The Yankees can’t hit. Well, some of the Yankees can’t hit. Looking at the team, your eye is drawn to five players- Beltran, Roberts, McCann, Soriano, and Jeter. None of these guys are hitting at this point, but I think it is fair to expect McCann to turn things around, so let’s forget about him for now. Even if you don’t, he has a huge contract and isn’t going anywhere.
Soriano has been demoted to a platoon player with Ichiro. That’s a very smart move as he can’t hit righties anymore, so let’s forget about him for a minute as the Yankees may have solved that problem.
Beltran has been hurt and probably will hit, so let’s forget about him for a minute. Again, big rule contract applies here.
That leaves Roberts and Jeter, and here we have huge problems. Roberts is a switch-hitter who has always been better against RHP than LHP. That hasn’t changed this year, but his numbers against LHP (.231/.310/.288) are beyond bad. The Yankees need to at minimum bench him against lefties and put Ryan in there. At least he will provide some defense (more on this in a minute) and his numbers against lefties in his career (.247/.312/.323 ) are an improvement over Roberts’. But this isn’t much of a solution and the Yankees are going to need to address the middle infield soon.
That is because of Jeter. The fact that a 40-year old Jeter isn’t hitting is not a shock. But, his BABIP is over .300 and his line drive rate is 19%. That means he isn’t being hurt by bad luck, he simply isn’t hitting. Now Jeter is a guy you are loathe to count out, but the Yankees need to be realistic about him. Putting Jeter 2nd in the lineup isn’t doing anyone any favors. If he was hitting against LHP, you might be able to argue that he should stay there, but he isn’t (.619 OPS vs. LHP and .609 OPS against RHP) How much longer can the Yankees pretend he is going to hit?
Now if he could play defense, the Yankees would probably look beyond his hitting, but we know that isn’t the case. The Yankee announcers haven’t figured out that the reason for all the shifts this year is the defensive problems the Yankees have. We know Jeter has never been a very good shortstop and this year isn’t any different. What is different is that he doesn’t have Robinson Cano playing to his left and a fair number of grounders are getting through the middle.
Now defensive stats are tricky, but consider these numbers for Jeter and Roberts. Both of them are near the bottom of the AL in range factor for their positions. Now range factor’s two flaws are the fact that teams that give up more flyballs will have lower range factors and having a great defensive player next to you will lower your range factor as he gets to more balls. Both are fair, so let’s look at a more general number- DER.
DER- or defensive efficiency rating measure how often defenses covert outs on balls in play. In 2013, the Yankees were 24th in the league at 69.7%. In 2014 they are 29th at 69.2%. Why have they dropped off? I would suggest it has something to do with Roberts and Jeter. If you don’t trust your eyes, or don’t buy range factor, just think about it. Defensively, the outfield is probably better than last year, or at least as good. Where do the most balls in play go to in a game? Exactly, short and second.
So what do the Yankees do with two guys who aren’t hitting and not playing great defense? Well, I think Roberts’ days are numbered. The Yankees just moved their AA second baseman to AAA. Their AAA second baseman, Jose Pirela is hitting .326/.365/.458 in 246 PA’s. He’s not that good, but I suspect he gets a chance soon. As for Jeter, I wouldn’t expect that situation to change for awhile.