Friday, April 12, 2013

The Future Of The Current Heart Of The Order

There has been a lot of talk about how Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells have been awesome in the middle of the order, and for good reason. Their combined wOBA of .467 has been incredible, accounting for 6 home runs, 17 runs, and 16 RBI. That might lead some Yankee fans to forget about the absences of Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez. But is that ridiculous?

Now this guy is ridiculous.

Let's take a quick look at what those three have done so far this season...

Kevin Youkilis has a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .474, so on the surface one would think Youk is getting very lucky and is due for a major correction. But I'd like to point out his current line drive percentage of 19%, which is actually a touch below his career LD% of 21%. Kevin's career strikeout rate is 18.5%, while he's striking out 26.5% of the time so far this season, so that too is a good sign for the future. You want another good sign? Okay, here you go... So far in 2013 Youk's walk-rate of 5.9% is much lower than his career walk-rate of 12.2%. Now, I don't expect his SLG of .700 to continue, as his isolated power of .333 is well above his career ISO of .201. In all, while I see all of Youk's triple-slash numbers dropping, which is not a surprise seeing as how it's at .367/.441/.700 right now, I think he'll be closer to his career line of .283/.385/.484 than his 2012 line of .235/.336/.409.

Another guy who seems to be getting pretty lucky so far in 2013 is Travis Hafner, who has a BABIP of .438. However, other than that BABIP, his numbers are in line with what he's done in his career. Hafner is walking 12.9% of the time so far this season, while he's walked 12.6% of the time in his career. Pronk's isolated power of .222 is just a touch under his career ISO of .229. And he's actually striking out at a higher rate than normal, as he's whiffed in 29% of his at bats this season, but has struck out only 20.1% of the time in his career. The short porch in RF may have really opened Travis' eyes, making him try for a HR each time, leading to that higher K rate, but I don't think he'll continue to strike out 29% of the time either. He's squaring up the ball a lot more than he ever has, as his line drive percentage is 39% up to this point this season, but is 19% in his career (15% last season), so that leads me to think we're in for a negative correction. So while his .333 batting average and .419 on-base percentage won't continue, I don't think he's really going to truly hurt the team in those categories. And I won't be surprised at all to see Pronk his 20 homers this season.

The only other guy whose balls in play seem to be dropping for hits too often is Vernon Wells, as his BABIP is sitting at .389. That's not a huge number, but when I see a line drive percentage of 30%... compared to a career mark of 19%... I get a bad feeling in my stomach. So he won't hit .360? Nobody expected that to continue anyway. Vernon is actually striking out a bit more than normal, as his 2013 strikeout rate is currently 16.7%, compared to a career percentage of 13.1%. But here are two other big issues... a walk-rate well above his career norm (16.7% in 2013 to 6.6% in his career), and an ISO way out of line (.360 in 2013, .195 in his career). I see Vernon's batting average dropping at least a 100 points. While he may not strike out as much, we're not talking a huge difference, either. Add to that the fact he's unlikely to walk as much as he has, on top of that batting average drop, and he's not going to get on base nearly as often either. Power? Wells has an ISO of .360 right now, a whopping 165 points higher than his career mark of .195. Yankee fans should enjoy the ride but expect it to be over sooner rather than later, which will make the decision on what to do in the outfield when Granderson returns much easier.

The return of Mark Teixeira wasn't going to cause any issues anyway, as nobody is looking at the .250/.276/.429 batting line of Lyle Overbay and thinking "we gotta keep that around". As I just mentioned, Curtis Granderson will likely take the spot of Vernon Wells, as I don't expect Vernon to continue batting like he has (speaking of which, I didn't go over the fact that Ichiro is not going to hit .185/.233/.296 for much longer), although I can see Wells platooning with Suzuki. Derek Jeter will take back his spot at shortstop, as Nunez has done nothing to make me want him to keep getting regular playing time this season.

The only real question facing the Yankees when, and if, they get healthy, is what to do when Alex Rodriguez returns? Kevin Youkilis needs to remain in the lineup, and moving to 1B full-time is not going to happen with Teixeira being over there already. Sure, I can see Travis Hafner sitting against left-handed pitchers, leaving the DH spot in those games to ARod, but that's not nearly often enough at bats. 

Chances are the Yankees will not all be healthy at the same time, so this problem will work itself out. But thankfully it's not my money, because if they were all healthy at the same time I'd rather Alex Rodriguez sit out the entire year and make sure he's 100% for the last four years of his contract.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)