30 home runs, a catcher doesn’t hit 20, and platooning DHs don’t hit 33. However, for the Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, catcher Russell Martin, and a combination of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones did just that in 2012. After witnessing the mess that was the 2012 playoffs, it might not be a bad idea to begin hiring more contact hitters than power/strikeout players.
There are many reasons not to like this approach. First, at some point walks and singles only get you so far. Getting lucky with a three-run home run is much better than hitting 10 singles and never driving in a single run. The latter was exactly what the Yankees dealt with last year and was their downfall come playoff time. The big hit alluded the Yankees throughout the postseason, where one little single could have turned a game around. It was a microcosm of how the season really was behind all 95-wins. The Yankees were dominate when they hit bombs, but were weak when they needed just a teeny tiny base hit.
That’s the crux of this article, the Yankees employed Nick Swisher who hit 24 home runs, Curtis Granderson who blasted 43 home runs, and a collection of “other” outfielders who amassed another 43 homers (some of the home runs came from the DH position, but let’s use them for the sake of argument). Altogether, the Yankees recorded roughly 110 round-trippers from their outfield last season using more than seven players at various points in the season.
Yankee outfielders hit .251 last season in 2,094 at-bats. Meanwhile, their on-base percentage hovered around .320 and slugging percentage around .450. A slash line of .251/.320/.450 isn’t terrible by any means. If we average out the home runs and disperse them evenly, then it’ll be that slash line with nearly 16 home runs among seven players. Obviously, that’s not how a team works, as you don’t have seven outfielders on your 25-man roster. But it begs the question, would you rather have a power guy who strikes out a ton, but hits 40+ home runs per year, a high-average guy who gets on base at a great clip, and a player who can do both with a bench consisting of two platoon guys OR an entire outfield, including bench players that hits .251/.320/.450 with 16 home runs?
Personally, I liked how the Yankees had their 2012 lineup set with Brett Gardner, Granderson and Swisher. However, we all know that didn’t stay that way all year. Yankees fans have said all offseason that they want more contact-oriented hitters, no more all-or-nothing types. Many of the options are now gone in free agency. But, Ichiro Suzuki would be a marvelous fit in RF despite being a contact-first hitter. Assuming Gardner comes back healthy, the Yankees could potentially employ two top-of-the-lineup type hitters who can play small ball while the rest of the team relies heavily on power.
For instance, Granderson, Cano, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez (in some capacity), will be relied upon to knock these two in, along with Derek Jeter. Sure they won’t be hitting 1-2 in the order, but with Swisher all but lost to free agency and A-Rod out until mid-season you can bet either Gardner or Ichiro (if signed) will be slotted at the top of the lineup. The Yankees as a whole are struggling to fill holes under this $189 million cap, and home runs equal dollar signs in the free agent market, while average, OBP and stolen bases don’t equal out to as much.
A team built around OBP (*ahem* Moneyball) isn’t the end of the world. Some facets of Yankee fandom believe that every player in the lineup needs to possess home run power, but that’s totally untrue. In fact, supplementing home run, strikeout-types with guys who move runners over, get on base via base on balls, etc., are arguably just as beneficial. The main problem with the 2012 team is that they were too one-dimensional on offense (football term?) at times. They were fourth in batting average in the American League last season, which surprised me a bit, and they were one of the top offenses in all of baseball. But, they could potentially be more potent if they became more balanced.
That being said, players are beginning to age, Tex is no longer the average/power guy he used to be, he’s merely a power guy now who will strike out, draw a walk and get very hot at various stages in the season. Cano is hitting his prime, while Granderson is leaving his. Manager Joe Girardi said the Yankees will never be a small-ball team, which they shouldn’t be, but that doesn’t mean you cannot employ some of those tactics and develop a different strategy that benefits your ballclub. It’s one that could still keep them very competitive in the AL East as well as fit them under the self-imposed cap.