If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that the AL East is strange. The Boston Red Sox have gone from last to first and back to last. The Toronto Blue Jays are typically supposed to be better than they are, the Tampa Bay Rays consistently exceed expectations and the Baltimore Orioles won 96 games last season.
That leaves the New York Yankees. For an organization with their history and wealth, it’s underwhelming that the Yankees haven’t reached the postseason since 2012. Halfway through May, all but one player in their lineup is at least 31 years old. That should be more of an issue than it currently is given the regression we’ve seen from this team, yet they are just 1.5 games behind the Rays.
Everyday starters Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, and Carlos Beltran have a collective slash line of .213/.272/.340, while Brian McCann is slugging under .400. It comes as no surprise to see them in the bottom half of the league in batting average, but the surprises begin when you notice they’re middle of the road in OBP and crack the top 10 in slugging. Still, there’s plenty of glue holding this offense together. Sooner than later, Teixeira or Rodriguez – if not both – will break down.
And we haven’t even gotten to the pitching.
On the bright side, 26-year-old Michael Pineda, who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, seems to have collected himself. Through eight starts, his FIP of 2.01 is over a full run lower than his ERA (3.31). Pineda's strikeout rate of 26.2 percent would be a career best at the major league level, as would his walk rate of 1.4 percent. Once you look at the rest of this rotation, though, it’s clear there is little room for error.
Starter Chase Whitley is undergoing Tommy John surgery, and while ace Masahiro Tanaka is making progress, I cannot help but think that he is putting off the inevitable. In four starts before this most recent bump in the road, Tanaka logged 22 innings and registered an FIP of 3.10 to go along with a strikeout rate of 26.7 percent. Coupled with Pineda, the Yankees will desperately need Tanaka to remain healthy for the remainder of the season if they want to factor into the postseason picture.
Why? Because after those two, the Yankees are left with C.C. Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and Adam Warren as the men who have made multiple starts for New York this season. Here’s how that has played out:
Pitcher: ERA, FIP, BABIP, K%, BB%, Hard Hit %
CC Sabathia: 4.67, 4.13, .327, 19.7, 4.6, 30.5
Nathan Eovaldi: 4.14, 4.10, .346, 17.4, 6.2, 35.6
Adam Warren: 4.50, 4.15, .303, 14.4, 8.8, 24.6
These starters are getting hit often, and they're getting hit hard. Yes, it’s only May, and Sabathia, Eovaldi, and Warren have only logged 52, 41, and 38 innings, respectively, but if these numbers remain remotely similar, the club will have suffered by season’s end.
Back on the offensive side of the ball, there is one more interesting statistic: the Yankees lead the league in average runs in the first inning with a mark of 0.92. Oftentimes, they’ve gotten off to a quick enough start and were able to hold on, due in large part to the back end of a bullpen consisting of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller who, in roughly 39 combined innings as of Tuesday, have yet to allow a run:
While Miller has been getting hit fairly hard, he’s been fortunate in that batted balls are struggling to find space. Otherwise, it helps when your strikeout rate is anywhere near 40 percent, as both Betances and Miller have displayed. These phenomenal stat lines can only continue for so long. The reality is they will begin to allow runs. Hitters will begin to figure them out and balls will start finding space.
Right now, the Yankees are within arm's reach of first place, which is tremendous given the glaring holes both throughout their lineup and starting rotation. It’s hard to imagine they won’t regress. Still, if there’s one thing that can be said about the AL East in recent years, it’s this: we cannot assume anything.