The New York Yankees have reached the all-star break with a 48-40 record and a 3.5 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. They had some crazy highs and lows, but the Yankees finished strongly before the break, winning six of their final nine games. The Yankees have outperformed most expectations and sit in a very good spot. Fangraphs currently gives them a 76.6 percent chance of making the postseason, which is the second highest mark in the AL. Also, Fangraphs has them with a 60 percent chance of winning the division and projects them to win it by a comfortable six games. The even better news is that there is no dominant team in the American League. Here are the some of the biggest stories of the first half so far for the Yankees:
1. Alex Rodriguez' Comeback Season
I tweeted this yesterday, but if Alex Rodriguez doesn't win AL Comeback Player of the Year the award should be retired. Many baseball people thought A-Rod would not even make it through spring training or ever put on the pinstripes again, yet he has been New York's best hitter.
A-Rod's 148 wRC+ is above his career 143 mark and his .384 OBP this year is the same as his career average. His power stats are only slightly down from his career averages, but he is still on pace for over 30 home runs. Think about that -- this is a player who is one of the greatest hitters ever and he's equaling some career marks in important stats at the age of 39 and very close to 40. It's just incredible.
A-Rod has been nothing but a delight to the media, his teammates and the fans. Hearing stories about how he's worked with Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Judge saying how much he helped him in spring training is awesome. One can only wish Bud Selig was still commissioner so the possibility still existed that he would have to give A-Rod a World Series MVP trophy. It would have been the greatest moment ever.
2. Masahiro Tanaka's Health
Oh, this has been a fun topic all season with all the flaming hot takes. How many times already should he have gotten Tommy John surgery? Clearly, the three surgeons who suggested he not have it clearly didn't have a clue.
Other than the forearm issue, Masahiro Tanaka has looked like a healthy pitcher. He is throwing with the same velocity, striking out about the same amount of hitters, and walking about the same from last year. His line drive rate is actually down to 17.6% from 24.4% last year and his percentage of hard hit balls is down a little over six points as well. The ground ball and HR/FB rates are also about the same as last year. The only difference is in the ERA, and that can probably be explained by the fact that Tanaka stranded 79.5 percent of base runners last year as opposed to 67.3 percent this year, which is mostly a random thing.
Tanaka's 3.00 xFIP shows he's pitched better than his ERA has shown. We have seen glimpses of the old Tanaka and I expect a more consistent Tanaka as he pitches more and gets into a better rhythm.
3. Gluten-Free Mark Teixeira
Nobody is laughing at Mark Teixeira's gluten-free diet anymore. We always hear stories in spring training about how everybody is in the best shape ever, so naturally we just brush them off as puff pieces. However, this has actually been a big deal for Teixeira to get his strength back that he had in his prime. He is sixth in MLB with a .290 ISO above names like Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista. This has helped him overcome an absurd .218 BABIP to put together an All-Star caliber first half.
Teixeira's key numbers are right in line or above his career marks, just like A-Rod's. Teixeira has a 138 wRC+ compared to 129 for his career, his .881 OPS is the same as his career mark and his .372 wOBA is only four points away from his career average. Imagine what Teixeira could do if he actually got some singles to fall in. Not to mention, his Gold-Glove caliber fielding has saved the Yankees from numerous errors this season, and they really could not afford to have many more than they already do.
4. New Bullpen Arms Getting it Done
Dellin Betances is the only pitcher who was left over from the Yankees' bullpen last year, yet they have put together an outstanding pen. They're tied for fourth in MLB with a 3.43 xFIP. Betances has not looked back from his absurd season last year, and somehow has put together another one just as good and if not better. Andrew Miller has easily replaced David Robertson as the closer and has actually been an upgrade.
Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve have both been great as middle relievers and now have Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell to join them, so now the Yankees do not have the depth issue that they had earlier with the likes of Esmil Rogers and David Carpenter getting big innings.
5. Young Players Getting A Shot
The Yankees have had a very nice mix of youth along with veterans. They have seen many players from Triple-A make their debuts and have some success. Rob Refsnyder was only the latest example, and he has a chance to have a big impact for the Yankees in the second half. We saw Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores all have some bright spots filling in for Jacoby Ellsbury. We saw some young guys in the bullpen like Mitchell, Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow. There have been younger players like Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi who we have gotten to watch develop in the Bronx. The next step is seeing the stud prospects like Judge, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird make it to the show.