About a month ago—when the Red Sox were leading the AL East—I questioned the MLB Pennant race, stating “Barring a monumental crash by one of the current division leaders, there will be no excitement in the last weeks of the MLB season…” Well, thank you Boston Red Sox (and Atlanta Braves) for providing me with extreme entertainment throughout the month of September.
Now that I got that off my chest, let’s grade the AL East Champions.
Curtis Granderson, A+: Even though his dreadful September probably lost him the league MVP, Granderson was the Yankees’ best and most valuable player in 2011. Curtis led the team and league in runs (136) and RBI’s (119), and was second in the league in home runs (41). He replaced the power lost from Alex Rodriguez’s absence and helped hide Mark Teixeira’s down season. Let’s just hope his September swoon doesn’t carry into October.
Robinson Cano, A-: It’s amazing to think that Robby was the only regular Yankee to finish with a batting average above .300. That, and a very productive second half (25 doubles, 13 home runs, 61 RBIs), doesn’t hide the fact that Cano took a step back in 2011. His OBP dropped 32 points and he struck out 96 times after averaging just 64 over the previous three seasons. Robby made 10 errors this year, and his overall play looked more reminiscent of the 2008 Cano, than the 2010 Cano.
Mark Teixeira, B: 39 home runs and 111 RBIs are great, and ultimately what Teixeira is paid for. But Mark posted the worst batting average (.248) of his career, worst on base percentage (.341) since his rookie season, and third worst slugging percentage (.494) of his career. His OPS as a right-handed hitter is elite (.967), but rather pathetic as a left-handed batter (.779) for a $20 million/year player.
Derek Jeter, B: Talk about an epic turnaround:
First Half (pre-3,000): .270/.330/.353
Second Half (post-3,000): .327/.383/.428
Did the pressure of his 3,000th hit cause Jeter to struggle in the first half? It may have contributed, but overall I’d say probably not. If you think about it, Jeter’s 2011 first half looked eerily similar to his 2010 season: .270/.340/.370. It wasn’t unrealistic to think Jeter was going to be an average offensive player going forward, based on a season and a half of data. I would place more significance in Jeter’s turnaround on his disabled-list stint in late June. At age 37, 162 is a long season. If Jeter needs to sit 20-30 games a season going forward in order to hit .300+, I’m fine with it.
Nick Swisher, B: Swisher really picked it up in June and continued his hot-hitting throughout the second half. Nick’s second half is what has come to be expected of him over the past three seasons: .273/.382/.486 with 13 home runs in 67 games— a 31 homer pace. I think Swisher has proven his worth in the regular season over the last three years; I only hope he carries it into October. Nick has batted just .148 in 81 at-bats for the Yankees in two postseasons.
Brett Gardner, B: Gardner’s season was a bit of an arch, and he did finish with the lowest batting average of his career since he became a fulltime player. His averages by month are as follows: .188, .301, .317, .289, .226, .219. That is just too inconsistent to stick him as the leadoff hitter, which is where he belongs because his defense is exceptional and his speed a factor that gives the Yankees lineup a unique dynamic. Gardner, at about $530,000, is still one of the better bargains in the Baseball.
Russell Martin, B: Martin had a 59 game stretch from May to July that was pitiful— .201/.309/.287— which contributed to his overall numbers looking below average. I think Martin brought some intangibles to this team however. Brian Cashman has been quoted as saying that Russell Martin “reminds him of Thurman Munson,” praise that does not get much higher in the Yankee organization. I also believe that Russell does deserve some credit for leading a pitching staff that was considered the weakness of the team entering the season to the 4th best staff ERA in the league (3.73).
Alex Rodriguez, C-: I was so excited about A-Rod’s start to the 2011 season, but everything was downhill from there. The days of 40/120 are over for Alex, but when the Yankees signed him to a 10-year contract after the 2007 season I think they expected to get somewhere close to 30/100 over that time. Unless he stays healthy (missed 63 games with injuries this year), the Yankees won’t see anything close to that production in the future.
Jorge Posada, D-: Jorge just never got used to being a designated hitter, which is a shame because I thought he could have added a few nice offensive years to his Hall of Fame credentials. Girardi has indicated that Posada will be used as a DH against right-handed pitchers in the playoffs, which will most likely be Posada’s last hurrah with the Yankees.
David Robertson, A+: Robertson’s break-out year got a lot of people excited for the prospect that he can one day replace Mo, and I can see why. Robertson was dominant all season, striking out a remarkable 100 batters in 66.2 IP (13.5 per 9 innings). He showed that he does not get flustered in clutch situations, holding batters to a .140 batting average with runners in scoring position. Robertson was undoubtedly the staff Cy Young and one of their more valuable players in 2011. If you place any weight in saber-metric, Robertson’s 410 ERA+ is the eighth best for pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched in major league history.
Mariano Rivera, A: Without question, my favorite Yankee of this era. Nobody plays (dominates) the game with more class and consistency.
Ivan Nova, A: 16-4 (8-0 since returning from Triple-A), is not a fluke. Nova has shown poise: .215 BA against with RISP and .158 with RISP-2 outs, and clearly has the ability to win games. Girardi has enough confidence in Ivan to throw him in game 2 of the ALDS, and game 5 if necessary.
CC Sabathia, B+: I’m probably being too hard on CC because the numbers look great: 19 wins, even 3.00 ERA, and 237.1 IP, but something about this season just didn’t seem right. CC’s ERA in August was 4.68 (after winning pitcher of the month in July), and he struggled against the good offenses in the AL: Boston, Detroit, and Texas. CC usually dominates in August and September because he gets stronger when everyone else is breaking-down. This year however we began to see CC wear out as the season progressed (after all, he has thrown more innings than any pitcher since 2007). Not that I agree with it, but I still say he opts-out of his contract and the Yankees resign him to the contract they were going to give Cliff Lee last offseason.
Freddy Garcia, B+: How can Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA) receive the same grade as CC Sabathia? Expectations. Who really expected anything out of Garcia and Colon? I think most would have been elated with half of what they gave the Yankees. Garcia will get the ball in game 3 of the ALDS, let’s just hope the Tigers are chasing.
Bartolo Colon, B: Colon helped the Yankees immensely. He was the Yankees’ second best starter for much of the season, even if his record did not reflect it. The current trend is not good for Colon however— 2.25 ERA in June, 3.82 in July, 4.85 in August, and 5.96 in September. It’s understandable he is breaking down, considering he did not pitch in the Majors in 2010, but I still think he has enough gas in the tank to be an option for Girardi out of the pen if they reach the ALCS.
Rafael Soriano, C: Soriano seems to be a head-case, but he did have a respectable second-half: 26 appearances, 3.33 ERA, and .205 batting average against while averaging more than a strikeout per inning.
Boone Logan, C-: Does anybody really feel that great about Boon Logan being the main lefty out of the pen in the postseason? vLHB in 2011: .260/.328/.462. Not terrible, but not good enough.
AJ Burnett, D: AJ was horrible again on the mound in 2011, but let’s take a minute to put to bed the John Lackey for AJ Burnett swap some people like to talk about. Those people are failing to take into consideration what each pitcher does off the mound. By all accounts, AJ is a likeable teammate, even a leader at times. AJ brought the pie mentality to the Yankees, something they desperately lacked prior to 2009. John Lackey is a horrible teammate. I believe he played a larger role in the Red Sox 2011 collapse than many realize. He is demonstrative on the mound, throws his hands in the air when a teammate misplays a ball, and then makes excuses for his 6.41 ERA. He was a constant distraction in 2011, while posting the worst ERA in Boston Red Sox history.
Phil Hughes, D-: This is an F if not for injuries. I think most people were in agreement that Hughes would take a step back after last season because he had a career high in innings and a shaky second half. But who could have predicted this? .283 BA against with a 5.79 ERA; and there are no real stretches or splits to give you confidence that he will get any better in the postseason (if he pitches).
Andruw Jones, A-:
Marcus Thames 2010: .288/.350/.491, 12 home runs, 33 RBI’s, 212 at bats
Andruw Jones 2011: .247/.356/.495, 13 home runs, 33 RBI’s, 190 at bats
Andruw Jones has done exactly what Brian Cashman brought him in to do, be Marcus Thames with the ability to play defense.
Eduardo Nunez, B+: As his offense slowed down in the second half, his defense improved (finished with 14 errors, most of which came in the first half). I still like Nunez as a utility player who can come off the bench and run. He also has pop in his bat; 25 extra base hits for the rookie this season.
Eric Chavez, B: Chavez and Nunez filled in admirably for A-Rod this season. Because of Alex’s injuries (and spotty defense at times), Girardi might use Chavez as a defensive replacement at third base in the postseason.
Francisco Cervelli, B: I was harsh on Cervelli at mid-season for his inability to throw out runners as a backup catcher. But pitchers seem to like throwing to him and he is a sparkplug for the Yankees (see the John Lackey/Francisco Cervelli incident at Fenway this August). He also hit .302 with RISP this year, something other members of this team struggle with.
September call-ups, A: The September call-ups marked the emergence of a future superstar in Jesus Montero and the return of Joe Torre’s favorite whipping-boy, Scott Proctor. I think a key difference between the Yankees and Red Sox this year was that the Yankees got significant contributions from their farm system this season, the Red Sox did not.
NYYUniverse.com Staff Writer
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