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Straight A’s In Love

Posted By Cliff Corcoran On July 16, 2009 @ 12:25 am In Cliff Corcoran | Comments Disabled

With the Yankees getting the extra off-day today, I thought I’d take a quick spin through the roster and assign some haphazard and utterly meaningless grades for the first-half. I’m sure the commenters will have a ball with this one . . .

Mark Teixeira, 1B
.275/.378/.535, 21 HR, 63 RBI; -1.8 UZR

Tex is a career .288/.378/.540 hitter, so that line is right on target, and he’s a career .303/.390/.574 hitter in the second half, so he’s actually ahead of his usual pace. I’m suspicious of that poor UZR rating; Tex had a 10.4 UZR last year. I expect his fielding stats will even out in the second half.
A

Robinson Cano, 2B
.308/.341/.490, 24 2B, 13 HR, 17 BB; 0.1 UZR

How has Cano’s comeback season gone? In 2007 he hit .306/.353/.488 with a career-high 41 doubles, and 19 homers. He’s right on target to match or surpass those figures this year. His defense hasn’t rebounded all the way to his +11.3 performance in ’07, but it’s come up to average after dropping to -8.0 last year. As devastating as Cano’s collapse was to last year’s club, his rebound has been that important to this year’s Yankees.
A

Derek Jeter, SS
.321/.396/.461, 56 R, 10 HR, 17 SB (85%); 0.5 UZR

Age appeared to be sapping the Captain’s power and speed in 2008, but his performance in the first half this year has made his ’08 season seem more like a fluke than a trend. His 17 steals are already his most since 2006. His ten homers put him on pace for his highest total since 2005. Of course, the new stadium is largely responsible for the latter (Jeter’s hit just two taters and slugged .415 on the road), but the rest of his game has been as good on the road as at home, if not better. At age 35, he’s third among major league shortstops in VORP, behind only 25-year-old superstar Hanley Ramirez and Jason Bartlett’s fluky first half.
A

Alex Rodriguez, 3B
.256/.411/.548, 17 HR, 50 RBI; -4.3 UZR

Rodriguez missed the first month of the season due to hip surgery. Then his manager failed to obey his doctor’s orders and give him the requisite days off, prompting a wicked slump (.159/.312/.286 over 19 games). And still Rodriguez’s numbers are right back where they belong. Ignore that average, it’s coming up, and look at the on-base percentage, which is a whopping 155 points higher and consider that Alex has walked ten more times than he’s struck out thus far this season after having never walked more than he’s struckout before in his major league career. Rodriguez’s hip has hindered his speed (just three steals, though in only three attempts), but his defense is coming around. All things considered, it’s been another strong season.
B+

Jorge Posada, C
.285/.369/.508, 11 HR, 40 RBI; 30% CS

If he keeps it up, Jorge’s .877 OPS would be the highest ever posted by a catcher 37 years old or older in baseball history (minimum 400 plate appearances) and despite having missed nearly a month due to a quad strain, he’s still fifth among major league catchers in VORP. Posada’s comeback was as important as Cano’s, and he’s pulled it off, producing like it’s 2006 (or 2001, for that matter). The cherry on top is the fact that he’s thrown out 30 percent of his baserunners, a tick better than his career rate of 29 percent and comfortably above the league average of 25 percent.
B+

Nick Swisher, RF
.237/.360/.464, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 53 BB; -0.1 UZR

Yet another Yankee who has done well to return to his established level after a significant down season. Swisher, a career .243/.355/.453 hitter, didn’t have the right-field job coming out of camp, but seized every opportunity he had early on and eased into the position after Xavier Nady suffered a season-ending elbow injury. Curiously, Swisher’s hitting just .200/.362/.325 in the Yankees’ new launching pad, but he gets his walks everywhere and is just seven off the league lead in the category. Mix in his versatility both in the field and in the lineup (he’s started everywhere from second to eighth in the order this season), and he’s a key complimentary part.
B

Brett Gardner, CF
.282/.352/.404, 20 BB, 18 SB (82%); 9.4 UZR

Gardner coughed up the center field job after winning it out of camp, but since connecting for a triple and a homer in Toronto on May 13, he’s hit .322/.398/.492 in 118 at-bats and forced his way back into the lineup on a regular basis. Mix in his blazing speed on the bases and tremendous range afield and he’s here to stay as more than just a weapon off the bench, he’s a complete major league ballplayer.
B-

Melky Cabrera, CF
.285/.347/.439, 8 HR, 25 BB; -1.8 UZR (CF), -0.3 UZR (all OF)

Though Gardner won the center field job out of camp, Melky didn’t sulk, like many surely thought he would. He, like Swisher, made the most of the opportunities he got and, without the aid of an injury to his rival, took the job back. After that strong opening gambit, Melky came back to earth in May and slumped in June, making room for Gardner to return serve. Still, Melky has hit .270/.364/.446 over the past month (June 13 to July 12), suggesting he won’t fade away this year like he did last.
B-

Johnny Damon, LF
.276/.362/.510, 62 R, 16 HR, 50 RBI, 8 SB (0 CS); -9.4 UZR

Damon just keeps on going at the plate, but he’s been propped up by his friendly home park. All but four of his 16 homers have come at home and he’s hit just .263/.331/.431 on the road. Mix in his brutal play in the field and need for regular rest and he’s not been nearly as valuable as his raw numbers might suggest. That only means he shouldn’t be resigned for 2009. With Cabrera as a caddy, he’s still plenty valuable this season, and a monster at home (.289/.393/.592).
B+

Hideki Matsui, DH
.265/.367/.517, 14 HR, 40 RBI

Another of the comeback kids, Matsui has bettered his 2007 rates thus far this season, but he can’t play the field anymore, which means he can’t play every day as Rodriguez, Posada, Damon, and even Jeter need days at DH. Then again, maybe Matsui should take precedent over that lot as he’s hit .297/.419/.634 since May 26.
A-

Bench

Cody Ransom was a bust as Alex Rodriguez’s April replacement (.180/.226/.320) due to a quad injury he didn’t reveal to the team until he aggravated it on a slide on April 24. He’s 3-for-18 since returning from the 60-day DL. Jose Molina hit the DL soon after. Those two injuries created opportunities for rookies Ramiro Peña and Francisco Cervelli, both of whom jumped over Triple-A and impressed with their defense and approach despite ultimately weak production at the plate (Peña: .267/.308/.349; Cervelli: .269/.284/.346). That Kevin Cash and Angel Berroa also spent time on the 25-man roster didn’t help matters, though things are looking up with new addition Eric Hinske having hit three home runs in his first three starts.
D

Overall Offense

This one’s easy. The Yankees lead the major leagues in runs (495), runs per game (5.62), on-base percentage (.358), slugging (.471), homers (132, tied with the Rangers), walks (373), total bases (1,444), and OPS+ (116), the last of which proves that the rest isn’t just because of their new ballpark. You can’t do much better than that.
A+

Defense

Gardner and Damon offset and everyone else is around average, but Gardner hasn’t played as much as Damon, and more of those “around average” performances have been a tick below than a tick above. Still, their collective rate of turning balls in play into outs is third-best in the AL, which lends credence to my suspicions about Teixeira’s UZR rating. I’ll hedge.
B-

CC Sabathia
3.86 ERA, 8-6, 1.15 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 9 QS (47%)

Sabathia’s first half felt a bit underwhelming, but compare that line above from his first 19 starts of the season (one of which was aborted due to bicep tightness) to the one he compiled in 18 starts for Cleveland last year:

3.83 ERA, 6-8, 1.12 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 10 QS (56%)

Then consider that Sabathia’s career first-half ERA is 3.89, but his career second-half mark is 3.39. Then look at Sabathia’s road performance (3.33 ERA, 6-4, 2 CG, 1 SHO). Then consider that, setting aside that aborted start in Florida, CC has averaged more than seven innings pitched per start. I’d like to see Sabatha’s strikeout rate improve (though he’s struck out 25 in his last 26 1/3 innings over four starts, so perhaps it’s on its way), and I’d like to see Joe Girardi figure out how to remove Sabathia a batter too early rather than a batter too late, as was the trend earlier in the year (and which cost Sabathia a few quality starts), but overall there’s not a whole lot to complain about regarding Sabathia’s performance in the first half given the adjustments he’s had to make both to being the ace of the Yankees and to pitching in their new band box of a ballpark.
B+

A.J. Burnett
3.77 ERA, 8-4, 1.38 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 11 QS (65%)

The most impressive thing Burnett did in the first half was make every one of his scheduled starts, so much so that I won’t harp on him leading the league in walks and wild pitches. Burnett was his typical inconsistent and frustrating self through his first 12 starts (4.89 ERA, just half quality starts), but enters the break on a hot streak of five quality starts in which he’s posted a 1.34 ERA. The aggregate puts him neck-and-neck with Sabathia as the team’s best starter in the first half.
B+

Joba Chamberlain
4.25 ERA, 4-2, 1.56 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 8 QS (47%)

Chamberlain’s first half was less inconsistent than consistently mediocre. Putting aside the two duds with which he finished the half and the start in which he was knocked out in the first inning by a comebacker, he allowed three or fewer runs in 12 of his first 14 starts, but also averaged less than six innings per start in those dozen outings. Only twice did he turn in dominating outings lasting a minimum of seven full innings, but only once did he allow as many as five runs in a start. His inefficiency from last year carried over and was briefly exacerbated by some first-inning woes. Despite consistently keeping his team in games (the Yankees are 11-6 in his starts and two of the six losses followed quality starts by Joba), Chamberlain has frustrated by being inconsistent with his velocity, nibbling rather than being aggressive with his ace-quality stuff, walking too many men, and above all by pretending he’s making good pitches and maturing as a starter. Despite all that, he’s pitched well enough to have been the team’s third-best starter in the first half.
B-

Andy Pettitte
4.85 ERA, 8-5, 1.53 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 7 QS (39%)

More inconsistency. Pettitte’s seems to stem largely from shell shock from the new stadium. He’s allowed 12 homers in 10 starts at home against just three in eight road starts. That’s 15 homer runs; Andy has averaged 19 allowed per season in his career. That homer split folds into a 3.69 ERA and 1.34 WHIP on the road, but a 5.72 ERA and 1.66 WHIP on the road. The four homers he allowed to the Rays at home in a 8-6 loss on May 7 might be the source of the problem, or it just be the ballpark itself. Or maybe it’s just that Andy’s 37 and near the end. The Yankees are still 12-6 in his starts, but that seems to be par for the course, save for the hard-luck Sabathia, and credit due to the offense as the Yanks are 11-6 in both Burnett’s and Chamberlain’s starts (but 9-10 in CC’s). Perhaps most problematically, Andy has averaged fewer than six innings pitched per start. He’s here to eat innings and give the offense a chance. He’s getting the job done, but barely
B-

Chien-Ming Wang
9.64 ERA, 1-6, 2.02 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 0 QS

In his last four starts, Wang has posted a 5.23 ERA while averaging almost exactly five innings per start. The Yankees are 2- in those games. There’s hope here, but Wang was historically awful in his first three starts (34.50 ERA!), then spent a month on the DL, made three relief appearances, and turned in two more stinkers before starting to resemble a major league starter again over those last four. This from a pitcher who opened the season as the team’s number-two starter.
F

Phil Hughes
3.91 ERA, 3-2, 1.21 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 2 QS (29%)

Hughes pitched well enough in spring training to win a rotation spot had there been one available. Instead he went down to Triple-A and dominated (3-0, 1.86 ERA, 6.33 K/BB in three starts). Called up to replace Wang he shut out the Tigers for six innings in his first start, stumbled in his next two, then began to piece things back together, showing the growth Chamberlain hasn’t. Wang’s return bumped him to the bullpen, where he’s flat-out dominated (2.23 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 5.00 K/BB), slowly emerging as 2009’s version of the eighth-inning Joba. He’ll return to the rotation eventually, but in the meantime he’s gaining confidence, learning how to put away major league hitters, and playing a key role in the major league team’s success.
B+

Mariano Rivera
2.42 ERA, 23 SV (96%), 0.89 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 0.7 BB/9, 5 HR

One of the three walks Mo has issued in his 37 innings was intentional. In 36 games, he’s had two hiccups in non-save situations resulting in loses and one blown save. Everything else has been as expected.
A+

Bullpen

Hughes has combined with fellow converted starter Alfredo Aceves (2.02 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 4.25 K/BB) and lefty Phil Coke (3.06 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 3.8 K/BB since June 1) to give the Yankees an unexpected but very effective set-up threesome (they rank second-through-fourth on the team in WXRL behind Rivera). That trio took a while to fully emerge as neither Aceves nor Hughes was on the Opening Day roster and both arrived in the pen as long relievers. Injuries to Damaso Marte (5 1/3 IP) and Brian Bruney (4.86 ERA) and management’s disenchantment with the since-traded Jose Veras (5.96 ERA) paved the way for the new trio. Rookie David Robertson has established himself as a constant presence in middle relief despite ranking dead last on the team in WXRL (-0.65). Unfortunately, Mark Melancon (-0.51) has struggled in his brief opportunities with the big club, leaving veteran dreck Brett Tomko (-0.26) to fill the final spot, though it would seem Jonathan Albaladejo (0.08), who has been up twice but is back in Scranton now, could do as well or better. Edwar Ramirez made the Opening Day roster but now seems safely off the radar. Anthony Claggett was rushed up for one outing and bludgeoned badly in the new stadium’s opening series back when the bullpen was in such bad shape, in part because of Wang’s struggles, that Nick Swisher was asked to contribute an inning.
B-

Overall:

My preseason prediction was that the Yankees would win the Wild Card. If the season ended today, that’s exactly what they’d do. The offense has exceeded expectations, the rotation fallen short, and the bullpen and defense roughly hit the mark. Given the playoff positioning and the lack of major disasters/collapses outside of Wang, who is back in the rotation and resembling a fifth-starter, I give the Yankees a first-half grade of:
A-


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