Who Is Really the New York Yankees' 2012 MVP?

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 28, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 01:  Derek Jeter #2 and Robinson Cano #24 of the New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium on July 1, 2012  in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Unless Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout cool down significantly in the final month of the 2012 season, we're probably not going to see a member of the New York Yankees with the American League MVP award this year.

Not that it matters as far as they're concerned. Despite the fact they've been beset by injuries this season, the Yankees have the second-best record in the American League and seem well on their way to the postseason for the 99th time in the last 100 years (or something like that).

For this, the Yankees have several of their own MVPs to thank, chief among the notables being players like Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Hiroki Kuroda.

But who is the MVP of the Yankees this season? Which player would they be totally lost without?

That's the kind of thing that calls for an immediate discussion


The Honorable Mentions

Eric Chavez

Chavez is hitting .295/.353/.511 with 13 home runs, and .352/.418/.592 since A-Rod went down in late July. According to FanGraphs, his weighted on-base average of .365 is second only to Robinson Cano among Yankees with at least 150 plate appearances.

He's not the Yankees' MVP, and he's certainly not winning the AL MVP, but Chavez may get some love in the Comeback Player of the Year race.


Curtis Granderson

Granderson ranks fourth in the American League with 33 home runs, but he's regressed in a big way from where he was offensively in 2011. His wOBA has tumbled all the way from .394 to .347. 

He's also been a liability on defense, as he has by far the lowest UZR among everyday major league center fielders.


CC Sabathia

Sabathia hasn't been himself this season, but there's not much to complain about when looking at his 13-3 record and 3.44 ERA in 21 starts. Despite the fact he's been on the disabled list on two different occasions, Sabathia still ranks sixth among American League starting pitchers in WAR, according to FanGraphs.


Mark Teixeira

Teixeira has taken another slight step back offensively this season, as his .346 wOBA is on track to be the lowest for him since he posted a .345 wOBA as a rookie with the Rangers in 2003.

Still, he's provided 23 home runs and has been a major asset on defense at first base, as is his custom. He's overpaid, sure, but not a bad player.


And Now for the Actual Candidates


The Case for Derek Jeter

The number next to Derek Jeter's name in the age column suggests that he should be batting around .270/.330/.353 (i.e. the exact numbers he posted in the first half of 2011) while making people everywhere long for the good old days when he wasn't a geezer.

Evidently there is something special about Jeter. If that wasn't already obvious before (it was), it certainly is now (also true).

At 38 years young, Jeter is hitting .322/.363/.451 with an MLB-high 174 hits. He's also pitched in 14 home runs, 45 RBI and 83 runs scored.

Offensively, Jeter ranks among the best of the best as far as major league shortstops go. Per FanGraphs, Jeter's .355 wOBA just barely edges Ian Desmond's .354 wOBA for the top mark among MLB shortstops, and he's second to Desmond in OPS at .814. 

It helps that Jeter is getting better as the season goes along. He's hitting .348/.382/.530 in the second half with seven home runs (six of which came in August).

To put that in perspective, Jeter hit six home runs in all of 2011.

There's no overstating the importance of Jeter's second-half production. The Yankees have truly needed it, as they're just 22-21 since the break and seem to finally be crumbling a little under the weight of all their injuries. Without Jeter, they could be dealing with a sub-.500 record since the break and could very well be sitting in second or third place in the AL East instead of first.

However, contrary to what the ever-pontificating media would have everyone believe, Jeter is not perfect. His offensive contributions speak for themselves, but that's only half the story.

Jeter is an asset on offense, but he's a liability on defense. His .981 fielding percentage is decent enough, but he rates as the worst defensive shortstop in baseball with a UZR of -13.6 and a DRS of -15, according to FanGraphs.

Even for Jeter—who for some reason has won five Gold Gloves—these numbers are pretty bad. He's on pace to have his worst defensive season since 2007, when he posted a -17.9 UZR and a -24 DRS.

His poor defense is a major reason why he only has a 2.5 WAR, according to FanGraphs (2.0 according to Baseball-Reference.com). That ranks sixth among major league shortstops.

Still, this is more of an argument for why Jeter shouldn't be the AL MVP. The Yankees and virtually every Yankee fan under the sun will argue quite fervently that Jeter is the heart and soul of the Yankees, and has been for some time now. That's something that can't be quantified.

They're not wrong.


The Case for Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano entered this season with a career batting line of .308/.347/.496 and a 162-game average of 23 homers and 96 RBI.

As such, he's outdoing himself in 2012, hitting .310/.376/.553 with 27 homers and 70 RBI with another month still to play. He should cross the 30-homer mark for the first time in his career, and he has an outside shot at finishing with 100 RBI for the third year in a row.

There's no question Cano is the top offensive second baseman in the game. He leads all major league second basemen in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, home runs and RBI. His .392 wOBA is 25 points higher than that of the next second baseman on the list (Aaron Hill), according to FanGraphs.

What's worth noting is that it took a little while for Cano to get going at the plate this season. He was hitting .255/.303/.355 with a single home run through his first 27 games. In 100 games ever since, he's hit .326/.396/.611 with 26 home runs. That equates to a 162-game average of 43 homers and 107 RBI.

Unlike Jeter, Cano is just as big an asset on defense as he is on offense. According to FanGraphs, he ranks fifth among major league second basemen with a 6.9 UZR and third with a DRS of +14.

It all adds up to a WAR that FanGraphs has calculated at an even 6.0. Only Mike Trout has a higher WAR among American League players.

Where Cano can't hold a candle to Jeter is in the whole "heart and soul" discussion. He's been a Yankees regular for eight years at this point, but one still gets the sense that Cano is more of a producer than he is a leader. 

It may be Cano's lineup, but the Yankees are still Jeter's team.


The Case for Nick Swisher

One doesn't tend to think of Nick Swisher as an invaluable member of the Yankees. He's more like an accessory. 

He deserves more respect than this, of course. He's been a consistent producer for the Yankees since joining the team in 2009, and his goofball antics seem to have been accepted as a welcome change of pace within the Yankees clubhouse.

Swisher is in this particular discussion because he's putting up numbers that overshadow his personality. He's hitting a solid .276/.359/.494 with 20 home runs and 75 RBI. Since the All-Star break, he's hitting .306/.404/.530 with seven home runs.

This is thanks primarily to Swisher's torrid showing in August. In 98 at-bats, he's produced a .327/.411/.582 triple-slash line with six home runs and 21 RBI.

Swisher is not the same kind of elite defensive presence that Cano is, but he's held his own in right field and he's also pitched in some solid defense at first base this season in place of Mark Teixeira (an elite defender in his own right).

For what it's worth, Swisher actually has a higher UZR/150 at first base this season than he does out in right field, according to FanGraphs.

Swisher has provided versatility for Joe Girardi in the field, and he's also been a versatile presence in the Yankees' lineup. He's batted in six different lineup spots this season, from second all the way down to seventh. He's taken a liking to the No. 2 spot in particular, posting a .973 OPS in 32 games' worth of action, and his production there has very much come in handy ever since Curtis Granderson started slumping.

Per FanGraphs, Swisher's 3.1 WAR is second only to Cano among Yankees regulars. He has Jeter beat by a small margin in that department, and he also has him beat in wOBA (.363 to .355).

He may be a goofball unlike any other in Yankees history, but Swisher is no slouch on the field. And given all the injuries the Yankees have suffered this year, it's really not fair to refer to him as a mere complementary player. The Yankees have needed him this year more than ever.


The Case for Hiroki Kuroda

I won't lie. You can count me among those who figured before the start of the season that Hiroki Kuroda was going to have plenty of adjustments to make going from the National League to the American League.

And for a while there, it looked like he was having a hard time making these adjustments. Kuroda went 3-6 with a 4.53 ERA in his first nine starts, giving up 10 home runs in 53.1 innings pitched with a .281 opponents' batting average.

Since then, he's adjusted.

Like, a lot.

Over his last 17 starts, Kuroda is 9-3 with a 2.29 ERA and a .216 opponents' batting average. He's only given up only eight home runs in 121.2 innings pitched.

All told, he's 12-9 with a 2.98 ERA in 26 starts. One of his most impressive statistics are his three complete games, including two shutouts.

Sabathia may have a higher WAR as far as FanGraphs is concerned, but I don't think I'm uttering any sort of inexcusable blasphemy when I say that Kuroda has been the Yankees' best pitcher this season. 

I'm not? OK, good.

Besides, there's the question of what kind of trouble the Yankees would be in if Brian Cashman hadn't inked Kuroda this offseason. Without him, there would have been nobody to take charge of the starting rotation when Sabathia went on the DL the first time, much less the second time. 

To boot, Kuroda has been at his best against the better teams the Yankees have come across. Against teams with records of .500 or better, Kuroda is 6-3 with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP.

To put that in perspective, Sabathia is 8-3 with a 3.70 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP against teams with records of .500 or better. Very good, but not quite as dominant as Kuroda.

Sure, he's a pitcher. But if Justin Verlander can win the AL MVP, then Kuroda can be deemed the Yankees' very own 2012 MVP.


The Case for Rafael Soriano

When Mariano Rivera went down with a torn ACL in early May, everybody panicked. With the greatest closer ever on the shelf for the rest of the season, who would the Yankees use to close games?

David Robertson was the first answer, but his eighth inning dominance failed to translate to the ninth inning and he too soon found himself on the disabled list.

His failure to fill Mo's shoes opened the door for Rafael Soriano to try the job on for size.

And, well, that's basically the last time anybody was worried about anything.

Soriano has saved 33 games in 36 opportunities since taking over for Robertson in early May, and he currently has a 2.05 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 52.2 innings pitched. He's holding hitters to a .231 batting average and a .342 slugging percentage. 

Granted, Soriano is not Craig Kimbrel, and he's certainly not Aroldis Chapman. He is, however, really not much of a downgrade from Rivera, if he is even a downgrade at all. Mo recorded 44 saves with five blown saves and a 1.91 ERA last season. Soriano could finish with as many as 40 saves and fewer than five blown saves.

The Yankees have to be happy about all this, as Soriano's emergence this season has effectively justified the seemingly absurd contract they signed him to before the 2011 season. He's found a way to earn his $12 million salary.

Just as important, he's put a lot of minds at ease. The Yankees' bullpen isn't as deep as it was when Rivera was healthy, but you'd never know just from looking at the numbers. The Yankees are 69-5 when they take a lead into the ninth inning.

For that, Soriano is largely responsible.


The Grand Conclusion

Can I get a drum roll?

Thanks to this whole Internet thing, I actually can:

My pick for the Yankees' MVP is Robinson Cano.

With all respect to Swisher, Kuroda and Soriano, the argument is basically only between Cano and Jeter. To this end, one can easily side with the latter if they believe the Yankees would truly be up you-know-what creek without a paddle if it wasn't for Jeter.

They most certainly would be, and that's because Jeter has been an outstanding offensive producer in addition to being the motor that brings the Bronx Bombers to life on a daily basis.

But what can I say? I'm a stats guy, and there's no denying that Cano's stats all say that he's been a far more invaluable cog in the grand scheme of things in The Bronx this season than Jeter.

Jeter has been good on offense, but Cano has been even better. Jeter has been a problem on defense, and that's an area where Cano has excelled. Without him, the middle of the Yankees' infield defense would be a lost cause.

As for the non-quantifiable stuff that Jeter brings to the Yankees, let's just say that the words of Jim Leyland come to mind.

"Take all that clubhouse [bleep] and all that, throw it out the window. Every writer in the country has been writing about that [bleep] for years. Chemistry don't mean [bleep]," Leyland once said, according to The Washington Post.

I don't know if Joe Girardi would agree, but I think I know who he would choose if you put a great player and a great leader in front of him and asked him to pick one.


Note: Key stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.


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