Welcome to Love/Hate, where I rant about 5 things I like about the Yankees right now, and 5 I don’t. This week’s edition is sponsored by C.C.’s noodle arm.
LOVE: Brett Gardner’s peskiness. The 2013 Yankees may have lost seven of their top nine home run hitters from last year, but one thing they gained was Gardner, who is basically a poor man’s Johnny Damon at this point. Gardner has played a strong center field in Curtis Granderson’s absence (though his arm strength is reminiscent of Bernie Williams), and he has shocked me with two home runs so far this year, not all that far from his career high of seven. But Gardner’s strength will always be his speed on the bases and his gnat-like ability to stay alive at the plate.
Like Damon, Gardner has the bat speed to foul off pitches on the outside corner and the plate discipline to stay away from breaking balls and inside pitches. The result is a night like Monday, when he had four at-bats and only put the ball in play once (two walks and a strikeout). Gardner has only one stolen base all year and has looked uncharacteristically hesitant on the basepaths. But as long as he keeps getting on base, the steals and runs scored will come.
HATE: C.C.’s velocity problems. This deserves its own post, but one thing to note about Sabathia’s inability to get his fastball above 90-91 mph (down from an average of 94 two years ago) is the correlation to his early-inning struggles this season. The hefty lefty has given up 13 earned runs in five starts this year, and 10 of those have come in the first or second inning. Sabathia has appeared to press early on because his fastball has been even slower early in games, sometimes struggling to reach 90 mph. As a result, his location suffers, as it did against the Rays on Monday, when he gave up two first-inning home runs on pitches nowhere near catcher Francisco Cervelli’s target. If the velocity continues to be a problem, C.C. must find a way to use his experience and guile to get through the early innings of his starts unscathed.
LOVE: Lyle Overbay’s scoops at first base. Mark Teixeira confirmed today that he will not be back on May 1 as he had hoped, and the Yankees will likely need a fill-in for at least another month. Playing in 18 of the Yanks’ 19 games thus far, Overbay has not made an error, and I’ve seen him pick low throws by Eduardo Nunez cleanly on at least two occasions. Let’s just say it’s preferable to when Teix was out last season and Nick Swisher was filling in at first.
HATE: Robinson Cano swinging at balls in the dirt. Honestly, hate doesn’t describe my disgust at Cano’s lifelong inability to lay off breaking pitches that dive down and in on him. Why? Because with Cano’s bat speed and fluid, near-perfect swing, he should never strike out. Instead, you get situations like Sunday, where I called from my couch that Cano would strike out on an 0-2 breaking down two feet out of the strike zone, and two seconds later it happened.
Cano is hitting .342/.395/.646, so why nitpick? Well, he’s striking out at a career-high rate so far this season: one K per 5.73 plate appearances, against a career average of once per 8.42 PAs. Over the roughly 700 plate appearances in a full season, that translates to 40 extra strikeouts, which could easily be the difference between a “pedestrian” All-Star season and Cano’s first-ever MVP award.
LOVE: Andy Pettitte’s durability. In three starts, Andy’s thrown 94, 97, and 90 pitches and gone at least seven innings each time. With splits of 2.01/1.07 (ERA/WHIP), Pettitte’s been the Yankees best pitcher thus far and one of the top 10 pitchers in the AL. Oh, and he’s the oldest pitcher in baseball and retired two years ago. Though Pettitte did miss a start because of back spasms in early April, that appeared to be a function of early-season stiffness and the cold weather, not age or an underlying injury. The Yankees need Pettitte to give them 15-18 wins to have a shot at the postseason in the hyper-competitive AL East. So far, so good.
HATE: The lack of righty bats. Without A-Rod, Jeter or Teixeira until at least mid-May, the Yankees are pretty much relying on Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells and Eduardo Nunez for the vast majority of their offensive power from the right side. But Nunez has been awful so far, while Youkilis has been out since Sunday with back stiffness and may end up on the disabled list. That left the Yankees sliding Ben Francisco — a pathetic excuse for a right-handed hitter who is 2-for-25 (.080) this season — into THE FIFTH SPOT against reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price against the Rays on Tuesday, just because Price is a lefty. The previous night, the Yankees managed only two hits in eight innings against lefty Matt Moore, both by Cano. And that leads to grisly splits like these:
Yanks vs. righties: .301/.368/.533
Yanks vs. lefties: .199/.263/.295
LOVE: The Yankee catchers’ unexpected power. In 67 at-bats this season, Cervelli and Chris Stewart have combined for six extra-base hits (three doubles, three HRs). Five of those hits have come from Cervelli, who has uncorked two astonishing longballs already this season. The first was a 444-foot moonshot to the back of the visitors’ bullpen in left center field at Yankee Stadium in an early-season win over Boston. The second was a game-tying solo blast in the ninth inning against Arizona (though the Yankees eventually lost the game in extra innings). Though Cervelli is not going to be Mike Piazza or even Jorge Posada at the bat, 15-20 home runs from Cervelli and Stewart would be huge for the back of the Yankee lineup.
HATE: The bullpen’s soft underbelly. The splits for Yankees relieves thus far: 4.98 ERA, 1.45 WHIP. And that’s including Mariano Rivera’s sizzling start. Joba Chamberlain’s ERA is 5.68; David Phelps’ is 6.23. And setup man David Robertson, who has looked strong for most of the season, blew a three-run eighth-inning lead in Toronto over the weekend. The one bright spot has been young righty Adam Warren, who has a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings out of the bullpen this year. It’s time to give Warren Joba’s seventh-inning spot and see how he performs. It’s hard to believe he’ll be more soul-crushing than Joba.
LOVE: Rivera. I should mention that Mo will occupy one of the five ‘Love’ spots until the season is over or he blows like 10 saves in a row. Also, six for six on save opportunities so far! A 2.57 ERA! And he’s less than a year removed from ripping apart his right knee! You gotta love The Sandman.
HATE: The new crack in Derek Jeter’s surgically repaired left ankle that will keep him out until after the All-Star Break. Enough said. There always pottery.