Whatever the risks were with starting pitching, with keeping Gleyber Torres at shortstop and Gary Sánchez behind the plate, the Yankees’ offense was supposed to be the bedrock of a roster honed for a deep October run.
The Yanks, the thinking went, could out-hit everyone on nights their gloves were shaky or their mid-rotation starters stumbled.
But 15 games into this season, the Yanks’ lineup is a prime reason why the club is off to its worst start in 24 years. A team that scored 5.25 runs per game in 2020, best average in the American League, is only averaging 3.67 runs this year.
The Yanks entered play Monday tied for the lowest OPS in baseball (.642) with the Texas Rangers, nobody’s idea of a contender. For a team that prides itself on its rep for controlling the strike zone, the Yanks are just 24th in on-base percentage. They are tied for the AL lead in grounding into double plays — 16.
They’re coming off a humiliating weekend in which they scored seven runs in three games and were only 11-for-92 (.120). They are regularly booed in their own ballpark in a season where fans have returned to the stands after a year away due to the pandemic.
Disclaimer: Yes, it’s early. Very early. The 5-10 Yankees have the worst record in the AL, but they still have 147 more games to prove this is all just a slump.
They’ll start trying Tuesday night against the visiting Atlanta Braves. Maybe they’ll take some of these gentle suggestions.
GM Brian Cashman isn’t making any rash decisions — neither are we. But here’s a look at three things the Yankees can do to fix their offense:
Move Hicks down in the lineup
The Yankees love how Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitter, breaks up right-handed sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton when he’s slotted in the No. 3 spot in the lineup. Got it. But Hicks is in a deep funk right now and should be getting fewer at-bats, not the extra ones a player gets hitting higher in the lineup. Hicks, according to MLB’s Statcast, is in the bottom six percent in MLB in hard-hit percentage. He’s batting .160 with a .476 OPS.
“He has really stuck out,” says a Major League scout from another club, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It makes no sense to hit him third right now.”
In a Zoom call with reporters Monday, Cashman said that Hicks’ season is “below where he’s capable of playing and that’s true of, currently, most of our roster right now.”
So give Hicks a reset and move him down. Maybe he’ll thrive in a more anonymous spot in the order. Maybe give him a night off — Mike Tauchman can sub in center. At the very least, the Yanks will have tried a shakeup of sorts, something Aaron Boone mentioned after the weekend debacle.
If Hicks blooms again, it doesn’t have to be permanent.
Leave Frazier alone
Clint Frazier’s stats are bad — a slash line of .167/.250/.222, a .472 OPS, not a single RBI and 14 strikeouts in 40 plate appearances — and he made a bewildering throw from the outfield on Sunday. But bear with us here.
All winter, we spoke to scouts who were eager to see Frazier retain a regular role after the 26-year-old cleaned up his defense and notched a .905 OPS in 2020’s short season. Frazier has made 11 starts so far, but taking him out of the lineup when he’s struggling might be counterproductive now. Yes, managers have to find ways to get bench players involved early in a season, but Frazier needs to play and play and play. He’s not going to snap out of this drought if he’s wondering whether he has the job.
As our scout opined: “They haven’t been giving that kid a chance, an honest-to-God chance.”
Hit more home runs
Sounds simplistic, yes. And we’re not suggesting there’s a switch to flick to make it happen. But this is what the Yankees are built to do. They have remarkable power and play their home games in a ballpark where the ol’ horsehide flies.
The Yanks have hit 16 homers in 15 games, making them tied for 19th in MLB. They are on pace for 173 homers. They hit 306 in their last full season and haven’t hit as few as 173 since the bad old days of 2014, before the Baby Bombers arrived. Luke Voit, who led MLB in homers last year, hasn’t played yet because of injury and that has hurt the power supply. But we’re still talking about a roster that has combined for 25 seasons of 20-plus homers.
It would help if Gleyber Torres (zero homers) and Frazier (zero) show signs of revival. Voit could be back in May.
“Everybody figured they’d pound teams into submission,” the scout said. “They’re not. And now they’re pressing.”
Is it hopeless? No, it’s too early to be hopeless. As the scout put it, “They’re going to snap out of it.” That doesn’t mean it isn’t troubling, though.
“That’s why Yankee fans are going crazy right now,” the scout said.