Keys to the Season: Infield
1B – Mark Teixeira
The issue with Tex has been well documented – he needs to start to use the whole field as a Lefty hitter. He hit .224 vs RHP because he tries to pull everything and hits the ball in the air too much. We’ve seen some positive signs from him this Spring with a couple of opposite field hits and he must carry this into the season.
This is probably the #1 most important key to the Yankee offense. No player has as much room for improvement than Tex. He was a career .290 hitter when he came to the Yanks who hit over .300 3 times in his career. The difference between him continuing to hit in the .240’s-.250’s and him hitting around .290-.300 would be immense. He drove in 111 runs last yr hitting .248 so there’s no doubt he could have a monster season if he starts using the whole field and gets that BA up.
2B – Robinson Cano
Cano is clearly the Yankees best player and he will finally be featured as such – hitting in the all important 3-hole. Cano will have the protection of ARod & Tex batting behind him instead of Swisher & Posada so he should see some more strikes. The key for Cano – probably his only room for improvement – is to swing at his pitches. He’s such an aggressive hitter and he can drive pitches out of the zone but he still must be patient enough to accept the walk when pitchers aren’t giving him anything. The difference between his career yr in 2010 and last yr was he struck out more (77 to 96) and walked less (57 to 38). His output numbers (HR, RBI, Runs) were nearly identical but this led to a lower ratios in BA, OBP & OPS.
No doubt Cano is one of the best hitters in baseball but for him to have a truly elite season he needs to accept those walks, which should be easier for him to do knowing he has better hitters behind him. Cano was 4th in MLB last yr in driving in runners other than himself (OBI%). That means he makes the most of his RBI opportunities and drives in runners with base hits other than HRs. He plated 20.4% of his base runners in 2011. If he can become a little more selective, his RBI’s could take a big jump hitting 3rd.
The simple thing for Jeter is to say hit like he did in the 2nd half. That’s obvious, but what made him successful after a dismal 1st half? Jeter was a ground ball machine early in the yr. He was jumping at the ball and hitting weak ground ball after weak ground ball. After making adjustments with Gary Denbo, he started staying back and driving the ball more which led to his revival. Last yr, Jeter hit .261 when hitting the ball on the ground and a whopping .341 on fly balls. That’s an incredible figure considering he only hit 6 HRs.
But I think the best way to get production out of SS is controlled by Joe Girardi. Jeter is 38 yrs old and can’t be expected to play 155 games at SS anymore. Nunez has all the skills needed to be a good SS and he needs to be utilized to nurture those skills.
The question is when to use Nunez and rest Jeter? Well, for the last 3 yrs Jeter has 2 clear areas where he struggles – in Night Games & vs RHP. It’s clear Jeter doesn’t see the ball as well at night as he’s aging. Last yr he hit .361 with a .945 OPS in Day games – in 2010 it was .315/.824 and 2009 was .348/.906. Those are mind-boggling numbers and they encompass over 700 PAs worth of data over the last 3 yrs. For whatever reason, he doesn’t perform as well during night games so Girardi needs to maximize Jeter’s strengths by using Nunez at night vs RHP about 40 times this yr.
3B – Alex Rodriguez
We all know the key for Alex is health. He was a shell of himself at the end of last yr when he returned from knee and thumb issues. While the days of him dominating the league with 50+HRs and hitting over .300 are over he needs to be at least a solid .285-25 player for the Yanks to click. I go back and forth on whether I think they should let him play like a regular until an injury occurs or whether they should baby him with lots of rest. I’m now at the point where I don’t think you can baby him and hope he doesn’t get hurt – that never works. They are going to have to play him at 3B regularly with occasional days off and days at DH.
The main area ARod can improve on is vs LHP. Lefties have been able to get in on him and get in his kitchen far too easily. Scouts/teams realize that Alex can’t clear his hips the way he used to when he was younger and healthier. He’s looked much quicker at clearing his hips this ST but he looked great last spring too. He hit just 2 HRS vs LHP last yr with an anemic .383 SLG%. He needs to turn on the inside pitch and stay back and drive the outside pitch to CF and RCF the way he used to.