Yankees Flying High on the Wings of Geezers

Center Fielder Johnny Damon, who is 33, has been a shadow of his former self all year, with a .254 batting average, 3 home runs, and injuries that have limited his mobility in the field.

Catcher Jorge Posada, meanwhile, is a poor bet to keep up his current (highly impressive) level of play. Not only is a he a catcher, a position whose demands tend to wear players down over the course of a season, but he is a 35-year-old catcher whose average on balls in play is among the highest in baseball. His .354 batting average is 80 points above his career mark of .274. His luck could well continue, but it is far from a sound bet—and the only Posada insurance the Yankees possess, Wil Nieves, owns a career batting average of .146.

Right Fielder Bobby Abreu’s torrid June has pushed his numbers toward his career norms, though the 33-year-old will need another month of hitting .500 to make up for his April and May slump. He is unlikely to struggle as badly as he did in the first two months—but neither is he a .500

Second Baseman Robinson Cano, the one Yankee regular in his twenties, seems to be reverting to form, though that is likely to be closer to his .297 average from 2005 than his .342 mark in 2006.

As for that famous left side of the infield, Derek Jeter’s .328 average, .408 on base percentage and .451 slugging is near enough to his career norms that expecting him to continue at this level is reasonable, though Jeter is 33, and playing a demanding defensive position with continually diminishing returns.

Alex Rodriguez, meanwhile, is slugging .675, 99 points above his career norms, and more than 150 points ahead of his 2006 pace.

The starters seem formidable enough, with Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang. But Tyler Clippard, the fifth member of the rotation, has a 5.32 ERA, even including his strong major league debut against the Mets. And though Clemens is pushing 45 and Mussina’s 2007 start raising eyebrows over both his ERA (5.12) and velocity (fastballs reaching 85-86, rather than 89-90), there is no margin for error.

Pettitte, who is 35, has battled injury difficulties this season while seeing his strikeout rate plummet (just 50 in 92 innings). A starting staff would be susceptible to injuries anyhow—one with this many red flags is unlikely to survive the season close to intact. We’ve already seen the faces of the Yankees’ Plan B, from Kei Igawa to Darrell Rasner. Only phenom Philip Hughes showed much promise—but emblematic of the Yankees’ April/May, he hurt his hamstring and had to leave a no-hit bid, then injured his ankle while
rehabbing his hamstring. He is doubtful to return before September.

The bullpen is of potentially greater concern. While Mariano Rivera—who is 37 and missed most of last September with an arm injury—has rounded into form, the other major contributors thus far, Scott Proctor, Brian Bruney, Mike Myers and Luis Vizcaino are on pace to appear in 86, 80, 80 and 75 games, respectively. (Kyle Farnsworth is on pace for a measly 72). With only Bruney under 30, this usage, which was even more extreme prior to this two-week stretch of good starting performances, could cause a severe reduction in effectiveness over the second half of the season.

Yankees Flying High on the Wings of Geezers