Yankees Month In Review: April

After starting the season losing two of three to the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park, some Yankee fans were already questioning the team’s ability to do anything but they recovered well by winning five of their eight series in April. A big key to their successful April was winning five of their first seven games against the Red Sox, splitting a four-game series in Tampa, which has been a house of horrors for them lately and winning two of three from the Angels this past weekend.

So now, the Yankees find themselves atop the American League East standings with a 15-11 record on May 1. Their pythagorean W-L is record 12-14 which means they’re performing better than they should be and so far, they have scored 110 runs while allowing 121 runs. Not helping their run differential were their three blowout losses in April:

(Here’s a fun fact: As of the writing of this post (4/30), the whole AL East has a negative run differential!)

Offense

The Yankees offense as a whole is batting .261/.326/.404/.731 with 22 home runs and 101 RBI. So they’re not exactly on fire but also not completely atrocious and much like the weather in the Northeast, some guys haven’t heated up yet and it’s still too early to worry about them.

Here is the offense’s hit chart for the month:

hit-chart (11)

Here is what the lefty batters did in April:

hit-chart (13)

Here is what the righty batters did in April:

hit-chart (14)

The New Guys

Carlos Beltran is leading the team in homeruns (5) and tied for the team lead in RBI (13), while Jacoby Ellsbury is leading in runs scored (14) and stolen bases (8). Brian McCann on the other hand is taking a little while to get warmed up, much like the weather in April. He’s only batting .224/.267/.353/.620 with three home runs and nine RBI but he has shown a glimpse of what’s to come. During the first series with the Red Sox at the Stadium, he hit two home runs off Boston’s starter John Lackey and helped lead the Yankees to a 7-4 win on April 12.

Another new guy impressing people is Yangervis Solarte. So far this season he’s batting .303/.404/.461/.865 with a .386 wOBA, a 142 wRC+, one home run and 13 RBI. Perhaps the most interesting stats from Solarte’s April are his walk and strikeout rates which are both 13.5% (12 BB, 12 K). Will he keep up this pace? Probably not. He has slowed down the past couple of weeks after getting off to a torrid start at the very beginning of the season but heck, I’ll take a .260 – .275 BA from him if he continues to get on base with a lot of walks.

Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts aren’t exactly setting the world on fire but they weren’t really expected to. Roberts is batting .222/.321/.292/.613 with 11 walks and 14 strikeouts while Johnson is batting .219/.275/.453/.728 with three runs and eight RBI.

The Old Guard

  • Derek Jeter is alive and batting .272/.352/.309/.660 with 22 hits, three doubles and six RBI. And while the average isn’t as high as it usually is, the key for Jeter is staying healthy in his last season.
  • Mark Teixeira was out with a hamstring injury that he suffered against Toronto during the second series of the season so he only played in 12 games in April but he has three home runs – two of them were hit this past week – and it’s good to see that everything is ‘so far, so good’ with his wrist. Let’s just hope it stays that way.
  • Brett Gardner is batting .279/.347/.349/.696 with one home run, nine RBI, 12 runs scored and seven stolen bases.
  • Ichiro Suzuki is now a part time player who occasionally starts but he’s mostly a late inning defensive replacement for Beltran. He has only 42 at bats in 21 games but he’s done pretty well in his limited appearances. He’s batting .357/.386/.405/.791 with 15 hits (two doubles).
  • Alfonso Soriano is second on the team in home runs (4) and leading in PA’s with 105. Right now he’s batting .247/.286/.433/.719 and knowing him, he’s going to have one of those insane weeks with five home runs and 20 RBI soon.

Pitching

Yankee pitchers have given up the most home runs in the American League (32), have struck out the most batters in the American League (235), and are ranked second in walks having given up only 70 free passes in the American League. (H/T IIATMS reader Mr. Mean Mustard)

Here is what Yankee pitchers have given up so far in April:

hit-chart (15)

What they have given up to lefty batters:

hit-chart (16)

What they have given up to righty batters:

hit-chart (17)

The New Guy

What can I say about Masahiro Tanaka that hasn’t already been said? He’s been as good as advertised. And even this past Sunday night, when he was having an “off night,” he still managed to strike out 11 Angels. So far he’s pitched 35.7 innings and has held batters to a .205/.245/.386/.631 line with five home runs and 46 strikeouts. His ERA is 2.27 and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 2.95.

This is where he likes to pitch:

strike-zone (8)

As you can see from where the hotspots are on the map, he’s having a lot of fun with his splitter. The best thing about Tanaka is the fact that he doesn’t let giving up the long ball phase him. Other pitchers are prone to allowing home runs and falling apart. Tanaka will give one up, shrug and then retire the next 15 batters in a row.

The Old Guard

CC Sabathia has had a strange first month of the season. Some of his numbers like his ERA, which is 5.11, would make you think that he has been absolutely awful but then you look at other numbers like his FIP, which is only 3.98 (that’s average), his K% which is 25.5% and his BB% which is 5.0% along with his groundball rate of 53.3% and you realize that it’s not all terrible.

In his three losses so far this season, Sabathia has been done in by a big inning. His last start was a loss Tuesday night against the Mariners and his bad inning was the fifth when he gave up four runs to give a up 2-0 lead and have it turn into a 4-2 deficit that the Yankees couldn’t overcome. This seems to be his undoing this season. Sabathia will be cruising along and then suddenly, he isn’t able to find the plate or worse, the opposing batters start BABIPing him to death. He just needs to adjust to the fact that he is not a firethrower anymore. He needs to channel his inner Andy Pettitte, become a crafty lefty and get people out with pitches that aren’t 95 mph fastballs. It may take some trial and error and he may continue to go through some growing pains but we’ve seen glimpses in his good innings. Although to Sabathia’s credit, two of his three wins have come against the Red Sox and Rays, teams he’s had issues with since coming over to the Yankees.

Hiroki Kuroda hasn’t had that a great April. In fact, he’s been pretty dreadful. His ERA is 5.28 and he left his last start on Friday night in the fifth inning after surrendering eight runs – six earned – on 10 hits in what turned into a 13-1 loss to the Angels. And while I know a lot of people don’t like using K/9 as a measurement tool anymore, I think it’s important to point out that Kuroda’s K/9 is only 5.59 while Masahiro Tanaka‘s is 11.61. Kuroda only has 18 strikeouts in five starts.

The Yankees are going to need Kuroda to improve in May or they may be in trouble.

Michael Pineda, who should have been placed under the “new guy” heading even though he’s technically been with the team since 2012, was doing pretty well before his pine tar suspension last week and subsequent injury suffered during said suspension. In his four starts, he went 2-2 with a 1.83 ERA and batters were only hitting .233/.263/.384/.647 against him. Now, his situation is up in the air with this latest back/shoulder injury. Hopefully it won’t become something more menacing and it won’t cause him to miss more than the month the team is predicting.

The Bullpen

  • Adam Warren has gotten into a groove. He’s appeared in 12 games so far this season, his ERA is 1.93 and he’s held batters to a .184/.236/.286/.522 line.
  • Dellin Betances is holding opposing batters to a .130/.245/.174/.419 line and his K% is 43.4. One slight negative is his BB% is 13.2%. He sometimes loses batters but he seems to be getting better, the more he’s pitching and if he keeps this up, he’ll make Joe Girardi‘s life a bit easier.
  • Shawn Kelley did an admirable job when closer David Robertson went down early with a groin injury. He picked up four saves during D-Rob’s absence and his K% was 25.5.
  • Robertson has come back from his injury and has picked up where he left off. Batters have hit .100/.182/.100/.282 against him (two singles) and he’s collected four saves in four tries.

Losing More Than Games

The Yankees lost Ivan Nova for the year after he tore his UCL nearly two weeks ago. He had Tommy John surgery on Tuesday and isn’t expected to be back until at least Opening Day 2015. Nova wasn’t doing very well before his injury but losing one of your starters is a big blow and with the added bonus of the latest Pineda injury, the Yankees’ pitching situation for May looks slightly scary especially if Kuroda doesn’t improve. Now, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno will be relied upon to pick up the slack with both Pineda and Nova out which isn’t the best scenario but it will have to do for now because there aren’t many other options for the Yankees at this time.

Breakout Star of April

Solarte. I picked him over Tanaka because people were hoping for big things from the Japanese pitching phenom while Solarte came out of nowhere to have a solid month of April for the Yankees. Like I said above, he probably won’t keep up the sizzling start he had earlier in the month but it was nice to see him win the spot on the team and to make the most of it.

Looking Ahead To May

May is going to be an interesting month for the Yankees. They’re playing 17 games on the road and 11 at home. Included in those road trips are visits to Milwaukee (5/9-11), Chicago and St. Louis (5/20-28). The Chicago/St. Louis stretch of games is a pretty cool one because the Yanks will play the Cubs for two games, the White Sox for four and then they will travel to St. Louis for three against the Cardinals.

Also in May, the Yankees will be playing the Subway Series against the Mets from May 12 – 15 with the first two games at home and last two at Citi Field. Let’s hope it’s not a repeat of last year’s series or Yankee fans will never hear the end of it.

[Numbers from Baseball Reference, Fangraphs and ESPN Stats & Info. Charts from ESPN Stats & Info]

Stacey is co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money and is co-host of the It's About The Yankees, Stupid podcast. When she's not blogging about baseball, she's blogging about the New York Knicks and when she's not doing either of those things, she's tweeting about General Hospital and her cats.