New York Yankees: April in Review

IMGP3377 Jacoby Ellsbury can hit, Carlos Beltran can play everywhere and the injury bug didn’t stay in 2013.

Let’s start on the injury front shall we?  They sure popped up early and often in April.  Mark Teixiera went down first with a grade 1 hamstring pull, and closer David Robertson quickly followed him onto the 15-day DL with a groin strain.  Both came back after the two weeks were up, and have looked good in a small sample size.  Then, Derek Jeter missed he final two games of the Red Sox series.  And in that final game (a win) against Boston, Francisco Cerveilli ended up on the 60-Day DL with a grade 2 hamstring strain, Brian Roberts went down with a back injury, and not to mention a scare with April revelation Yangervis Solarte. But the biggest loss? It came after a blowout loss against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Starter Ivan Nova, who many thought would have a break out season after a strong finish to 2013, is heading for season-ending Tommy John surgery.  The young righty has a torn UCL injury, which already claimed all of 2014 for another one of New York’s up-and-coming stars, the Mets Matt Harvey.  The month ends with Brett Gardner nursing a sore foot, and Ellsbury has a day-to-day hand issue.

Considering they started the season with 13-straight games (their first two series were in domes), coupled with the injuries, the Bombers should be very happy with their record.  It’s only April, and they’ve already changed their fortunes in the AL East.  They only won 6 games against Boston last year, yet they’ve already taken down the defending World Champs 6 times in one month of baseball here in 2014!  They lead the division early, only lost 2 series the entire month, and are over .500 in the East. Sabathia continues to search for a way to be successful with his new stuff, but one thing about the big guy you can’t take for granted. He gives you length every start. They might not be the sharpest innings late, but he finds a way to not kill your bullpen.

IMGP3378

Best Starter: Masahiro Tanaka – That 24-0 last season in Japan does NOT look like a fluke. Sure it’s early, and the league needs time to catch up, but man does Tanaka look like the real deal.  Tanaka’s 3-0 to start his MLB career and has a ridiculous 46 strikeouts to just 6 walks in 35.2 innings. His first start got off to a shaky start, giving up a lead-off homer to Toronto’s Melky Cabrera, but he sure settled down.  3-runs in 7 innings.  Then he did it again, going a complete 8 in a shut-out win over the Orioles, striking out 10 along the way in his Yankee Stadium debut. And what about his dominance over 8.1 against the Sox in Fenway! He’s been nothing short of dominant. His one bug-a-boo?  The long ball.  He’s so in the zone, that balls tend to fly out easily.  The good thing is they’ve been solo shots for the most part.  (Honorable Mention: Michael Pineda – I could’ve easily made him the best with his 2-1 record, minuscule 1.00 ERA coming off two years of arm issues.  If Tanaka has been number 1, Pineda has been 1a for the Yankees pitching staff. Too bad this all came to a screaming halt with a 10-game suspension due to pine tar, followed by a lat strain that will sideline him for another 3-4 weeks.)

Best Reliever: Shawn Kelly – Outside a bad outing in a non-save situation, Kelly did a wonderful job sliding into the closer role while Robertson was on the disabled list.  Adam Warren has the other save recorded this season, and without the legendary Mariano Rivera closing games, and a big injury to D-Rob, who would’ve thought they’d make it through April without any blown saves? (Honorable Mention: Adam Warren – He’s adjusted to the short reliever role very well.)

Best Hitter: Jacoby Ellsbury – For any Yankees fans that thought liking his former enemy would be hard, you were very wrong. He’s come in and not only torn the ball off the cover, he’s run the bases better than anyone this team has seen since a young Alfonso Soriano was stealing 40 a year. And no, I’m not omitting Brett Gardner here, who has blinding speed, but doesn’t always take advantage of it on the base paths. (Honorable Mention: Carlos Beltran – Power, power, power.  He leads the team in HRs, RBIs, OPS and Slugging %.  He’s been another great addition to the Yankees outfield and lineup.)

Biggest Surprise: Yangervis Solarte – He spent the first 7 years of his career in the minors. He wasn’t even supposed to make the team! Yet Solarte hit his way onto the team out of spring training, hitting Eduardo Nunez off the team completely.  He can and has played every position on the diamond and has done it well.  And talk about a doubles-machine!  He’s also tied with Beltran for the team lead in RBIs with 13.

Record vs AL East: 10-7

Overall Record: 15-11 (1st in the East)

So that was April.  Coming up in May, the Yankees are on the road a lot, including a 3-game series against the Leagues top team, the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Bombers also play their cross-town rivals, as well as the Nation League representatives in the World Series last year, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Advertisements

Yankees 2013 Recap: The Year Everyone Played 3rd Base

975517_10151705290480555_1720384794_nWell, it’s late November, and the Yankees watched as their bitter rivals won their 3rd Championship in the last 10 years.  It was just the 2nd season New York wasn’t a playoff participant in last past 19 years.  So not a bad run.

It was a strange year for the Yankees, and the biggest story was the injury bug.  Every position had some player go down in 2013.  Let’s start with the names that appeared on the disabled list and go from there.

  • Curtis Granderson – (2x) Hand broken by a HBP in his first at-bat of spring training.  Then, 8 games after returning in May, another HBP broke his pinkie.  His pop was only in the lineup 61 times.
  • Derek Jeter – (4x) Started season on DL with re-fracture in left ankle.  1 game after returning, he hit shelf again with a strained calf.  A quad and finally more trouble with the ankle ended his season in September. The captain played in just 17 games.
  • Alex Rodriguez – (1x) That pesky hip kept the Yankees 3rd baseman out until August 5th.  He wasn’t the same guy when he came back, and his season ended with lingering soreness in his legs.
  • Mark Teixeira – (2x) A torn tendon in his right wrist kept the switch-hitting 1st baseman out of all but 15 games this year.  He made his season debut on May 31st, but would eventually have season ending surgery.
  • Kevin Youkilis – (2x) In his first year as a Yankee, Youk got off to a good start, then back issues popped up, and never went away.  Surgery ended his season. He appeared in just 28 games.
  • Francisco Cervelli – (1x) He went down in early April when he fractured his right hand thanks to a foul tip while catching.  Then just when the Yankees thought they’d get their catcher back, an MRI found a stress reaction in his throwing elbow, effectively ending his season, playing in just 17 games.
  • David Robertson – (1x) The setup man went down with shoulder soreness in early September, but finished the year pain-free.
  • Eduardo Nunez – (1x) This was the year Nunez was supposed to take the next step.  Instead he spent a lot of time on the DL.  First he went down with sore ribs in May.  Then he battled leg issues in August, though he never hit the shelf again.
  • Travis Hafner – (1x) After a blistering start, Hafner struggled in May to July.  It came out he’d been playing through shoulder pain, a strained rotator cuff, effectively ending his season.
  • Jayson Nix – (1x) Nix did a good job filling in on the left side of the infield, but his season came to an end in August thanks to a calf strain.
  • Brett Gardner – (1x) Another guy who stayed healthy for most of the year, but an oblique strain ended his year in mid-September.
  • CC Sabathia – (1x) A grade 2 hamstring injury shut him down before his final start of the season.  It takes 8 weeks to heal, so no danger of missing time next season.
  • Andy Pettitte – (1x) The lefty missed a couple starts in late May with a strained trapezius muscle.  One of the few injuries that didn’t linger for New York.
  • David Phelps – (1x) Phelps hit the shelf in July, when he suffered a right forearm strain. He then re-injured the arm while rehabbing in August.  He would return late in September.
  • Boone Logan – The lefty-specialist saw his season cut short when it was found that he had a bone spur in his pitching elbow.  Surgery to come.
  • Michael Pineda – Two years after the big trade with Seattle, Pineda has yet to suit up for New York in the majors.  He did make 20 minor league appearances on his way back from shoulder surgery.

Not to mention all the day-to-day injuries this team had.  It may have been easier to just tell you who didn’t make the DL.  The many injuries forced the Yankees to dig deep into a weak farm system, as well as look league wide for depth.  The Bombers used a total of 56 different players, a team record.  

  • 1st base – 10 players (Lyle Overbay 127 games)
  • 2nd base – 8 players (Robinson Cano 151 games)
  • 3rd base – 11 players (Jayson Nix 41 games)
  • Shortstop – 8 players (Eduardo Nunez 74 games)
  • Outfield – 13 players (Vernon Wells 72 games in LF, Brett Gardner 138 games in CF and Ichiro Suzuki 121 games in RF)
  • Designated Hitter – 16 players (Travis Hafner 66 games)
  • Catcher – 4 players (Chris Stewart 107 games)
  • Starters – 9 players (CC Sabathia & Hiroki Kuroda 32 appearances)
  • Relievers – 21 players (David Robertson 70 appearances)

You can see from the breakdown that there was a lot of overlap.  Guys like Vernon Wells, a center-fielder by trade, made multiple appearances in the infield.  Position players were called upon to pitch innings.  3rd base and short stop were basically revolving doors where a new guy was there everyday.

Adding to the injuries, were bad years from usually reliable guys, as well as role players.  The biggest offender?  Once ace CC Sabathia.  This was a guy who took the ball every fifth day, and you usually felt like a win was coming.  But the lefty finished just a game above .500 at 14-13 and with an ERA hovering around 5.  He led the league in games where he allowed at least 3 earned runs at 22.  He led the team in home runs allowed at 28.  All numbers that are not CC like.

Guys like Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells all contributed to wins, but they were all very cold for longer stretches.  Overbay filled in great with the glove at 1st for Teixeria, and when he did hit, it was usually a clutch RBI.  He led the team with 13 go-ahead RBIs.  But after great Aprils for Hafner and Wells, there’s very little good to talk about.  Hafner of course missed most of the season, while Wells contributed with the glove, and by staying healthy, but was a let down in many big spots in the 2nd half.

And despite the turnover, and the down years, the Yankees managed to win 85 games and stay in the Wild Card hunt until game 157.  It was a 10-win drop off from their AL East crown a year ago.  They played terribly against teams in their division, as well as teams with winning records.  There are a lot of games you can go back to and say that’s why they’re not still playing.

That brings me to my best moments/biggest surprises, and worst moments of the year:

Best of 2013

  • 10.  I put this last because it’s not too surprising, but still great.  It’s the fact that at 43, Mariano Rivera came back off a torn Achilles injury to be just as good as ever.  Sure he blew a few more saves than usual, but he was healthy all year, and still saved 44 games for the bombers.  He leaves us on top.
  • 9. Jayson Nix.  He played a lot more than you thought going into the year, but he did a solid job wherever he played.  He isn’t an average hitter, but he got on base enough, and is a smart baserunner, so he was able to move him self over to the tune of 13 steals to 1 caught stealing.
  • 8. Preston Claiborne’s emergence in the bullpen.  He ended the season poorly, but he came out of the gate retiring everyone in sight.  Claiborne quickly leapfrogged guys to become a late inning option for Joe Girardi.   Look for him to compete for the setup role next season.
  • 7. Shawn Kelley.  Here’s another guy that was invited to spring training who made the team, and decided he’d just strike everyone out.  After a rough April, Kelley was dominant in June and July, and finished the year striking out way more than a better an inning.  He’s another guy who could factor heavily in the pen in 2014.
  • 6. Lyle Overbay.  He wasn’t even at Spring Training until March 26th, when the Red Sox released him.  Losing Mark Teixeira was made easier because of Overbay, who is a great defensive 1st baseman.  He also drove in a lot of meaningful runs for New York, and he did something very rare in 2013, he stayed healthy.
  • 5.  Getting off to a 30-18 start despite all the early injuries.  The Yankees were shocking some people, with contributions from guys you never thought would be on the team.  Guys like Vernon Wells, who came out swinging in his first year as a Yankee.
  • 4. Their big 9-6 come from behind win in Boston on August 18.  Otherwise known as the game Ryan Dempster threw at A-Rod on 4 straight pitches.  Already on a bit of a hot streak, you thought maybe it would propel the team towards a playoff spot.  It didn’t, but it sure added another interesting chapter to Yankees/Red Sox.
  • 3. My biggest surprise of the year was Alfonso Soriano.  No one saw his return to the Bronx coming, and he’s a huge reason why the Yankees remained in the playoff chase as long as he did.  He added energy and pop to a lineup that struggled to score runs all year.  And for a guy not known for his defense, he made some spectacular plays in left.
  • 2. Andy Pettitte’s final major league start, a complete game on September 28th in Houston.  At 41, the lefty threw his season high to walk-off in style.  It was a fitting place for his last start, since the Astros are the only other team he ever played for, and being a Texas boy, his family was in attendance.
  • 1. Mariano Rivera’s final appearance of his career. What a moment at Yankee Stadium on September 26th when Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter came in to take the closer out in the 9th.  Tears of joy, sadness flowed from baseball’s all-time saves leader, as well as the eyes of mound that night.  A perfect sendoff for a guy who was near perfect for nearly 2 decades.

Worst of 2013

  • 10.  Being swept by the Mets.  They lost 3 of those games by a combined 4 runs, including a blown save in the final appearance at Citifield by Rivera.  The Mets finished below .500 again.
  • 9. Bad offense all year.  You can blame injuries, but if you’re a major league player, you have to be able to drive guys in scoring position home.  The Yankees found ways to get guys on in the 1st half, but often left them stranded.  This team was bad at moving guys over, and couldn’t adapt to life without the long ball.  Even when pop returned to the lineup, close games were lost because a lack of execution.
  • 8. The awful year turned in by Phil Hughes.  He finished at an abysmal 4-14.  If he even wins 3 more, this season could have been a lot different.  He had some very good starts, but those get lost in the very bad ones.  He actually got the less run support than Kuroda, but that means nothing when you’re allowing nearly 5 runs a game.  Hughes had one good season starting, but his best year came in 2009 as a reliever.  There’s very little chance we see him back in a Yankees uniform.  He’s a fly ball pitcher who needs to be in a pitcher friendly park.
  • 7. If Hughes was awful, Joba Chamberlain was abysmal.  He couldn’t pitch in close games, he couldn’t pitch in blowouts.  At least Hughes has had good times on this team.  Chamberlain came on the scene quick, and flamed out even quicker.
  • 6. The loss of Curtis Granderson on the first pitch of spring training.  One pitch meant the loss of Robinson Cano’s protection in the lineup, and a guy who hit 84 homers the previous 2 seasons combined.  Losing him a 2nd time wasn’t any better.
  • 5. Being swept in Fenway in mid-September.  They entered the series just a game back in the wildcard with 16 to go and 3 left with Tampa.  But the Sox were clearly on a different level, and outscored the Yankees 22-7.
  • 4. Being swept in Chicago by the White Sox in early August.  It was the series where ARod returned, but it didn’t matter.  The series finale was marked by another Rivera blown save.
  • 3. Biggest surprise.  Like I said early, CC Sabathia’s drop off.  In four previous seasons with the Yankees, he hadn’t lost more than 8 games, and his worst ERA came last season at 3.38.  This year it was over a run and a half worse.  They need him to bounce back next year in a big way.
  • 2. The injuries.  You go into a season knowing you’ll need more than your 25 man roster, because injuries are apart of the game.  But the number of injuries to key players, and how it seemed they’d get one back and lose another was unusual. Having to constantly release players to make room for others, or place someone on the 60-day DL is hard for any team to overcome.
  • 1. The lack of real depth to cope with the injuries.  Having to play guys out of position because your farm system is weak is unacceptable.  Years of bad drafting, poor scouting and trading away guys came back to haunt the Yankees this year.  Sometimes prolonged success hurts teams, because it lulls them into a false sense of security.  New York didn’t factor in that eventually, guys would have to take over for guys like Jeter, and A-Rod or even Jorge Posada.  This is the Yankees biggest issue heading into 2014 and beyond.

So clearly a lot to think about when it comes to the strange 2013 season.  I had fun watching the roller-coaster ride, even if it didn’t end the way the fan in me wanted it to.

——————————–

UPDATE: Joe Girardi isn’t going anywhere. He signed a new deal that will keep him the manager of the pinstripes til 2017.  Robinson Cano is still asking for $300 million-plus, so the All-Star 2nd baseman remains teamless with no one willing to give him that much money.  Alex Rodriguez still doesn’t know the fate of his appeal of the 211-game Biogenesis suspension.  This team has yet to make any splashes on the free agent market, meaning they still have a lot of holes to fill.