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Friday, April 10, 2009

C.C. will be fine....in May

Three games into the season, it's difficult to make any real judgments about a team. Sure, we'd like to see the Yankees' ace throw a decent performance in game one (and if that can't happen, then hopefully something good from the second-in-command). However, despite the nineteen runs that the Yankees surrendered to the Orioles in their first three games (seventeen in games one and two), pitching is not the Yankees' biggest problem.

In fact, let's just get consideration of Sabathia's struggles out of the way right now. If C.C. had pitched well on opening day, it would have been unexpected. In four career opening day starts, Sabathia has given up seventeen earned runs and 25 hits in eighteen innings, for an 8.50 era.

While we can hope that Sabathia performs better, and soon, it is unlikely that we will see any good pitching out of the Big Man at all this April. From 2006 to 2008, C.C.'s April ERA was 5.43 and his opponents had a batting average of .296. Don't worry though, the reason he gets paid so much is that during that same time period, in no other month was his ERA above 3.50.

So let's forget about pitching for a bit and focus on the Yankees' real problem: hitting, specifically with runners on-base. The bane of Yankee existence, for years, has been a reliance on home runs. For the last couple of years, if the game was close and the Yanks had a man on base, you could bet with high odds on either a home run or an unproductive out.

While the first series of a season can hardly be considered a harbinger of success or failure for a team, it certainly was unsettling to watch the Yankees hit so poorly with runners on-base in the first couple of games. With runners in scoring position, the Yankees are batting .250 (in the first two games, the Yankees only had three hits in 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position). In addition, they have left 24 runners on-base.

The great hope for Yankee run-production this year, may very well lay at the feet of rookie center-fielder Brett Gardner. In just a quarter of a season last year, Gardner managed to swipe 13 bags. Gardner batted .379 in spring training and while he surely won't match that average in the regular season, he should certainly put up better numbers than last year's .228. That means that the speedy Gardner will be on-base more often and looking to steal regularly.

Base-stealers like Gardner, whom the Yankees have not had in years, help create runs even when they are not on the move. Their very presence on first-base distracts pitchers, thus helping their teammate at the plate.

Joe Girardi is a big fan of Gardner's speed and is going to try to maximize its effectiveness. Last year, Girardi called for the hit-and-run more often than any other manager in the American League and this year he is set to continue with that strategy. With Gardner hitting ninth, followed by Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, whenever he is on base, Gardner will have someone who can be trusted to make contact at bat.

Does Gardner represent the end to the Yankees' offensive woes with men on-base? No. Is he a fast step in the right direction? I think he is.


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