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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pinstripe Pulse: Yankees First Half Report Card

The first half of the 2008 season has been a mixed bag for the Yankees, injuries, inconsistent play, and disappointing pitching have resulted in their current third place standing and a surprising W/L record of 44-37. Heading into the season, my expectations were not as high as some prognosticators, for many reasons. The Alex Rodriguez announcement during the World Series began a chain of events which would last throughout the off-season and into Spring Training. The departure of Joe Torre, while unfortunate, was expected. The hiring of Joe Girardi as his successor, was unfortunate and unexpected. Uncustomary to The Boss, not only die the Yanks lose out on the prime off-season prize, they lost him to their disfunctional neighbors to the southeast, the Mutts Mets. Andy Pettitte followed ARod and opted out, then opted back in. The ongoing Roger Clemens fiasco. Jose Canseco linking Rodriguez to steriod use. Almost to a man, the beginning of the season was a relief, they could concentrate on playing baseball and forget about all the off-field drama.

(Numbers following the player's name indicates games started at the position)


Jose Molina (41), Jorge Posada (21), Chad Moeller (17), Chris Stewart (1)

When the Yankees first announced the signing of Posada to his new four year contract in the off-season, my first reaction was OMGWTF!. After a couple shots, I realized the signing was a good one, for a couple reasons. First, Jason Giambi will not return in 2009, (thank goodness!). Second, Jose Molina is the best backup catcher in baseball, finding another catcher with the same skill set will be much easier cheaper than finding a first baseman with 35 HR potential. Posada has some first base experience, but his longterm future, as the contract indicates, will be as the full time DH. Posada has appeared in just 31 of the Yanks 81 games to this point due to an extended DL stay due to rotator cuff inflammation. Adequately backed up by the defensive-minded Molina, the Yanks have gone 20-16 in Molina's starts. Even more importantly, Molina has thrown out 18 of 43 runners attempting to steal, while Posada has managed to nail only six of 31. Journeyman Moeller has played well defensively when given the chance to play, in the event of another setback with Posada's shoulder, the Yanks wouldn't hesitate to stick him back in the lineup. Offensively, Posada's been the bright spot to date with a .302 average, although with just 3 homers and 19 RBI in 116 AB's, his offensive output has been disappointing.

Grade: C

First Base

Jason Giambi (54), Shelley Duncan (12), Wilson Betemit (10), Morgan Ensberg (3), Chad Moeller (2), Johnny Damon (1)

All you need to know about the Yankees struggles at the right corner is to look at the names following Giambi on the list. Matter of fact, look at Giambi's in particular. At this point of his career, he's a DH. Offensively he's still a force, after the worst start of his career, he has managed to get his average up to a respectable .268, ( he didn't reach the .200 mark until May 19th). As a full no-trade guy, Giambi's not likely to go anywhere, and at $23 million for this year, no one would want him anyway. The others on this list are non-factors and not worth spending any time on.

Grade: D+

Second Base

Robinson Cano (76), Alberto Gonzalez (4)

As puzzling initially as the Posada signing was, at least I was able to digest it for awhile before realizing its validity. I can't say the same thing about the four year deal given to Robinson Cano. This guy is, plain and simple, a bad baseball player. Offensively, his numbers have dropped each year since his apparently unconscious .342/17/78 second season. Defensively, while improved somewhat, Cano is still a below average player, his intangible skills, especially on the bases, are horrendous. He had the distinction this off-season of being the Yankees only marketable player, he could easily have been dealt in a way where the Yanks would have improved themselves at two positions. In four years, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Posada will either be gone or towards the end of their prime, leaving Cano as the cornerstone of the Yankees team. This to me is an uncomforting thought.

Grade: D-


Derek Jeter (75), Alberto Gonzalez (5), Wilson Betemit (1)

Jeter started off strong, his average was over .300 as recently as May 27th. Since then, he has struggled, hitting rock bottom (.270) on June 13th, a hot streak since then has his average back to a more respectable .285. Surprising has been his lack of production, not a homer hitter by any stretch, Jeter has just 22 extra base hits in over 300 plate appearances. Despite being on pace for his eighth career 200 hit season, Jeter is on pace for his career low HR and second lowest full season RBI totals. Defensively Jeter has also uncharacteristically struggled, ranking a shade below average in overall efficiency. Regardless, he's still the captain, the undeniable leader of the team, a reasonable second half will put his numbers closer to where they should be.

Grade: B

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez (57), Morgan Ensberg (13), Alberto Gonzalez (6), Wilson Betemit (4)
Another position which has yet to avoid contact with the injury bug, Alex Rodriguez continues to feel the effects of a quad strain which forced him to the DL earlier this month. Rodriguez has performed adequately at third defensively, coming in slightly above average in fielding percentage and slightly below average in range. Offensively, he ranks second and third, respectively in homers and RBI, and his .325 average trails only Hideki Matsui. Personally, I would like to see ARod blow off the All-Star game to rest his legs, with the game in New York that scenario is unlikely at best.

Grade: B-

Left Field

Johnny Damon (59), Hideki Matsui (20), Justin Christian, (3)

Pitching inconsistencies aside, the single determining factor in the Yankees slow start to this point has been the on-going problems with Matsui's left knee. Placed on the DL this past weekend for the second time this season, and with the possibility of surgery now looming, his absence in the middle of the order, and, more importantly, in the outfield, has hurt the Yanks big time. A healthy Matsui forces a now healthy Johnny Damon back to CF, and Melky Cabrera into the fourth outfielder role his talent level requires of him. Surprising to many, but not to me, Damon is back healthy and playing Johnny Damon-type baseball, he leads the Yankees in stolen bases and hits, and is second (by one) in runs scored, and is playing an above average outfield. During the short period when his knee wasn't bothering him, Matsui was his usual, stellar self in the outfield. With a 100% Matsui in left, and a 100% Damon in center, the Yankees are a much better team on both sides, when one of them is hurting, it shows.

Grade: A+


Melky Cabrera (79), Johnny Damon, (6)

Plain and simple, Cabrera may be the worst regular outfielder in baseball. Defensively, he is below average in fielding and range, and on the offensive side, he is contributing a mighty .312 OBP. All the trade rumors to this point have the Yankees looking at pitching, whether they can turn this year around and make a serious run will be decided on if they can pick up an outfielder.

Grade: F


Bobby Abreu (75), Shelley Duncan, (3), Hideki Matsui, (2), [[Justin Christian, (1), Melky Cabrera, (1)

Abreu had off-season surgery on both knees to correct some cartiledge issues, and his play is reflective on the difference. He is playing his best rightfield since his heyday with the Phillies six, seven years ago. Offensively, he is again a threat, on pace for his first 20 homer season since 2005, and is on pace also to surpass his career high RBI total of 110, set in 2001. Abreu's production has lacked in the past couple years, with his knees being at least a contributing factor, the fact remains he is still a career. .300 hitter. As with Matsui and Damon, an injury or an extended slump would cause serious problems offensively and defensively, but, for now, Abreu is playing his best baseball since coming to New York.

Grade: A

DH & Bench

Matsui has been the Yankees primary DH year to date, and while his .323/7/34 numbers are outstanding, he is more beneficial to the Yankees in the outfield. In his absence, Jason Giambi has been the primary DH, the Yankees are certainly better off with Giambi in the dugout when on defense. Production wise, the Yanks get an "A" from the DH spot, but with the inconsistencies caused by Matsui's health and the effect it has elsewhere in the lineup, the grade drops to a B. Benchwise, the Yankees have already released Morgan Ensberg, signed, released and re-signed Chad Moeller, and have Shelley Duncan riding the express route between the Bronx and Pennsylvania. The great Yankee teams of the late '90's all had one thing in common, a dependable bench. From Luis Polonia, to Luis Sojo, to David Justice, Joe Torre never had concern with making a move. Now, the Yankees have no choice but to keep players in the lineup who are playing with injuries and otherwise should be resting.

Grade: B


In the Yanks 82 games to date, eleven pitchers have started at least one game. By reflection, the Red Sox have used eight starters, Tampa seven, the White Sox six, and the Angels seven. Unexpected injuries, (Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy), and inconsistent performance has the Yankees dialing up the Scranton-Wilkes Barre express far more than they would have liked. This is a team expected to be right in the thick of the race all season, and working on a streak of thirteen consecutive postseason appearances, yet they've called upon the likes of Darrell Rasner, Dan Giese and the immortal Sidney Ponson to start games? Of the seven pitchers to start five or more games, only Joba Chamberlain and Chien-Ming Wang have allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. With the only marketable trade options being from the AL, the Yanks hope for the rest of the season pitching wise is a quick return to health for Hughes or Kennedy.

Grade: C


Mariano Rivera is a perfect 22-22 in save opportunities, with a 0.74 ERA and just 17 hits allowed in 36 1/3 innings. His most telling stat, however, is not that he has finished 33 of his 34 appearances, is twelve of his appearances were not save opps, or almost 35% of his total. By comparison, Francisco Rodriguez, has finished 34 of his 38 appearances, with 35 being save opps, or 93%. At 38 years of age, the Yanks should be looking to reduce Mo's workload, not increase it with unnecessary innings. The rest of the bullpen has been abysmal at best. Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins have contributed nothing but headaches and are clearly past their primes, (if they ever had one). Only Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras have pitched with any reasonable consistency, it would be nice if they could pitch every day, unfortunately this isn't a feasible option.

Grade: D


Joe Girardi is not the right guy for this team. Maybe Don Mattingly voiced his personal, off-field issues to Brian Cashman before hand, thus eliminating himself from consideration. Maybe Girardi was signed because he was cheap. Either way, his micro-management has already fractured the clubhouse, and his questionable decisions on the field certainly aren't winning him any friends either. I have no doubt Girardi is an up and coming managerial prospect, he's just not in the right place for his skills.

Grade: C-

Second Half Outlook

Last year at this time, the Yankees were 38-41 and ten and a half games behind the Red Sox. Despite a third place standing now, they're six games over .500 and trail the Rays by just five and a half games. Their second half schedule is a mixed bag of good and bad. Out of their remaining 71 second half games, just 38 are against teams with winning records, with 20 of those at home. Other than a one game makeup of a rainout with Detroit, the Yanks are done for the season with the Tigers and Indians. The only concern is six of their nine remaining games with the Red Sox are in Beantown, and six of ten with the Angels are in LA. Although overall they have more home games in the second half than roadies, most of their road schedule takes place in September.

If Matsui has knee surgery and misses most of, if not all of, the second half, the Yanks may not be able to replace him sufficiently enough to pick up ground. Trade rumors have both the Red Sox and Rays making moves before the deadline, if the Yanks stand pat their chances of catching either one are slim. It's likely both Minnesota and Chicago will fade, leaving the likely wild card winner coming from the East. Despite a closer standing and a better record, the Yanks are farther away from the postseason this year at the same time than last.
My original prediction this year was the Yanks finishing third, barring a Mark Teixeira or Roy Oswalt type acquisition, I don't see them finishing any higher than that, regardless of what Tampa and Boston do, or don't do. Overall, I would say while their W/L record is a bit surprising, their place in the standings isn't.

Overall First Half Grade: C

Authored by Chuck but posted by Josh due to technical difficulties.

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