Today, I’m releasing the second installment of my “Five Questions with the Enemy” series. From time to time, I’ll check in with other writers within the baseball blogosphere to discuss their team, an upcoming series with the Red Sox, or just general baseball happenings. Just like our first go-around, my guest is the incomparable Matt Imbrogno, the Editor-in-Chief of the outstanding site Yankee Analysts. If you don’t already read their work regularly, I highly suggest doing so immediately. It’s one of the two or three “must read” sites for all things Yankee related. As part of the interview exchange, Matt has also agreed to ask me a five questions about the Red Sox’s offseason and my expectations for the 2012 season. Check out what I had to say here.
Before we jump into the interview, I just wanted to thank Matt for not only taking the time to answer a few questions about the Yankees prior to this weekend’s series.
Chip Buck: Derek Jeter is on fire! Through Tuesday night, he’s hitting .367/.385/.633 with three home runs and nine RBIs. Clearly, he won’t hit at this level all season long as age and regression toward the mean will eventually set in. What kind of season are you expecting from the Captain this year?
Matt Imbrogno: Jeter’s definitely off to a wonderfully nostalgic hot start. Right now, he’s being helped out by the fact that the Yankees have faced a ton of lefties, and Jeter mashes lefties. As I write this (early Thursday morning), he has a .623 wOBA/302 wRC+ against lefties and a .370/132 split against righties. Obviously, neither of those things will continue for the whole year. Like any older player, especially an up the middle one, health will be the deciding factor. After he got healthy last year, Jeter went on a tear, and that’s continued into 2012. As for expectations for the rest of the year, I’d say I don’t expect much more than last year. He’s probably going to continue mashing lefties, but will definitely downturn a bit against righties. If he ends up somewhere between a 105-110 wRC+ for the year, I’ll be content.
CB: What is up with Ivan Nova? During his professional career, he’s never been a strikeout pitcher. This year, he has 15 strikeouts in 13 innings. Do you think his success thus far is sustainable? What do you think is the reason for his success?
MI: There was a point last year, post demotion, when Nova came up and broke out a slider. That pitched turned him around and made us question his ceiling a little bit. If he keeps using this slider effectively, I definitely think the strikeouts could rise. He’ll probably never be a 8-9 K/9 guy, but he’s got great stuff and if he can sit somewhere in the 6-6.5 K/9 range and keep up his groundball tendencies, I think he could bump his ceiling up form #3 to #2.
CB: In the offseason the Yankees got rid of one enigma (A.J. Burnett), but another remains on the roster (Phil Hughes). Clearly, Hughes has the stuff to be a near top-of-the-rotation starter. What do you make of his inconsistencies? Is his job in jeopardy? Will he be the first to go when Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte return to action?
MI: Earlier this week I wrote a post on Hughes, and it pretty much signaled that I’ve given up on him. The problems that were there for the last few years are still there. He’s still horribly inefficient with his pitch counts and struggles with his non-fastball offerings. Getting ahead of hitters is no problem for him, but putting them away certainly is. It has been beyond frustrating to see Hughes and his development, or lack thereof. Even before he threw a pitch this regular season, I thought his job would be in jeopardy at some point. With Michael Pineda rehabbing and Andy Pettitte making a come back, it stand to reason that neither Phil Hughes nor Freddy Garcia is long for the Yankee rotation.
CB: Joe Girardi has limited Brett Gardner‘s playing time somewhat this season, benching him in a couple of games and hitting him ninth. Gardner has long proven to be worthy of receiving every day playing time. Is there a method behind his madness? What is the reasoning?
MI: Brett Gardner is a fun-but-frustrating player to watch. His speed on the bases and in the outfield is exciting, but he seems to let tons of hittable pitches go by the wayside. As to his platooning, it makes sense. Coming into 2012, Gardner had an 84 wRC+ against lefty pitching, so sitting him against southpaws makes sense. It’s also worth noting that he’s never usually completely absent from games against LHP, as he’ll come in frequently as a pinch runner or late-inning-defensive replacement for either Andruw Jones or Nick Swisher. As for hitting 9th, well, he’ll do that until Derek Jeter doesn’t want to bat leadoff anymore (so, don’t hold your breath).
CB: What do you think is the most important thing for the Yankees to do to win this weekend’s series against the Red Sox? Is there any one matchup you’re looking forward to? Dreading?
MI: Cliche as it may sound, starting pitching is the key. Thus far, the Yankees have gotten pretty bad starting pitching (just three quality starts so far as I write this), so that needs to shape up ASAP. The bullpen has been doing a fantastic job, as it always does, but that could crack at any minute, as is the case with just about any bullpen.
I always look forward to the best facing the best, so watching CC Sabathia and Adrian Gonzalez go up against each other again on Sunday will be a treat. Considering the state of the Sox bullpen, I’m also looking forward to the Yankees getting to face the Boston relief core. Of course, I could end up eating my words for that! As for what I’m dreading, pretty much everyone vs. Freddy Garcia.