Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breaking Down the Yankees for the Second Half--The Lineup, Part 2

[So the All Star Game is officially over--and we can thus consider ourselves in the second half.

This is where it gets fun.

All of those days players got rested in the first half? Well, now they have to play. Now the pennant races start to heat up, and every move a team makes, be it a trade, a free agent signing or simply bringing someone up from AAA has even more added meaning.

What do we expect from the Yankees?

I'm going to do a series of posts addressing this, because there's so much to say that having it all in one post would a) kill your eyes and mine, and b) give me carpal tunnel at the age of 23.]

Next up we have the second part of the lineup.

To see general thoughts on the lineup, see the previous post.

The Lineup, Part 2

Hideki Matsui

Matsui's season started horribly. He looked, quite simply, done--was as close to an automatic out as the Yankees had in their line up.

Then, he got his knees drained and got hot, and reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

He cooled off again after that, but now, in July, perhaps his favorite month of the year, Matsui again has gotten hot and seems to have benefited immensely from the nine straight games in NL parks (noticeably the only Yankee to do so).

Where Matsui hurts the Yankees is in his inability to play the field. The Yankees were able to plod through the interleague part of their schedule without totally imploding (though 2-4 against the Marlins and Nationals is frankly embarrassing), but the real danger is if Damon or Swisher gets hurt. Gardner and Cabrera can cover two positions at a time and Eric Hinske, while still a smart pick up, is not an every day player.

What the Yankees need from Matsui is for him to keep hitting well, continuing to provide protection for Posada (who protects A-Rod who protects Teixeira), and they thus also need to keep him healthy by resting him every once in a while. Fortunately, Girardi does not seem to have problems resting Matsui, so I can't see it becoming an issue the way Chamberlain and Canó in the five hole are issues.

In the words of Dora the fish, "just keep swinging, just keep swinging".

The Curious Case of Robinson Canó

Normally guys that hit .308/.341/.490 are in the running for team MVP consideration. Normally everyone oohs and ahs about their spectacular season and they at least make appearances in columns about All Star snubs.

Normally, guys that hit with that line have more than 46 RBI at the break. Especially when they've spent half the season batting fifth.

I'm not sure anyone has a decent explanation for Canó, but to some him up, it's this: when there's no one on base, Canó is a killer at the plate. Dangerous. One of the best hitters in the game. If there's someone on base, Canó's effectiveness goes down--and it's almost directly proportional: more runners on base, more outs, the less likely Canó is to come through.

At this point, it'd be comical if we didn't care so much.

Moving Canó down in the lineup has seem to have helped--and here Joe Girardi is taking a leaf out of Joe Torre's book. Torre is batting LAD center fielder Matt Kemp 8th--even though Kemp is a better hitter than that--because Kemp is batting .528/.576/.774 in that spot (for what it's worth, his numbers hitting ninth are even sicker). If Canó is a better hitter 7th than 5th, then regardless of what Canó could potentially do, that is where he should stay.

In the second half, all eyes will be on what Canó does with men on base. Eventually, he has to be able to hit in that circumstance--or he'll end up the trade bait that he was last winter, when everyone was worried the Yankees would sell low. The potential for Canó to be great is still there--bad hitters don't have .300 seasons--and it's certainly an improvement on last year, but Yankees and their fans still expect so much more.

Nick Swisher

At one point in time, Swisher did not just lead the Yankees in nearly every offensive category; he also led the Yankees in ERA.

Although Swisher's probably not his best as an everyday player, his value to the Yankees comes in having been able to keep steady in right field after Xavier Nady's season-ending injury, and, of course, the untold value of his clubhouse antics.

Swisher has done for the Yankees what many have expected--low average, lots of walks, some power--and has done it all with smile on his face. The fans love it, although they don't, so much, love the bloopers defensively and on the basepath or the low numbers with runners in scoring position.

Brian Cashman, Girardi and Swisher had a closed door meeting a few weeks ago, but the subject of that meeting was never revealed.

Now, with the addition of Eric Hinske, Swisher likely won't be starting every day--and this will ultimately benefit both Swisher and the Yankees. They would like him to get hot again, though it'd take a small miracle for him to be able to repeat April. They'd probably settle for what he did in June, however.

Melky Cabrera

Or, as I like to call him, Clutchy McClutchbrera.

Melky's hitting a solid (and for him, career best) .285/.347/.439, but where he has excelled all season is in the clutch. Nineteen of his 34 RBI --more than half his total RBI--have come in high leverage situations.

The Yankees already have eight walk off wins on the year; Clutchy McClutchbrera is directly responsible for three of them (vs. A's, Twins and Phillies).

He is adequate defensively--Gardner may be the better overall center fielder, but you'd take Cabrera over Damon and Swisher in a heartbeat--and, this season, at least, he hasn't cost the team an error by responding to "roll call" and thus not keeping his eye on the play at hand.

If Cabrera's plate discipline can improve--and it's much better than it's ever been--he becomes that much more of a weapon. Still, there's no getting past the fact that at least when Melky gets his hits, he makes them count. It's kind of like the polar opposite of Robinson Canó.

Next up will be the Yankee bench, which will include Cervelli and Peña.