What to Look for in the First Week
By Matt Hunter
As fans, we love to take remarkably small samples and draw broad conclusions from them. This is especially true for the first week or two of the season, where games matter, and preconceived beliefs about players or teams can be “justified” by a few good or bad performances. But of course, most stats mean close to nothing over two weeks. If Cano is batting .200 on April 20th, we shouldn’t worry one bit about him reaching .300 by the end of the season. If Freddy Garcia wins his first two starts with a 1.5 ERA, it’s probably safe to assume that he won’t keep up those numbers. That being said, there are some things that we can learn from the first few weeks, either through stats or observation. Let’s look at a few:
1. Hughes’ velocity and K-rate
Phil Hughes’ success or lack thereof will be a huge determiner of the Yankees’ pitching success this season. After his “dead arm” last season, resulting in a significantly decreased velocity and horrible performance, his velocity greatly improved this spring (maybe due to his being “in the best shape of his life”?) and he pitched fantastically. If the high pitch velocity continues into the first few starts of the season, fans should be optimistic about a repeat of 2010 at the very least. If Hughes can maintain that velocity and come closer to the superb strikeout rate he had in the minors, we could see Hughes really break out in 2012. However, even K/PA doesn’t become significant until about 150 batters faced, so withhold judgement with regards to strikeouts until he gets about 5 starts in.
2. Teixeira’s batted ball spread
For the past few years, Mark Teixeira’s batting average has taken a nosedive, falling from .308 in 2008 all the way to .248 last year. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a ridiculously low .239 last year, even though it is about .300 for his career. While some of this may be due to bad luck, Teixeira also had a very hard time beating the shift last year. He hit only 19% of balls to the left side of the field as a leftie last year, resulting in only 5 hits. He has publicly said that he will try to lay down some bunts to the left side, but in spring training he has already shown a dramatic shift in where he is hitting the ball as a leftie, as 42% of his balls went into left in spring training. This is a dramatic shift from last year, and if he keeps it up in the regular season, we could see a major jump in batting average, though that might come at the expense of some homeruns. In the first few weeks, look to see if Teixeira is hitting (or bunting!) the ball to the left side as a leftie.
3. The DH platoon situation
The Yankees signed Raul Ibanez this offseason as their part-time designated hitter to platoon with Andruw Jones. While he struggled for most of spring training, he has really heated up in the past week or so. Though stats shouldn’t matter in the first few weeks of the season, they often do to managers, so if Ibanez is slumping badly like he was at the beginning of spring training, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Girardi switch up the DH situation, batting Jones more often and maybe having Chavez and Nunez get some more playing time. That being said, if Ibanez continues mashing, he should solidify his job as DH.