Now that the Yankees have played 83 games (2 more than the halfway point), it is time to take a look at their first half performance.
2008 PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS
It was a very tumultuous off-season for the Yankees as Joe Torre was let go in favor of the younger and more aggressive Joe Girardi. Girardi was picked over the fan favorite Don Mattingly (left, Torre on left, Girardi on right, courtesy of Newsday) In essence, this turned the page on the Torre era of 4 World Championships and two other World Series appearances. The Yankees then went through the Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) opt-out debacle in which he opted out only to later save face and re-sign with the Yankees. Then, the Yankees overpaid the market in order to keep their aging superstars, Jorge Posada (4 yr, $52mil), Mariano Rivera (3 yr, $45mil) and Andy Pettitte (1 yr, $16mil). The Yankees also decided to drop out of the Johan Santana sweepstakes to hedge their bets on their three rising but unproven young pitchers, Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy.
However, before the season even started, problem already began surfacing regarding their offseason decisions. Soon after Pettitte picked up his player option, he was embroiled in the Mitchell Report as a user of HGH. Although the Yankees stuck with him, it was not a good start to the 2008 season.
It was one of the craziest off-seasons in recent Yankee history. The new season hinged on its starting pitching, the performance of its three youngsters (Joba, Hughes, Kennedy), two oldies (Pettitte, Mussina), and a underappreciated sinkerball ace, Chien-Ming Wang. At best, the Yankees hoped for a wild-card berth.
At 44-39 after 83 games, has been a disappointment, although not so surprising. There were too many question marks heading into the season that no one was sure what to expect. The home record stands at 22-19 and away at 22-20. They battled to stay above .500 for most of the season, until the past 2 weeks they finally stayed more than 1 game above for good. They have pretty much been a .500 team all season. Their run differential is a measly +20, which ranks only 4th out of the 5 teams in the East. Since this year is the closest the Yankees will come to rebuilding, their record is not surprising. Additionally, with the Red Sox still not at full swing, and the Rays in first place, there is time for the Yankees to make up ground.
The team ERA is a so-so 4.18, which is 8th in the American League. The Yankees have Mariano Rivera to thank for their respectable record, as they lead the Majors in fewest blown saves with only 4. As far as their starting pitching, the veterans have proven quite efficient. Mussina (left) has learned to pitch smarter with his slower arm speed, posting a 3.87 ERA and third in the AL in wins with 10. Pettitte seems immune to the preseason HGH issue, posting a 3.98 ERA and 9-5 record. Coupled with Wang’s 8-2 record, the top 3 Yankees pitchers are a combined 27-13. That accounts for more than the +6 games above .500 the team is at. That means the young pitchers and the 4th and 5th slots have not performed to par. Hughes and Kennedy are both injured. However, prior to injury, neither one of them posted a win. They were a combined 0-7, with 75 hits in 59.2 innings pitched. Not exactly what we expected from them. As for the bullpen, except for Rivera and Chamberlain, no one has been dependable. Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, and the list of others have been completely inconsistent. Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez have been dependable at times, but without experience it is hard to predict what will happen each time. The only other bright spot has been Chamberlain. His dominance in the bullpen has carried over to his starting pitching. Since his switch on June 3, the team has won 4 of the games he’s started. He has a 1.80 ERA, 22 hits, and 26 Ks on 25 innings pitched. As he becomes more comfortable, he will solidify the starting pitching staff.
With the trials of Hughes and Kennedy temporarily over, the Yankees appear to be in decent shape in starting pitching. Wang’s possible season ending injury was a definite negative, but with the addition of Chamberlain, and the veteran (even if somewhat unstable) status of Sidney Ponson, the second half might not be too bad. The Yankees have a stable of young pitchers waiting in the wings in the minor leagues and giving some of them experience might prove positive.
The Yankees offense has carried them since the end of the championship run in 2001. They have consistently ranked in the top 3 in runs since. The likes of Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Alfonso Soriano, Robin Ventura and the current Yankees have provided much power, patience and hits. However, this year, the offense is starting to become a liability. Although A-Rod, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui rank in the top 10 in batting average, all three have been injured at some point or another. Bobby Abreu’s career ~.400 OBP is no where to be found since the 2006 season, when the Yankees acquired him at the half. Derek Jeter is having one of his worst offensive seasons in years, posting a .340 OBP and a .284 AVG. The only other highlight consists of a moustache-wearing Jason Giambi, whose home runs (17) and OBP (.399) have bailed out the Yankees several times this season already. With Robinson Cano continuing to play the part of slow starter (.245 avg, .282 OBP, 6 hrs) and Melky Cabrera not improving since his early years, the Yankees can only hope some the players catch fire.
There is hope however. It appears that Jeter is still hampered by his quad injury and should improve in the second half. If Cano follows his pattern, he will have another strong second half. Along with Damon, A-Rod, Posada and Abreu, the Yankees should be fine offensively. Bringing up young players such as Brett Gardner should help energize this team as they fight for a playoff spot.
The main reason the Yankees picked Joe Girardi instead of Don Mattingly (both left, courtesy of CNN) to succeed Joe Torre was because he was less Torre-like than Mattingly was. He was a hard-nosed, statistics-crazed, blue-collar grind-it-out type of manager, whereas Torre was laid-back, supportive, conservative, father figure. It appeared that Mattingly might continue that laid-back attitude. Halfway thru the season, Girardi is looking very similar to Torre, in terms of managerial decisions. His loyalty to certain players borders on pure insanity. Farnsworth gives up 1+ runs every other outing, and Cabrera is first on the team in games played even though he’s in a perpetual slump is plain stupidity. The Yankees rank 7th in stolen bases and 10th in triples, both being much closer to the basement than the top. The intentional walks and pitching matchups are completely identical to Torre’s. As a matter of fact, Torre’s strategy appeared to be more liberal than Girardi’s. Where is the aggressive attitude we were supposed to see. His workout regimen was suppose to reduce injuries, but that has not changed. His crazy statistics analysis has not lead to anything different.
Whether Girardi’s managerial style is influenced by the veteran Yankee team (versus the young Marlins team) is debatable, but at some point Girardi will have to make a mark on this team. Don’t get me wrong, Girardi is a manager that can handle New York. He has transformed his more impatient style to accomodate the media. He has also shown patience and handled young Steinbrenner’s criticism. He is to be commended for all those things, but from a baseball point of view, I would like to see him be more aggressive.