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Yankees series preview: These aren't your father's Yankees

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The Royals look to get right against the cellar dwellers in the AL East, the New York Yankees.

Hey, buddy.
Hey, buddy.
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

At 11 - 18 and seven games under .500, the New York Yankees are suffering through a campaign that many Yankee fans have never seen, evoking memories of the futility of the 1980s and early '90s, the bad old Steinbrenner years.

By virtually every measure, the Yankees are bad. In terms of FanGraphs' defensive component of Wins Above Replacement, the Yankees own the second-worst defense in baseball. Offensively, their position players are the eighth-worst unit in baseball. Their pitching staff has been worth 3.6 fWAR thus far, good for 10th in baseball. Of course, that staff suffers the fourth-largest disparity between their ERA and FIP of any team in baseball thanks to their brutal defense. Their lights-out bullpen isn't exactly getting used, and even with Aroldis Chapman returning from suspension, it's hard to see how the bullpen will save them from the utter futility shown by the position players.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Monday, 6:05 PM CDT

Chris Young 6 29.2 29 11 5.76 5.74 4.63 4.19
Ivan Nova 6 14.0 7 1 5.14 3.64 3.60 2.72

After starting the year in the bullpen, Ivan Nova will start tonight in place of the injured CC Sabathia. While Nova's ERA may not look pretty through six relief appearances, his peripherals all support the case that the 29-year-old righty looks to be completely recovered from the Tommy John surgery that cut his 2014 short. With the caveat that 14 innings in relief serves as a woefully incomplete sample size upon which to evaluate things, it looks like Nova has almost completely gone to his two-seamer (throwing it 63.0% of the time), using it along with his curve (20.7%) to become a groundball machine to the tune of a 66.0 GB%.

With the move back to the rotation, he'll likely have to mix in a few more change-ups and four-seamers than he was in the pen, particularly as the game enters the later innings. From the pen, he pounded the strike zone more than he ever had before. Owning a career 42.7 Zone%, he has upped that to 47.8% this year, and his SwStr% and F-Strike% have both rebounded to his pre-TJS levels. Don't be fooled by the ERA. It looks like the promising starter from 2013 is back.

As for Nova's counterpart, his young season has been undone by the long ball. The crafty righty has suffered a 17.4 HR/FB% well above his 8.3% career average. His 2.43 HR/9 is so high as to induce vertigo when looking down at his career levels or league average. This is what has ballooned his ERA to the wrong side of 5.00 while enjoying his best strikeout rates in ages. That he has notched a 2.64 K/BB compared to 1.80 and 1.93 in 2014 and 2015 respectively, should give one a modicum of solace. Perhaps the fates are punishing him for cheating BABIP for so long, but Young will hope to seduce lady luck tonight in a stadium that can easily spell disaster for a pitcher of his ilk.

Game Two - Tuesday, 6:05 PM CDT

Kris Medlen 5 22.1 18 17 6.85 4.91 5.27 5.58
Masahiro Tanaka 6 39.1 35 7 2.29 2.56 2.93 2.94

While the clock seems to be ticking on his ulnar collateral ligament, there is no denying that Tanaka has been good when healthy. Of course he has yet to throw more than 154.0 innings in a season since signing his monster deal in 2014, and his good fortune in the home run department so far has depressed his ERA and FIP more than one can probably expect. Interestingly, much like Nova, Tanaka has been inducing grounders at a crazy 59.6% clip, nearly 14 percentage points higher than his previous career average. While pitching to the weakest point of the defense behind you is at least partially suspect, it is not difficult to see how keeping the ball low in the zone will help keep home runs down.

For Medlen, it is hard to say much has gone well. His strikeout rates are still palatable, but he has endured tough BABIP luck (.324) while walking a vomit-inducing 6.85 BB/9 and 16.2 BB%. Allowing that many baserunners is a recipe for disaster. Judging by virtually every measure, the ingredients have yielded that product. He might not have pitched quite as poorly as his 6.85 ERA would suggest, but it's not like BABIP regression from .324 to either his career .292 average or even just the .300 neighborhood would help him overcome not being able to keep runners off the basepaths.

Game Three - Wednesday, 6:05 PM CDT

Yordano Ventura 6 31.0 25 25 4.65 5.23 5.92 5.90
Michael Pineda 6 33.0 34 9 5.73 5.07 3.75 3.64

In a match-up between tantalizing talent deadset on disappointment, both pitchers look to get right after rough starts to the season. Michael Pineda has been undone mostly by way of the long ball, having allowed eight in six starts, making Chris Young feel much better about his luck as Pineda bears a 20.5 HR/FB%.  All of Pineda's yielded dongs have come in Yankee Stadium, and the bulk of that damage came in two starts, one against Houston and the other against Tampa, who are the seventh- and eighth-most dong-loving teams in baseball. Whether the Royals can get to Pineda like that or not probably dictates what their chances are against Pineda and the Yankees, as in his other starts he has only allowed two earned runs per start.

In his last two starts, Ventura has gone off the rails, allowing 11 walks and hitting one batter in 8.0 innings of ineffective work. Even with this current incarnation of the Yankees, it's hard to see things going well without a change in approach. In short, Ventura is who he's always been: a source of frustration because his inconsistency undermines what should be the complete package, a true ace.

Game Four - Thursday, 6:05 PM CDT

Ian Kennedy 6 38.0 35 13 2.13 3.60 4.41 3.98
Nathan Eovaldi 6 37.2 37 8 4.78 3.90 3.10 3.11

It isn't surprising to see yet another Yankee pitcher undone by the long ball. Again, Eovaldi is a Bronx Bomber hoping to avoid the bombs by increasingly pitching to ground-ball contact, presumably in an effort to limit the damage done by dongs. The former Marlin suffers a 19.7 HR/FB% and 1.43 HR/9, which when compared to his career averages of 7.7% and 0.68. This all makes for quick diagnostic work when trying to determine why his ERA and even his FIP say one thing while his xFIP, SIERA, and past performance all point to him being a different, better pitcher.

Kennedy has enjoyed the opposite luck of Eovaldi, though he is certainly no stranger to being snakebit by the dangers of dongs (see: 2015). Really, but for that one start in Anaheim, Kennedy has been everything Dayton Moore and the Royals hoped for when he signed in the offseason. It isn't hard to see how things could go south for him in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium, but these are hardly the Yankees of yore.

The Batsmen

This Yankees offense is not one that causes concern for most pitchers.

Jacoby Ellsbury (L) CF 112 1 10 9 9 .260 .321 .380 .310 97
Brett Gardner (L) LF 111 3 13 7 5 .239 .364 .380 .336 116
Mark Teixeira (S) 1B 119 3 14 11 1 .210 .336 .310 .299 89
Brian McCann (L) C 95 3 16 11 0 .268 .368 .415 .349 125
Carlos Beltran (S) DH 111 3 14 11 1 .236 .252 .396 .277 73
Starlin Castro 2B 112 3 8 12 2 .296 .333 .436 .345 123
Aaron Hicks (S) RF 46 1 3 4 0 .122 .178 .195 .170 -5
Chase Headley (S) 3B 91 0 4 2 3 .163 .253 .163 .202 18
Didi Gregorius (L) SS 94 2 6 9 1 .227 .250 .330 .253 55
Ronald Torreyes 3B 30 0 4 2 0 .310 .333 .414 .324 108
Austin Romine C 25 0 0 3 0 .348 .375 .478 .370 141
Dustin Ackley (L) Util 33 0 1 1 0 .103 .212 .103 .164 -10
Benjamin Gamel (L) OF 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000

*Stats through Sunday, May 8

The most noteworthy thing about the Yankees lineup is not the futility, but rather the fact that of the Yankees' regulars, only Starlin Castro bats exclusively from the right side. With four switch-hitters in the lineup, they can load up against the Royals' right-handed starters, and they could theoretically insert Dustin Ackley into the lineup at second for Starlin Castro, though Ackley's performance at the plate thus far will probably prevent that from happening.

Luckily for the Royals, all four of those switch-hitters own sub-100 wRC+. The lineup on the whole has been very underwhelming over their first 29 games, which is one of the hazards of riding out these contracts and not signing free agents to patch together a roughly league-average offense. Their offense is what it is by design, with the Yankees suddenly becoming free-agent averse.

The Royals will need to get right against these Yankees.

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