Midseason Review: Exceeding Expectations

Joba strikes out two in first minor league rehab appearance
Scouting The Trade Market: Matt Belisle

During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Any time a team in any sport wins a championship or even sits in first place for a prolonged period of time, there’s always a few players on their rosters exceeding expectations. Talent can only take you so far, it’s those unexpected contributions that push one team ahead of the rest. The Yankees have the best record in baseball and comfortable lead atop the AL East, and as you’d expect they have some players on their roster doing more than expected.

Rafael Soriano
When Mariano Rivera crumbled to the ground in Kansas City, all of Yankeeland held their collective breath. The worst case scenario played out — Rivera had torn his ACL and is expected to miss the rest of the season — and New York was suddenly without the one undisputed advantage they had over every team. No matter who they faced, regular season or playoffs or whatever, the Yankees have always had the advantage in the ninth inning thanks to Mo.

Replacing Rivera’s brutal effectiveness is impossible, but the Bombers had the pieces in-house to get by. David Robertson got the first crack at the closer’s job but almost immediately hit the disabled list with an oblique strain. That’s when Soriano, the 2010 AL saves champ who signed on as a setup man prior to last season, stepped in. Since Rivera and Robertson hit the DL, Soriano’s pitched to a 1.25 ERA (2.00 FIP) in 21.2 innings while going 20-for-21 in save chances. He’s allowed just three runs total during that time and has held hitters to a .210/.273/.272 batting line. Soriano has avoided the disabled list and after a rocky first season in pinstripes, he’s settled into a crucial role for the team. He’s not Mariano, but my goodness has he been effective as his replacement.

(AP PhotoPeter Morgan)

Phil Hughes
When the season opened, it was more of the same from Hughes. He allowed 22 runs in his first five starts (21.2 IP) and batters were tagging him for a .298/.365/.617 batting line. After a second-half fade in 2010 and a disastrous 2011 season, it seemed that the Phil’s days as a starter were number.

The Yankees stuck with him though, and Hughes has rewarded them by pitching to a 3.46 ERA (3.91 FIP) in his last dozen starts. Only thrice in that span did he allow more than three earned runs in a start, only four times more than two earned runs. His strikeout (8.31 K/9 and 21.5 K%) and walk (2.08 BB/9 and 5.4 BB%) numbers are so good that he’s actually fourth in the league among qualified starters with a 4.00 K/BB. The only guys ahead of him are Colby Lewis (7.50), Justin Verlander (4.27), and Jake Peavy (4.15). That’s pretty great.

Hughes still has a homerun problem — fourth in the league with 19 allowed (1.72 HR/9) — but that’s just going to be who he is. He’s a fly ball pitcher (just 33.7% grounders), but because he walks so few the majority of them has been solo shots. Only six of those 19 homers have come with men on base, and five of those six were two-run shots. The Yankees have remained patient with Phil and he’s rewarded them in the first half by (finally) becoming a solid and sometimes dominant starter.

Raul Ibanez
Considering his age (40), his performance last year (.245/.289/.419), and his Spring Training showing (.150/.190/.333), it was very easy to write Ibanez off as a non-factor just before Opening Day. Rather than burn out and get released by June 1st like we all expected, Raul was the team’s most reliable hitter for the first six or seven weeks of the year and has settled in as a very nice weapon against righties — .250/.311/.484 vs. RHP — in the lower third of the lineup.

Furthermore, Ibanez has had to step in for the injured Brett Gardner and has effectively been the everyday left fielder for the last three months or so. He’s started 45 of the team’s 85 games in the outfield and has only been the DH a dozen times. That’s hard to believe. Ibanez has certainly had his share of lol-worthy moments on defense, but just being able to step in and play everyday while maintaining a reasonable level of offense is far more than we could have expected. Raul was supposed to flame out and have the Yankees hunting for a new DH at the deadline, but he’s instead provided very real impact.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Eric Chavez & Dewayne Wise
The bench has been one of the team’s strengths this year, thanks in large part to Chavez. He had an okay year in 2011 while missing lots of time due to injury, but this year he’s stayed on the field — minus a seven-day concussion hiatus — and legitimately mashed. Chavez owns a .282/.336/.504 batting line with seven homers already, two more dingers than he hit from 2008-2011. Gardner’s injury has forced him into the lineup a little more than expected, but he’s produced both at the plate and in the field. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Chavez has been one of the biggest surprises of the season so far.

The trickle down effect of Gardner’s injury is quite substantial; it forced Ibanez into the outfield, Chavez into a healthy amount of at-bats, and it brought Dewayne Wise up from Triple-A. The team’s fourth outfielder has 13 hits in 50 at-bats, but two are doubles, one’s a triple, and three (!) are homers. He’s also six-for-six in stole base chances. With the Yankees struggling to score runs and having lost six of their previous seven games, Wise laid down a perfect bunt hit against the Royals to load the bases and ignite a game-winning rally on May 22nd. They won the game and have won 30 of 42 since. Dewayne Wise’s bunt turned the season around. Okay, maybe not. But he’s been awesome.

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

David Phelps & Cody Eppley
The Yankees went into camp with six starters for five spots, but Michael Pineda‘s injury opened the door for Freddy Garcia to return to the rotation. It also created a competition for the final bullpen spot, a spot Phelps won in Spring Training. He shined in six long relief appearances before taking Garcia’s place in the rotation, at least until Andy Pettitte showed up. Phelps returned to the bullpen and has since bounced back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A, mostly notably striking out eight in 4.1 innings in a spot start last Wednesday.

Overall, Phelps has pitched to a 3.05 ERA (4.37 FIP) in 41.1 innings, striking out a ton of batters (9.15 K/9 and 23.6 K%) while doing a respectable job in the walk (3.70 BB/9 and 9.6 BB%) and ground ball (43.8%) departments for an AL East rookie. He generated buzz in Spring Training with improved velocity and it carried over into the season, to point where he not only looks like he can get big league hitters out, he looks like a potential long-term starting pitcher.

Joining Phelps in the bullpen has been Eppley, who the Yankees plucked off waivers from the Rangers back in April. He assumed a regular spot on the roster once Rivera got hurt and he’s seized the opportunity by pitching his way into Joe Girardi‘s late-game mix. The sinker-slider sidearm guy has pitched to a 2.70 ERA (3.84 FIP) in 23.1 innings, holding right-handers to a .226/.298/.308 batting line. Eppley’s 65.2% ground ball rate is the fifth highest in the baseball (min. 20 IP). The Yankees do as good a job of find useful arms in unusual places as anyone, and they’ve dug up another good one in Eppley.

Joba strikes out two in first minor league rehab appearance
Scouting The Trade Market: Matt Belisle
  • DERP

    Does anyone have video of the bunt? I can’t find it on mlb.com

  • Paul VuvuZuvella

    Put RAB blog on the Exceeding Expectaions list too…and take a bow.

  • Will (the other one)

    Even with his trip to the DL, doesn’t Andy Pettitte qualify as having exceeded expectations? It’s possible I missed the boat a little bit here, but I’m surprised not to see him included in this roundup.

    • jjyank

      That’s a good point. I’d put him on the list.

    • Fin

      While he played he exceeded expectations. However, it didnt last long and a 40yr old pitcher coming back after missing a year and ending up on the DL for 2 months or being awful is pretty much exactly what could have been expected.

      • Ted Nelson

        So getting hit with a comebacker is age related?

        Taking a year off rests your arm, it doesn’t somehow deteriorate it.

  • jjyank

    I have developed quite an affinity for Phelps. I really hope he keeps this up and can become a solid #4 type starter for us going forward.

    I think the biggest surprise on this list has got to be Eppley. I thought he would be gone by now, but he’s done nothing but prove his worth.

    • Jim Is Bored

      Agreed on Eppley. Totally thought he was filler, a garbage time guy, when they brought him up. Glad he’s stepped up.

  • Rich in NJ

    Soriano has saved their season in terms of having a chance to be the best team in MLB.

  • Brian S.

    Yes. Where would we be without Raul Ibanez and his 98 wRC+? Probably in last place. Give him an extension.

    • eephus_pitch

      I don’t think anyone said that.

      Raul’s numbers would be a lot better if Joe didn’t keep leaving him in against lefties.

      • mike

        and as much as Cahsman make me nuts, his signing of Ibanez for his “ability” to play the field has been validated – especially when martsui and Damon have been far worse

        • Jim Is Bored

          He’s actually been about average in the field, which is surprising. Of course, that’s if you put any stock into half a season’s worth of UZR.

      • Get Phelps Up

        .335 wOBA and 107 wRC+ vs RHP.

        Which is really his only job, anyways.

        • jjyank

          Which is also “exceeding expectations”, considering most of us thought he’d be DFA’d by June. Exceeding expectations is all relative.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Yup. I’d even argue that Hughes and Wise have sort of met my own personal expectations of them, perhaps meeting-pointing-to-exceeding. Neither are a huge surprise for me, but rather on the higher end of what I’d hoped for.

            • jjyank

              Yeah, these guys have probably all exceeded many people’s expectations. But like I said above, the only one who truly surpised me is Eppley.

              • Get Phelps Up

                Clay Rapada’s surprised me the most. He’s making Cesar Cabral’s injury look like more like a blessing in disguise.

                Also Eric Chavez. The man has 7 homers and has only been on the DL for 7 days! Nobody could have seen that coming.

                • Cesar “Stairs” Cabral


                • jjyank

                  Agreed on Chavez, though I always new Rapada was death to lefties, so I guess he didn’t surprise me too much. Still a great pickup though.

                • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

                  If you ever watch BP, Chavez has the most power from the left side, Andruw from the right.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Truth lies somewhere in the middle there, Brian.

  • Bubba

    Cashman and the front office have their flaws like all GMs and FOs but their ability to find complementary pieces is under-appreciated by many.

    • Rich in NJ

      I actually think it’s what they do best, by far.

    • CUYanks

      Especially when you think about the value in the bullpen that he’s gotten out of scrap heap players in the past few seasons: Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, Eppley, and even guys like Bruney/Wade have been serviceable for a period of time– for absolutely no cost.

      • jjyank

        Absolutely. There are a ton of other guys too such as Veras and Edwar that had had short periods of success. Levine signing Soriano notwishstanding, Cashman has build a cheap and effective bullpen for years now, including plenty of members that most people wrote off at the time of the signing.

        • Rich in NJ

          Part of that is Girardi. Torre rarely gave marginal relievers sufficient time to establish some confidence (or use them solely in a role that fit their skillset), and if he did find one he liked, he often rode them into the ground.

          On the larger point, Logan has become an effective reliever, who I definitely wrote-off, but obviously, the trade he was a part of was awful.

          • jjyank

            Yeah, I think Girardi does a very good job at putting guys in positions to succeed fo sure.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          Yeah, none of us realized that when Cahsman made the trade for Vasquez, he was really going after Logan! :-)

          • Rich in NJ


        • Bubba

          It’s not just the bullpen, the bench pieces have been effective and productive given their role.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    To me?

    Soriano: Exceeded
    Hughes: Met, slightly pointing upwards
    Ibanez: Exceeded
    Chavez: Exceeded
    Wise: Met
    Eppley: Exceeded
    Phelps: Exceeded

    • Ted Nelson

      If I asked you before the season what to expect for Wise you’d have told me .370 wOBA and .520 SLG? I don’t think it’s sustainable (he’s our Ciriaco), but I think he crushed expectations in the sample we’re looking at.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        You’re looking at numbers more than I am, Ted. I always saw him as a capable fill-in guy who’ll play good defense, give you a couple of Sportscenter moment, and save your ass with the bat a couple of times during the year before you DFA him. That’s pretty much what he’s been.

  • bill

    no love for rapada? Guy has been great lately at getting out lefties which from the 2nd lefty in the bullpen you cant ask for much more than that

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Maybe left out accidentally? He’s certainly exceeded expectations for me as well.

    • jjyank

      Wasn’t he in the “meeting expectations” post? Rapada’s always been good against lefties (career tOPS+ of 37).

      • jjyank

        That’s good for a .152/.250/.219 slash line against lefties for Rapada’s career. So I wouldn’t really say he exceeded his expectations as a LOOGY, but he’s met them.

    • G

      The thing is it was pretty clear that the Orioles misused him and this is about what I expected out of him. He is absolutely filthy against lefties. Eppley is the shocker for me, as everyone else has said. Even when he comes in and puts the tying or go ahead run on first, I feel comfortable because I can practically guarantee a double play. Unless a lefty is up next, in which case Rapada will K them.

  • Anthony

    I don’t know, guys. I mean the numbers Mike has posted can’t lie, but I still feel shaky when Hughes goes out to start for the Yanks. I guess its the homeruns..

    • Ted Nelson

      The numbers just tell you his performance over that period, so it’s fine to argue that they’re unsustainable if you’d like.

    • Knoxvillain

      I worry too. I don’t think it’s the home runs that get me, but rather all the years that he’s been a terrible starter.

      • Ted Nelson

        The one where he was barely old enough to drink, the one where he was in the pen, or the one where he was injured? I don’t know if he’ll sustain this, but it really hasn’t been years of terrible starting. Ps facing roadblocks due to youth and injuries is par for the course.

        • Hubward

          This +1
          Hughes was hyped early because of his stuff, while its been sometimes a rocky road I think we are seeing him settle into the role of starting pitcher on the Yankees, not bad for a young ‘un

          • Anthony

            Lets hope so

  • Kevin

    Reading up on Trout…it stinks how us signing Mark T cost us the next Mickey Mantle.

    • bobtaco

      It’s been rehoused several times, no matter what the Yankees did, Trout would have been off the board by the time they picked…. Teixeria or not.

    • bobtaco

      It’s been rehashed several times, no matter what the Yankees did, Trout would have been off the board by the time they picked…. Teixeria or not.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I love you.


    • Ted Nelson

      Except they also signed CC and AJ that offseason.

  • gageagainstthemachine

    “Raul was the team’s most reliable hitter for the first six or seven weeks of the year”…I’m not going back to check the stats but don’t you think Jeter would have something to say about this? Either way, Raul has been a nice surprise and he’s somehow become more comfortable and reliable playing in place of Gardner as the season rolls on.

  • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

    Who would have thought that Randy Levine’s signing turned out to be better than many of Cashmans?


  • RetroRob

    I have Hughes in the meets expectations category. Remember, he was one of the top pitching prospects in the game and projected as a potential front-end starter. He never met that and pitched so poorly last year that many thought he should be DFA’d, traded, sent back to the minors, sent to the pen, etc. Anywhere put the starting rotation.

    Ultimately, our expectations for Hughes have been reset. Going into 2012 I expected him to be one of the back-end starters for the team, and that’s what he’s achieved.

    • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

      I think he’s exceeded expectations.

      After last year’s debacle, I don’t think any reasonable person could have expected for him to pitch like a number 3 starter.

      • Ted Nelson

        He was injured last season, which people somehow keep forgetting.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I think that he’s equaled the expectations I had for him going into the season, but surpassed the ones I had for him a month into the season. Fair?

  • LiterallyFigurative

    On Hughes, I can live with the Homeruns. 2/3 of them are solo’s anyway. Solo homeruns aren’t what kill you. Walks and hits given up with men on base are what cost you games.

    We’ve become Baseball Tonight/Sportcenter conditioned to fear the long ball. But if you look into the past many great, Hall Of Fame pitchers gave up their share. The key was giving them up when noone was on base.

    Soriano has exceeded expectations, only because I had no idea he’d become the closer. Had he started the season as closer (in some Mariano-less universe), his performance would be expected. He was excellent with Tampa in 2010.

    Ibanez gave us big hits early, and has filled in decently as the LF. You’ve gotta give Cashman credit for picking Ibanez over Matsui and Damon. Hopefully we can get Gardner back to strengthen the D and the O.

    I’m pulling for Phelps to be the 5th starter, if not this season then next. With the austerity plan looming, we are going to have to get production from our farm system. If we can get a 5th starter and good bullpen for cheap, it will go a long way.

  • Darren

    I think Steve Donahue has exceeded expectations. Excellent penmanship on Jeter’s ball to pass Cal Ripken. Geno had big shoes to fill.