Monday, October 21, 2013

2013 AB4AR Season Review: The Lineup

(Too many ABs for these guys.  Courtesy of the AP)

I gotta be honest, people.  These first 2 weeks of season recap posts have been much tougher to write than I thought they'd be.  I figured after taking a week off from the long, slow, disappointing but ultimately predictable death that was the 2013 Yankee season, I'd be recharged and ready to look back on everything that happened with a sharp analytical mindset.  Instead, I've just ended up reverting back to the feelings of sadness and boredom I had while covering this team this year.

But whatever, we've reached the final week and it's time to look back on the 2013 edition of the New York Yankees.  We've reviewed the major storylines that defined the season, we recapped the lessons learned, now it's time to put it all together and put a bow on it.  The Yankees entered 2013 with a lineup that had been decimated by their intentional downgrading of it through a few key free agent decisions and the unintentional and unexpected rash of ST injuries that cost them more than a few of their big names.  It was an uphill battle for the lineup for most of the season and a battle the lineup was incapable of winning.  Years from now, people will look back on this season and recall how they got to watch some of the worst Yankee lineups ever to take the field.  That tells you everything you need to know.

One of the biggest questions the Yankees faced entering the season was who would step up and take the #2 spot in the batting order.  Brett Gardner got promoted to leadoff, and Derek Jeter's ankle setback created a void that the Yankees were ill-equipped to fill.  Ichiro spent a lot of time there but was mostly ineffective.  At this point in his career, he doesn't hit or walk enough to qualify for the job and his .262/.297/.342 season line (.281 wOBA) served as a reminder of how poor the decision to re-sign him really was.  Joe experimented with other players in the 2-spot, namely Robbie Cano early in the year, but nobody was able to do what a healthy Jeter could have done.  The 73 PA of sub-replacement level production that Jeter did provide (.247wOBA/48 wRC+) was hardly a respite from the constant lack of production from one of the most important spots in the batting order.

Moving down into the meat and potatoes of the lineup, there was more empty space left by injuries and nobody there to fill it.  Robinson Cano spent the bulk of the year batting third and he did his typical Robinson Cano thing.  Love him or hate him, want him back or not, you have to give a call to Robbie for continuing to produce at an elite level (.314/.383/.516, 27 HR, 41 2B, 9.5% BB rate) with little to no help around him for the majority of the season.

The main cause for that little to no help was the double whammy of spring injuries to Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira.  Granderson's was all bad luck, Teix's less so, but they were both felt in a big way.  Those 2 combined for just 76 games played and barely over 300 plate appearances.  Teix's debilitating wrist injury and C-Grand's drop in power due to the broken bones/missed time led to 10 total HR between them.  The players tasked with replacing their production in the middle of the order - Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay - hardly did much to make fans forget about their fallen regulars.  In over 4 times as many PA as Teix and Curtis (1,242 to be exact), that trio combined for 37 homers and -1.2 fWAR.  If you didn't think the Yanks were going to miss Teix or Curtis because of their individual offensive warts, you were sadly mistaken.

As you also were if you thought Kevin Youkilis was going to end up being a suitable replacement for Alex Rodriguez at third base.  Youkilis' best days were in the opening 2 weeks of ST, when his back was feeling good and he was hitting everything for extra bases.  Once the regular season started, he stopped hitting baseballs and started hitting the DL.  He was another negative fWAR player, churning out a .290 wOBA and a measly 9 XBH in his 28 games, but the upgrade at third did finally come when A-Rod returned to the lineup in August.  He looked downright spry at first, hitting for average and power in the early part of the month and smacking 6 HR in his first 32 games.  Then his legs betrayed him and he finished up the year on the bench next to his big money buddies.

The Yankees might have been able to overcome all of those injuries if they had a worthwhile bottom of the lineup.  That used to be the spot where guys like Hideki and Jorge and even Raul Ibanez as recently as 2012 could be counted on to take walks and hit for power.  With the budget constraints tying Cash's hands on filling the roster, this year the bottom third of the order was left for slap-hitting catchers like Chris Stewart and Austin Romine, noodle bat middle infielders like Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and the endless procession of MiL/waiver wire fodder that filled in for them, and whoever from the Ichiro/Wells/Hafner/Overbay was slumping the worst at the time.  For the season the Yankees got .603, .639, and .547 OPS values from the 7, 8, and 9 spots in the order respectively.  The only worse value by batting order spot was a .613 from the 5th.  There were some days where the 7-9 spots were all guaranteed outs, and you just aren't going to survive in the AL East meat grinder when that's the case.

Any way you cut it, it was a dreadful year for the Yankee lineup.  Their .242/.307/.376 team tripleslash was the worst in over 20 years, as was their .301 wOBA, 4.01 runs/game, and 10.4 fWAR.  When you lose as much potential production as the Yankees lost, those kind of results are understandable.  What's not is how little the front office did to address the situation, and the -21 run differential and pedestrian W-L record were perfectly suitable for this club.  The Yankees got barely a full season's worth of games (165) from 5 players making $95.85 million in salary (Jeter, Teix, A-Rod, Youkilis, C-Grand) and were exposed for their lack of depth behind those guys.  It was a valiant effort from the Canos and Alfonso Sorianos of the world, but one that wasn't even close to enough to make up for everything else.

** Coming up tomorrow- The Rotation. **

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