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Thursday, April 11, 2013
Wells, Hafner, Youk finding early success

By Mark Simon

Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Kevin Youkilis
It's a small sample size, but so far Wells, Hafner and Youkilis have turned back the clock as Yanks.
Entering 2013, the expectations for Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner ranged from unknown to minimal, based on the past struggles that each has endured, and the downward path their respective careers have taken.

But the three have combined to go 29-for-82 (.354 batting average) with six home runs in the first eight games of the season.

Yes, the samples are miniscule and the BABIPs (batting average on balls in play) are very much on the high side so far, but each has performed in a way that has eluded them in recent seasons. Here’s a snapshot look at each of the three.

Kevin Youkilis
Youkilis has hit safely in each of his first eight games as a Yankee, which isn’t historically significant since Ichiro Suzuki hit safely in each of his first 12 games last season.

What is kind of neat is how Youkilis’ season-starting streak is similar to that of a past Yankees acquisition coming off a down season. Nick Swisher hit .406 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his first nine games with the Yankees. Youkilis isn’t too far behind at .367, with a pair of home runs and six RBIs.

What has Youkilis done that’s been key to his numbers being as good as they’ve been?

Thus far, he’s mashed the pitch over the middle-third of the plate width-wise. He’s 8-for-11 with both homers and three doubles against those pitches.

Youkilis’ performance against those pitches has dipped in each of the past three seasons. When he was a bit younger -- in 2009 -- he hit .414 with a .678 slugging percentage in turns that ended with that pitch type. Last season, he dipped to .275/.490, numbers that rate about average when compared to other hitters.

Vernon Wells
In 2011 and 2012, Wells' batting average peaked at .250, and that was after going 1-for-4 in the 2011 opener, so a 9-for-25 start to 2013 may be just what he needed.

Wells has homered twice -- off a 94 mph fastball from Alfredo Aceves and a 92 mph fastball from Max Scherzer, which is encouraging considering that he homered only three times on the 188 swings he took against pitches with speeds of 92 mph or faster last season.

The caveat that comes with Wells is that pitchers do still have a way to get him out. He’s made 10 of his 14 outs against pitches to the outer-third of the plate, or just off the outside corner.

Travis Hafner
Hafner has as many strikeouts (nine) as base hits through eight games, but he’s also shown power with a pair of home runs.

One interesting sign (which may just be an early-season blip) is that Hafner has been able to take the pitch on the outside corner and hit line drives against them.

Over the previous two seasons, Hafner would hit a line drive about once for every 30 outer-third/off-the-outside corner pitches he saw.

He’s already done so five times (all for hits) on the 72 such pitches he’s seen this season.