When was it? I don’t remember the exact date, but do fondly recollect Christoper Russo, who host the controversial hour-long MLB Network show High Heat, boldly proclaim the New York Yankees season was finished. This drivel was spewed some time in the midst of or immediately following the series against the lowly Houston Astros, where the Yankees dropped two of three on their home turf. Joe Girardi‘s squad was only a tad above mediocrity on August 21st — which was the date their series versus the Astros concluded — at a less than appealing 64-61 record.
Hope fainted with every poor pitch that stayed up in the zone, every blunder on defense, and every batter that was given a “strike three” farewell by the umpire. They spent so much cash in the offseason on Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, yet the value they combined (5.2 fWAR to the date this article was written) couldn’t fathom matching the lucrative dollars they were making. Everything about 2014 was shaping up to be a major disappointment; from Masahiro Tanaka‘s untimely injury to Derek Jeter‘s pedestrian final season. However, lost in all this somber was that it was only August 21st!
So much baseball had yet to be played, and it wasn’t as if New York had played themselves in a position where it was impossible to make a comeback. No, in fact, the Bronx Bombers were just four measly games out of the second Wild Card spot. I mean, no doubt it stings any time you lose a series to Houston, but still, saying “they’re done” at that juncture is ludicrous. It’s baseball! Anything can happen. Literally, anything.
Fast-forward a mere week (and a day) and the Yankees have won six of their last eight contests, trailing just three games in the standings to the Detroit Tigers for the last Wild Card spot. Additionally, New York outscored their opponents 42-26 in that span, going against some pretty stiff competition in the Tigers (three games), Royals (one), and Blue Jays (one) — sorry, I don’t classify the White Sox as “stiff competition,” but nevertheless they swept Chicago in three.
Some may claim this a small sample size mirage, which it very well could be, but, personally, I see it as talented players finally starting to play to their abilities. For example, Ellsbury has compiled a stunning 1.310 OPS the past seven days and an .837 OPS the month of August, which is his best in any one month. McCann’s 108 wRC+ is the highest in any month this year. Martin Prado continues to kill southpaws, as he’s batting .360 against them this season, on top of being a versatile and steady defensive commodity. Chase Headley‘s glove is otherworldly, and sort of makes up for his mediocre offensive performance. Beltran (114 wRC+) and Ichiro (127 wRC+) are putting good wood on the ball in August. And, yeah, Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, Stephen Drew, and Mark Teixeira aren’t playing well this month, but what are you going to do? Gardner’s been the Yankees best all-around player for a large part of the season and “Tex” has been New York’s best offense player. These guys are having rough months, and should revert back to their old, productive selves.
You might be thinking the above paragraph sounded somewhat arbitrary considering I essentially gave Gardner and Teixeira a “pass” for their crummy play in August, but praised Ellsbury, McCann, Prado, Ichiro, and Beltran for their terrific play this month. All of this is within a small sample size, and doesn’t tell us much other than hitters are volatile and ride hot and cold streaks a lot. However, McCann and Beltran are a lot better than they’ve played this season, and have been quite unlucky, riding unsustainable BABIPs at .246 and .257, respectively.
Beltran’s .257 BABIP this season is a far-cry from his career .301 BABIP, which can be partially attributed to his increased 1.19 GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball ratio) and diminished 17.5 LD% (line drive percentage) this season, but luck’s been a huge factor in it, as well. McCann, on the other hand, has actually hit a higher percentage of line drives, a higher percentage of fly balls, and a lower percentage of ground balls, yet, oddly, his BABIP this year is .39 percentage points from his career .285 BABIP. Unlike Beltran, we conspicuously see bad fortunate has crippled McCann from prosperity this season. If baseball were fair, that .246 number would deviate towards his career-BABIP the final month of season. Yet, baseball’s unpredictable — so very unpredictable — and for all we know McCann could see his BABIP dwindle down even more.
Ellsbury’s actually been better offensively this season with a 115 wRC+, but his defense — according to the defensive metrics, at least — has been significantly worse. Don’t put too much stock on those subjective defensive stats, though, as they’re based on players of like positions play. Jeff Zimmerman wrote an interesting piece on this the other day, which debased the Alex Gordon MVP case significantly. Anyway, Ellsbury is a very good player; plain and simple. I don’t feel the need to discuss Ellsbury’s value further, so let’s move onto Prado.
He didn’t start the season in Pinstripes, but Prado’s been excellent since being dealt to the Yanks on July 31st with a 118 wRC+ and .789 OPS in 96 plate appearances. Bearing in mind Prado’s been an above-average hitter five of the previous six years, it’s safe to say this is more of the player we should see on a regular basis.
Finally, we reach Ichiro who…. well, is a nice role player, I guess. Maybe this will be the year he hits 40 homers? He only needs 39 more.
So, the Yankees do, in fact, have talented position players — they just, for the most part, aren’t playing like it. With the exception of Stephen Drew and the declining Beltran and Jeter, the Yankees have above-average position players all over the diamond, not to mention a hot pitching rotation.
Ah, yes. The Yankees pitching staff, which includes Brandon McCarthy, Shane Greene, Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda, and Chris Capuano, places 11th (at 3.34) in ERA and 3rd in fWAR (at 5.3) in Major League Baseball the second-half of the season. Oh, right; and they’ve done it without Masahiro Tanaka! Their rotation and season was pronounced dead after the rookie-phenom went down with a torn elbow ligament in July, but they’ve persevered and are in the thick of the playoff race late-August.
Despite the news Tanaka came back to the Big Apple with elbow soreness, if and when he returns to the mound, he’ll be nothing but beneficial to the Evil Empire, especially if they’re to reach the postseason.
Further, their bullpen hasn’t been that bad of late, ranking 15th in fWAR in MLB over the second-half of the season.
New York has a chance, not a great chance, but a chance nevertheless to make the playoffs. Currently, Fangraphs gives the Yankees a 9.8% chance to make the playoffs, however, with their talented roster that has extremely under-performed, I’m not sure if that’s accurate.