Are The Yankees The Real Thing?
This wasn’t supposed to be the New York Yankees’ year. Alex Rodriguez’ comeback was dismissed, no one gave much thought to Mark Teixeira coming back, C.C. Sabathia looked shot and now Derek Jeter’s retirement—on top of Mariano Rivera’s the previous year—stripped the team of its heart and soul. Yet, here the Yankees are at the All-Star break, sitting in first place in the AL East. Is it time for those of us avowed Pinstripe-haters to be very afraid? That’s what this post will seek to answer.
New York is always a tough team to evaluate statistically because of the extreme hitter-friendliness of their home park. How much credence can you give big numbers for a batter? How much concern should shakier stats from a pitcher cause? Given that opponents are going to outhit their season-long averages in Yankee Stadium, and New York’s pitchers are going to outperform their averages on the road, how much should park effects count?
There’s no set answer—in spite of numerous sabermetric analysts that try to put a hard-core number on everything. All we can do is put it out there and for your consideration and say that’s why the fact the Yankees being second in the AL in runs scored, while ranking 11th in ERA should not lead us to conclude they are all about hitting.
Let’s break apart the Yanks by the four key components of winning—putting runners on base, hitting for power, starting pitching and relief pitching.
GETTING RUNNERS ON: New York is keyed by an excellent tandem at the top of the order. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are each in the high .300s and both are base-stealing threats. Teixeira and A-Rod have always been patient power hitters and that’s no different this year. Brian McCann is respectable—and has a good career track record in this regard, but the bottom drops out of the offense at the bottom of the order.
HITTING FOR POWER: Teixeira has 22 home runs and his 62 RBI lead the American League. A-Rod’s popped 18 home runs. McCann is slugging .471. The most pleasant surprise has been Gardner. A contact hitter batting in the 2-hole, Gardner has hit 10 home runs and is slugging .484. The disappointment is Ellsbury, whose power was supposed to be lifted by the short dimensions in the Bronx, but he’s instead slugging a meager .376.
STARTING PITCHING: This is a combustible mix of problems and potential. The Yankees have consistently good work from Michael Pineda and Adam Warren. The return of Ian Nova from what’s been an injury-plagued year and a half has started reasonably well, as he’s produced a 3.42 ERA in four starts. Masahiro Tanaka, plagued by injury for a year, has made 11 starts and been respectable, at a 3.63 ERA. Sabathia continues to struggle, at 5.47.
If Pineda, Tanaka and Nova can stay healthy—and in all three cases that would be bucking their personal histories—this rotation is going to be pretty good. But if injuries came and Warren’s surprise first half turns into a pumpkin, this could get ugly.
RELIEF PITCHING: The bullpen is the core of the team. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are a lights-out tandem in the eighth and ninth inning, each with a buck-53 ERA. Justin Wilson is a reliable seventh-inning man and manager Joe Girardi has always been pretty good about producing decent middle relievers through mixing it up to get the matchups he wants. New York is fifth in the AL in bullpen ERA and if you factor in their park and the dominance of the back end, there’s a good argument that they’re the best.