New York Yankees Grades at the 2014 Three-Quarter Mark
The New York Yankees are 61-57 through 118 games, and with three-quarters of the season behind us, it's time for the Bombers to brace themselves for what is sure to be a chaotic stretch run.
Memories of the early days in Derek Jeter's career will certainly make for some nostalgia-filled nights at Yankee Stadium, but the task at hand is to make the playoffs in the Captain's final season.
Given the rash of injuries this team has suffered both offensively and in the pitching staff, it's remarkable to see that they're floating above .500. The acquisitions made at the deadline were superb, and the timeliness of some of the team's rallies has helped them pick up some close wins here and there.
Each unit has had its share of ups and downs this season. That will happen over a 162-game schedule. Now that we've seen this team for 118 games, though, it's time to dish out some grades that reflect the entire season to date.
Grades are based mostly on overall numbers and consistency, though league standing in certain areas also influenced the final marks.
The Yankees lineup hasn't been that good, averaging just 3.99 runs per game this season. With a 4.01 mark in that area last season, it's surprising to see the team actually got worse at plating runs.
Sure, losing Robinson Cano was hard to overcome, but adding Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran should have helped. Of course, poor seasons by Alfonso Soriano (now released) and both McCann and Beltran weren't anticipated.
There has been a lot of good in the lineup, however.
Brett Gardner has been huge, probably earning him the honor of being the team's best hitter to date. As of play on Tuesday, Gardner owns a line of .278/.354/.457 with 15 home runs, 50 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
Another bright spot has been Jeter's ability to stay on the field. A line of .273/.324/.329 is far from the Jeter we're used to, but 105 games (the number Jeter has played) of Brendan Ryan at short would be far worse offensively.
Despite battling injuries all season, Mark Teixeira has also posted good numbers when in the lineup. Despite hitting just .227/.329/.438 this season, Tex has 19 homers.
FanGraphs lists the Yankees at No. 25 in baseball in terms of lineups with a WAR of 10.3. Their team batting average of .250 puts them at No. 18, as does their team on-base percentage of .313. They have also been extremely unlucky, as their BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .287 ranks them 28th in baseball.
Overall, the lineup needs to improve down the stretch for this team to make the postseason. It just hasn't been good enough so far this year.
The Yankees are a mediocre defensive team.
Ellsbury, Gardner, Teixeira and Chase Headley are studs with the leather, but guys like McCann, Jeter and others are simply solid—nothing to write home about.
The defense improved tremendously when Brian Roberts was released, as he had undergone a poor few weeks in the field. Stephen Drew and Martin Prado have replaced him in a platoon of sorts, and their skills in the field are certainly better than Roberts'.
The defense also improved a bit when Soriano was released and Beltran became mostly the full-time designated hitter. This allowed manager Joe Girardi to play Ichiro Suzuki in right field. While not the same fielder he once was, Ichiro still takes crisp routes to fly balls and has a deceptively strong arm.
FanGraphs lists the Yankees 20th in baseball in terms of DRS (defensive runs saved) at negative-nine. Their UZR/150 (ultimate zone rate per 150 games) of negative-2.3 puts them No. 22.
Range has certainly been an issue at times for this aging Yankees team, so mediocre-to-poor defensive metrics shouldn't come as a surprise. Overall, though, they haven't lost too many contests because of errors or defensive miscues.
Despite season-ending injuries to Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia and a crippling injury to Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees' starting staff is still going strong.
Brandon McCarthy has been a revelation. Chris Capuano has been a huge surprise. Youngsters like Shane Greene, Chase Whitley and others have stepped up to fill major roles. Michael Pineda is on his way back to start on Wednesday night, reports Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com.
Hiroki Kuroda's struggles can't be overlooked, but the other pitchers in the rotation have done enough to mask his problems for the time being.
With pitching injuries like the Yankees have sustained, there's absolutely no way this team should be in playoff contention right now. Their arms have answered the call, however, and that's why this team is riding many unknowns into a possible berth in October.
Their team ERA of 3.89 puts them toward the middle at No. 18, but their FIP of 3.87 (16th) suggests that their ERA mark is consistent with other advanced metrics.
A big reason for their success is their ability to limit free passes. Their 2.06 BB/9 is second in baseball behind the Dodgers.
It's hard not to give this unit a good grade.
The bullpen has been even more impressive in the Bronx, headlined by the likes of Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and David Robertson.
There were numerous questions surrounding Robertson in his debut season as the team's closer. Replacing Mariano Rivera has not proved to be too much for the Alabama native. He has 31 saves, good enough for third in the American League.
Betances has been the real story of the bullpen, though. In 68.2 innings (51 games), Betances owns a 1.44 ERA (1.78 FIP), 102 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.743. He has allowed just three homers, 31 hits and 20 walks on the year.
Betances has made a successful transition into the bullpen after coming up mostly as a starter. It has been huge for his career, putting him in line to potentially take over for Robertson as the closer if he walks during free agency this offseason.
Another former starter, Warren has posted strong numbers as a setup man as well. In 58.2 innings (54 games), the right-hander owns a 3.53 ERA (3.22 FIP) and 55 strikeouts compared to 21 walks.
FanGraphs has the Yankees bullpen fourth with a 4.3 WAR. The Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals also clock in a 4.3. They are just 12th in innings pitched, meaning the rotation has given good length more often than not.
The Yankees bullpen is the only unit in the league to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings (10.25), and they lead the league overall with 419.
Helping keep the Yankees in ballgames has been what this group has done best all year long.
It goes without saying that a lot of the credit for keeping this team afloat goes to Girardi. The skipper knows how to handle his pitchers and ride the hot hands offensively.
He isn't afraid to keep young pitchers in games a little longer than other managers might, and he isn't afraid to give young hitters a chance (see: Solarte, Yangervis and Wheeler, Zelous).
His ability to make tough lineup decisions has really paid off. Using Gardner as the leadoff man with Ellsbury in the three-hole has helped lengthen the lineup, and giving Ichiro chances has resulted in more production from him than last season.
There's nothing Girardi can do about the struggles of McCann and Beltran, though both have gone through recent mini-surges that suggest they'll contribute during the final quarter of the year.
As for general manager Brian Cashman, it's easy to love him for the moves he made at the deadline. Acquiring McCarthy for Vidal Nuno was genius, as was scooping up Capuano for basically nothing. Drew is a small upgrade over Kelly Johnson, and Prado helps to give this team more versatility everywhere on the diamond.
Headley, a longtime target of Cashman, has been solid at the hot corner and at the dish.
All that said, don't overlook the questionable signings he made this offseason. Roberts failed, despite staying healthy (which was an achievement in itself). Beltran hasn't hit, stayed healthy or played the field well. McCann has had problems keeping his OBP above .300.
I'll give Cashman a break on McCann because signing him was a no-brainer, but signing Beltran was a mistake. That's proving itself now.
Overall, this combination has put the Yankees in a pretty good position to make a run into October.