A writer often comes up with random ideas and then says, “Yeah, let’s go with that one.” For me, today’s idea was about the Yankees and the designated hitter position. The silly part was realizing that the Yankees are in Milwaukee for a weekend series against the Brewers and will not have a designated hitter in the National League park. Oops. Well, hold on to these thoughts for later, okay? The bottom line here is that the Yankees are not getting much from the DH position thus far this season.
The good news, at least, is the DH has been better than last year. Last year was awful as the Yankees had an OPS of just .583 out of the DH position compared to the average OPS in Major League Baseball (all positions) of .706. In theory, if you designate a player to hit for you as a bonus in the lineup, you would like that player to actually hit.
With that little bit of good news out of the way, the 2014 Yankees are still below average from the designated hitter position. Please remember that we are still dealing with small sample sizes and judgments are hard to make until much more of the season goes by. But as of now, Yankee DHs have a total OPS of just .686 compared to an overall league OPS of .707 (all positions).
Again, you would like a position placed in the lineup solely to hit at least being better than the league average. The .686 OPS at the position places the Yankees twelfth in the American League out of fifteen teams. Twelfth is not good enough.
A lot of the blame falls on Alfonso Soriano. He has played 22 games at the position. Carlos Beltran has been there eight times, Brian McCann twice and Jacoby Ellsbury once. Yes, McCann is one for eight at the position, but you can hardly blame him for eight measly at bats.
The problem is that Soriano does not like the position. He made it clear in the spring that he prefers to play in the field. And thus far, he is living up to his dislike. As a DH, Soriano has the triple slash line of .214/.269/.381. He does have three homers from the position and has driven in nine. But his .650 OPS at the position pales with the short sample size of his OPS when playing in the field.
When Soriano has played in the field, his batting average is .286 and his slugging is .476. His strikeout rate as a DH is 29.7% and is 19.0% when playing in the field. So what do you do about all of this?
The opposite of Soriano is Carlos Beltran. Again, there is full disclosure here that the sample size is very small. But in Beltran’s eight games at DH, his triple slash line is: .290/.303/.581. Okay! Those are the numbers you want for a DH.
There is not that big a difference putting either Beltran or Soriano in the field. Beltran is way past the time of being a good outfielder. He has looked quite leaden out there. But he is about a run better than Soriano, who isn’t very good in the field at this stage in his career either.
You have to keep Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the outfield because they save quite a few runs out there. And we can dispense a bit with the notion that Gardner should sit against lefties. Gardner is actually hitting much better against left-handed pitching than he is the other way around.
If you play Gardner and Ellsbury every day (well, duh), then the RF/DH is between Beltran and Soriano. Currently, the ratio is 8/22 in games at the DH position for the two respectively. Perhaps it would help to split them evenly. Put Beltran at DH half the time and Soriano at DH half the time. Soriano will be happier and perhaps more productive and Beltran does not suffer offensively. You can sit one of them occasionally and get Ichiro Suzuki some reps in right field too.
Alfonso Soriano does not like the DH position and it is showing in his production. While the sample sizes are still small, the Yankees need the DH to be productive. Perhaps splitting Beltran and Soriano’s reps at the position at a 50/50 split instead of the current 8/22 would help. Soriano will be happier and hopefully more productive and both are bad in the outfield anyway. The position is doing better than last season. But below league average is not acceptable.