The following is a guest post from sometime Yankeeist contributor Scott “Skip” Kutscher. Skip’s last piece for Yankeeist was about Looking ahead to 2010 free agency.
Now that the All-Star break is upon us once again, it’s time to take a look back at the (very successful) first half of the season for the Yankees, and award some hardware to the team’s winners and losers.
Most Valuable Player: Robinson Cano
We start the process with the easiest decision. Cano hasn’t just been the MVP of the team, he might be the MVP of the whole league. Even with his recent struggles, everywhere you look Cano’s numbers are eye-popping. He has an OPS+ of 156, his .403 wOBA is 9th in all of baseball, and, because of his plus defense at a premium position, his 4.4 WAR is tied for 3rd in the majors. Cano is on pace to set personal highs in literally every offensive category. And although his .344 BABIP is slightly above the norm, his line drive and HR/FB rates are within his career averages, indicating that this first half was no fluke. It will be interesting to see where Cano goes from here, given his history as a better second half player. The mind says he might regress to the mean, but the gut says the sky is the limit. With apologies to Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner, who are having career years themselves, Cano has been the motor driving this offense.
Least Valuable Player: Mark Teixeira
His 17 homers and 59 RBI might fool the Joe Morgans of the world, but here at Yankeeist we want to say what is plainly obvious to anybody who has been watching: Mark Teixeira has been the worst everyday player on the team. Even with his current hot streak, his .454 slugging would be the worst of his career. His .354 wOBA ranks as 16th-best among first baseman. His WAR of 1.3 ranks below fellow LVP candidates Curtis Granderson (1.4), Jorge Posada (1.4) and Derek Jeter (1.8). And what makes Tex even worse is the fact that he’s been doing all of this from the 3-hole, the single most important spot in the lineup. I would like to hope his current play continues after the All-Star break, but we’ve already been waiting two months for Tex to shake his standard early-season struggles. At some point, a player is no longer slumping, he’s just plain having a bad year. Let this be the time to say: Mark Teixeira, you are officially having a bad year.
Cy Young: Andy Pettitte
The numbers might point to CC Sabathia or Phil Hughes for this award. Andy trails both teammates in IP, FIP, xFIP, K/9, K/BB, and WAR. Even Mariano Rivera, with his insane ERA+ of 390 and WHIP of 0.64, makes a strong case. But the award is going to Pettitte for being the rock of the rotation. While other starters struggled at times, Pettitte’s worst month was June, when he went 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA. His 13 quality starts lead the team, and his current ERA and WHIP would be his non-NL career bests. It is possible that the 38-year-old lefty will tire as the season drags on. But right now, when Pettitte is on the hill, we expect the Yankees to win.
The Kei Igawa Award: Joba Chamberlain
I almost called this the Kei Igawa memorial award before I remembered that he’s still on the payroll (Editor’s Note: And not dead). Although the rotation has been rock solid, there are any number or relievers who could be named here: Chan Ho Park, Boone Logan, Damaso Marte. Even Yankeeist favorite David Robertson has been frustratingly unreliable. But Joba — whose full name should be officially changed to The Enigmatic Joba Chamberlain — takes top honors for continuing to move backwards in his development. Saturday’s debacle against the Mariners was just the latest in a string of struggles for Joba, as he tries to settle into the set-up role that so many in the MSM had been pushing for. I don’t need to quote many statistics; the 5.79 ERA and 1.5 WHIP in 37 innings of work pretty much tells the story. Joba is still young enough to get his career on track, but the time when he was too valuable to trade for Johan Santana or Roy Halladay seems like a different era.
Most Improved Player: Brett Gardner
Outside of suckiest reliever, this was the hardest winner to pick. All-Star Nick Swisher has a compelling case, as his 2.8 WAR is second-best on the team to Cano, and already 80% of his total value last year. But Swisher’s walk rate and isolated power are actually down from 2009, and his higher slash stats are all a direct result of his absurd .076 jump in BABIP. So the award goes to Gardner, the scrappy speedster who inexplicably leads a team of millionaires in OBP. Granted, Gardy has also benefited from an unsustainable BABIP of .362, and his SB% needs to improve. But as recently as April he was fighting for playing time with Randy Winn, and now he’s making everyone wonder if that Carl Crawford money might be better spent on a new shortstop. And speaking of shortstop…
Biggest Question Mark After the ASB: Derek Jeter
Some may worry about the DH or the relief pitching, but my feeling is these are minor worries. The Yankees are absolutely loaded, and poised to make a strong push for another Joe Girardi uniform change. The biggest question in my mind is the Yankee captain, who is looking every bit his age in 2010 after a resurgent 2009. Even so, his rather pedestrian numbers (.328 wOBA and 1.8 WAR) make him the 5th-best shortstop in baseball. Clearly, the years of the elite offensive shortstop are long gone. But so too may be the years of Derek Jeter as an elite, top-of-the-order hitter.
Will Derek Jeter bounce back in the second half? Whether or not he can may have huge implications, not only on how well the Yankees perform this year, but also on how the team and its captain approach free agency. I don’t think anybody in this universe expects Jeter to sign with another team, especially as he chases down hit number 3,000. But how well he plays in the second half may have a huge impact on how much money, and how many years Brian Cashman is willing to commit to the man. Jeter and the Yankees will remain professional, but as we get closer to free agency, you can bet the pressure from the media will start to mount. Until a decision is reached, Derek Jeter will remain the $20 million gorilla in the room.