The Good, Bad and Ugly of the 2017 Yankees: Quarter Season Report
With a relatively quiet offseason by Yankee standards, and a core group of young players to be featured in the starting lineup, the expectations for the 2017 Yankees were understandably low.
Craig Calceterra, a columnist for NBC Sports, went as far as pegging the Yanks to finish in 2nd to last in the AL East…
“While Sanchez will be fun to watch and while it’s not crazy to think 4-5 older guys on the roster could improve over last year, the lineup still looks weak to me and the entire rotation beyond Tanaka seems soft. Best case scenario in my mind is a mediocre product through the All-Star break followed by some exciting debuts of young talent that will pique fan interest heading into 2018. Prediction: Fourth place, AL East.”
Through the first 5 games to start the season, Craig’s forecast was looking to be spot on as the team started 1-4. On top of the poor start, their top gun Mashiro Tanaka gave up a career high 7 earned against Tampa on opening day (much more on him to follow).
To add injury to insult, Rookie of the Year runner-up Gary Sanchez strained his bicep, landing him on the 10-day DL. Dellin Betances, who boasted 126 strikeouts in just 73 innings last year, blew a late lead against the divisional rival Orioles. Not soon before long, and in quintessential New York fashion, the doubters were out in full force.
Despite the tumultuous start to a season in which not much was asked nor expected, the Yankees stormed back, winning their next 8 ballgames — finishing out the rest of April 14-4.
Today, on May 25th, the Yankees sit atop the AL East with a 27-17 record. In awe, most experts around the game believe this 2017 Yankee team is the real deal. With a healthy lineup that is just as dangerous and potent as it is young and promising, they pose an ominous threat to whoever their opponent is on the mound. Despite a pitching rotation that has shown inconsistency in the early months, ESPN has the Yankees ranked 3rd in the Power Rankings behind the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.
Unbeknownst to the majority of diehard fans of the team as well as baseball analysts, the success of Yankees was totally unforeseen. With an Opening Day lineup in which the average age was 25 (youngest Yankee lineup since 1932), they have simply found a way to get it done.
Any fan of baseball knows that even first place teams have parts of their game that can be improved upon. With that being said, here is how I evaluate the good, bad, and ugly for this 2017 Yankees squad.
The addition of Matt Holliday (.274 8HR, 27RBI) has given manager Joe Girardi both depth and flexibility with the lineups he can roll out against righties or lefties. With the injury to the struggling Greg Bird at 1st, we’ve seen Matt Holliday make the transition to 1st base. What this does is free up room for an already productive outfield, while still being able to interchange Holliday and Chris Carter at 1B or DH.
The Yanks outfield of Judge, Ellsbury, Gardner, and yes, even Aaron Hicks are all having productive seasons. Having two lefties, a righty, and a switch hitter in this mix, Girardi has a plethora of ways to adjust the lineup as he sees fit. Being able to give the aging Holliday some days off in the field, as well as resting the injury prone Ellsbury (who suffered a concussion last night and was placed on 7-day DL)—could prove to be crucial in maintaining their health down the stretch.
In wake of the absences of shortstop Didi Gregorious and star catcher Gary Sanchez, Ronald Torreyes, and Austin Romine were phenomenal as their placeholders. As a platoon middle infielder and 3rd basemen, the 5’8” 24-year old Torreyes is hitting .286 with 14RBI in just 31 games played. Romine, who has caught 24 games behind the plate this year, is great defensively and held his own at the plate as Sanchez finished his DL stint. He is a guy who Joe Girardi will have no problem etching into the starting lineup should the Yankees play a day game after a nightcap, or if he just feels like Sanchez needs a day off.
The depth of this team stretches even deeper than their 3rd ranked offense, as their bullpen is also ranked 3rd in baseball. Aroldis Chapman’s inflamed rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder has helped speak volumes about how deep the pen is. Despite losing the left-handed flamethrower, Dellin Betances has stepped into the closer role—boasting a 0.61ERA. Newly appointed setup man Tyler Clippard has also been stellar. The 32-year-old righty has a 1.37ERA to go with 27Ks in just 19.2 innings. Not only have the late innings guys been great, the middlemen have been lights out. Adam Warren (2.96ERA), Jonathan Holder (2.84ERA), Chasen Shreve (0.75ERA), and Chad Green (0.00ERA in 9.1IP).
Bullpen reliability is something the Yanks have counted on all year. When leading after 7 innings, the team is 22-0. By and large, the Yankees have relied on their prolific offense and shut down pen, which has bailed out the 18th ranked starting rotation.
If you’ve read this far, you’re more than likely enough of a fan to be aware of the youth movement that is happening in the Bronx. Drawing comparisons to the young core that formed a dynasty in the late 90s and early 2000s, the ceiling is sky high—but with much still left to prove. Once doubted because of their lack of Major League experience, these Baby Bombers have the full attention of everyone in the league.
Perhaps the most notable of those age 25 and under is right fielder Aaron Judge. After striking out in nearly 50% of his at-bats last season, Judge spent the winter taking private lessons with hitting coach Alan Cockrell. Take it as you want, but those lessons seem to be paying big dividends for the 25-year old California native. This season, Judge is hitting .315 with 30RBIs and is tied with reigning AL MVP Mike Trout for the league lead in homers, with 15. Already earning himself a Sports Illustrated cover, the team has also set up a “Judge’s Chambers” behind him in right field.
Even with his newfound success and accolades he’s receiving in the bigs, they were not the most notable compliments Judge has received thus far. In April, his coach Joe Girardi compared his off the field attitude and demeanor to the former Yankee captain, Derek Jeter. Another credit to Aaron unique and humble demeanor, when asked by Sports Illustrated if he has searched for a nicer apartment in New York City, he replied, “I don’t want to put all my cards that I’m going to be in New York and then I go to Triple A… Maybe next year if everything goes well.”
Entering the 2017 season, very little was expected of the Yankee rotation beyond Masahiro Tanaka, who was coming off of an excellent 2016 season. To the dismay of many Yankee fans, Tanaka has wildly underperformed. Luckily, Michael Pineda and Luis Severino have stepped up in his place to have bounce back seasons.
Pineda is 5-2 with a 3.35ERA and a 10.23 K/9 ratio. With a repertoire that includes a mid 90s fastball and a wipeout slider, “Big Mike” has limited the mistakes that lead to him giving up 27HRs last season.
On the other hand, Severino has shown major improvements after his 0-7 start last season, which ultimately landed him a job in Triple-A Scranton. Using his fastball that touches up to 100MPH, a slider that’s his featured strikeout pitch, and a devastating changeup, Severino has seen much more success this year. The 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic is 3-2 with a 3.11ERA, which leads the Yankees rotation. Last night, he tossed eight scoreless innings against the Royals, which landed him praise from one of their best hitters, Lorenzo Cain. “You can look at film all day, but stepping in the box is a whole other world," Cain said. "Throwing 96 to 100 [mph], huge slider, changeup. I don't know where they found that guy, but he's pretty darn good.”
Aside from Pineda and Severino, the other three starters in the rotation have been inconsistent. Their supposed ace Masahiro Tanaka is 5-3 with the 5th worst ERA amongst MLB starters (6.56ERA). The two lefties, CC Sabathia and rookie Jordan Montgomery have a 4.62 and 4.30ERA, respectively. Despite the somewhat inflated earned run numbers, the two have a much less gloomy outlook than Tanaka. On Tuesday, Jordan Montgomery went 6 and two-thirds with just 1 earned before the bullpen uncharacteristically blew the game. At just 24, he’s shown flashes of greatness, which has pitching coach Larry Rothchild hopeful he can harness his talent and turn it into more consistent outings. Veteran CC Sabathia has just 3 earned runs over the course of his past three starts (18.1IP).
Ultimately, if Pineda and Severino are left to carry the weight of the rest of the rotation, it will more than likely lead to losing streaks in the foreseeable future. While it’s too early to tell if they will need to go get pitching help at the trade deadline, at this point, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
After surprising pretty much every Yankee fan, Headley got off to a hot start in April, hitting .301 with 3HRs. In May, however, things have gone drastically south for Chase. Hitting just .153 with 0HR and a meager .236 slugging percentage, fans are getting anxious for the arrival of number 1 prospect Gleyber Torres. Torres received a promotion out of AA to Triple-A Scranton on Tuesday, leaving him just one step away from reaching the big league club. The 20-year-old Arizona Fall League MVP hit .273 with 5HR and 18RBIs at AA Trenton. As the everyday 3rd basemen for the Yankees, if Headley continues to struggle, don’t be surprised to see Torres in the bigs very soon.
How do you even begin to unravel the mystery and debauchery surrounding Masahiro Tanaka’s 2017 campaign? Three starts with 6+ER and an utterly embarrassing outing in front of a sold-out crowd after Derek Jeter’s number retirement ceremony. Giving up 8ER in less than two innings, he followed this outing up with a 6-run performance on the road in Tampa. Tanaka has lost all control of his once unhittable splitter, exposing his average fastball and off-speed pitches.
Here is the bottom line: if Tanaka does not return to his 2016 form, the 2017 New York Yankees have a very slim chance of winning the division.
Yankees Quarter Season Grade: A-
As surprising as this start has been for the Yanks, there are enough flaws to where we could be having a much different conversation come mid-season. The lineup and bullpen have been exceptional, but the rotation and their “ace” have been way off the mark. GM Brian Cashman will undoubtedly have two crucial decisions to make before July 31st: Do I go get pitching help in a questionable market and give up a prospect? And Is the 20-year-old Gleyber Torres ready to be the upgrade the Yankees need at 3rd base? Yes, it’s early. However, this Yankee team has left fans with a real reason to be excited. If things work out down the stretch, it’ll be hard to make an argument against the Evil Empire making another run at their elusive 28th World Series trophy.