Ready for your midterms?

THE DREADED MIDTERM GRADES
On Sunday, the Yankees played their 81st game. The season’s official halfway point comes at the All-Star break, but this is it’s actual halfway point. In my ten years as pinstriped armchair detective, I’ve sometimes resorted to the clichéd midterm grades and sometimes not. This year it seemed like a helpful device to review the season. Today we’ll cover the position players, tomorrow the pitching staff.

As you review the report card, remember that the same grade might not mean the same thing for two different players, because each player must be viewed in the context of his position, his career, and his role. Expectations for Mark Teixeira are different than they are for Brett Gardner, so the latter could conceivably get a better grade than the former without implying that he is the better player in a head to head comparison. With that in mind, feel free to offer your own grades in the comments section.

posada_250.jpgJORGE POSADA-CATCHER
Putting his 25 days on the disabled list aside, you can’t fault Posada’s season. When a 37-year-old catcher is hitting .284/.368/.523, you give thanks for your good fortune and try not to ask too many questions. On defense, he’s thrown out over 30 percent of runners trying to steal, a solid number (the overall Major League success rate on stolen bases this year is 73 percent). The notion that his handling has damaged Joba Chamberlain or anyone else is farfetched bushwah given his career record, as well as those of his many battery-mates. As with several Yankees, Posada has done far more damage at home than on the road. GRADE: 89/100

MARK TEIXEIRA-FIRST BASE

Teixeira has been quite streaky, only reaching a “hot” temperature in May. He’s been vastly more successful at home (.310/.402/.632), but his road production (.243/.373/.472) also gets the job done, albeit at a far more pedestrian level. He’s also been a revelation on defense, even if for some reason the metrics don’t show it. While Teixeira’s season is consistent with his work in previous seasons, he’s not quite at the level of the last two years (.307/.406/.557 in 289 games),  and it’s worth noting that he’s having only the fifth-best season among AL first basemen, trailing Justin Morneau, Kevin Youkilis, Russell Branyan, and Miguel Cabrera. Of these, Branyan probably won’t hang on until the end, but the others almost certainly will. Bumped out of the “A” range, but only in comparison to previous performances. The 20-game homerless streak with which he ended the half (.244/.366/.321) didn’t help. GRADE: 86.5/100

ROBINSON CANO-SECOND BASE
Cano has bounced back from his spectacularly miserable 2008, but a league-average on-base percentage is still a bridge too far, as is consistency–in May and June combined, he hit .271/.302/.439, which doesn’t help all that much. He’s on a pace to ground into 24 double plays, and he’s batting .196 with runners in scoring position. There are certainly worse second basemen to have–Howie Kendrick is actually the evil Cano from the Star Trek mirror-verse–but as usual, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. GRADE: 79/100

ALEX RODRIGUEZ-THIRD BASE
With 45 walks and 14 home runs in 51 games, A-Rod has been productive despite his low batting average. Eleven of his 14 homers have been hit at home. Conversely, he’s hitting just .211 in the Bronx, with a truly strange .131 average on balls in play–one wonders if he’s trying to get the ball in the air at the new park, trying to catch up on all the short fence/jet stream-generated fun his teammates had without him. His hip problems seem to have sapped his speed and defense, and he hasn’t been around that much. Docked a few points for days absent and the whole juicing thing, which is spectacularly annoying. GRADE: 83.5/100

DEREK JETER-SHORTSTOP

There are a few nits you can pick with Jeter’s season. He’s only hitting .264/.340/.383 against right-handers, most of his damage coming thanks to .452/.524/.644 rates against lefties. All of his power seems to be a product of Yankee Stadium II; just two of his ten home runs have come on the road. On the plus side, his walk rate is up, he seems more limber this year, both on the bases and in the field, and though he still hits everything on the ground (he ranks 11th among players with 150 or more plate appearances this season), he’s kept his double play rate in hand. Overall, I’m not complaining–after the lethargy of last year, this qualifies as a comeback. GRADE:  91/100

JOHNNY DAMON-LEFT FIELD

Damon hit 17 home runs last year. He’s hit 16 in 76 games this year. The difference is Yankee Stadium II; the former Caveman is hitting .289/.390/.592 with 12 home runs (one every 12.7 at-bats) at home, .278/.340/.465 with four home runs (one every 36 at-bats) on the road. Now, that doesn’t mean that Damon shouldn’t get his due, as being able to take advantage of one’s environment is a skill. It’s much like Jim Rice’s home-road splits in Boston: if everyone who played in Fenway hit like Jim Rice, you’d have an argument about discounting his stats. Damon’s road stats are also sufficient–the average Major League left fielder is hitting .267/.342/.433 overall. At his current pace, Damon is going to obliterate his career high in home runs, his career high in walks is also in reach, and he’s easily going to have his tenth 100-run season. Stolen base frequency is down and his range in left seems down a bit, but as with Jeter I’m not going to complain about a late-career high. GRADE: 90/100

MELKY CABRERA-CENTER FIELD
He’s doing some things he’s never done before, like hitting as a right-hander and taking the occasional walk–he had 29 free passes all of last year, compared to 22 now. That said, he’s mainly helping with his defensive versatility, not his bat. His home runs are a gift of YS II, with seven of eight round-trippers coming in the friendly confines, and coincidental with the injury he suffered in Texas or not, his bat turned off at the end of May and hasn’t come back–even with a semi-hot streak over the last couple of weeks, in 31 games since the end of May he’s hit .221/.303/.379. Given that Cabrera hit only .235/.281/.300 after April last year, the idea that the injury is what’s holding him back should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Cabrera is an asset as a reserve, but he’s not a starter. Alternatively, he’s playing hurt under the misguided belief that he’s helping. At that point, Austin Jackson would be the better choice. GRADE: 72/100

NICK SWISHER-RIGHT FIELD

What a weird player, inconsistent in every phase of his game. At his April level of production, he was a Ruthian terror. In June he hit .253/.379/.506 and was still plenty productive. In between, he took a lot of walks but hit .150. Six games into July he just drew his first walk of the month and was 4-for-22 with one walk in seven games since hitting his last home run going into Tuesday, when he finally broke through with three hits (which doesn’t count towards the midterm). He hasn’t been all that productive with runners on–this seems to be a career-long problem, as if he shortens up his swing and worries about striking out in those situations. The result is quite a few walks but not many hits. His defense is usually solid, but he also has his off days. As he did last season, Swisher has a pronounced home-road split. He’s batting .279/.373/.625 with 11 home runs (one every 12.4 at-bats), but only .181/.347/.302 (again, through Sunday) with three home runs (one every 38.7 at-bats) at home. He’s been helpful on the whole, but the only reason he ranks among the top 15 right fielders in productivity is
that there are only 15 right fielders having good years. In short, I don’t know what to make of him. GRADE: 80/100

BRETT GARDNER-THE OTHER CENTER FIELDER

Gardner is listed among the starters because he’s actually started more games in center than Cabrera, even though Cabrera has played more overall. Given what little was expected of Gardner, not to mention the way he started the season, he probably deserves an A grade just based on performance vs. expectations. He started only 25 games across May and June, but he also appeared in 21 more and hit like crazy, batting .330/.427/.510 with four triples, three home runs, 16 walks, and 12 steals. He has not been handled brilliantly. After Gardner’s 5-for-6 game against the Mets on June 26, he was given just two more starts (he went 0-for-7) before Joe Girardi presumably decided he had gone cold and it was time to try Cabrera again. It’s not clear how a kid is supposed to build up any momentum under those conditions. When he sits, the Yankees aren’t suppressing a great bat, but they do lose some patience (Gardner has drawn a walk every 9.7 plate appearances, whereas Cabrera has taken a pass every 11.6 plate appearances), their best baserunner, and their best center field defender. Despite the hot streak, it’s doubtful that Gardner will ever be a big run producer, but he’s certainly been worth playing. GRADE: 85/100

15 Comments

You’re missing one thing w/Melky that he has over Gardner, although I guess this could be explained as somewhat oof a statistical anomaly: He’s been ultra-uber-super-mega clutch.

I am hopeful that the team is more confident this year and we as well as them have a good measuring stick; last year at this time we were well under 11 games under .500. It is a marathon and as my late father used to say “the second half is the one that counts…” I surely hope that Cashman is thinking of trying to find a competent starter. In my humble opinion if we don’t we could be risking to miss another playoff berth. That’s all I have to say about that…

In this game what separates the men from the boys are the intangibles. Melky has a good, if not average arm. That translates into a team perhaps a couple of times per game not taking the extra base, thereby increasing the possibility that they strans a base runner in scoring position. On the other hand I’ve seen pitchers lose their concentration when pitching to the thumpers on the team, because they are preoccupied with GARDNER on first or second base. He is instant offense. I’d play him regularly, and put Melky in for defense late in the game for defense in close games that the Yankees lead in.

personally, I’ve always felt that clichés are what separate the men from the boys……

whenever I comment, btw, it says “thanks for signing in [etc] now you can comment”–can your faceless webmasters fix this, Steve?

Steve, I have a grudge to grind with some of the points.

A. Cano: looking at fangraphs’ value, he’s basically been #8-9 in the MLB 2Bs so far this year. AKA tied with all-star MVP Dustin Pedroia. The guys above him have some serious question mark guys too outside of Chase Utley, is Kinler a Arlington product? is Brandon Phillip’s defense really that good? is Freddy Sanchez really going to hit like this all year? The RISP is incrediablly frustrating sure. but it’s hard to really hate a guy with a .800+ OPS and positive fielding up the middle.

B. Cabrera: he’s hit most of his dingers at home. but he’s CRUSHED most of them. they’re not short porch cheapies for sure. looking at hittracker, Cabrera is second on the team both in longest HR (439 footer, yes he’s longest HR this year is further than A-rods! ) and no doubter HRs (5 of his 8 are abosalute bombs) . his lack of a ton of HR seems more of a product of him not squaring up on the ball consistently than him not actually having the muscle to pull them out a mile. the one HR he hit on the road was a spetacular 418 foot bomb out of dolphin stadium, that’s clearly not a cheapie.

speaking of 2Bs I left a couple guys out.

WHAT GOT INTO BEN ZOBRIST? and… Aaron Hill, 40 HR hitter, really?

For the most part I agree with your assessment–exception being Cabrera–knowing he is not one of your favorites–he still deserves better than 72–especially if you are giving Swisher 80-flip those grades and I would agree. Melky is a better corner OF on an off day that Swisher will ever be. I would like to see more of Damon LF-Gardner CF-Melky-RF and Swisher as #4–Damon the best hitter, Melky the best fielder and Gardner’s speed–should get you to the post season!

Melky’s grade is low.

At the start of this year, I read with some dread all the predictions that Jeter was finished as a player. It has been so much fun to see him play at such a high level so far in ’09. And, always, with class.
http://thepitchbaseballlife.blogspot.com/

Melky > Swisher

The Melky-love in this comment section is really bizarre. If this guy played for another team you all would laugh at such fawning praise for a 4th outfielder. I guess it’s true, we fans tend to overrate home grown products.

Hi.
I feel that joe has to keep damon out of the outfield.He is going to be hurt bad.one of these time he is going to be hit right on the head and have to be carried off.I close my eyes everytime a ball is hit to him.what do you think
Ron in Syracuse

If one is grading based on expectations for each player, then I think Gardner deserves a higher grade. His baserunning is outstanding, as was expected. His fielding also looks outstanding, although some questioned how good a fielder he was. His On Base Average of .356 is more than we could have hoped for. As is his slugging average of .402.

In short, Gardner isn’t that great a player, but he’s doing better than we could have expected.

An average of 84 for a team just 1 game behind first place is too low, but I agree with most of them. In my opinion, you were too generous with Swisher (75), TEX (80) and ARod (75).
A Yankees player will always be expected to have nothing lower than a grade of 95.

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