Four things Yankees can do to turn season around after dismal start

At 5-10, the New York Yankees are off to the franchise’s worst start in more than two decades (5-10 in 1997), and it is only the eighth time in team history they lost 10 of their first 15 games. The Yankees are in sole possession of the American League’s worst record for the first time since April 4, 1998, when they were 0-3. That team then went 114-45 in its final 159 games.

“We can’t be rolling out there, taking hits like that,” Giancarlo Stanton following Friday’s loss, after manager Aaron Boone chewed the team out postgame. “That’s not our game. That’s not how we should come out and play. We’ve just got to come out and play better. He was obviously very upset, and rightfully so.”

The Yankees were swept at home by the AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend — the Yankees are 0-7 in their last seven series against Tampa — and it was a truly humiliating series for the franchise. They mustered 11 hits total in the three games, led for a grand total of one half-inning, and the Yankee Stadium crowd went nuclear Friday.

“I have not [seen that before],” Boone said after fans threw about a dozen baseballs on the field in the eighth inning, halting play. “You hate to see it, is what I would say to that. Unfortunately a handful of people end up doing it and it looks bad for everyone, and it’s unfortunate that it happened.”

Throwing baseballs on the field is at best childish and at worst dangerous, and won’t be condoned in this space, though the message was loud and clear: Yankees fans are out of patience with their underperforming team. Their actions didn’t exactly inspire the Yankees given Saturday’s and Sunday’s results, but when you get feedback like that from your paying customers, you notice.

“I think [I’m] more pissed off at the way we’ve come out of the gates here, not playing our best,” Boone said Saturday morning. “… It’s always frustrating when you’re going through a tough time, but it’s also part of being a major leaguer and part of the 162-game season. Adversity’s going to show up for you. You don’t know when and where, how often, but you gotta be able to deal with it. That’s part of it. I’m confident we will.”

The season is 15 games old and it is no time to panic — panic will only make things worse — though the Yankees have done real damage to their postseason hopes with the 5-10 start. Consider their SportsLine odds:

Opening Day



After 5-10 start



For what it’s worth, FanGraphs has the Yankees at 73.4 percent to make the postseason and 49.4% to win the AL East, down from 91.3 percent and 71.0 percent on Opening Day, respectively. Whatever the numbers, this ugly 15-game start has made the Yankees more vulnerable this year. Their path to the postseason is much more difficult now than it was three weeks ago.

There is never a quick fix when a team is struggling as much as the Yankees. No single lineup decision or roster move will get the ball rolling in the right direction. Here are four things the Yankees can do to give themselves the best chance to right ship and have some extended success.

1. Turn Hicks into a platoon player

It takes a team effort to start 5-10 and, as a team, the Yankees are hitting .210/.296/.346 this year. That’s the fifth-lowest batting average, seventh-lowest on-base percentage, and lowest slugging percentage in baseball. It’s hard to imagine this lineup, which has played nine of its 15 games in homer-happy Yankee Stadium, ranking dead last in baseball in slugging, but here we are.

The biggest culprit is center fielder Aaron Hicks, the club’s regular No. 3 hitter. He is hitting .160/.236/.240 in the early going, and after posting one of the highest walks rates in baseball the last few seasons, Hicks has drawn only four free passes in 55 plate appearances. He’s not hitting, he’s not walking, and his defense has been suspect too. Consider this sequence Sunday:

“With the runner on second, [Hicks] was just being super aggressive, with his arm, hoping to maybe have a play at the plate,” Boone said following the game. “It just skipped off his glove. Obviously when we’re not doing other things or putting points on the board like we are, it’s every little thing that adds up.”

Hicks, a switch-hitter, has been especially bad against righties this year, going 3 for 34 (.094) with three singles. Against lefties, he’s 5 for 18 (.278) with a double and a homer. Historically, Hicks has been much better against righties than lefties, so the small sample numbers this year are an outlier, but Hicks has looked out of sorts from the left side of the plate. I mean really out of sorts.

The Yankees have an off-day Monday and are tentatively scheduled to see five right-handed pitchers in their next six games:

Yankees stalwart Brett Gardner remains a weapon against righties, authoring a .257/.354/.514 batting line with 28 homers in 565 plate appearances against northpaws since Opening Day 2019. He is 5 for 18 (.278) with two doubles and nearly as many walks (four) as strikeouts (five) against righties in the early going this year, and he remains a good defender.

Gardner is already taking at-bats away from Clint Frazier, which is sort of silly after Boone spent spring training saying Frazier was his starting left fielder, and it’s time Gardner starts taking at-bats away from Hicks. This upcoming six-game stretch is the perfect time to do it. Start Gardner in center against the righties, keep Frazier in the lineup, and give Hicks a stint on the bench.

History tells us Hicks will not be a sub-.100 hitter against righties all season, nor will he continue walking in less than eight percent of his plate appearances. At some point the Yankees will have to get him back in the lineup regularly. For now, his play on both sides of the ball does not warrant a full-time lineup spot, and Gardner is available as a replacement. It’s an easy move.

2. Replace Bruce with Ford

Longtime big leaguer Jay Bruce announced his retirement prior to Sunday’s game, saying he “felt like I wasn’t able to (play) at a level that was acceptable for myself” any longer. Bruce explained he informed the Yankees of his decision Friday, and remained with the team as an available player through the weekend to avoid leaving them shorthanded.

The Yankees will replace Bruce on the active roster prior to Tuesday’s series opener with Atlanta, and all indications are either first baseman Mike Ford or utility infielder Tyler Wade will get the call. Unless they’re replacing an injured player, players must spend 10 days in the minors after being sent down, and Tuesday is the first day Ford and Wade can be recalled after being demoted April 10.

“There are a couple guys that are probably in consideration that also have to have their days,” Boone said Sunday. “In the case of a Ford or a Tyler Wade, they’ve got to be down a certain amount of time from their send down. We’ll have those conversations at the end of today and into the off day and see where we’re at.”

We’re talking about replacing the last guy on the bench here, so it’s not a significant move, though replacing Bruce is an opportunity to reshape an underperforming roster. Gleyber Torres has been shaky at shortstop and his backup is starting third baseman Gio Urshela. Wade would give the Yankees a legitimate shortstop and an above-average defender.

I think the better move is summoning Ford and putting him at first base full-time, or at least against righties. The former Ivy League Player and Pitcher of the Year had an unproductive 2020 season in limited playing time (10 for 74) but impressed in 2019, hitting .259/.350/.599 with 12 home runs in 163 plate appearances. Ford also posted the big exit velocities teams crave.

With Luke Voit on the mend following knee surgery, the Yankees have been playing DJ LeMahieu at first base and Rougned Odor at second. Odor came over in a trade two weeks ago and hasn’t hit (3 for 24), and the last four years tell us he doesn’t belong on a contender’s roster. LeMahieu is playing out of position and the defense has suffered as well.

The obvious move is playing Ford at first base, moving LeMahieu back to his natural second base, and putting Odor on the bench. At a minimum, it improves the defense at two positions because LeMahieu is better than Odor at second, and Ford is an actual first baseman (LeMahieu’s inexperience shows occasionally). There’s also a chance Ford out-hits Odor, perhaps substantially.

This early in the season, there aren’t many ways to reshape a lineup — the only trades that get made this early involve players like Odor, who are unproductive and have fallen out of favor with their team — but Bruce’s abrupt retirement creates an opening. The Yankees now have an open roster spot for Ford and shouldn’t hesitate to give him a look over Odor.

Former Marlins president David Samson broke down the Yankees’ struggles on the latest Nothing Personal with David Samson. Listen below:

3. Call up Garcia

In 2005, the Yankees dropped 19 of their first 30 games and called up two promising prospects to give the team a shot in the arm a month into the season: Robinson Canó and Chien-Ming Wang. Wang and especially Cano played very well as rookies and the Yankees won 84 of their final 132 games, the best record in baseball at the time. 

The Yankees do not have a Cano in their farm system right now, but they do have a young starter like Wang: Deivi García. García is currently at the club’s alternate site, pitching in carefully monitored games as the Yankees keep his workload in check.

New York’s rotation owns a 4.74 ERA and is averaging 4.56 innings per start in the early going. Remove Gerrit Cole, and it’s a 6.39 ERA and 3.97 innings per start. Remove Friday’s game, when the Yankees used reliever Nick Nelson as a one-inning opener, and their non-Cole starters are still averaging only 4.27 innings per start. It’s been rough.

Corey Kluber has allowed 10 runs in 10 1/3 innings in his three starts. Jameson Taillon looked good in his debut and not so good in his second start, and is having his workload carefully monitored as he returns from his second Tommy John surgery. Domingo Germán, who served a domestic violence suspension last year, has given up four homers in seven innings in two starts.

Germán was demoted to the alternate site last weekend, partly because the bullpen was taxed and the Yankees needed a fresh bullpen arm, but also because scheduled off-days allowed the team to avoid their fifth starter for a bit. New York needs a fifth starter this Saturday and over the weekend Boone said it is “likely” Germán will rejoin the team and make that start.

With the way things are going right now, it might be better to give García a look, and see whether he can a) outpitch Germán, and b) give the team a little spark. García made six starts last year, went at least six innings in four of them, and had a 3.73 ERA outside one messy game at Fenway Park (six runs in three innings). He struck out 33 and walked only six.

Our R.J. Anderson ranked García the club’s No. 1 prospect coming into the season and called him a potential No. 2 starter. With the way the rotation has performed to date, seeing whether García can provide the sort of stability the non-Cole starters haven’t is worthwhile, I think. Germán had a 4.93 ERA in his final 15 games in 2019. He shouldn’t get a rotation spot by default.

García, who is still only 21, has never thrown more than 111 1/3 innings in a season, so his workload will have to be controlled this summer. That’s something the Yankees can worry about later. They’ve started terribly and the priority should be turning things around, otherwise it won’t matter if García runs up against an innings limit in August or September.  

Slot García into the No. 5 spot this Saturday and his first two starts would come against Cleveland, one of the few teams hitting as poorly as the Yankees, and the Orioles. That’s about as soft a landing spot as you could want for a young pitcher. Give García those two starts and see whether the youngster than be better than Germán, and eat up some innings. 

4. Use Chapman more often

The Yankees have a Ferrari in their bullpen and the offense has kept it in the garage in these first 15 games. Aroldis Chapman and his new unhittable splitter (15 batters faced and 11 strikeouts this year) has appeared in only four games this season, and he has not pitched in a game since last Monday. He will go at least eight days between appearances, which is ridiculous. 

When you have a weapon like Chapman, using him too little is worse than using him too much. Sunday’s game is a good example. The Yankees trailed 3-2 in the ninth and it became a 4-2 deficit when Rays infielder Joey Wendle took Darren O’Day deep for a solo home run. There was an off-day coming Monday. Why not use Chapman to keep the deficit at one?

In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor quibble. The offense has underperformed and the non-Cole starters have stunk, and using Chapman more won’t fix either of those things (plus the bullpen has been great). Still, this is a roster inefficiency. Chapman can keep close, winnable games close and winnable. There’s no good reason for him to go eight days between appearances.

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