Better Than I Thought They Were

The Yankees will likely never be cast as the little engine that could, nor should they be.  They are too big, too expensive, and too talented to be massive underdogs or to fly under any radars.  This is not to say they are too big to fail.  After all, when your annual mission statement is to win it all, not only is failure an option, it's a statistical probability.

Nevertheless, the 2011 version of the Yankees have certainly defied expectations, performing at a level, especially of late, that at least this diehard follower of the pinstripes simply didn't see coming.  Just a few of the pleasant surprises:

Pitching – Starters.  The Yankees have a pitching problem — they have too much of it.  OK, I don't really believe this.  As long as AJ continues to make a mockery of the phrase "number 2 starter", I think the Yanks have just what they need and no more, that AJ is now blocking the spot of more worthy pitchers, and that 2/5s of what they're currently relying upon is likely to fall apart physically at any moment.  But even the fact that "the Yanks have just what they need" is a real surprise, driven home by the fact that the Yankees held pat at the trade deadline.  While CC is having as good a year as he has ever had – which is really saying something – there have been three pleasant surprises here: 

  • Bartolo Colon, having not pitched since 2009 and having not thrown more than 100 innings in a season since his Cy Young 2005 campaign, has now thrown 109.0 IP, compiling a 3.30 ERA (he has never completed a season with an ERA that low), and a 8.1 K/9 rate, which is 11th best among AL starters with at least 100 innings and is better than any K/9 he has compiled since as far back as 2001.
  • Freddy Garcia has also found the fountain of youth in the Bronx.  Having thrown more than 100 innings in only one season since 2006, and having not compiled a sub-4.00 ERA since 2005, Garcia has now thrown 117.1 innings compiling a 3.22 ERA that is better than all but 6 (much more predictable) AL East standouts: Beckett, Sabathia, Shields, Romero, Hellickson, and Lester. Garcia's resurgence hasn't received as much attention as Colon's in part because, unlike Colon, he hadn't fallen completely off the radar last year and also because he hasn't appeared to be nearly as dominant as Bartolo in games.  He keeps on eating innings but unlike Bartolo, who has resurfaced as a legit power pitcher racking up the K's and increasing his fastball velocity into the 7th and 8th innings of games, Garcia is getting results with a true bend-but-don't-break contact-pitching approach.  Only the A's Gio Gonzalez has a higher WHIP than Freddy's 1.295 while maintaining as low an ERA.
  • Unlike Colon and Garcia, at only 24 years old Ivan Nova - with his 10-4 record and 3.81 ERA – has been more a revelation than a rediscovery.  He has seemed to get steadily better with every start, most recently with his dominant 7.2 IP, 10 K, 0 BB, 1 ER performance in Chicago last night.  I imagine you'd be hard-pressed to find a Yankee fan that wants to see him sent back down to Scranton Wilkes-Barre at this stage, but with AJ stubbornly occupying the # 2 slot and holding a fat contract with another 2 years remaining on it, and with Hughes' re-emergence having perhaps (finally) begun, this may still end up being Ivan's fate.

Pitching – Relievers.  Girardi's genius for managing relievers is eveident once again.  He has squeezed every ounce of talent out of a bullpen that, with the exception of Mariano, looks very little like what it did coming out of Spring training.  With the 7th and 8th inning guys (Joba, Soriano) having both missed huge portions of the season, Robertson, Ayala, Noeci, and Logan have all stepped up huge. 

Consider how the Yankees' pen currently ranks among AL teams:

  • ERA: 3.04 – 1st
  • Opponent OPS: .655 – 1st
  • WHIP – 1.29 – 3rd
  • K/9 – 8.11 – 2nd (t-OAK)

Offense – Power.  It is probably least surprising that the Yankees score a ton of runs or that they lead the majors in HRs.  On the other hand, if you had told me in Spring training that they'd have 2 of the league's top 3 homerun hitters at this point in the season and neither of them would be named Rodriguez I would have been pretty surprised.  The notoriously slow-starting Teixeira and suddenly-extraordinary Curtis Granderson have led the power surge for the Yanks, but as has been the case for years, there is legitimate power all up and down the line-up.

Offense – Speed.  The Yankees have stolen more bases (112) than any team in baseball other than the Padres and they have the best steal percentage (77%) in the AL, despite the fact that primary speedster Brett Gardner started the season getting caught on 6 of his first 11 attempts.  He has since successfully stolen 24 of 28, including his last 19 in a row.  Gardner and Eduardo Nunez, who stole 5 on 5 attempts in 2010 and has stolen 15 on 19 this year, have led the Yankees' speed attack, but here too they have threats up and down the line-up (Granderson, Jeter, and even Martin all have good speed and have swiped their share of bases).

I continue to suspect that this team's starting rotation is simply not sufficiently built for October, but they're tied for the best record in the AL right now, they're playing some great team baseball, and are a joy to watch.  Now onto Boston…

26 comments… add one

  • It’s hard to overstate how surprisingly good the Yanks have been this year……..they seem to have cloned the Aaron Small phenomenon and distributed it to their rotation (Colon, Garcia, Nova), bullpen (DRob, Noesi) and lineup (Gardner, Granderson) as needed (not that Granderson wasn’t always going to be good).
    With karma like that, who the hell needs an Arod, Teixera or even a Cano? Do you guys even WANT Arod back?
    Count this SF as officially worried about this weekend……….

    dabize August 5, 2011, 11:54 am
  • I agree, dabize — I always expect the Yankees to be great, but somehow these Yankees are sneaky great instead of obviously great. I remember just after the All-Star that it felt like a page had been turned when the Sox finally had a better run differential than the Yankees. And now look at it- the Yankees run differential is 35 runs better than the Red Sox less than a month later.

    stuck_working August 5, 2011, 12:17 pm
  • Obviously I hope you guys are right, but on the flip side, the Sox this year have been the kryptonite even for the Yankees’ best players. CC is 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA against them having given up 24 hits and 9 walks in those 3 games and allowed the Sox to hit .308 as a team against him. It seems like with the Yankees’ 4-game sweep of CWS and Boston’s recent late inning heroics, both teams are playing pretty well right now. Should make for great drama at Fenway this weekend.

    IronHorse (YF) August 5, 2011, 12:33 pm
  • Even in the Sox get swept, which is NOT going to happen, our record against the Sox would still sit at 4-8. I think this series is much more important for us than the Sox. We HAVE to win this series. No hyperbole. Have to.

    krueg August 5, 2011, 1:02 pm
  • Like stuck said above, the Yankees are “sneaky great”. I don’t think anybody expected Colon or Garcia to provide much value, and they’ve been great. I still believe–through biased Boston glasses–that they won’t be able to continue to perform at this level in September and October, especially Colon who is 38 and has only pitched 257 innings over the last 5 years (include zero in 2010).
    Much of the above is wishful thinking on my part, however.

    Atheose - SF August 5, 2011, 1:58 pm
  • Hope you are right, Ath….. however, I keep expecting Doom to come knocking as it did in 03, 06 and 09.
    Not rational, but there it is.
    And I remember waiting for Chacon(?) to suck (was that in 06?) because he had no right to be good, and as soon as he cam back to Earth, they went and got Small.
    On the other hand, there’s Ells, AGon and DP doing their thing, plus the greatness of Josh Reddick and the amazing reincarnation of David O.
    When karma faces karma, who wins?
    ….yes I know…………karma

    dabize August 5, 2011, 2:47 pm
  • The Sox and Yanks are clearly both making the playoffs, barring an epic collapse, so this series really only matters to the extent that both clubs would probably rather face the AL Central winner than the Rangers (but that assumes the Rangers can pull away from the Angels, which isn’t a sure thing anymore).
    Which is to say this series isn’t all that important for either team.
    So why am I so nervous?

    Paul SF August 5, 2011, 3:01 pm
  • Great writeup, btw, IH. Wish you wrote more often. :-)

    Paul SF August 5, 2011, 3:02 pm
  • From a strategic viewpoint, would you rather win the Wild Card and face the Rangers or win the division and face the Tigers. Facing Verlander in a short series…that’s scary. And Doug Fister was a wonderful pickup for Detroit.
    But for pure bragging rights (which I care more about, logistics be damned), I want the division.

    DustyDrB - YF August 5, 2011, 3:25 pm
  • But for pure bragging rights (which I care more about, logistics be damned), I want the division.
    Totally agree with this.
    The Sox have been lousy against Texas for a few years, and with the wild card, they would lose homefield advantage despite likely having a far better record. So in that sense, yes, the Tigers would be preferable. Of course, you’re right about Verlander. Tough call, which probably emphasizes further that this series is pretty meaningless beyond bragging rights.

    Paul SF August 5, 2011, 3:30 pm
  • The whole YFSF relationship can be reduced to pure, recrystallized, resublimated bragging rights. That’s all there can ever be to being a team sports fan.
    Bragging rights are the essence of fandom…..to be worn and marketed by the winner as the latest, most exclusive and most expensive perfume…….
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that

    dabize August 5, 2011, 3:39 pm
  • “But for pure bragging rights (which I care more about, logistics be damned), I want the division.
    Totally agree with this.”
    I third this sentiment. We have had nothing to cheer about in the “rivalry” this year…yet…

    krueg August 5, 2011, 3:40 pm
  • But you have plenty to sneer about, krueg, which as we all know is more important to YF and SF alike.
    Remember how people (including a few RS fans, I’m sure) had buried the Yanks after they missed out on Lee and Andy Pettitte didn’t come back? You must enjoy talking MLB with THEM these days. And I remember Colon’s miserable stint with the Sox. Won’t deny I’m envious.
    You are technically right with respect to the NYY record vs the RS this year, of course, but nobody has forgotten what happened the last time the Sox won 8 straight from the Yanks. Also, the Yanks now are 8 games ahead of the Sox in the non-rivalry standings……..(I like that one especially).
    Any SF or YF who feels secure about bragging rights just now should be treated for malignant metastasizing optimism ASAP.

    dabize August 5, 2011, 3:55 pm
  • Let the pregame festivities start…NOW.
    I will try and be cool on here tonight since my SF brethren will be present as well. ;)

    krueg August 5, 2011, 5:25 pm
  • I don’t sneer ‘bize…I would prefer to sit down and have a beer with you guys than talk smack, thus the frequenting of this site. I just try and ignore the assholes, which is why I will be watching this game at home tonight as opposed to out in Memphis, where everyone HATES the Yankees. I just want to stay home and scream at the TV as opposed to ending up arrested. :)

    krueg August 5, 2011, 5:26 pm
  • 10 minutes…

    krueg August 5, 2011, 6:50 pm
  • 4 minutes…

    krueg August 5, 2011, 6:57 pm
  • I mean “sneer” only in a GOOD way
    And don’t be too cool – your solo game threads here are one of the big draws, as far as I’m concerned, at least.
    as for Memphis – of COURSE they hate the Yankees. But they hate the Sox too, no?
    I can reciprocate to some extent, since these days I sometimes wish the Yankees had lost that classic blowout at Champion Hill, MS 148 years ago – you know, the one that got us Texas.

    dabize August 5, 2011, 6:57 pm
  • As Curry just said, this start is ALL ABOUT answering the question of whether Colon (assuming he stays healthy, a big assumption) might actually be good enough to start a game 2 in the postseason against a superlative offense. Everything else tonight including who ultimately wins – for me anyway – pales in comparison to that. If Colon implodes, his October prospects dim considerably. If he goes 6 or more strong, he takes the first step toward a Game 2 start.

    IronHorse (YF) August 5, 2011, 7:00 pm
  • Game thread IH???
    HAHAHAHAHA…nice dude. I get it worse from Cards fans ‘bize…it’s weird.

    krueg August 5, 2011, 7:03 pm
  • There are more SF’s here than YF’s…by far. No idea why.

    krueg August 5, 2011, 7:04 pm
  • Have to hear the start on the radio, as I am going home now.
    IH – you are absolutely right about Colon – how he fares against playoff level offenses from here on in is going to be (objectively) more important than who actually wins the games.
    Kind of like last night, when Bedard’s pretty good (considering) start mattered more than the Sox’s ultimate loss of the game via committing Millercide.

    dabize August 5, 2011, 7:05 pm
  • The key to this game is whether or not Bartolo gets that outside strike call on his fastball…if not? He’s going to get POUNDED.
    You know Lester is going to be dominant.

    krueg August 5, 2011, 7:06 pm
  • Here we go…Jeter steps to the plate.
    I have my lucky Jeter jersey on…haven’t worn it all year until now.

    krueg August 5, 2011, 7:11 pm
  • Jeter weakly flies out to CF. 1 out.

    krueg August 5, 2011, 7:12 pm
  • Sorry about that – gamethread up top…

    IronHorse (YF) August 5, 2011, 7:13 pm

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