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The Bombers? The Bronx Bombers? Is this still a fitting nickname for our beloved Yankees?

So far this year, the answer is a resounding no. The Bronx Bomber, perhaps. Alex Rodriguez’s 15 home runs leads the major leagues. As a matter of fact, A-Rod by himself has as many home runs as the entire Washington Nationals team. A-Rod carried this team on his back during the month of April, but his gaudy HR numbers also served as a smokescreen to cover up what was going on for his mates in pinstripes.

No one else is hitting the long ball.

Take a look at these totals from the rest of the team:

  • Giambi: 5
  • Posada: 3
  • Doug: 3
  • Damon: 2
  • Jeter: 2
  • Matsui: 2
  • Melky: 1
  • Cano: 1
  • Abreu: 1
  • Phelps: 1

That’s it. 21 home runs from the rest of the 25–man roster in the team’s first 35 games. The rest of the team is on pace to hit 97 for the year. A-Rod is on pace to hit 69. Obviously, things are going to even out. The rest of the team will pick it up a little, A-Rod will cool off a little.

What does this mean? Well, it’s nothing to get too alarmed about, yet. The Yankees lead the majors in runs scored, and that’s the key offensive stat. OBP, AVG, HRs, SLG% are all well and good, but crossing the plate is the bottom-line statistic. The Yanks are taking advantage of a great OBP (.357, second in the league to the Sox) and a high batting average (.278, second in the league to the Mets). They aren’t stealing bases (19 for the Yankees, Jose Reyes alone has 20 for the Mets), they’re basically stringing together walks and hits.

If you think about it, this is really by design. Take a look at the roster. The lineup as conceived in the off season would go like this, projected HRs in bold:

  1. Damon, CF (15–20)
  2. Jeter, SS (15–20)
  3. Abreu, RF (15–20)
  4. A-Rod, 3B (30–40)
  5. Giambi, DH (25–30)
  6. Matsui, LF (15–20)
  7. Posada, C (20–25)
  8. Cano, 2B (10–15)
  9. Doug, 1b (5–10)

That is not a powerful lineup by today’s American League standards. Of course, this is magnified by the fact that no one in the lineup is on pace to reach their projected total but A-Rod and Doug.

Let me state, for the record, that I agree with this trend, in theory. Yes, I love home runs as much as the next guy, but sitting around and waiting for a home run as your only source of offense is a death sentence in the playoffs. The pitching gets better, the micro-management of pitching staffs is out of control. Good matchups just don’t come along too often. Guys who can hit the gaps, move runners over and manufacture runs are the guys you need when the pressure gets turned up and the level of competition rises.

That being said, you do need one or two legitimate deep threats in your lineup, preferably guys who can also hurt teams in other ways. The Yanks have this in A-Rod and Giambi. A-Rod is a not only a power hitter, but a great hitter with speed. Giambi is an on-base machine. Two power threats, one from each side of the plate batting back-to-back. That’s ideal, and it’s something the Yankees have this year.

But what about next year? Giambi is showing his age. I think he’ll probably wind up with about 30 bombs this year if he stays healthy, but he’s clearly on the decline. Next year it may be down to 25, or even 20. And what about A-Rod? I know he says he’s staying, and he won’t exercise his walk option, but if he finishes this season with monster numbers, it’s going to be hard for him to turn down the free agent market. If he leaves, the Yankees have no one, and I do mean no one, to put the fear of God into opposing pitchers. If A-Rod walks the Yanks will be forced to go out and get a legitimate middle-of-the-lineup power bat.

The other problem with the Yankees offense (and I know it’s ridiculous to complain about the lineup that’s scored the most runs in the league, but we’re talking about the future here), is that they don’t have the speed needed to be a singles team. Damon’s 30 sb seasons are a thing of the past. Jeter can still run, but he doesn’t, and he isn’t getting any younger. Melky and Cano can swipe a bag here and there if the pitcher falls asleep, but neither is a legit speed threat. Couple the lack of speed with Torre’s complete unwillingness to put runners in motion unless it’s a 3–1 or 3–2 count and “manufacturing” runs seems out of the question.

The Yankees seem to have taken the worst parts of the opposite ends of the spectrum and merged them into one offense. They play the station-to-station stodgy offense typical of power-heavy lineups (they don’t hit and run, they rarely sacrifice), and they lack power throughout the lineup like the Whitey Herzog teams of the past (the difference being, those Herzog teams maximized every baserunner with speed).

This is probably a debate for the future, because like I said, this offense is performing now, and I don’t see any reason why it won’t continue to do so through September. Come October, however, and more importantly come the off season, the Yankees are going to need to make some tough decisions and carve out a direction for this offense. They won’t have the power to wait for the three-run home run (a la Earl Weaver) and they won’t have the speed to manufacture runs.

by Brian on May 13 2007
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