With a 39-33 record, numerous injuries and a lineup crowded by hitters performing below expectations, it is scary to imagine where the New York Yankees would be without rookies Masahiro Tanaka, Yangervis Solarte, Dellin Betances and Chase Whitley.
With a roster full of superstars and aging veterans, it is these four first-timers who have kept the Yankees alive as the team has stumbled through the first few months of the season.
Everyone knows about Tanaka and what he has done. Unlike most rookies, Tanaka is making a lot of money. When he signed a seven-year, $155 million contract in the offseason, people around baseball blasted the Yankees for paying such an egregious price for a pitcher who had never set foot on a major league mound.
Today, those naysayers are nowhere to be found. In just a matter of months, Tanaka has become a bona fide ace. With Ivan Nova out for the year and CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda missing time, Tanaka's dominance has meant everything to the Yankees.
In 14 starts Tanaka is leading the majors in wins, boasting an 11-1 record. His 1.99 ERA leads the Junior Circuit and is second in the majors only to the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Cueto (1.92). Tanaka also leads all pitchers in Adjusted ERA+. With a 203 mark he is the only pitcher over 200. His 3.9 WAR is the highest of any pitcher in baseball. His 2.70 FIP puts him in the top 10. In 99.2 innings Tanaka has 113 strikeouts, a 0.953 WHIP and just 16 walks.
An All-Star Game start? Rookie of the Year? The Cy Young Award? Forget all that, this man is pitching for an MVP award, and if the season ended today, a strong case could be made that Tanaka deserves all four.
With the Japanese ace stealing the show, another rookie in the rotation has been overlooked.
At 25 years old, Whitley has come out of nowhere to become New York's second-most reliable starter. With a 3-0 record and a 2.56 ERA in seven starts, Whitley has made himself the obvious and undeniable choice to stay in the rotation ahead of Vidal Nuno and David Phelps once Sabathia and Pineda return.
While he lacks flair, Whitley has kept the Yankees in every ballgame he has started, and that is what matters. He has allowed no more than three earned runs in a single start and has limited the free passes, allowing just four walks all year. In fact, his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays marked the first time in five games that Whitley allowed a base on balls. In 38.2 innings, he has surrendered only one homer.
With zero expectations heading into his major league debut in May, Whitley has gone from a nobody to a likely mainstay in the Yankees rotation.
Solarte is another newbie making a name for himself.
After bouncing around the minors for eight years, Solarte edged out incumbent backup infielder Eduardo Nunez after he batted .429 in spring training. Since then Solarte has firmly held down third base following Kelly Johnson's struggles and the suspension of Alex Rodriguez.
While Solarte has certainly cooled off (he was hitting .336 as recently as May and is hitless in his last 24 at-bats), the switch-hitting product of Venezuela has been one of the Yankees' most consistent hitters in a season that has seen star free-agent acquisitions Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, among other hitters, struggle.
Another no-name heading into the season, Solarte is hitting a respectable .268 with 14 doubles, six home runs and 29 RBI. His .761 OPS is third on the team behind Brett Gardner (.768) and Mark Teixeira (.829).
He has been a much better option to have in the lineup than Johnson and the .232 average he has put up in 54 games.
Lastly, there is Betances.
Betances came up through the Yankees' system as a starter, but injuries and inconsistency prompted a move to the bullpen, a move that appears to have done wonders for the New York City native.
The Yankees were introduced to a brand-new Betances in spring training, one who was able to throw harder and with more accuracy. He earned a spot on the big league roster and has become a strikeout machine ever since.
In 42 innings Betances has struck out 70 batters, equating to an amazing 15-per-nine-innings strikeout rate. With the whiffs have come a lack of hits and runs, as opposing hitters are batting just .133 against Betances, who is pitching to a 1.50 ERA.
In a young and often exhausted bullpen, Betances has been the guy Joe Girardi can count on day in and day out. He has been the most dependable of any Yankees reliever, and his strong performance this year should earn him a trip to Target Field come July 15.
Going into the season, no one would have thought the Yankees would have to rely so heavily on four rookies. Tanaka was dubbed a No. 3 starter. The other three were nothing more than afterthoughts, if that at all. Today, all four are key cogs in a Yankees machine trying to overcome numerous setbacks.
It's amazing the difference a few months can make.
All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of the end of play on June 20, 2014.
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