Yankees' midseason report card
Baseball's best record gets examined
When a team has the best record in baseball, holds a two-game lead over its nearest divisional rival and is the defending world champions to boot, it almost seems silly to break it down to its components and critique them one-by-one.
But a baseball team is nothing if not the sum of its parts, and baseball journalism is nothing if not, well, silly at times. And while the Yankees may be showing the rest of the American League a thing or two, they still have to pass muster with ESPNNewYork.com. In that spirit, it is time for our midseason Yankees report card.
Yankees' player-by-player report card
Mariano Rivera, closer
In spite of two of the ugliest meltdowns of his career -- Jason Kubel's May grand slam and the July 4 blown save against the Blue Jays in a game the Yankees came back to win -- this has been a remarkable season for a 40-year-old-pitcher who is throwing as though he is 25. Didn't allow an earned run until Kubel's slam on May 16, and between June 3-20 retired 24 consecutive batters.
Robinson Cano, second base
Hideki who? Coming into the season, one of the big questions was whether Cano could fill the shoes, and the crucial No. 5 spot in the Yankees' lineup, vacated by the departed 2010 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui. The question has been more than answered. In fact, it has been rendered nonsensical. Despite "slumping'' recently to .336, Cano leads the team in slugging percentage (.556) and OPS (.944) and is second in on-base percentage (.389) and homers (16) -- and he's third in RBI (58). Occasionally still undisciplined, Cano is noticeably more selective at the plate and remains effortlessly flawless in the field. An MVP-caliber first half. When Jeter retires, the Yankees will be Cano's team.
Alex Rodriguez, third base
A-Rod has rebounded from a slow start, especially power-wise, to take the team lead in RBIs (70) and post a respectable, if not quite A-Rod-like HR total (14). Still, his batting average is nearly 40 points below his career average and the slugging percentage is down nearly 100 points, and the ball doesn't always jump off his bat the way it once did. Whether that is due to lingering hip issues or something else, at 34 he is not the same hitter he was two years ago. His glove remains solid, even outstanding at times.
Derek Jeter, shortstop
At 36, the oldest starting shortstop in major league baseball still plays hard every game, every play, every at-bat and every pitch. So far, the results aren't there. At this point, Jeter could be headed for one of his worst seasons statistically, and even in the field seems to have lost the range he regained in his outstanding 2009 campaign. He got off to a good start at the plate in April but has steadily declined every month since and has just seven hits, all singles, in 35 July ABs. Jeter still gives off a winning aura in the clubhouse and sets the gold standard for behavior that his teammates try to follow.
Mark Teixeira, first base
Teixeira took forever to get started this season -- even by his standards -- but quietly, the numbers are starting to resemble the ones on the back of his baseball card, to borrow his favorite phrase. Suddenly red-hot in July, he has assumed the team lead in home runs (17) and climbed to second on the club in RBIs (60) -- and his batting average has climbed to .254. To his credit, he's never allowed his struggles at the plate to affect his work at first base, which has been outstanding.
Jorge Posada, catcher
A frustrating, injury-plagued first half for the 38-year-old Posada -- who because of foot and finger injuries has caught just 36 of the first 88 games. And, as he has made abundantly clear, he neither likes nor performs particularly well as a DH. Still shows decent power, with nine HRs in 196 at-bats, but his average and RBI total will likely be down this year.
Francisco Cervelli, catcher
A cocky, gritty player who works hard at his craft and seems to have a strong rapport with the pitching staff. Still, Cervelli has little to show for it, having thrown out just 5-of-36 base stealers -- well below the league average and not as good as Posada's 7-of-37. Started out well with the bat but over the past two months, pitchers have seemed to catch on to him. Had a horrendous June, batting .180, and has shown no sign of power. Given a chance to play every day with the injuries to Posada, Cervelli has shown himself to be no more than a backup catcher.
Brett Gardner, outfield
Given a chance to play every day with the departure of Johnny Damon, Gardner has shown an ability to create havoc on the bases with his speed, and has hit better than anyone could have expected, albeit without Damon's power. Gardner leads the team in OBP (.396) and his 25 steals are one fewer than the rest of the team combined. Plays a much better left field than Damon, too, and at $452,000 a year, is the biggest bargain on the Yankees' roster, if not all of baseball.
Curtis Granderson, outfield
Granderson no doubt was slowed by the groin pull that cost him 23 games and most of May, but by just about any offensive yardstick has been a disappointment. His .240 average is 30 points below his career average, his OBP is down, his strikeouts are up and his struggles against left-handed pitching have been every bit as bad as advertised. Has played a good centerfield -- covers a lot of ground and has a decent arm.
Nick Swisher, right field
After a better-than-expected 2009, Swisher has toned down his clubhouse act and improved his on-field performance. He earned his first All-Star berth thanks in part to a relentless Yankees marketing campaign, but mostly to his outstanding numbers -- a career-high .298 average and 15 homers which rank third on the team. Always a high on-base percentage guy, Swish's .377 is third only to Gardner and Cano. He plays a passable right field, has an excellent arm and is occasionally capable of an eye-opening play.
CC Sabathia, starting pitcher
As befitting the highly paid ace of the staff, the big man in the baggy pants leads the team in wins (12), innings pitched (131), strikeouts (104) and complete games (2). Only a sub-par May (1-2, 5.15 ERA) keeps him from posting the lowest ERA, too. CC's currently on an eight-game winning streak and has allowed only three earned runs in his three July starts.
A.J. Burnett, starting pitcher
Burnett has replaced Javier Vazquez as the problem child in the Yankees' rotation, although the return of pitching coach Dave Eiland seems to have improved his focus and results. He suffered through a terrible June -- the worst month by any pitcher in franchise history, 0-5 and 11.35 ERA -- but has pitched great is his two July starts, allowing just two runs in 13 2/3 innings. Burnett has A-plus stuff but an F-minus head sometimes, is way too self-critical and still allows a bad pitch or at-bat to affect the rest of his performance too much.
Andy Pettitte, starting pitcher
The way this 38-year-old is pitching, it will be hard to take him seriously when he goes through his inevitable Hamlet routine in the offseason, deciding whether or not to retire. Even with a minor elbow injury in May, Pettitte is off to the best start of his 16-year career and probably should have been handed the ball to start the All-Star Game. Has pitched at least seven innings in nine of his 17 starts and eight innings on four occasions, one fewer than Sabathia. Only question is, can he keep it up?
Phil Hughes, starting pitcher
Watching Hughes supplant Javy Vazquez as the fourth starter in the Yankees' rotation, it is hard to believe he actually had to try out for the fifth spot in spring training, or that not long ago, he was considered inferior to Joba Chamberlain and roughly equivalent to Ian Kennedy. He improved his curveball and added a changeup to his 95-plus fastball this spring, but most striking has been his poise on the mound. Hughes doesn't at all resemble a 24-year-old in his first season as a full-time starter. Has benefited from great run support (8.43/9IP).
Javier Vazquez, starting pitcher
Struggled mightily early in the season, especially at home, where the Yankee Stadium fans treated him like it was the seventh game of the 2004 ALCS again. But has rebounded to post a creditable 7-7 record and see his ERA plummet from a high of 12.71 to its current 4.45, in spite of anemic (4.41R/9IP) run support. His velocity has improved as the season has progressed, and in July has allowed just one run and six hits in 14 innings. Could be an important factor in the second half, either as a starter or as trade bait in a deadline deal.
Joba Chamberlain, relief pitcher
Ah, Joba, Joba, Joba. As in, Joba the Nutt. Whether because of his own immaturity/lack of focus or the counterproductive manipulation the Yankees have put him through over the past two seasons, the electrifying set-up man that he was in 2006 and 2007 seems to have vanished and been replaced by a tentative flamethrower who can lose his confidence and command in the time it takes to throw one bad pitch. Joba likes to say he has had "only a handful'' of bad outings, but with two horrendous appearances in July already, is working on two handfuls. The Yankees have got to find a way to right their former heir apparent to Mariano, or find another team to take him off their hands.
David Robertson, relief pitcher
The celebration over D-Rob's performance in the 2009 World Series, when he worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam, may have been a little premature. Robertson has excellent stuff but can be maddeningly inconsistent and gets himself into trouble with walks. To his credit, he bounced back from a horrible outing against the Blue Jays on July 2 with three straight good ones. Has to be used sparingly and in the right situations.
Damaso Marte, relief pitcher
A "specialist" who sometimes has trouble executing his specialty, which is retiring left-handed batters. Most of Marte's value derives from being the only left-handed arm in the Yankee bullpen (Boone Logan is only an occasional participant). Allowing a home run to left-handed hitting Russell Branyan of the Mariners in the 7-0 loss on June 30 was a low point of his season, but sometimes will go nearly a week without pitching, which can't help his consistency or sharpness.
Chan Ho Park, relief pitcher
Hitters have been happily hopping onto the Chan Ho Parkway all season long, belting an alarming six homers off Park in just 27 innings of work. Although a former starter who was brought to the Bronx primarily to work in long relief, Park seems to get into trouble in his second inning of work after often pitching well in the first frame. A mystery that, so far, has defied the analytical powers of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland. Still, he provided the quote of the year ("Save it!").
Chad Gaudin, relief pitcher
Once a contender in the spring training fifth-starter sweepstakes, Gaudin is now primarily a mop-up man, only used if the Yankees are way ahead or hopelessly behind. He pitched horribly with Oakland for the first six weeks of the season, has been slightly better in New York, but still is not trusted with a game that might still be on the line.
Sergio Mitre, relief pitcher
Out since June 15 after straining an oblique while taking batting practice, Mitre was a serviceable long man. He did an OK job filling in as a starter in May and hasn't had any bullpen meltdowns to speak of, but is rarely used in an important spot.
Alfredo Aceves, relief pitcher
The loss of this versatile right-hander to a lower back injury in May has had a ripple effect on the entire bullpen. Without Aceves, the Yankees have been forced to use Chan Ho Park in spite of his ineffectiveness. They've called up kids like Romulo Sanchez, Ivan Nova, Mark Melancon and now, Dustin Moseley, before they might have wanted to. And Aceves' absence is probably the reason Chad Gaudin is back with the team. A setback last week while throwing off a mound means the prospect of season-ending back surgery is very much a possibility.
Marcus Thames, outfield
Can't play the outfield or run the bases, but this soft-spoken right-handed masher has had a couple of huge hits, including the game-winning single on July 4, The Boss' birthday, against Toronto, and that crushing walk-off home run off Papelbon in May. Without Thames this season, A.J. Burnett would have a backlog of pies spoiling in his fridge. A role player who has played his role very well so far.
Nick Johnson, first base
The worst second act since the return of Halley's Comet fizzled in 1986, the likely season-ending wrist injury Johnson suffered back in May rivaled "Sun rises in East" for predictability. But don't blame Johnson; blame the Yankees, and GM Brian Cashman, who knew the history better than anyone when they decided to make him the replacement for Johnny Damon in the No. 2 spot in the order. Worst of all, Johnson wasn't playing very well before he got hurt -- striking out a whopping 23 times in 72 at-bats, 15 of them looking.
Ramiro Peña, infield
Let's face it, El Niño is never going to replace Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez, but he is more than capable of filling in for them on the occasional DH day or in the late stages of a blowout. That goes for Robinson Cano, too, and even Jorge Posada -- since Joe Girardi has said more than once this year that Peña would serve as his emergency catcher. A hard worker who's willing to do anything the team asks in order to stay in the bigs.
Kevin Russo, utility
He's here for one reason and one reason only -- versatility. He's played second base, third base and the outfield, and pinch-run a few times. Russo had a couple of two-hit games in May, but hasn't hit a lick since or, in fairness, played very much in order to stay sharp. Only 25, he may someday develop into an everyday player, but not this year, or for this team.
Colin Curtis, outfield
A line-drive hitter with a quick bat, Curtis has shown potential as a gap hitter. He had a two-run double against Arizona in his second Major League game back in June, but now that the regular outfielders are healthy, probably won't see much playing time.
Chad Huffman, outfield
Had a key two-run single against the Dodgers in L.A. on June 27, helping the Yankees overcome a 5-0 deficit to win, 8-6, but has only started two games since. Like Curtis, Huffman will see limited duty and will likely be riding the New York-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle before long.
Joe Girardi, manager
In his third season as Yankees manager and first as the skipper of a defending world champion, Girardi seems more at ease in his role -- although he still has a maddening habit of evading even harmless questions and becoming defensive when asked to explain a strategic move in interviews. He is unfailingly loyal, even protective of his players -- a quality they love him for -- but how long will he stick with Joba Chamberlain and Chan Ho Park before making a change? Heck, he won't even acknowledge they're having problems. That could turn out to be a problem as the season wears on. Yes, he can drive you nuts with his reflexive pitching changes and matchups, and too often you get the feeling that with some of his moves, he just wants to remind all of us there is a manager in the dugout. Still, who can argue with a guy who's led his team to the best record in baseball despite injuries and slow starts by some of his regulars?
Brian Cashman, GM
First, the good news. The GM did a good job not strip-mining the farm system in order to get Cliff Lee, who he can easily pluck off for wads of Yankee cash in the offseason. Now, the bad news: Curtis Granderson has not been the player the Yankees thought he would be. A replacement for Bernie Williams? He's not even Johnny Damon. And as for Nick Johnson, well, the less said the better. Cashman was right to part with Hideki Matsui, but wouldn't Damon fit nicely in the No. 2 spot in the Yankees' lineup? Bringing in Marcus Thames was a good move, but most of Cash's heavy lifting was done in the winter of 2008, when he acquired Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira. And he has tough tasks ahead, namely, what to do about Jeter, Mariano and Pettitte. And like Girardi, you really can't knock a guy who built a team with a 56-32 record at the break.