The baseball adage goes, spring stats don't mean anything. For the most part I believe this to be true, except in matters when there are trends that underlie the performance. At the moment there are a few players in Yankees camp off to fairly slow starts. What does it mean for them and for the club?
Carter was signed to be the right-handed hitting complement to lefty-swinging first baseman Greg Bird. The Yankees hedged that Bird's surgically repaired shoulder might not be 100 percent and could hinder his ability to play on a daily basis, and they figured Carter would provide an insurance policy for designated hitter Matt Holliday.
Carter does two things -- hit homers and strike out. These are well known traits, so his start through Monday's games -- hitting .129 with 15 strikeouts -- should not be entirely surprising. Here is the issue: he has hit just one home run.
It's apparent to me that Carter needs to get a substantial number of plate appearances in order to provide any value for the Yankees. Bird has been absolutely on fire since the very beginning of spring training and Holliday has shown to be a solid performer, meaning at-bats for Carter are going to be few and far between. This is especially true if Carter cannot demonstrate he can be productive with sporadic appearances.
The Yankees took a small monetary risk by signing Carter, with the reward being a home run hitter for the bench or to fill in case of an injury. But, I wonder how much they figured Carter would suffer -- beyond the one-dimensional player he is -- with minimal and inconsistent chances to play.
The Yankees discussed during the winter of splitting Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup. However, in games in which both players have started, Gardner has hit leadoff in every game, with Ellsbury hitting second.
Ellsbury is having a good spring -- hitting .313 with three stolen bases. Gardner is not, slashing .209/.227/.279 with one stolen base. Gardner's slow start in terms of batting average is not as concerning as the OBP, which is usually the reason he makes more sense to me as the leadoff hitter.
The Yankees flipped the two players in the middle of last season into their current roles and Gardner took off, while Ellsbury remained stagnant. With their respective starts to the spring, it will be interesting to see if Yankees manager Joe Girardi reverses the roles again. In my opinion, the team is better off with one of them hitting toward the bottom third of the order simply to be able to add the speed dynamic (relatively speaking among their teammates) regardless of their spring performance.
I suspect the Yankees will stick to the status quo straight through the first month of the season. However, if Gardner was to struggle through that period, it could have a significant impact on the rest of the lineup and the overall performance of the club. A poor first half by Gardner could further diminish his trade value, something the Yankees overstated during offseason discussions with other teams.
Sabathia is set to begin what is likely his final season in pinstripes, and is penciled in as the team's No. 3 starter. That stature is more or less by default based on the uncertainty surrounding the final two slots of the rotation. It would not be surprising if the Yankees receive nothing more than No. 5 level performance from Sabathia. And if club officials had their feet held to the fire, they would admit that's all the team expects from the 36-year-old southpaw.
Sabathia is taking it slow as usual this spring coming off another cleanout of his surgically repaired knee. With at least two spring starts left before the regular season begins, Sabathia has time to get his stamina up for his first regular season start.
The spring numbers do not look good for Sabathia -- 9.45 ERA, 2.10 WHIP in 6 2/3 innings -- but he has shown signs that he can at least replicate the production he managed in 2016, when he had a 3.91 ERA in 179 2/3 innings. What fans need to understand is that there will be as many fine six-inning performances from Sabathia as there will be three-inning duds.
The Yankees can get by with some skids from each of these players, but if this spring is an indication of long-term problems ahead, the club might have some difficult decisions to make.