New York Yankees' Biggest Winners, Losers of the First Half of the Season

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIJune 28, 2013

New York Yankees' Biggest Winners, Losers of the First Half of the Season

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    It's been a rough season for some of the biggest names on the New York Yankees. With so many stars missing significant chunks of time, the Yankees and manager Joe Girardi have been forced to piece together a lineup filled with players past their respective primes and those who have yet to receive much major league experience.

    As is the case in situations like this, there have been several players who have stepped up to the challenge and others who have faltered while trying to produce respectable numbers.

    Some of the team's biggest winners aren't ones you would expect. These guys have played well in small roles and have taken advantage of the increased playing time they have received this season. To qualify for this category, a player must simply have outperformed his preseason expectations.

    On the other hand, the losers are players who have either had, or were expected to have, big impacts on the Yankees. To qualify as a loser, a player must be an obvious disappointment given the expectations placed upon them—it's really pretty simple.

    The Yankees are just three games away from the halfway point of the season. There's still time for the "losers" to find their way, but trends would suggest that it simply won't happen this season.

Loser: Ivan Nova

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    There's a good reason as to why Ivan Nova has only made five starts this season. Once again, the young right-hander has had problems keeping his pitch counts down and pitching out of jams.

    He currently boasts a 4.91 ERA over 29.1 innings. He does have 33 strikeouts, but the 13 walks and 37 hits he's allowed show just how many runners he puts on base.

    Nova pitched so poorly early in the season that he was sent down to Triple-A after a stint on the disabled list in an attempt to set himself straight. He's back up in the bigs now, albeit in a long relief role. He has a 1.50 ERA out of the bullpen in two appearances.

    Nova qualifies as a "loser" because of the expectations placed upon him prior to the season. Nova figured to be an important member of the starting rotation, possibly even ahead of Phil Hughes. Instead, he's been a major disappointment and somebody that Joe Girardi obviously doesn't feel comfortable throwing out there every fifth day.

    He's still young and has plenty of promise, but Nova's time with the Yankees may not last much longer if he doesn't figure it out. His stuff isn't suited for the bullpen. He has three decent-enough pitches that could help him as a starter—he just needs to figure out how to work out of trouble.

Winner: David Phelps

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    On the other side of the coin, you have David Phelps—the winner to Ivan Nova's loser.

    Phelps has pitched well in the role vacated by Nova, even though many thought that Phelps was simply a fill-in for Nova until he was ready to return. Instead, Phelps has pitched so well that it has been his job to lose.

    His 4.01 ERA (3.63 as a starter) isn't overly impressive, but there have been games where Phelps and his slider have been dominating. He has struck out 69 batters in 74 innings and is averaging 5.7 innings per start. It's not great, but it's certainly good enough for him to keep the No. 5 starter's job.

    Phelps excels where Nova has failed. Phelps also puts a lot of runners on (1.338 WHIP) but generally has the ability to pitch himself out of jams. It's not often that you see Phelps allow a crooked number.

    There are some things he can improve on. Phelps doesn't pitch well to the first batter of games, as leadoff men sport a .533/.563/.800 line against him. Putting leadoff men on is never a good recipe for success, but Phelps has pitched well enough to wiggle out of jams and keep his spot in the rotation.

Loser: The Disabled List

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    There are so many players on the disabled list for the Yankees, and nearly every one of them had more expected of them when they were first placed on the DL.

    Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were never supposed to be on the DL this long (though various injuries and setbacks have made it a reality), while Francisco Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez and Michael Pineda are still on the disabled list as well.

    Teixeira is out for the season, Rodriguez could be, Youkilis could be, Jeter has no specific timetable and Granderson isn't expected back for at least a few more weeks. That's five-eighths of the Yankee lineup lost to injury for a significant portion of time.

    For each of the aforementioned stars, the 2013 season should be considered a loss. Teixeira and Rodriguez were looking to make statements following down 2012 seasons, Granderson was looking to build an even stronger resume for free agency, Youkilis was trying to live up to his $12 million contract he signed during the offseason and Jeter was looking to prove that last season wasn't a fluke.

    Some can still come back and have an impact, but the team shouldn't rely on healthy returns from a majority of its stars.

Winner: Jayson Nix

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    Jayson Nix has taken advantage of increased playing time because of injuries to both Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez. To be perfectly honest, Nix hasn't been half-bad at all. In fact, he's been pretty darn good.

    Nix has played 68 games this season (most of which have come at shortstop) and has posted a line of .244/.307/.309 with two home runs, 20 RBI and 10 stolen bases. He has yet to be caught attempting to steal.

    Sure, Nix's numbers aren't fantastic. Joe Girardi should be pleased that Nix has separated himself from others (Reid Brignac, Chris Nelson and Alberto Gonzalez) in the battle for playing time, though. He's head and shoulders above the light-hitting competition.

    He's also been pretty good in the field, making just four errors at shortstop and two at third base.

    Nix brings a grittiness to the lineup that is hard to replace. He'll, of course, be relegated back to utility infielder duties when Jeter returns, but Nix's presence has brought a different element to the lineup.

Loser: Vernon Wells

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    Vernon Wells hasn't played all that much over the past week, mostly because he has been demoted to fourth outfielder duties in favor of rookie Zoilo Almonte. Almonte has taken the lineup by storm, hitting .368/.455/.632 in seven games, whereas Wells has struggled to post good numbers since his stellar April.

    On the season, Wells has 10 home runs, 30 RBI and an embarrassing .226/.266/.374 batting line. His incredible April (.300/.366/.544) both helped and hurt Wells at the same time.

    For one, it gave Wells an everyday spot in the starting lineup in either left field or right field. Wells hit six home runs in April, leading everyone to believe that his power and hitting ability were back.

    On the other hand, it gave many unfair expectations for Wells. Wells had hit just .222/.258/.409 in the previous two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, so expecting big things from him this season was bound to set people up for a letdown.

    Wells loses in this situation because he has proven to many that he has seen better days in the sport. Wells still has the defensive capabilities and occasional potency with the stick to be a valuable fourth outfielder, but nothing more.

Winner: Chris Stewart

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    The Yankees haven't gotten a ton of run production from Chris Stewart (three home runs and 10 RBI), but he has played exceptionally well given increased playing time.

    Francisco Cervelli's injury and Austin Romine's inability to handle everyday catching duties has made Stewart catcher by default. His .252/.318/.328 line suggests he can handle the position with some consistency.

    The best part about Stewart's game is his glove. He has thrown out 43 percent of potential base stealers, as compared to the league average of 25 percent. His ability to shut down the running game has given the Yankees' pitchers that much more confidence in throwing to him.

    Stewart has built up a great rapport with the staff and likely has a home in New York for the next several seasons as a result. Whether it be in a reserve role or the starter's role, Stewart should be in pinstripes until he becomes a free agent following the 2016 season.