Not long ago, I logged on to Twitter to see that the Yankees were in first place in the AL East. It was their first time there this season and they have stayed in that area since, currently leading the Sox by one game after tonight.
Understandably, I was a little shocked to see this. Having followed the Sox almost exclusively all season, I knew relatively little about how the Yankees had been performing apart from CC Sabathia (on my fantasy team) and the batting lineup (which would have been great in 2004). Seeing the Yankees camped in first was an unexpected—and unpleasant—surprise.
Now it seems as if the theme of the season will be the Sox and Yankees dueling for the division lead. Oh, the old familiar places. Considering we may have to get used to this, I decided to dig into the stats and see if I could better understand the Yanks’ success.
Not surprisingly, the Yankees’ pitching is anchored by their formidable one-two punch of CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. The duo have been among the most reliable workhorses and bets on the MLB over the past few seasons. Last year, injuries “derailed” Sabathia, who pitched only 200 innings instead of his typical 240, but it was Kuroda who shined in his place, hurling 219.2 in one of the best seasons of his career.
Both have lived up to their preseason expectations to this point, posting WARs of 1.2 and 1.3, respectively, but both have also produced some question marks, as well. In particular, Sabathia’s well-publicized velocity decline (90.59 mph on his fastball in April, down from 93.04 last season) remains a notable concern to me.
Many have applauded Sabathia’s adjustment to this decline, but I’m not sold yet. In particular, his past three starts (16.2 IP, 22 H, 7 ER) and an inflated home run rate (1.23 HR/9) show signs that he may not be withstanding the decline as well as we initially thought.
It’s the back end of the New York rotation that makes Sabathia’s performance so important. Andy Pettitte has been a capable #3 (7.99 K/9, 4.14 FIP) but is now hurt, and Phil Hughes has been a disaster (1.90 HR/9, 4.91 FIP). David Phelps, while recently successful, is unproven and certainly not THIS good. Ivan Nova was terrible before an injury knocked him out of the rotation, and seems to have relegated him to a bullpen role. Unless you really believe in Vidal Nuno, the Yankees’ back-end rotation should look sketchy to you. This isn’t a team that can withstand regression from CC Sabathia.
The Mariano Rivera Revenge Season is in full effect, ladies and gentlemen. The ageless closer has already saved 17 games and has a 1.47 ERA in 19 appearances this year. He just simply doesn’t stop. While his K/9 is down (6.87 this year, 8.80 in 2011), he’s decided he doesn’t want to walk anybody (0.98 BB/9) anymore. He’s still among the league’s best closers.
Outside of that, the Yankees have received strong contributions from David Robertson (12.10 K/9, 2.79 ERA), Boone Logan (10.67 K/9, 1.88 ERA), and Adam Warren (23.2 IP, 1.14 ERA). Joba Chamberlain’s stat line isn’t terrible (3.48 FIP), but he’s walking an awful lot of batters (5.79 BB/9) and his moustache is the worst thing that ever happened.
Seriously. I won’t link it for you. Just go look for yourself.
This… this is what gets me. This is the part that breaks the “common sense” section of my brain.
We knew Robinson Cano would be solid, as his 13 home runs and .291/.346/.556 slash line would suggest. But 10 home runs and a .353 wOBA from Vernon Wells? Or .270 ISO and .395 wOBA from Travis Hafner?
Seven home runs from Lyle Overbay?
The Yankees rank 15th in the league in wOBA, and have done a good job of limiting strikeouts (18.7% K%, 10th in the MLB) and hitting for power (.167 ISO, 7th), and they’ve done it largely without Derek Jeter, Mark Texeira, and Curtis Granderson, while also losing key 2012 contributors like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Raul Ibanez (he of the 10th place MVP vote).
Wells and Hafner have been tremendous. Overbay has been serviceable. The unlikely catching tandem of Francisco Cervelli (pre-injury) and Chris Stewart has been surprisingly effective as well. Combined with a star in Robinson Cano and a pretty useful Brett Gardner, and the Yankees have somehow, improbably, scratched together a passable major league lineup.
It’s remarkable that the Yankees have managed that kind of production with the losses they’ve sustained. No, wait, scratch that: it’s not remarkable. It’s miraculous. Vernon Wells was one of the league’s most undesirable players last year. Travis Hafner was batting .228. Lyle Overbay played 65 games.
The Yankees’ success has been largely due to strong performances from unlikely sources. Is it all sustainable? I doubt it. But then, I’ve said that before. Should it all continue, some folks in the Yankees’ front office are going to need a pay raise, I think.
But it won’t continue. I hope.
Happy Arrested Development Day to you all.