2015 Midseason Review: First-half Yankeemetrics

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

As part of Mike’s great Midseason Review series, I’m here to give you some of the amazing (both good and bad) statistical notes from the unofficial first half of the season, plus a quick look ahead to a few of the records that these six Yankees below will be chasing during the remainder of 2015.

Without further adieu, your first-half Yankeemetrics:

Brett Gardner
Gardner is certainly deserving of the being the Yankees’ first-half MVP, and if Mike’s write-up on Tuesday didn’t convince you, then how about this note: Gardner is the second player in franchise history with at least 10 homers, 20 doubles, 15 steals and a .300 batting average at the break. The other? Alfonso Soriano in 2002 — which just happened to be the year he came thisclose to a historic 40-40 season (39 homers, 41 steals).

Something to watch for in the second half: Gardner needs three steals to reach the magic number of 200. He would be the second Yankee, along with Hal Chase, to have 200 stolen bases in their first eight major league seasons — and the only player in franchise history with at least 200 steals and 50 homers through their first eight career seasons.

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira is having a tremendous bounceback season, leading the AL with 62 RBI and also hitting 22 homers. He is just the second Yankee in the last 40 years to be the outright league leader in RBI at the break, along with A-Rod (2007) and Don Mattingly (1985).

This is the third time as a Yankee he’s had at least 20 homers and 60 RBI before the All-Star break (also in 2009, 2011). Since the first All-Star Game in 1933, here’s the list of other Yankees to reach those benchmarks three-or-more times before the break: Mickey Mantle and Jason Giambi.

Something to watch for in the second half: Teixeira is on pace for his first 40-homer season as a Yankee. The only other player in franchise history to hit at least 40 homers in his age 35-season or older is Babe Ruth, who did it three times (1930-32).

Alex Rodriguez
If you told me that A-Rod would have the third-most at-bats on the team (he’s healthy!) and have 18 homers and 51 RBIs (he’s productive!) in the first half of the season, I might have suggested psychological treatment for you. How rare is it for a guy as old as A-Rod to be hitting that well?

The only other players in their age-39 season or older to have at least 18 homers, 50 RBI and 80 hits before the All-Star break (since 1933) are Edgar Martinez (2003), Andres Galarraga (2000) and Dave Winfield (1991). Yup, the Summer of Al continues.

Something to watch for in the second half: If A-Rod can stay healthy and get at least 500 plate appearances this season, while maintaining his current slash line of .278/.382/.515 or better, he’d join Barry Bonds (2004) and Ted Williams (1958) as the only players to finish a season with those marks in their age-39 season or older.

Stephen Drew
Of course we had to put Drew’s bizarre statistical first half into context, even if he might just be a bench guy in the second half (yes, please). With 12 homers and an unfathomable .182 batting average in the first half, Drew is the first player in franchise history to hit double-digit home runs and have a batting average under .200 at the break.

In fact, his .182 batting average is the third-lowest in major-league history for any player with at least 10 homers in the unofficial first half of the season. The only guys with a lower average are the Cubs’ Mike Olt (.144 in 2014) and the Twins’ Tim Laudner (.181 in 1987).

Something to watch for in the second half: I don’t think Drew is going to get enough at-bats to reach 20 or 25 homers, but what if he gets to 15? The lowest batting average for a guy that hit at least 15 homer runs in a season is .179, done by Dan Uggla (2013) and Rob Deer (1991). That’s doable!

CC Sabathia
At least he is healthy, right? Well, that might actually be the problem, because Joe Girardi has little choice but to keep sending Sabathia out there every fifth day (sort of) despite his ugly numbers (4-8, 5.47 ERA).

Sabathia is the third Yankee starter to lose at least eight games before the break with an ERA of 5.40 or higher. The other pitchers on this inglorious list are Tim Leary (1991) and Ralph Terry (1964). In the words of the aforementioned manager, “it’s not what you want.”

Something to watch for in the second half: How bad can it get for CC the rest of the season? The highest ERA for any Yankee pitcher that qualified for the ERA title in a non-strike season is 5.30 by Bump Hadley in 1937. (Unfortunately, Hadley is better known for something else that season, as the pitcher that beaned Hall-of-Famer Mickey Cochrane and ended his career.)

Dellin Betances
Betances couldn’t quite match his numbers from the first half of the season last year (84 strikeouts, 1.46 ERA), but still has had a terrific couple of months so far with 77 strikeouts and a 1.53 ERA.

Those back-to-back first-half performances are unprecedented for any pitcher since the first All-Star Game in 1933. That’s right, no pitcher (starter or reliever) in that span has entered the break with at least 75 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.60 or lower in back-to-back seasons. Bravo, Betances.

Something to watch for in the second half: Last year Betances set the single-season franchise record for the most strikeouts (135) by a pitcher with zero starts. He’s probably not going to break that record again, but even if he regresses a bit and finishes the year with more modest numbers, he’d do something that no reliever in major-league history has ever done: consecutive seasons with at least 115 strikeouts and a sub-2.00 ERA.

Betances throws scoreless inning, AL wins 2015 All-Star Game 6-3


The American League continues to dominate the All-Star Game. The AL beat the NL 6-3 on Tuesday night at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park for their third straight All-Star Game win and 15th in the last 19 years (!). Mike Trout was named MVP after going 1-for-3 with a leadoff homer and a walk. He’s the first player to be named All-Star Game MVP in back-to-back years. Here are the box score, video highlights, and WPA graph.

All three Yankees elected to the Midsummer Classic did play in the game. Brett Gardner pinch-hit for Adam Jones in the fifth inning and struck out looking against Clayton Kershaw. He struck out looking against former teammate Mark Melancon later in the game. Gardner played two innings in left field before sliding over to center, and I don’t even remember him having to make a catch. It was his first trip to the All-Star Game.

Mark Teixeira replaced Albert Pujols at first base in the sixth inning, grounding out (against Francisco Rodriguez) and striking out (swinging against Aroldis Chapman) in his two at-bats. Teixeira also made several nice plays in the field — he stretched and kept his foot on the bag to catch an errant throw from Manny Machado, then came off the bag to catch a throw from Zach Britton that was heading for right field. Teixeira was playing in his third All-Star Game.

And finally, Dellin Betances came out of the bullpen and threw a scoreless seventh inning with the AL leading 5-2. Dellin got Brandon Crawford to ground out to second, walked Kris Bryant, struck out Joe Panik, then got A.J. Pollock to ground out to third. He threw eleven of his 20 pitches for strikes and was effectively wild in his first All-Star Game appearance (second selection).

The AL will now have home field advantage in the World Series, which is not insignificant for the Yankees. They currently have the best World Series odds in the AL and third best World Series odds overall according to FanGraphs, and they’re a substantially better team at home this season: 25-16 with a +38 run differential at Yankee Stadium compared 23-24 and -12 run differential on the road. So hooray home field advantage.

Minor League Update: There won’t be a minor league update tonight because there were no games. Every affiliate either had an off-day, was rained out, or had their game suspended due to rain. Here are the box scores. Third rounder Jeff Degano allowed a run in one inning of work in his pro debut with the Rookie GCL Yanks before the game was suspended.

2015 Midseason Review: The Best of Brett


Two years ago Brett Gardner was the Yankees’ second best player almost by default. They still had in-his-prime superstar Robinson Cano, but for the most part the rest of the roster was filled out by retreads and guys on their very last legs — Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells all had regular lineup spots on Opening Day and not one of them played another MLB game after leaving the 2013 Yankees.

Last year Gardner was arguably the best player on the team, inarguably one of the two best. He and Jacoby Ellsbury had very similar stastistical seasons, with Gardner showing more power while Ellsbury hit for a higher average and stole more bases. This season, Gardner’s progression has continued, and he has been the team’s best player through the first half of the season.

Oh sure, Alex Rodriguez has better offensive numbers overall, mostly thanks to his power, but A-Rod is a DH and he’s supposed to outhit everyone else because he doesn’t play the field. Mark Teixeira is having a fine season as well, though his only advantage over Gardner is power. Gardner has a 140 wRC+ and Teixeira has a 137 wRC+ — the difference lies in Gardner far superior batting average, on-base percentage, and base-running.

But we’re not here to argue who has better numbers. They’re all on the same team, after all. Gardner has been, indisputably, one of the best outfielders in all of baseball this season. That he had to wait to be named to the All-Star Game as an injury replacement is a knock against the system, not Gardner. He should have been on the original roster, though quiet and unassuming players like Brett are rarely rewarded with All-Star Game nods. It’s a popularly contest.

Anyway, Gardner came into the All-Star break hitting .302/.377/.484 (140 wRC+) with ten homers and 15 steals on the year. Here is the full list of AL players with ten homers and 15 steals at the break: Brett Gardner. That’s it. It’s just him. Gardner is also one of only ten AL players with a .370+ OBP and a .470+ SLG. He’s shown his over-the-fence power spike last season was no fluke, but the difference between this year and last year are the non-homer hits.

As good as he was in 2014, Gardner had only 25 doubles last season. He added eight triples for good measure because, you know, he’s fast. This season Gardner has already swatted 22 doubles and three triples. He’s on pace for 41 doubles, six triples, and 18 homers after going 25/8/17 last year. He’s on pace for 15 more extra-base hits! I’m sure Gardner will slow down a bit in a second half, players do get fatigued, but last year at the break he was on pace for only 49 extra-base hits. His spray charts are pretty revealing:

Brett Gardner 2013-14 Spray Charts

Gardner is using the opposite field more often than he did a year ago. You can see it in the spray chart, last year he had more batted balls to the pull side — if you need hard numbers: 42.0% of his balls in play were pulled last year, this year it’s 35.8% — and the result was a career year in the power department. This season he’s been able to both spray balls the other way for base hits while still yanking pitches to right field when the opportunity presents itself.

Remember, when Gardner first came up, he was a pure slash-and-dash speed guy. He focused on hitting the ball to the left side of the field and running like hell. Over the past few seasons Gardner started pulling the ball with more authority and why not? Yankee Stadium rewards pulling the ball if you’re a left-handed hitter. This year he’s doing both. Pulling the ball for power and serving it the other way for base hits when the pitchers give him nothing to drive. That’s the evolution of a great hitter, and yes, Gardner is absolutely a great hitter.

In addition to his strong performance at the plate, Gardner remains a high-end defender, at least based on the eye test. The various defensive stats have been hating on him for a while now. UZR wants you to believe Brett has cost the Yankees 4.8 runs in the field this year. 4.8! lol UZR, lol. DRS is slightly better — it says Gardner has saved the team one singular run with his glove. I don’t get it. The defensive numbers for Yankees outfielders have been screwy for years. I’m not saying Gardner is the best defensive outfielder in the game, but damn yo, he’s clearly above-average. I’m not being a homer here. I’m very willing to admit when dudes play bad defense. Gardner’s isn’t.

Anyway, at the end of last season I said Gardner just had what was likely his career year. I don’t think it was that unreasonable to say. This year Gardner has been ever better though, especially at the plate because he’s gotten back to slashing the ball to the opposite while still maintaining his newfound ability to unload on a pitch that is begging to be pulled towards the short porch. That’s not an easy thing to do, and for at least the first half of 2015, Gardner has been able to do it. He has been New York’s best all-around player this year.

Gardner headed to All-Star Game as injury replacement for Alex Gordon


Brett Gardner is an All-Star. MLB and the Yankees announced on Thursday that Gardner has been selected to the AL All-Star Team as an injury replacement for Alex Gordon. Gordon suffered a severe groin strain Wednesday night and will miss about eight weeks.

Gardner, 31, came into Thursday’s game hitting .298/.378/.478 (138 wRC+) with nine homers and 15 steals. He hit his tenth homer this afternoon and is now one of only seven players with 10+ homers and 15+ steals so far this season. And, of course, Gardner’s played awesome defense in both center and left fields.

This is the first All-Star selection for Gardner, who was New York’s third round pick in the 2005 draft. He was a walk-on at College of Charleston — Gardner was actually cut from the team at one point but kept showing up to practice — who is now a big league All-Star and will bank $60M+ in a career. Heck of a story.

Gardner had been one of five players on the AL Final Vote ballot along with Mike Moustakas, Yoenis Cespedes, Brian Dozier, and Xander Bogaerts. Royals fans stuffed the ballots for the All-Star Game starting lineups and it would have been damn near impossible for Gardner to beat Moustakas. Don’t have to worry about that now!

Gordon suffered a Grade II groin strain running down a ball in left field Wednesday. He was voted in as a starter in the fan vote, though Gardner won’t start the All-Star Game. Adam Jones will step into Gordon’s spot in the starting lineup since he was next up on the players’ ballot.

Believe it or not, Gardner is only the fifth position player drafted by the Yankees to represent the Yankees at the All-Star Game, joining Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada. For real.

Gardner will join Mark Teixeira and Dellin Betances at the All-Star Game this year, which will be held in Cincinnati next Tuesday. Gardy!

Betances and Teixeira selected for 2015 All-Star Game, Gardner on Final Vote ballot


The 2015 All-Star Game rosters were announced on Monday night and the Yankees are sending two players to Cincinnati next week, maybe a third. Dellin Betances and Mark Teixeira were selected to the AL squad and Brett Gardner is one of five players on the Final Vote ballot. The full All-Star Game rosters are right here.

I thought Betances was the club’s only shoo-in for the Midsummer Classic. He has a 1.50 ERA (1.58 FIP) in 42 innings this season and leads all relievers with 1.8 fWAR. Dellin, 27, has played two full seasons in the big leagues and had made the All-Star Game both times. Pretty awesome. Betances is very deserving.

“I‘m thankful and honored to have been selected by the players to represent the New York Yankees in the 2015 All-Star Game, and I’m looking forward to having a great time in Cincinnati with Tex,” said Betances in a statement. “I also hope our fans get behind Brett Gardner in the online final vote. He’s a big reason for the success we’ve had this year, and I believe he should be an All-Star.”

Meanwhile, the 35-year-old Teixeira was added to the All-Star Game roster as an injury replacement for Miguel Cabrera, who will miss six weeks with a calf strain. Teixeira is hitting .243/.356/.532 (141 wRC+) with 20 home runs and an AL-leading 59 RBI. This is his second All-Star Game with the Yankees (2009) and only his third overall, believe it or not.

Gardner, who is hitting .297/.373/.481 (137 wRC+) with nine homers and 15 steals, is up against Xander Bogaerts, Mike Moustakas, Yoenis Cespedes, and Brian Dozier on the Final Vote ballot. Here is the ballot. Voting ends Friday. Royals fans stuffed the ballot box for the starters, so I imagine it’ll be tough for anyone to beat out Moustakas in the Final Vote.

“Gardy has turned himself into a dynamic all-around player,” said Joe Girardi in a statement. “He has also evolved into one of the true leaders in our clubhouse. He’s a tremendous outfielder and an offensive force who can affect the outcome of a game in so many ways. I know Yankees fans gravitate toward the way he plays the game, because he plays it with a great deal of grit and determination. It’s my hope that we can all rally behind him and give him the opportunity to play in his first All-Star Game. It’s hard not to root for a guy like Gardy.”

In all seriousness, if you would have told me two years ago that Betances and Teixeira would be 2015 All-Stars, I never would have believed it. Dellin was still struggling to throw strikes in the minors at the time and Teixeira was out with his wrist injury after battling other injuries in previous years. Quite a turn around for those two. Congrats to both.

Obviously the Yankees’ biggest snub is Alex Rodriguez — every player in baseball with a .900+ OPS is in the All-Star Game except for Alex, who is hitting .284/.390/.513 (149 wRC+) with 16 homers. AL manager Ned Yost said he left A-Rod out because he wanted a more versatile roster. Whatever. I’m cool with Alex getting four days off next week. Brian McCann was a minor snub as well.

The 2015 All-Star Game will be played next Tuesday in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. The Home Run Derby is the day before that (Teixeira? McCann? A-Rod???) and the Futures Game is the day before that. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will represent the Yankees at the Futures Game.

Game 78: LAnaheim

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees are on the West Coast for the final time this season even though it’s only June. That’s always nice. They just split a four-game series in Houston, and while that would have been disappointing the last few years, that’s a good outcome now because the Astros are good. Baseball is 2015 is weird, man.

CC Sabathia is getting the ball in tonight’s series opener against the Angels. Needless to say, Sabathia has to start pitching better. The Yankees are keeping him in the rotation because of his contract, which is dumb, so he needs to improve on his 5.65 ERA (4.49 FIP) to give the team a chance to make the postseason. I love Sabathia, he’s an all-time fave, but man he is just brutal right now. Here is the Halos’ lineup and here is the Bombers’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    LHP CC Sabathia

Pretty much a perfect night for baseball in Anaheim. Temperatures in the low-80s, nice and sunny, no humidity, just gorgeous. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 10:05pm ET and can he seen on YES. Try to enjoy.

Injury Updates: We had a bunch of injury updates earlier, in case you missed it. Most importantly, Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) started a minor league rehab assignment with High-A Tampa. I assume the goal is to get him back off the DL when the homestand starts Friday.

Awards Update: Brett Gardner was named the AL Player of the Week, MLB announced earlier today. He’s the third Yankee to win the Player of the Week award this year, joining Mark Teixeira in April and Michael Pineda in May, and it’s Gardner’s third time winning it. He was also named Player of the Week in June 2013 and August 2014. Yay Brett.

Brett the Maintainer

Excuse me for starting out on a philosophical note, but one slightly ironic certainty in life is that we have no idea why some things happen. That’s even truer in baseball, and a clear example of that is Brett Gardner. His success as an outfielder for the Yankees is one of the more pleasant surprises I’ve experienced in the last decade or so as fan. When he first came up, I liked his batting eye and I liked his defense, as did everyone else. However, I thought that his lack of power at the beginning would come back to bite him eventually; pitchers would challenge him in the zone, thus negating his good eye and patience, exploiting his lack of power. I’m glad I was wrong.

Taking the more micro view of things, I thought there would be a difference in performance from Gardner after Jacoby Ellsbury went down with an injury, but there really hasn’t been. Ellsbury last appeared in a game for the Yankees on May 19; at that time, Gardner was hitting .291/.366/.433, mostly out of the second spot of the lineup. Since then, through Friday’s game against the Tigers, Gardner has hit .259/.331/.454. There’s been a drop off in average and OBP, but nothing too significant, and that drop is balanced out by a boost in power.

Again borrowing from cliche philosophy, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Gardner moved up a spot in the order to the leadoff spot, a role he’s more than suited for; after all, he and Taco Bellsbury are fairly similar hitters. Going into writing this piece, I was expecting to find some differences in the way pitchers approached Gardner thanks to the new lineup spot, specifically the fact that there’d be no one on in front of him for his first time up which would be a change from the Ellsbury/Gardner configuration. During the opening stretch of the season before Gardner got hurt, Ellsbury was on base quite a bit–his OBP before going down was .412. In turn, Gardner came up to the plate with men on base in 55 of 127 at bats, 43%. Moving to the leadoff position lowered that to 33.33%, which is expected; you’ll always be starting with no men on in your first trip to the plate. Given that difference, though, and the move to the higher lineup spot, pitchers haven’t treated Gardner much differently than they did when he was a two hitter.

He has seen more ‘hard’ stuff since moving up in the order than he did to start the year, but the differences in results aren’t all that drastic, except for the increase in power on breaking pitches, moving from an ISO of .057 to an ISO of .333. His increased power against both hard and offspeed stuff as well just mirrors the overall increase in power noted earlier.

While the Yankees have struggled  in Ellsbury’s absence, Gardner’s been a more consistent presence than realized. The team’s been up and down all year, but he’s been steady, which is exactly what a team needs at the top of the lineup.