For much of 2013, the New York Yankees offense has been a pleasant surprise. However, recently, the same role players who were lauded for their play early on, have began to struggle.
Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay, all who’ve hit in the heart of the Yankee lineup, have combined to go 5-57 sine June 9. Is there anything Yankees Manager Joe Girardi can do with the lineup to get these bats going again? Yes.
Over the last month or so, Girardi has switched back and forth between Jayson Nix and Robinson Cano in the two-hole, while playing Ichiro Suzuki just once this past Sunday against the Los Angeles Angels. I believe that he’s misusing this crucial spot in the lineup and should instead use what is the best position to hit in the Yankee lineup to get these struggling hitters out of their slump.
Girardi should leave Cano in the three-hole. In the two-spot, behind Brett Gardner and in front of Cano, instead of using Nix, Girardi should rotate the struggling trio of Wells, Hafner and Overbay. Being sandwiched between Gardner and Cano would allow these batters to see the highest percentage of fastballs and hitter-friendly pitches.
Obviously, with Cano on deck, pitchers don’t want to risk walking a batter and will therefore pound the heart of the zone with fastballs.
If Gardner reaches, it becomes an even better spot to hit. With Gardner’s speed on the bases, pitchers not only pay less attention to the batter, but try to be as quick as possible to home plate. This means quicker slide steps, which pitchers prefer to avoid, and once again, less off-speed pitches.
While hitting in the two-hole can help Nix as well, he isn’t a good enough hitter to truly take advantage of what pitchers are giving him. Wells, Hafner and Overbay, on the other hand, have a much higher ceiling and have proven to be impact bats in the Bronx when they’re hot.
The two-spot in a lineup, over the past few years, has been used to get batters going all across baseball. Last year, after hitting .253 in different spots in the lineup for the Angels, Torii Hunter was moved to the two-hole behind Mike Trout and in front of Albert Pujols. Since then, in both the Angels two-hole and the advantageous Detroit Tigers two-hole, Hunter has gone on to hit .320.
Recently, Angels manager Mike Scoscia moved the struggling Josh Hamilton to the two-hole in hopes of turning his season around as well. He is now beginning to come out of his 65 game slump.
While Wells, Hafner and Overbay aren’t the caliber of player as Hunter or Hamilton, the philosophy remains the same. This will not guarantee production from these players, it just gives them the best chance to succeed, and that’s Girardi’s job.