New York Yankees: Top 5 Surprises This Season
Baseball, and especially New York Yankees baseball, can be unpredictable at times. From the emergence of unlikely heroes, such as Aaron Boone in the 2003 ALCS, to the out-of-nowhere dominance of previously unknown prospects such as Joba Chamberlain in the closing month of the 2007 season, one never knows where the Yankees will find their magic.
This season has been different than most for this generation of Yankees. They entered the season as an underdog, a postseason afterthought. However, a plethora of unexpected performances has given the team early success.
Given their abundance of needs due to injury, many replacement level players have been relied on to take the spots of All-Stars such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin. Some have played as replacement level players, while others have come close to or exceeded the production of the players they are filling in for.
There has been enough of the latter to say that to this point, the whole Yankees season has been a surprise. Here are the top five surprises for the New York Yankees in 2013.
5. David Adams
Alex Rodriguez, the $275 million man, was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Yankees lineup and play third base through 2017. When Brian Cashman discovered that he would miss much of 2013 with an injury, he signed veteran Kevin Youkilis to take his place.
When Youkilis went down, Joe Girardi could not have felt good about his options. In third basemen alone, the Yankees have $40 million worth of baseball players on the disabled list. That's equal to the Miami Marlin's entire team salary.
David Adams could not possibly fill the void left by the players he would fill in for. Most players crumble under the enormous pressure of replacing All-Stars or Hall of Famers. But David Adams has not been an ordinary player.
The 26-year-old rookie has made a seamless transition from second to third base, where he has committed no errors in 19 chances. He has hit .308 with two home runs and two doubles in 26 at-bats.
Although Youkilis and Rodriguez will eventually return and Adams' services will no longer be needed, his high-level performance in this short audition gives the Yankees a young option in the infield on an aging team that they can feel comfortable playing in the future.
4. Travis Hafner
Travis Hafner is just one of many low-risk, high-reward type players that Brian Cashman acquired in the offseason. Some, such as Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz, didn't pan out. Hafner, on the other hand, has made a comeback after moving from Cleveland to the Bronx.
His left-handed power swing is a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium, but given his injury history and recent inconsistency, not much was expected. Hafner hasn't hit 20 home runs since 2007 and hit only .228 in 66 games last year for Cleveland. His OPS hasn't topped .900 since 2006.
In 2013, Hafner has already hit eight home runs through just over one quarter of the season. His OPS is .927 and most importantly, it seems he has started to become the feared presence at the plate he has not been for five years.
3. Vernon Wells
He was humiliated by a trade away from the team that planned to make him their cornerstone, then further humiliated when his failures caused the Angels, his new team, to make him a part time player last season.
When he came to New York in a trade, Wells had nothing left to lose. He has seemed to have a new-found chip on his shoulder at the plate and has recaptured his former brilliance in the outfield.
He has hit .287 with 10 home runs so far for the Yankees, stolen four bases, played an error-less left field while providing two outfield assists, filled in for an inning at third base and has played in all but two of the Yankees games this season.
Wells has provided stability in the middle of the lineup and has made a strong case to remain a starter when the All-Star team known as the Yankees' disabled list gets healthy and returns to the field.
2. The Bullpen
Like virtually every other part of the Yankees roster, their bullpen has been hit hard by injuries in 2013. In 2012, David Phelps emerged as a reliable long reliever and established himself as an effective bullpen pitcher, a role he was expected to repeat in 2013. Joba Chamberlain, although no longer dominant as he once was, was still effective.
An injury to Ivan Nova forced Phelps into the rotation and Chamberlain injured his oblique en route to the disabled list. Other than closer Mariano Rivera and All-Star setup-man David Robertson, other pitchers in the bullpen would need to step up for the Yankees to find success late in games.
Enter Adam Warren, Preston Claiborne, Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan. They have thrown for a combined 67.1 innings and have given up just 18 earned runs for a combined ERA of 2.41. Take out two of Kelley's poor appearances in the first week of the season, and they have pitched to a 1.69 ERA.
Overall, the Yankees are 10th in the league in bullpen ERA and have only blown two saves all season, second to the Texas Rangers' one blown save.
Given Mariano Rivera's recovery from ACL surgery in the preseason and the uncertainty in the makeup of the rest of the bullpen outside of David Robertson, their bullpen has been a huge surprise and given them a huge boost late in games.
1. First Place
Only six-of-43 ESPN writers picked the Yankees to make the playoffs. One predicted them to win their division.
Fox Sports baseball guru Ken Rosenthal picked the Yankees to finish dead last in the American League East.
Only one-of-seven Sports Illustrated writers picked the Yankees to play in the postseason, predicting a wild-card berth.
Of the six writers who voted in the CBS Sports predictions article, the Yankees received two third place votes, two fourth place and two fifth place in the American League East predictions.
There have been many more "expert" predictions that have gone terribly wrong with respect to the Yankees in 2013 and very few can say that they predicted this kind of success for an injured and aging team.
Not only has this aging and debilitated team with no identity heading into the season found success, it currently sits in first place in the AL East. The Yankees are one-and-a-half games behind the best record in the American League (they have the second best) and are two games behind the MLB's best record (they are tied for third best).
The players that the Yankees have had to rely on, such as the ones listed in the preceding slides and others (Vidal Nuno, Jayson Nix, Austin Romine, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Lyle Overbay and many more) comprise what looks like a mediocre Triple-A team on paper. However, everything has come together for the biggest surprise of all:
More than one quarter of the way through the season, the New York Yankees are in first place.