New York Yankees: Midseason Grades
The New York Yankees have been more than the sum of their parts in 2013, because when you look at the players they have been running out there on a daily basis, it is hard to believe that this team is still remotely alive in the AL East race and in the thick of the wild card hunt as we reach the halfway point of the season.
The injuries have been devastating, and many of the spare parts brought in to replace departing players have not worked out as hoped. Still, the starting pitching has generally been good, the bullpen, especially the back end, has been outstanding, and on some nights they even score enough runs to win.
At the start of the season, I picked them to win 88 games and be in contention for a wild card. Right now, they are on pace for 87 wins and the wild card is certainly not out of the question, especially if they get some of their injured players back in the second half and add a bat or two at the trade deadline.
Here is the midseason progress report:
David Adams, infield
After a promising start -- two home runs in his first 54 at-bats after being called up in May -- Adams began looking increasingly overmatched at the plate, and even began faltering in the field, where he is generally steady. Showed some versatility by playing first, second and third as the Yankees were decimated by injuries, but not quite ready for primetime. Also, the team believes his old ankle injury -- the one the scotched the Cliff Lee trade after the Mariners got a look at it -- may prevent him from ever being an everyday player.
Zoilo Almonte, outfield
Highly poised for his age (24) and experience level (just 22 major league games), Almonte is not the hitter he appeared to be during his red-hot start -- when he had seven hits in his first 12 at-bats -- but he is the kind of young, athletic, unintimidated player the Yankees need for the future. His biggest drawback is a lack of power for a corner outfielder.
Robinson Cano, second base
If you can live with the fact that he doesn’t always kill himself getting to first base, Cano is still the Yankees' best all-around player, but is facing a crossroads as free agency looms in the offseason. He is by far the most dangerous bat in their lineup, which may not be saying much this year, and is still the one hitter who other managers fear. The only mystery to his season is why anyone ever pitches to him in a crucial situation. He makes playing major league baseball look as easy as whiffle ball.
Francisco Cervelli, catcher
The Yankees' hard-luck kid looked like he had finally won a starting job after he had himself a good spring, but a broken hand has robbed him of 73 games already, and a stress reaction in his throwing elbow makes his return uncertain. A lost year.
Brett Gardner, outfield
Gardner has had a puzzling year, striking out way more than he should (a team-leading 80 through 92 games), not running often enough (just 12 stolen bases in a mere 18 attempts) and an OBP (.338) way too low for his kind of game. Still, he has had enough flashes of brilliance at the plate, on the basepaths and in center field to remind you of why the Yankees are so high on him.
Curtis Granderson, outfield
The MLB leader in home runs the previous two seasons became a baseball magnet this season, suffering a broken right arm in his first spring training at-bat, and a broken left hand just days after he came back. Tough luck for Granderson, who is in the walk year of his contract, and even worse for the Yankees, who miss his home run power.
Travis Hafner, DH
Looked like a great pickup in April, when he hit .318 with six home runs and 17 RBIs, but has been a bust since -- .169, six homers, 20 RBIs -- which leads you to believe his long injury history had kicked in again, even before he fouled a ball off his foot in the batting cage right before the break. Yeah, it’s a shameless second-guess, but it makes you wonder why the Yankees didn’t try harder to re-sign Raul Ibanez, who has 24 home runs and 56 RBIs so far for Seattle.
|INCOMPLETE (A FOR ABSENCE FELT)
Derek Jeter, shortstop
Probably the biggest blow to the Yankees this season, both on the field and in the clubhouse, has been Jeter's inability to bounce back from the ankle fracture he suffered last October in the ALCS. His presence is severely missed both in the lineup and in the room; how differently might the Joba Chamberlain/Mariano Rivera blowup have been handled had Jeter been present? Might not have happened at all. And after the season Jeter had last year, you have to think the Yankees would be scoring a whole lot more runs with him at the top of the lineup.
Jayson Nix, infield
The guy Joe Girardi loves to call "a baseball player" is certainly that, but he’ll never be a superstar. What Nix is, is a steady utility ballplayer whose loss was a blow to the Yankees at a time when they need as many hole-pluggers as they can find.
Eduardo Nunez, infield
A barely big enough sample to grade due to injury, but Nunez has showed enough to make a judgment. He deserves credit for having an improved glove, but his bat now seems like it may not be up to regular duty in the majors. We're still not seeing all the upside the Yankees believe is there.
Lyle Overbay, first base
At the end of the first half of 2012, Mark Teixeira was hitting .250 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs. At the break, Overbay is at .252, 11 and 42, practically a wash at a fraction of the cost. He has a brought a team-first attitude, some clutch moments and a fine glove to the Yankees. A total pro and probably Cashman’s best signing of the offseason.
|INCOMPLETE (A FOR ATTENTION-GETTING)
Alex Rodriguez, third base
He hasn’t played a minute but still overshadows the team with his never-ending off-the-field drama. No one, including A-Rod, knows if A-Rod will play at all this year, or if his recovery from a second hip surgery will send him back to the DL at the end of his rehab period on July 22, or if MLB will send him to the sidelines in the Biogenesis investigation. But whatever happens, he will probably remain more newsworthy than any Yankee who is actually playing.
Austin Romine, catcher
Had two hits last Thursday against the Royals, but chalk that up to the Jeter Principle, where every Yankee seemed to perform above his level for one day. Otherwise, has not looked major league ready, either at the plate or behind it.
Chris Stewart, catcher
Not having the kind of year Russell Martin is having for Pittsburgh, but THE career backup has performed more than satisfactorily in everyday duty. Has thrown out 41 percent of base stealers and handles pitchers well. Never expected to hit much, his .248 BA and .324 OBP are both above the season average for this admittedly poor offense.
Ichiro Suzuki, outfield
Looked as dead as dial-up when he struggled to stay above .200 for much of April, but upped the level of his game considerably in June. At 39, he’s never going to lead the league in hitting again and has clearly lost a step, or two, from home to first, but has made some jaw-dropping plays in the outfield.
Mark Teixeira, first base
This was to have been an important season for Tex to prove that he is not slowly but steadily turning into Dave Kingman after hitting just .251, .248 and .256 the previous three seasons. But a serious wrist injury derailed those plans, and now he faces the same assignment for next year, when he will be 34 years old shortly after Opening Day.
Vernon Wells, outfield
Vernon was burnin’ in April but has steadily cooled down to where he has virtually lost the starting left-field job to Almonte, a kid. He sometimes looks completely lost at the plate but has played a creditable outfield, and was willing to fill in at third in an emergency. He's a good clubhouse guy who lends an air of maturity in the absence of Jeter, Teixeira and yes, A-Rod.
Kevin Youkilis, infield
Maybe the biggest, and most unpleasant, surprise of the season, Youkilis’ Yankees tenure will be 28 games-and-done. He never seemed like part of the team, always seemed wary of the media, and did not fit in at all. And now, he will spend the rest of the year at home recuperating from back surgery after batting .219 with two home runs and eight RBIs. The worst $12 million Brian Cashman ever spent.
Phil Hughes, RHP
The former Yankees home run king has had his crown usurped by CC Sabathia this season, but in probably his last season as a Yankee, Hughes is still hampered by being a fly ball pitcher in a hitter’s ballpark. Also hurt by his inability to put hitters away; he gets the lowest number of swinging strikes (8.2 percent) of any Yankee starter. In his defense, Hughes gets the least amount of run support of any starter, 3.43 runs per game -- lower even than Hiroki Kuroda’s.
Hiroki Kuroda, RHP
The de facto ace of the starting rotation, Kuroda is almost guaranteed to give a solid effort every time out. As he had with the Dodgers and in his first season as a Yankee, suffers from perpetual lack of run support (3.64 runs per nine innings) but almost always eats innings, saves the bullpen and gives his team a chance to win.
Ivan Nova, RHP
He has great stuff, but sometimes his inability to maintain his focus and concentration drives the Yankees crazy, although his recent outings have raised hopes that at 26, Nova might be ready to leave those growing pains behind. A terrific fastball, an excellent slider and several more years of team control are the reasons the Yankees won’t give up on Nova any time soon.
Andy Pettitte, LHP
At 41, the ultimate competitor might be facing that long, slow slide downhill that eventually gets them all, but Pettitte’s stellar history says he may still rebound with a good second half -- if he can avoid injury. He always gave up a lot of hits but is also allowing more runs this year; his current 4.39 ERA is the third highest of his 18-year career. Teams are bunting on him with success, too.
David Phelps, RHP
Shows flashes of ability but probably never more than a lower-half-of-the-rotation pitcher, Phelps has the highest WHIP and walks-per-nine-innings ratio of any Yankee starter, and the lowest strikeout-to-walks ratio. On the plus side, he is poised; on the minus side, he's not so young (27 on Oct. 9). But he is cheap labor for the next five seasons.
CC Sabathia, LHP
No longer the ace of the staff and a continuing puzzle, CC gives it his all every time out but often seems unable to come up with the big pitch when he needs it. The Yankees have excused his loss of velocity in various ways but it is clear he needs to be super sharp to succeed at 90-92 mph, and too often, he isn’t. He's also giving up home runs at an alarming rate. Looks like all the seasons of 200-plus innings and all the games of 110-plus pitches are starting to take their toll on this soon-to-be 33-year-old, who is signed through 2017.
Joba Chamberlain, RHP
Relegated to middle-relief at 27 (28 in September), it’s hard to believe Joba is the same pitcher who electrified New York in 2007. Injuries have taken their toll, but so has immaturity and a lack of conditioning. He's rarely used in a game in which the Yankees are leading, and is definitely headed elsewhere after the season, if not sooner.
Preston Claiborne, RHP
He has excellent control -- Claiborne did not walk a batter until his 15th appearance -- but he's not really a strikeout pitcher, which is what the Yankees look for in their relief pitchers. Still, in spite of a couple of shaky outings recently, he has been a useful member of the bullpen in middle relief/mop-up duty.
Shawn Kelley, RHP
This year’s bullpen surprise, and a great success story after overcoming two Tommy John surgeries, Kelley has leapfrogged Chamberlain as Joe Girardi’s go-to righty in the seventh inning of a tight game. With the highest strikeout ratio on the team (13.37 per nine innings), Kelley’s slider is often unhittable and his fastball has gotten better as his arm strength has increased.
Boone Logan, LHP
Classic little-girl-with-the-curl story: When Logan is good, he is very, very good; when he is bad, forget about it. Problem is, you never know what you’re going to get. He has a low ERA, a high strikeout ratio, but he also allows a lot of inherited baserunners to score, and for a left-handed specialist, lefties hit pretty well against him (.250). Also, while he is often brought into difficult situations, opposing batters hit .286 against Logan with RISP.
Vidal Nuno, LHP
He showed excellent stuff when pressed into emergency service earlier in the season but has little to show for it because of pathetic run support, just 1.35 runs per nine innings. He possesses a swing-and-miss slider, but we need to see more of him to make a real judgment.
Mariano Rivera, RHP
The incomparable one. In his final season, Ol’ Man Rivera just keeps rolling along, slightly more hittable (1.252 WHIP, highest since his rookie season) but just as effective, his 1.83 ERA comparable to some of his best seasons. The best evidence of his long-term greatness: After nearly two decades of closing, it still comes as a shock when he blows a save. Thankfully, he’s only shocked us twice in 32 chances this season. Remarkable.
David Robertson, RHP
Once again, statistically the most difficult Yankee pitcher to hit against, as he was in his transcendent 2011 season. Opposing batters are hitting just .176 off Robertson and his WHIP is a miniscule 0.94. As much a complement to Rivera as Mo was for John Wetteland in 1996.
Adam Warren, RHP
He has done good work as a long man but got lit up in his only career start last season (six earned runs in less than three innings pitched last June against the White Sox) and hasn’t gotten another chance since. Has a live fastball, decent off-speed stuff, but we need to see him in more than mop-up situations.
It is not a stretch to say that this year, Girardi has done his best managing since the days when he was trying to coax wins out of the Florida Marlins back in 2006. Working with a patchwork lineup and meeting a new ballplayer virtually every day, Girardi has somehow managed to keep his players upbeat and his team seven games over .500 despite fielding what often looks like a Triple-A lineup. It's questionable whether he can keep it up over the second half, but what he has done so far has been exemplary.
You can't say the same for the GM, but you must remember that when he started re-stocking this team in the offseason, Hal Steinbrenner’s $189 million mandate was still in effect, and by the time Prince Hal rescinded the order, many of the players Cashman might have re-signed -- Martin and Ibanez come to mind -- were already off the board. Still, give him credit for bringing on Overbay and Kelley and re-signing Kuroda. Blame him for Wells, Hafner and most of all, Youkilis, although for the first month of the season, the first two looked like pretty good additions. And don’t discount the possibility of him making a game-changing move at the trade deadline.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Wallace Matthews has covered NY sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He joins ESPNNewYork to cover the Yankees, which he's done since the days of Stump Merrill for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork.com. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years as a sports writer at the New York Post.
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