Amid injuries, underperformance and suspensions, the Yankees stumbled all the way to 20th in runs scored last season. They got just 123 mostly-dreadful games from Mark Teixeira, 109 from Beltra, and had to rely on past-their-prime middle infielders like Brian Roberts and Derek Jeter for nearly 1,000 plate appearances, so their subpar performance as a team doesn't look too surprising in hindsight.
The Yankees are back in 2015, however. Led by a resurgent Teixeira and a defiant Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees can boast of the fourth-highest team OPS in the American League, while ranking second in runs scored.
This hasn't exactly come out of nowhere, but I think it is fair to say the Yankees are outperforming expectations to this point. So much so that Adam Aizer was motivated to ask on Tuesday's podcast whether we should sell high on every Yankees hitter, specifically Rodriguez, Teixeira, Brett Gardner and Brian McCann.
Skip to 30:28 in the podcast to hear the discussion that spawned this blog post.
So, let's take a look at the key players contributing for the Yankees, and see if they can keep up their strong starts, or if Fantasy players should start selling high.
Brett Gardner - No. 7 OF in H2H; No. 5 in Roto
Gardner crushed 17 home runs last season in 148 games, a pretty remarkable feat for a player who hit just nine in 391 total minor-league games. He has grown into a bigger power threat as the years have gone on, but he had to sell out a bit in contact, as he struck out in 21.1 percent of his trips to the plate and saw his average dip to .256. Gardner struck out just 16.6 percent of the time in the minors, so the give and take is clear.
In fact, for someone with such solid speed and BABIP abilities, Gardner has never really been a high average guy, topping out at .277 in the majors, with a .267 average overall. Clearly, the changes he made to his approach to add more pop to his swing came with costs. That might be changing this season, as Gardner has reverted back to some of his old habits, and the results are hard to ignore.
Gardner put the ball in the air 36.7 percent of the time he put it in play last season, the highest mark of his career, and it results in a career-low groundball:fly ball ratio. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the extra power is a nice bonus, but it is obviously going to hurt his ability to hit for average and get on base. This season, he is going the opposite way, hitting a fly ball less than a quarter of the time, while sporting a batted-ball profile that features tons of ground balls, line drives and hits to the opposite field.
The tradeoff here is that Gardner might not be the power threat he was last season, making even 15 home runs unlikely. However, he is already nearly half the way to his stolen base total from a year ago, while sporting a .308 average and .385 on-base percentage that would represent the best marks of his career -- by far. With these changes under his belt, Gardner probably projects as a top-30-ish outfielder, but his floor is probably higher than in the past.
Alex Rodriguez - No. 4 3B in H2H; No. 8 in Roto
Rodriguez is obviously going to be a divisive figure, and he was on the podcast. Count me among those who believes in Rodriguez, even after all of this time. It's been a long time since he was a Fantasy contributor for a whole season, which makes it all the more amazing that he is capable of even a month of this kind of play at 39 years old.
Rodriguez leads the majors in hard-hit average at 47.4 percent, according to FanGraphs.com, which is a pretty good reason o believe in him. He isn't just getting lucky, with weakly hit balls falling into the gaps or just out of the reach of diving infielders. Rodriguez is putting the ball into the air and driving it with authority, especially to the left side of the field, where seven of his eight home runs have been hit.
For me, there is no doubt Rodriguez can keep hitting like this, as long as he is healthy. Of course, that's a big caveat, as he played just 44 games in 2013 before missing all of 2014 with a suspension. I wouldn't feel great about valuing him as a top-10 third baseman because of the injury concerns, but he could be top-10 on a per-AB basis.
Mark Teixiera - No. 4 1B in H2H; No. 7 in Roto
Injuries have also been a concern or Teixeira, who has managed to play in just 53.7 percent of the Yankees' games over the last three seasons, after playing 156 or more in six of his previous seven seasons. He also hit just .209/.308/.391 over the previous two seasons, with 25 home runs in 138 games, so it seemed fair to say he was on the wrong side of his career.
He isn't too different from Rodriguez, then. And yet, I can't help but feel like Teixeira is a worse bet to keep this up. Maybe it's the fact that Teixeira is still playing more often in the field than as a DH, increasing his odds for suffering some sort of fluke injury beyond the standard bruises and bumps that go along with being a professional athlete.
However, I'm also just not totally convinced Teixeira can maintain this level of play. Nearly all of his value has come from home runs and walks, and I only believe in his ability to keep one of those up. Teixeira currently sports a 27.5 HR/FB rate, by far the best of his career-- he hasn't even topped 18 percent since 2005. He has become more pull-happy than ever, but it's not like that is exactly a new trend; more than half of his batted balls have been pulled in every season since 2009.
If Teixeira's home run rate falls, his value is going to plummet, because that really is his only above average skill. If at all possible, I would look to trade him for someone who might have a better chance of making an impact for you in the future.
Brian McCann - No. 6 C in H2H & Roto
I'm not sure why McCann would be considered a sell-high candidate, because we pretty much know who he is at this point. He's a low-average, high-power output option at a catcher position where power is hard to find. He is hitting .240 with four home runs and 18 RBI in 27 games, numbers that put him pretty much on pace for what he did last season.
McCann isn't the sexiest option in Fantasy baseball, but he routinely rates among the best options at his position. He is one of the few players for whom a low strikeout rate doesn't correlate to a high average, having hit below .260 in each o his last four seasons, despite a K% below 17.0 in each season. Even if you wanted to sell-high on McCann, who is buying? He is what he is, and chances are nobody in your league is looking at him any differently today than in early April.