12:03 pm Apr. 13, 20121
To get a sense of precisely why the New York Yankees won't have trouble scoring runs or winning games this season, consider how they've gotten to a 3-3 record to start the season.
Their starting pitching, expected to be a strength, has a 5.29 ERA. The middle of their order, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, have a total of one RBI in six games. And still, thanks to Nick Swisher's second home run of the season, the Yankees beat the Orioles, 6-4 on Wednesday night.
Swisher hit sixth on Wednesday; he's hit second three times and sixth three times this year. Swisher is a greatly underappreciated ballplayer, either because his awkward movements in the field mask his reliable fielding, because his offensive value is far greater than his batting averages would indicate, or some kind of bias aganist his unseriousness being inherently un-Yankee. Maybe all three.
But Swisher put up an OPS+ of 117 last year, and that was right in line with his career OPS+. To put that in perspective, sixth hitters in the American League put up an OPS+ of 99 last year. Cleanup hitters checked in at 111, and only number three hitters, at 118, slightly bettered Swisher. So the Yankees have a hitter the caliber of the average three hitter in anyone else's lineup, and he's batting sixth.
Swisher has swapped between second and sixth with Curtis Granderson. The 2011 season Granderson had, a 138 OPS+, blows away the 104 put up by the average second hitters in AL lineups last season.
Even Russell Martin, generally the eight hitter, performed better last year than the typical eighth-place hitter, 92 to 86. And ninth-place hitter Brett Gardner blew away the other ninth place hitters, 89 to 76. Both Martin and Swisher add plus defense, of course.
One other note: it is worth remembering that the actual margins between the Yankees and their place in the lineup counterparts are bigger: the average in each case is brought up by the inclusion of the Yankee player.
Within that framework, if Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira fail to produce, and the starting pitching doesn't come around, the Yankees could still be a .500 team with no production at the center of their lineup and terrible starting pitching.
But they almost certainly will. And the Yankees will win a lot more than 81 games as a result.