When teams play well, very little is second guessed. When teams struggle, everything becomes an issue. Especially in the biggest media market in the country and when the team in said market has the highest payroll in the league.
Such is life these days for the New York Yankees. Once the hottest team in baseball with the best record, the Yankees are now struggling, losing the eastern division cushion almost nightly and subject to criticism up and down the roster.
The most popular debate recently has been about the lineup. Naturally when a team stacked with endless offensive talent fails to do simple tasks like score constantly or hit with runners in scoring position every night, change is demanded.
Truth be told the Yankees’ struggles have mostly stemmed from the pitching staff. New York has allowed five runs or more six times in the last 15 games. CC Sabathia has been inconsistent since his return from the disabled list, Ivan Nova has been atrocious and Phil Hughes, mostly great since mid May, was torched his last time out in Detroit. With Andy Pettitte sidelined and Freddy Garcia filling in admirably as a fifth starter, only Hiroki Kuroda has reason to complain about the offense.
The veteran righty has had poor run support all season. Kuroda’s run support is a full run less than any of the four other starters in the rotation and is more than one third of a run fewer (4.05 compared to 4.47) than the league average.
That said, the lineup does have room for improvement, and Joe Girardi seemed to initiate that change last night. After weeks struggling out of the second spot in the lineup for Curtis Granderson, Girardi swapped him with Nick Swisher and the Yankees produced 12 runs against Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers in Detroit. This should have been done a long time ago and should not be switched, even against lefties.
Of course Granderson had no business ever batting in the top two spots in the lineup. The center fielder has the sixth highest on base percentage of any of the current Yankees’ starters in the lineup (.338), but the third highest OPS (.822), the most home runs (30), the second most RBI (65) and leads the team by a wide margin in strikeouts (136). His eight stolen bases weren’t an indicator he should be a “table setter” so the main mistake was batting a middle of the order bat in the two-hole.
With Brett Gardner out for the season, the natural choice should be Nick Swisher as it was last night. Girardi’s use of following the switch-hitter after Derek Jeter was a good move. Swisher has the third highest OBP (.349) of any active Yankee in the lineup behind Derek Jeter (leadoff) and Robinson Cano (the number three hitter).
Speaking of Cano, he is the best hitter in the lineup and has been batting third most of the season. Cano is second in HR (24), third in RBI (64), fifth in K’s (63) and he’s hitting .313/.370 with a .928 OPS. There’s not much of an argument to the contrary for Cano hitting third.
So if Jeter naturally makes sense hitting leadoff and Cano makes sense hitting third, and Granderson does not in any way make sense hitting first or second, that really leaves Swisher who is the perfect switch-hitting, on base percentage guy who plays everyday. Not since Johnny Damon was swapped with Derek Jeter in the lineup has there ever been such an obvious and encouraged lineup change.
Now Swisher can permanently break up any lefty-lefty issues (Granderson and Cano) among the key hitters, allowing Cano to always stay in the three hole.
When a healthy Alex Rodriguez returns, he will slide into the cleanup spot with Teixeira batting fifth, Granderson batting sixth (where his numbers play better) and then someone like Raul Ibanez batting seventh (Andruw Jones against lefties) and Russell Martin and Ichiro Suzuki rounding out the bottom of the order (probably in that order so there are not three lefties in a row and so there is speed at the bottom of the order).
That would make a healthy Yankees’ lineup look like this:
1. Jeter R
2. Swisher S
3. Cano L
4. Rodriguez R
5. Teixeira S
6. Granderson L
7. Ibanez/Jones L/R
8. Martin R
9. Ichiro L
Alternating sides of the plate, high on base percentage guys at the top, power in the middle, speed at the bottom.