First Half Review: Seven who exceeded expectations

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With the first half of the season in the rear view mirro and the Yanks all enjoying a few days off for the All Star break, we’re going to offer up some first-half reviews but with a twist. Instead of a rote overview of how the players are doing, we’ll use the spot usually reserved for the game recap to discuss a few select performances. Tonight, we start with the overachievers.

As a club, the Yankees are sitting pretty in first place. With the best mark in baseball, they’re 56-32, two games up on the Tampa Bay Rays and five games better than the third-place Boston Red Sox. They’ve scored 469 runs and have allowed 352. Both of those marks are second best in the American League. So clearly, the team is rife with good performances, but seven players stick out for the headlines they’ve made.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

We start with the one who is arguable the team’s first half MVP. Although a recent 16-for-75 slide has seen his season totals dip to .336/.389/.556, Robinson Cano is among the team leaders every offensive category. His batting average is tops on the club; his OBP is second; and his slugging first. His 115 hits place him behind only Josh Hamilton and Ichiro Suzuki in the AL, and his 23 doubles are tops among his Yankee teammates. His 4.4 WAR is tops on the team.

For Cano, 2010 has been a breakout season. We wondered in our season preview which Robinson Cano would show up, and the various projection systems pegged him to hit a respectable .304/.343/.484 with 20 home runs and 31 walks. He should top both the walk and home run totals before July is out. With Mark Teixeira heating up, the Yankees don’t need Cano to carry the team as he was in late April and early May, but at age 27, Cano seems to be coming into his own.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

On par with Cano has been Nick Swisher. Hitting .298/.377/.524, Swisher is the only other member of the starting nine to carry an OPS over .900 into the All Star Break. Although he failed to escape the first round of the Home Run Derby earlier tonight, the Yanks have no complaints with Swisher, and he too is far outpacing his season projections. If he hit just .242/.360/.454 with 25 home runs on the season as the various systems projected him to, his second half would be a major disappointment.

Swisher seems to have emerged in 2010 with the help of Yanks hitting coach Kevin Long who broke down Swish’s swing and made him keep still at the plate. Particularly at home, Swisher has shown much improvement. After hitting .226/.382/.394 with 8 home runs last year at home, Nick is off to a .291/.371/.496 start in the Bronx this year with 7 round-trippers, and I laugh every time I remember that Cashman landed him for a wing and a dream.

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

The final offensive player making a statement this year has been the speedy Brett Gardner. After languishing behind Melky Cabrera for much of 2009, Gardner earned himself a starting spot out of Spring Training this year, and he’s been on fire since. He’s hitting .309/.396/.415 with 25 stolen bases in 31 tries and had a higher slugging percentage than Mark Teixeira for much of the first half. Our projection for Gardner had him at .270/.347/.372 with 31 stolen bases and three home runs. Aided by an inside-the-parker last week and a grand slam the day before, Gardner has already topped that total. The real test will be to see how he holds up over the next 74 games.

Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Moving to the mound, we find two names that do not come as a surprise and one who does. The surprise, of course, is Phil Hughes. During the season preview, we wondered about Phil’s and Joba’s futures, and so far this year, Phil has gotten the better of that debate. He’s 11-2 in 16 starts spanning 101 innings, and he sports a nifty 3.65 ERA and a 3.96 xFIP. He’s striking out 8.1 per nine innings and walking just 2.6 while keeping the ball in the yard. Although an innings limit may curtail his late-season pitching, Hughes took a huge step forward during the first half.

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

Next, we have the Big Man. It’s hard to beat expectations when you’re making $23 million a year, but CC over his last eight outings is 8-0 with a 1.81 ERA. On the season, he’s 12-3 with a 3.09 ERA. His projection called for a near replica of 2009, and so far, the southpaw has delivered. The strike out totals are down a bit this year, and the walks are up a tick, but opponents are OPSing just .645 against Sabathia.

It’s easy to forget Sabathia’s early 2009 struggles, but through the first half last year, he was just 8-6 with a 3.86 ERA. He went 11-2 with a 2.74 ERA and a struck out hitters at a rate of nine per nine innings pitched in the second half. In his career, his second half ERA has been approximately 0.50 runs better and he strikes out a batter more per nine innings. If he can be even better in the second half this year than he was in the first, Cy Young considerations will not be out of the question.

Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

We can’t talk about pitching without mentioning another lefty. Part of the Core Four with five rings, Andy Pettitte has far better than what we termed his rosy projections. We had him pegged at a 4.26 ERA/4.08 FIP with 138 strike outs in 190 innings. Instead, Andy has gone 11-2 with a team-leading 2.70 ERA, albeit with a 4.00 xFIP, and has mowed down 87 opponents. Like a fine wine and Mike Mussina, Pettitte has matured into a finesse pitcher who can still dial it up to 91 or 92 when the moment arises. He’s showing no signs of slowing down, and a strong second half could put him on the cusp of 250 career victories.

Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

Finally, we arrive at the best of the best. There isn’t much left to say about Mariano Rivera. At age 40, he’s 2-1 with a 1.05 ERA (and a 2.27 FIP thanks to the Jason Kubel grand slam). He’s striking out 8.65 per nine innings and has a ridiculous 5.50 K/BB ratio. With the cutter darting in and out, opponents can’t do much against him, and he has 20 saves this year. We’ll have to see if he can sustain a .190 BABIP, and we’ll have to see how his 40-year-old body holds up. Deservedly or not, though, if Rivera duplicates his first half, he too will garner Cy Young votes this year. Mariano Rivera, it seems, refuses to let age be more than just another number.

Honorable Mentions: Marcus Thames is hitting .294/.398/.447 but with only three home runs, and he’s been to plate just 103 times…Post-June 3 Mark Teixeira: .314/.403/.599 in 159 plate appearances. He has 9 home run — or a 42 dinger pace — over that hot stretch of hitting. He’ll be on another post in this series though…Nick Johnson‘s 24 walks are still two more than Curtis Granderson has drawn in 152 more plate appearances…Javier Vazquez has a 2.78 ERA over his 64.2 innings spanning 10 outings. He’s only 5-3 during that stretch though because the Yanks have scored just 2.9 runs per start for him.

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  • Chris

    The seventh: Pettitte

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    Andy Pettitte has something to say about this.

    • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

      Did Pettitte not make the original draft? As a first time reader of this post I’m confused.

      • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

        /didn’tscrolldown’d

  • P. Allen

    I agree with everything you have said. One omission perhaps. Andy Pettitte? As good as he was last year and in the post-season, you’d have to agree he has exceeded expectations this first half? Leads the team in ERA and is second with 11 wins.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    Also, Cashman should be sent to jail for stealing Swisher from Chicago. One of his best (if not the best) trades ever?

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      That was a ridiculous trade. I know part of it was probably helped by the fact that Ozzie didn’t get along with Swisher so they were looking to dump him, but whoah.

    • Esteban

      heyy Betemit IS hitting .389/.441/.722 in 59 PAs this year so maybe the trade wasnt so good

      /idiot

      • RollingWave

        its for the Royals though.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    a. Very good article. I don’t really have anything to add there. I realize Mariano’s getting lucky, but he’s also inducing a lot of really weak contact. Yeah, sometimes that weak contact will find holes (he got soft-hit to death in that blown save against Toronto), but he’s been really fun to watch this year. Gardner’s also been unspeakably awesome, and I was about as optimistic about him as you could be.

    b. See what the other comments said. =P

  • BigBlueAL

    No Marcus Thames in this list?? Lack of at-bats??

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      He gets an honorable mention. I’ve highlighted a few of the small sample size performances there.

      • forensicnucchem

        Cervelli could even get a little honorable mention too. I know he hasn’t done anything over the last month or so, but he started so hot/lucky that his overall numbers are still better than you’d probably expect from him offensively.

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          Personally, I’m really down on Cervelli. Even if you take out the first four games of the season, since early April, he’s hitting .248/.321/.315, and since May 9th, he’s at .215/.288/.281. Plus, he’s thrown out a whopping five of 36 would-be base stealers (14 % caught stealing rate) and hasn’t been as solid behind the plate as should be. He’s getting by on enthusiasm and some incredibly flukey numbers with RISP right now.

          • forensicnucchem

            I totally agree with all that, but how does that not disqualify Thames then? He’s got the same thing working with the early hotness/fluke, has even less defensive value, and has played much less. Cervelli at least still has more RBI (I know, I know) than Posada, with less playing time.

            • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

              That’s why Thames gets just an honorable mention. What am I supposed to say for Cervelli? “He had a great four-game stretch to start the season.”

              After the same amount of PAs, Cervelli was at .333/.416/.425 and already heading down. He didn’t carry anything other than a slump into the break, and the whole point here was to highlight players who had sustained excellence in the first half.

              • forensicnucchem

                Well, Cervelli did still hit .307/.368/.400 in May, even with his dropping late in the month. Let’s give him a little more credit than saying he’s had 4 good games to start the year.

                Thames has hit .220 since his 8 game April. He has less RBI all season than Cervelli had in May alone.

                I’m not saying Cervelli should be all over your list, he shouldn’t, but if the standards for honorable mention are Marcus Thames, then Cervelli should be on that too. Fluke or not, he’s gotten some hits for the team and produced some important runs.

                Not a huge deal, I probably just have similar feelings for Thames that you have for Cervelli.

                • Salty Buggah

                  Then again, considering he had a .747 OPS in the minors and a .636 OPS in 146 PA spread out among 3 minor league levels (Played 2 games in the GCL when rehabbing, I think) in 2009, maybe a .672 OPS is exceeding expectations. But his seemingly sub-par defense reduces his overall contribution and puts his production right along our expectations.

                  Just depends on what your expectations were from him.

        • Salty Buggah

          “…his overall numbers are still better than you’d probably expect from him offensively.”

          Are they really?

          Cervelli 2009: .682 OPS in 101 PA
          Cervelli 2010: .672 OPS in 207 PA

          I actually thought 2009 Cervelli was somewhat fluky (probably his .298 AVG that made me think that) and that his true talent is below that level. Considering he’s been slightly worse in 2010 despite the hot/lucky start, maybe what I thought was correct.

          At this point, Cervelli is what he is. I don’t know why his defense has been so sub-par (or was it over-hyped?) but offensively, his OPS is probably in the .600s, most likely the low .600s. I don’t think he’s exceeded any expectations this year.

          • Salty Buggah

            Ugh. Reply fail. See above.

  • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

    Omission rectified. I was still working through the roster when I realized I had forgotten Pettitte. Definitely a huge part of the Yankee success.

  • Kevin

    Randy Winn would like an explanation for his omission.

    • reilly

      I know? Really, how can you posibly forget him. He was probably the best Yankee ever.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime-Jesus & Maquinito FTW

    Given the baseline expectation, I would rank the exceeders as:

    1) Gardner
    2) Hughes
    3) Swisher
    4) Pettitte
    5) Canó
    6) CC

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      And Mo? Dude’s 40 with an ERA just a tick over 1.00. That’s absurd.

      • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime-Jesus & Maquinito FTW

        Well, given that Mo is God, it’s blasphemous to label him with expectations =D

        • jim p

          Yes, I think you’ve saved us from his wrath with that. Can hardly wait til he breaks out his new pitches.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        Mo is Mo. Nothing he does surprises me ever. Sure, he could have fallen off a cliff, but… really.

      • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

        I’d go with that list and stick Mo between Cano and CC. Maybe put Pettitte ahead of Swisher.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    I can’t believe Gardner has an OPS over .800. I knew he was hitting super well, but I didn’t realize it was THAT well.

  • David in Cal

    At what point should the Yanks believe that Gardner’s and Jeter’s results year to date are the best estimate of how they’ll perform the rest of the year? When they reach that point, Gardner should bat leadoff and Jeter should be 7th, 8th or 9th. Gardner has a much higher OBA than Jeter, has a higher slugging average, and is a much better base runner.

    I don’t expect Girardi to make this change soon, and maybe not at all. Girardi has Jeter batting 2nd in the AS game, even though Jeter is the worst hitter in the starting lineup (based on YTD results.)

    • Esteban

      Yea Derek Jeter is not hitting 7th 8th or 9th anytime soon, whether he deserves it or not.

      • http://twitter.com/marcos_aguirre Marcos

        This.

    • Cletus Jones

      Part of the reason, I would think, Jeter stays in the 1 or 2 slot for the duration on this year and perhaps his next contract is he gets that many more PA per game to excel his hit totals. He could bat .270 from here on out and remain 1 or 2 in the lineup. Being Capt Clutch never hurts ethier!

  • JGS in sunburn-inducing Jerusalem

    (and a 3.08 xFIP thanks to the Jason Kubel grand slam)

    Shouldn’t that be FIP and not xFIP? xFIP shouldn’t be affected by home runs because it doesn’t care how many home runs you really give up, it just treats a certain percentage of fly balls (10.6%?) as home runs

  • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

    Honestly has CC exceed expectations? If so, whose? If you told me before the year that CC would be 12-3 with a 3.09 ERA, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye.

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      I wouldn’t have expected an ERA in the very low 3s and 10+ wins (yeah, wins are stupid, still wouldn’t have expected it) at the halfway point. Especially considering his May.

    • theyankeewarrior

      I would have been extremely excited. 23M per season or not, those are Cy Young numbers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9370232 Mike HC

      Well, you could say he has exceeded first half expectations, but I agree overall with you.

      Like if Tex actually hit well in the first couple of months on the year for a change, you could say he exceeded expectations, even if his numbers were in line with career averages.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    On Mo: He’s striking out 8.65 per nine innings and has a ridiculous 5.50 K/BB ratio.

    Isn’t that actually kind of a meh-ish K/BB ratio compared to what he usually puts up? Ha ha Mariano is so super ridiculous

    • Esteban

      Yea he’s no Cliff Lee. 15.17 K/BB is beyond absurd
      But yea Mo hasn’t had a K/BB below 5 since 2005, which is absurd considering his age.

  • Rivera Venue Blues

    7 who fell short of expectations in the first half
    1. AJ Burnett
    2. Joba Chamberlain
    3. CHoP
    4. Curtis Granderson
    5. Mark Teixeira
    6. Derek Jeter
    7. David Robertson?

    • Salty Buggah

      It pains me to say this but put A-Rod in there above or below Jeter.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        A-Rod hasn’t been 10000% A-Rod but I don’t think he’s been in any way as disappointing as Jeter. Hate to say it, but I’d put Jeter as the most disappointing position player after Granderson, I think. Maybe two weeks ago I’d have said Tex was more disappointing than him, but he’s been pretty crazy elite since that awful five-strikeout game in Toronto, so while his overall numbers have looked disappointing, he’s been excellent for a full month.

        • Salty Buggah

          Eh, I expected Jeter to regress but maybe not this much. He had a crazy good 2009 and being a year older, at an age where not many shortstops put up even average numbers, I thought Jeter would be worse.

          On the other hand, hoping that A-Rod had healed about at least 90% from the hip surgery, I expected a typical A-Rod year. Although last year was a slight down year (Final OPS about 30 points lower than career OPS) due to the injury and perhaps natural decline, I would’ve been happy with similar numbers. However, he has significantly under-performed even those expectations (OPS more than 100 points lower than 09, 130 points lower than career). I realize he’s getting up there in age but I didn’t expect such a sharp decline.

          Both Jeter and A-Rod have been disappointments so far and even though I think A-Rod has been barely more disappointing, I’m not sure. So, that’s why I said place A-Rod above or below Jeter.

          The only thing is that I expect A-Rod to have a huge 2nd half. He has had some bad BABIP luck (and LD% isn’t too far off career levels)and that will turn and he is seemingly getting his swing back. Also, maybe the break will rejuvenate him a bit. On the contrary, I expect Jeter to improve a bit but overall, continue his current ways (lower BABIP but also a slightly lower LD% & GB% is waaay up).

          • P. Allen

            I gave Arod some more thought. Overall his numbers are below career averages and expecations, but the guy has provided atleast a few game winning or tying hits this year, so he’s been clutch and he does have 70 RBIs.

      • theyankeewarrior

        The one thing that gives me confidence about Alex going forward (other than the fact that he’s now in a bit of a groove) is that he literally said he would end up with another 30/100 season back when he was still in single HR digits with the All-Star break approaching.

        Last night, he said he just needed his hip to feel healthy. Once it felt 100%, he’s basically been himself. Maybe not 2007 A-Rod, but I expect a huge 2nd half from Alex and Tex.

    • Meat Loaf

      Randy Winn. He couldn’t be a passable fourth outfielder, which is all they really wanted.

      Nick Johnson. He finds a way to get injured even when he’s not playing the field.

      • dalelama

        I wouldn’t put NJ on the under expectations list because I knew he would suck. Gardner is #1 exceeds expectations in my book. Robertson also has disappointed.

    • A.D.

      I’d probably put Granderson higher, Robertson had some struggles early but has an ERA in the 3’s since mid-May

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9370232 Mike HC

    I think you should add Hank Steinbrenner to the list. Who could have expected no blasphemous comments? Zero stupid rants? Far above expectations.

  • Matt

    On a side note, and please excuse me for the long blog, and by no means do I want to jinx Pettitte and Yanks (he’s pitching great now that he’s again utilizing his change-up more), but I’d like to present several reasons why it would be great for Pettitte to continue past this year. I get the feeling this really might be his last year, and it’s quite understandable why he wants to get home to his family. However……

    Reasons to play at least 1 and perhaps 2 more years:

    1. His Family –From what I understand is his family was completely behind him pitching this year. There are lots of potential events (I’ll get to them in list) that might take place as a Yankee the next 1-2 years including him increasing his Hall resume like winning number 250, 260….. I can imagine that his kids and family would love to be part of such history.

    2. His Yankee Family –Next year Jeter should become the first Yankee to ever reach 3000 career hits, Mariano could reach his 600th save, and Jorge will catch his 1600th game (only 22 catchers have done so). Wouldn’t it be great to be in uniform for this?

    3. Championships

    4. His Hall resume —

    a) for more traditional voters, IMHO him reaching 260+ wins puts him in the likely category of getting in (he’s at 240 now), especially if he passes the 20 playoff win mark. He would pass the likes of Hubbell, Gibson and perhaps Feller in career wins and separate himself from non-hall guys such as Martinez, Tanana and perhaps Morris (could still get in).

    b) For more sabermetric voters his WAR (wins above replacement) would move up in the 55+ range and his WPA (wins probability added) in the 27+ range –again, assuming he can at least have an average year for at least one more year. These numbers would boost his resume across the spectrum.

    5. The legacy of the core-four and the chances of all 4 getting in the Hall. Jeter and Mo are locks, but Pettitte and Jorge are there starting to knock on the door.

    6. The dollar doesn’t hurt –getting paid nicely for a year or two doesn’t hurt –and, if he gets in the Hall, the dollar won’t hurt then too.

    Reasons to play two more years:

    The SAME AS ABOVE, but getting to near 280 wins makes him nearly a lock at Hall–additionally, Jorge could be knocking on the door to catching the most games ever as a Yankee (Dickey has 1708, Berra has 1699 and Jorge needs about 175; he’s at around 1540 now) –I can see Jorge perhaps catching 55-60 games as a back up each of the next two seasons assuming he catches another 55 games this season…and Jorge could also be approaching career 300th homer.

    The possibility of retiring WITH Jorge and Mo because I can’t see either one of them playing more than 2 more years when Mo will be nearly 43 and Jorge 41…and Andy 40. Wouldn’t it be great to retire with Mo as the all-time saves leader, Jorge the all-time leader in games caught by a Yankee, and Andy retiring as the all-time winningest Yankee pitcher of all time. He’s at 203 as a Yankee and needs 33 more wins. Jeter would also have several records as a Yankee.

    Yes, HGH is a bit of a wild card, but he’s the only one that dealt with it head-on and this could work to his advantage. I’m sure Andy knows what the next two years could hold. Either way, it’s been a great ride!