Q: The Yankees have sustained numerous high-profile injuries over the last 12 months, including the long-term losses of Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Mark Texeira, and Curtis Granderson. So far, Texeira has returned (but under-performed), Jeter and A-Rod remain out, and Granderson came back only to get hurt again. What, if anything, do you expect to get out of this quartet by season's end? And do you expect any of their replacements (Hafner, Overbay, Wells, Youkilis) to continue to play significant roles with the team if/when the roster gets healthy?
A: That's a tough question in that three of the injured four, and perhaps even the whole quartet, had questions hanging over them even before they got hurt. Teixeira's last three seasons (2010-2012) have been roughly consistent, with him hitting .252/.347/.484 overall. Those aren't bad numbers by any means, but they're far from what the Yankees are expecting for their $22.5 million and troubling from a player who is signed through 2016. The only caveat I might offer to your description in his case is that he's only been back for 10 games, and while he's hit only .167, he does have three home runs in 36 at-bats. As such, it's a little early to say he's underperformed.
Granderson is an odd case. His strikeout has climbed for four straight seasons, and by the end of last year virtually all he could do was strike out or hit a home run. He hit .205/.276/.475 from August through the end of the season, then went 3-for-30 with 16 strikeouts in the playoffs and you would have sworn he was swinging with his eyes closed. He wasn't back for long enough to give us any sense of what his present capabilities are.
As you know, Jeter is working his way back from a broken (and re-broken) ankle. It's something I did myself at roughly the age Jeter did it, and I remember how painful it was and how slowly I regained mobility. Now, I'm a couch potato and Jeter has assiduously pursued rehabilitation, so we would hope his results are better than mine were. Still, here is a shortstop whose first step (particularly to his left) was always the weakest part of his game, and at his age, you don't always regain full movement even with the most determined rehab -- it's just one of those lame truisms of getting old. Only a handful of players, players who hadn't broken their ankles, have played shortstop regularly at 39 or older for the simple reason that they no longer had the reflexes for the position. Add all this up and I'm a bit skeptical about Jeter's return. I've been fooled by him before, though, and I hope to be fooled again.
Finally, there's A-Rod. I really have no idea what the Yankees will get. His production has declined every year since 2007 -- he's really the poster child for steroids hysteria being overblown -- and who knows how much defensive ability he'll have left after the additional surgery? The class of third basemen in the American League last year was weak enough that even degraded (in whatever sense of the term you like) A-Rod was still an offensive plus. The competition is a little stronger this year, but in his absence the Yankees have gotten only .262/.306/.365 out of their hot corner guys, so there's still room for Rodriguez to contribute, even if it's only at last year's levels.
Briefly, Hafner's been cold since April (.184/.283/.345, four home runs in 99 PAs) but this team is short of left-handed power so I expect he'll continue to have a role. With Ichiro Suzuki not doing a whole lot of hitting, the team has pressed Overbay into duty in right field. As long as he keeps slugging .500 against right-handed pitching, he should keep getting chances -- besides, wrist injuries are unpredictable, and there's every chance Teixeira could vanish again. Wells has turned back into a pumpkin (or maybe an onion -- .195/.225/.308 in 138 PAs from May 1 on) and needs to sit in the worst way. Finally, Youkilis looks like the Greek God of Bad Backs. Maybe there's more to him than he's showed this year, but he'll have to be healthy for it to happen and I'm not sure if that's ever going to be the case.
Q: In the absense of Jeter, shortstop has been manned by Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and Reid Brignac. Are any of them keepers, or should Brian Cashman be searching for his next long-term shortstop? On a related note, from the perspective of a Yankee fan, how do you feel about Derek Jeter's defensive skills, which are revered by scouts and coaches but derided by the statistical community?
A: None of them are the long-term answer at shortstop. The group as a whole has hit .219/.288/.288. But here's the interesting thing: While none of them is exactly Ozzie Smith on the fielding job, they likely have gotten to more balls than Jeter would have. So much of this team's success has been due to strong pitching -- if you put Jeter back in there and your efficiency on balls in play goes down, is he really going to hit at a level that makes up for that?
Q: C.C. Sabathia's numbers look mostly normal, except that he's giving up a ton of homers. Small sample noise, or cause for concern?
A: His velocity is down quite a bit, but he's a good enough pitcher that he seems to have adapted and is pitching well in spite of being a 90 mph guy instead of a 95 mph guy. Is it a cause for concern? Well, if this is really his new level, he'd be one of the few pitchers to make the transition from "flamethrowing" to "crafty" without any pain, but maybe he will be the one to do it.
Q: Is Phil Hughes ever going to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter? He's always had the stuff but the success rarely seems to follow, and he's struggling once again in 2013.
A: If Billy Beane could get hold of him he might be a top-of-the-rotation starter in your ballpark. Although he's performed well there at times, I don't think he'll ever find consistency in Yankee Stadium. He's just too much of a fly-ball guy and the park plays too small. He's not been as bad as the overall numbers look, it's just that when he's pitched badly he's really been creamed, with an ERA of 15.00 in his losses. He's actually logged a quality start in about 60 percent of his starts, which is actually better than league average.
Q: The bullpen seems like a logical place to wrap things up. We all know Rivera and Robertson, but can you tell us a bit about the other key relievers in 2013, such as Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Boone Logan, and the newly-emerged Preston Claiborne?
A: The easiest thing to say about them is that they're the guys you'll be seeing if the A's are winning. Warren and Claiborne (and Robertson) represent something that Joe Torre wouldn't do but Joe Girardi has excelled at, pulling relievers out of the farm system. Torre got Mariano Rivera started, but there he had the way pointed out for him by Buck Showalter, and the list of virgin relievers he used is painfully short. The kind of running gag about Claiborne, who leapfrogged prospect Mark Montgomery to get to the majors, has been his control. After walking about four guys per nine throughout his minor league career, he woke up this season as if touched by Dennis Eckersley, and in 28.2 innings between the majors and minors he's walked exactly one batter, none in the bigs. Warren was groomed as a starter, so Girardi uses him for long outings if the starting pitcher gets blown out. He throws reasonably hard, but lacks a strikeout pitch as a starter and a way to keep lefties honest as a reliever. Kelley has excellent control, but his mistakes become souvenirs. Finally, Boone Logan is that rare spot lefty reliever who actually doesn't dominate left-handed hitters. He's having a good season nonetheless, but he's an odd duck in that he's been slotted into a role that actually has little relationship to his actual skills.
Click here to read my answers to Steven's questions on Pinstriped Bible.
The series kicks off at 7:05pm, with Bartolo Colon facing C.C. Sabathia. Last time Oakland faced Sabathia, Adam Rosales homered on the first pitch of the game. Will C.C. rise to the occasion in his East Bay homecoming, or will the A's beat him for the second time this season? Tune in and find out! Billy Frijoles will have your thread.