Here are a few early developments this season. Which of these are you buying as long-term situations, and which are you dismissing as products of a small sample size?
Derek Jeter as the No. 2 hitter
Hitting second in the Yankees order, Jeter has been a viable table-setter this season. He’s hitting .276 but with a .360 on-base percentage. He’s not hitting for much power and he hasn’t stolen a base, but he’s done a good job of reaching first and setting the stage for the middle of the order. That said, Jeter’s splits are significant. He’s been a superstar against lefties with an OBP well above .400, but he’s had a hard time hitting .200 against right-handers. Is it worth eventually dropping Jeter lower in the order against right-handed starters?
Masahiro Tanaka as an elite starter
We’re pretty well beyond the point of wondering whether Tanaka can make the transition from Japan to the big leagues. Clearly he’s capable of pitching here, and clearly he’s able to handle all that comes with being an international superstar. What’s still undecided is just how good he can be. Right now, Tanaka has been a truly elite pitcher. Even after last night’s game — when his season walk total tripled — Tanaka is still striking out a ton of hitters while carrying a 2.27 ERA. At some point, are major-league hitters going to catch up to the new guy, or have the Yankees legitimately found a No. 1 starter for the foreseeable future?
Middle of the order as an offensive disappointment
Carlos Beltran is slugging .538, best on the team. Rounding out the Yankees top five in slugging percentage so far are John Ryan Murphy, Scott Sizemore, Kelly Johnson and Yangervis Solarte. Outside of Beltran, the middle of the order really hasn’t been explosive. Alfonso Soriano has four home runs, but also a team-high 21 strikeouts. Brian McCann has a .649 OPS that’s fifth-worst on the team (ahead of only Roberts, Anna, Cervelli and Romine). Mark Teixeira has missed enough time that he has only three extra-base hits. Do those overall numbers cause concern, or does the fact that Soriano, McCann and Teixeira have been much better lately leave enough room for optimism?
Adam Warren in the seventh inning
Given an early chance to claim a late-inning role in the Yankees relatively inexperienced bullpen, Warren has made the most of his opportunity. He got some big outs last night, opponents are hitting .184 against him, and he has a 0.93 WHIP (which is the same as Masahiro Tanaka’s). For now, it seems clear that the seventh inning is his (or at least, it belongs to Warren as much as it belongs to anyone). Question is whether that’s going to continue, which could be seen as two questions in one: Is Warren going to keep pitching well enough to keep this spot, or Dellin Betances going to eventually surpass him?
Ichiro Suzuki as a .333 hitter
There’s still an overwhelming sample-size issue here. Ichiro has played in 20 games this season, and he’s hitting .333 (granted, with only one walk). In his past nine games — almost half of his season — he’s hitting .188. In his past 10 games — exactly half of his season — he’s hitting .250. Ichiro still at the stage where one good game or one bad game generates a significant statistical change. He went 0-for-3 last night and his batting average dropped almost 30 points. But this is the second year in a row that we’ve seen Ichiro hit pretty well against lefties. It’s a strange sort of platoon — a left-handed hitter getting most of his starts against left-handed pitchers — but it seems to be working for him. Is he going to hit his way into more regular playing time, or is this the role in which he’s going to be productive?
Yangervis Solarte as an everyday player
After his ridiculous start to the season, Solarte’s numbers have come back to earth a little bit. He’s still hitting extremely well, but a .301/.400/.452 slash line isn’t completely absurd. The question isn’t whether Solarte can be an all-star, it’s whether he can stay productive enough to deserve regular at-bats ahead of either Kelly Johnson or Brian Roberts. For now, it seems that Joe Girardi envisions a kind of rotation with Johnson always playing against righties. Problem is, none of the three has been especially good against lefties this season. Even Solarte is hitting .243/.300/.351 against them. In another four weeks, are you expecting Solarte to still be deserving of regular playing time? Do you think the two veterans can convincingly outplay him at some point?
Associated Press photos