Monday Morning Food For Thought: Offense Living And Dying With The Top Of The Order

Last Tuesday I wrote this post about the Yankees using the simple "get 'em on, get 'em in" formula with the top 4 spots in their batting order to fuel their recent hot streak.  They were coming off an 11-5 thumping of the Rays the night before in a game that saw the team hit 5 home runs and the top 4 spots in the order combine for 9 hits, 8 R scored, and 7 RBI. Since that game, the Yankees have fallen on hard offensive times.  They've scored 11 runs in their last 6 games and gone 1-5 in those games.  5 of those 11 runs came in their only win during that stretch on Saturday afternoon, leaving the other 6 to be lightly dusted across the 5 losses.  This level of semi-extended offensive ineptitude is a call back to the last few seasons, something nobody wants to revisit.  While there are plenty of logical explanations for this regression: small sample size bias, bad luck, tired team desperately in need of an off-day, my biggest takeaway from these 6 games and the handful before them is just how top-heavy the Yankee lineup has become and just how little chance they have of winning when those top 4 spots aren't producing.

Here's how the regular top 4 guys in the lineup have hit over the last 6 games:

Not even that bad really.  There's no 0-fers in there, guys are still drawing some wallks, getting on base, and nobody has been striking out at a high rate.  But compared to what they were doing earlier in the month, this 6-game sample has been a big step down.  There haven't been as many multi-hit games for Ellsbury and Gardner at the top, which means fewer stolen base opportunities.  Gardner hasn't stolen a base since Sunday the 10th.  There haven't been as many extra-base hits, A-Rod aside, and that means fewer run-scoring chances when Ellsbury and Gardner are on base.

What magnifies the problem of this group's decreased production is the complete lack of support they've received from the players hitting behind them.  Not only has nobody else stepped up to help make up for Ellsbury and Teix cooling down, hardly anybody has produced at all.  Carlos Beltran continues his steady climb back to respectability with a lot of 1-4 and 2-5 days, and he does have a 9-game hitting streak going, but that's about it.  Brian McCann hasn't done much, Chris Young has slowed way down from his torrid April pace, and the bottom third of the batting order has been a fallout zone.

The expectation/hope was that a combination of bounce back years and new player additions would give the Yankees a deeper and more balanced lineup if nothing else this season.  That hasn't turned out to be the case thus far and these last 6 games are an example of what happens without that balance.  The simple fact of the matter is that the Yankees have 5 below-average hitters hitting in the 5-9 spots in their lineup, and that can't continue if they want to stay at the top of the division and the forefront of the AL playoff race.  Jacoby Ellsbury isn't going to go 3-4 with a walk every day.  Mark Teixeira isn't going to hit 2 and 3-run home runs every other day.  When those guys at the top of the order slow down a bit like they have over the last 6 games, the Yankees need to get something from somebody or somebodies in the 5-9 spots.