Jockbeat: A Look at Yankees Batting for 2009
The writers in the current issue of Sports Illustrated -- including Ben Reiter, whose name is on the Yankee section -- seem to feel everything will go great in the Bronx this year - or almost great. The Yankees, SI thinks, will roll over the Red Sox and A's to win the AL East, will beat the Twins in the AL division series, and then fall to the Angels in the championship series. That's a pretty good projection -- virtually a 50-50 shot of going to the World Series.
Readers of the Daily News are more skeptical. A poll in that paper reveals that 52 percent think the Yankees won't even make the playoffs, and only 8 percent think they'll take the AL East. We share their skepticism. The Yankees may well have addressed both their starting and bullpen problems -- particularly if Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes or both fulfill their potential.
But what about the Yankees' hitting? This could be the first season in a long time that batting isn't the team's strong suit. This could well be the first time in more than a decade that Yankees pitchers outperform the hitters.
The average age of the Yanks' batters was 32 years, oldest in the majors. That will change some this year, if only because 29 year old first baseman Mark Teixeira will replace 38 year old Jason Giambi -- but then maybe not, because 37 year old Jorge Posada (who had just 195 plate appearances last year) is slated to do most of the catching.
The Yankee hitters last year were the precise definition of mediocre: 7th among the league's 14 teams. The team batted just .271, just four points above the league average, with an on-base average of .342, only seven points above the league norm. This resulted in just 14 more runs than the average AL team.
What's going to change this year? Not much if...
-- Posada can't return to previous form
-- Johnny Damon, age 35, hits like he did in 2007 (.270 and 12 home runs) instead as he did in 2008 (.303 and 17)
-- 25-year-old Brett Gardner doesn't prove to be even a marginal major league player. Yes, this guy's the best centerfielder and base stealer than Yankee have had in years, but he has no power and hasn't shown an ability to get on base consistency.
-- Robinson Cano, at 26, doesn't suddenly develop a batting eye. Cano hit 14 home runs in 2008, but his OBA was a ridiculous .305. He bit on more bad pitches than Bernie Madoff's clientele.
-- Derek Jeter can't stop his swift decline. If he loses as many points off his BA this year as he has the last two, he'll be down in the .280s, and in the field he goes to his left about as easily as Rush Limbaugh.
What is there that could possibly offset any and all of these? Well, if Hideki Matsui spends most of the season at DH instead of the outfield, he should hit very well and the possibility for injury will be greatly reduced. That's about it. And all of this assumes that Alex Rodriguez comes back from rehab no later than around mid-May to relieve Cody Ransom -- our nominee for the player with the name which sounds most like a character in a Roy Rogers movie -- at third base.
This is a lot of ifs, and at least half of them will have to go the Yankees way if they're going to equal their 2008 production of 789 runs. The Yanks, as we see it, have two major problems. The first is age, and the second is a farm system that has left them with too many marginal, close to useless players on the roster -- people like backup catcher Jose Molina, Ransom, and, until proven otherwise, Gardner. Robbie Cano might soon be added to this list.
For the last several seasons the Yankees have always appeared to be at least one player short. This year it looks more like three or four.
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