With the end of the season it is time to hand out the final report cards for the New York Yankees for 2010. The Yankees reached the halfway point with the best record in baseball but with much promise to even improve in the second half. But some key injuries and some inconsistency with the starting pitchers dragged this team down a few notches. They qualified as a wild card but to defend their 2009 title they will have to dig deep. Here are the grades:
Brett Gardner (5 HRs, 47 RBIs, .277 Avg., 47 SBs)
Curtis Granderson (24 HRs, 67 RBIs, .247 Avg., 12 SBs)
Nick Swisher (29 HRs, 89 RBIs, .288 Avg.)
The Yankees retooled 2010 outfield was supposed to be a weak spot but it wasn’t.
Despite the Yankees decision to trade Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson and to allow Johnny Damon to leave via free agency, the Yankees’ outfield did pretty well.
Brett Gardner proved he could handle the everyday grind of a season and came through with a respectable average, a very good on-base percentage and he stole 47 bases. In addition, he covered a lot a ground in left-field and led the team in assists.
To be sure, Gardner did not have a perfect season. His average at the midway point of the season was .319 and he had five home runs, 29 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. So his second half, was a bit of a slide.
He hit a miserable .233 after the All-Star break with no home runs and just 18 RBIs. On the surface that looks disastrous. But Gardner held an on-base percentage of .366 in the second half and that is because he was able to draw more walks in fewer at-bats.
Also, one of the reasons Gardner’s average slipped in the second half was because of a recurring left wrist injury he originally suffered last season. He played a lot of games in the second half with the injury and it limited his ability to drive the ball effectively.
He also had problems with the left thumb he broke last season.
But Gardner pressed on and ended up scoring 97 runs primarily batting in the ninth spot this season. He also was pretty much the Yankees only real threat on the bases. His 47 steals was fourth in the American League and he led the league in pitches seen per at-bat.
Gardner would be even more of the threat with a healthy wrist, an ability to bunt consistently and to take even more chances on the bases. But, at age 27, Gardner showed that manager Joe Girardi’s faith in him paid off.
Combine that with only one error committed in the outfield in 134 starts and 12 outfield assists and you have the makings of a potentially great leadoff hitter and left-fielder next season. A little work on the bunting and on the bases should do it.
Gardner earned an A- for his first half based on the unexpected power, the stolen bases and the .319 average. The injury certainly hindered his second half but you have to give him a B- for the .233 average.
His overall grade for the season come in as a solid B. Some progress needs to be made for him to get to the A level. He started that progress in the first half but his second half was short-circuited by that wrist injury. But his OBP shows he is on the right track and could take another step forward in 2011.
Granderson received an I for incomplete for his first half because he missed a month on the disabled list with a groin injury. When he returned, he began to hit well but them fell into a long and protracted slump that dropped his average down to .225 on July 7.
At the midpoint, he had only seven home runs and 22 RBIs and he was striking out a lot. He also was not hitting left-handers well — something he has struggled with his entire career. Finally, in August Granderson asked hitting coach Kevin Long for some help.
Granderson was benched for a few days while Long completely tore down his old swing and gave him a new one. Instead of moving his bat, Granderson kept it still. Instead of keeping his hands low and drawing them up, he held them up and swung from there. Instead of taking his left hand off the bat on his follow through, he kept his hands on the bat.
These tweaks resulted in a resurgent second half in which Granderson hit 17 home runs and 45 RBis, most of them coming after his sessions with Long. Instead of looking like a bust, Granderson is beginning to look like the promising star outfielder he was in his early seasons with the Tigers.
There still are those strikeouts — 116 in 466 at-bats. There also was his batting average, which ended up at about where it was last season (.247). But Granderson enters the playoffs coming off a month in which he hit nine home runs and drove in 25 runs. That ties what Alex Rodriguez delivered in the same time frame.
He also eneded the season with a .234 average against left-handers, which is deceiving because he hit about fifty points higher than that after Long helped him with his swing.
Granderson is still only an above average defender. His great speed masks the fact that he is not very instinctive in judging fly balls. So he can outrun most of his mistakes but he will misjudge a ball or two on occasion. He along with Gardner, give the Yankees the best range the Yankees have had on that side of the outfield in years.
I am giving Granderson a solid C for the season, mostly because of his second half. There are still many things for Granderson to work on. He needs to show he can carry these improvements at the plate into the 2011 season.
He also could be a bit more aggressive on the bases. He stole only 12 bases in only 14 attempts. That might have been a precaution due to the groin injury but the Yankees could use his speed on the bases. Granderson has stolen as many as 26 bases in a season. He also needs to continue to work on his defense in center-field.
With Carl Crawford as potential free agent next season, Granderson also could find himself on another team if the Yankees can find someone who will take his bloated contract with three years left on it. That is why it is important for Granderson to keep working on his game and show well in the playoffs.
Nick Swisher would like forget last year’s playoffs altogether.
That’s because he hit .128 with a one home run and two RBIs. But Swisher actually used that poor showing as motivation to improve this off-season.
He worked hard on hand-eye coordination by taking up boxing. He also worked with Long on “quieting his swing” this season. Swisher’s new stroke and better conditioning and hand-eye coordination all led to a breakout season for Swisher.
In 2009, he hit 29 home runs, drove in 82 runs and batted .249. This season he ended up with 29 home runs, 89 RBIs and e batted .288. The 39-point jump in his batting average does not tell the whole story, however.
At the season’s midpoint, Swisher was hitting .293 with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs. But Swisher’s second half was marred by an injury he suffered fouling a ball off his left knee. Though the injury did not seem serious at the time, it ended up dogging Swisher for nearly a month because the inflammation in the knee would not go away.
Swisher could not push off the injured leg to hit, he could not run without a pronounced limp and it forced him to miss an entire week just when Swisher had pushed his average over .300. In September, Swisher
hit an uncharacteristic .237 with only three home runs and eight RBIs.
In other words, the injury likely cost Swisher a 30 home run, 100 RBI and a .300 batting average season. Not many outfielders do that in a season and Swisher was on the verge of it until he got injured.
Swisher drew a first-half grade of A- and he certainly deserved it. His second half numbers of 16 home runs and 42 RBIs and .275 average are good enough for a B+. Despite the injury he deserves an A- because of all the work he put in to improve his swing.
Swisher is the Yankees’ worst defensive starting outfielder. But he even has improved there, especially his throwing. He committed four errors this season and he does not have the best range even without a sore left knee.
But he does catch what he gets to and he had 10 outfield assists, which shows the work on his throwing paid off.
It is beginning to look like the famous Paul O’Neill for Roberto Kelly trade which helped the Yankees win four championships in five seasons may have a contender to replace it in the trade Brian Cashman made to obtain Swisher from the White Sox for backup infielder Wilson Betemit.
Swisher has been the unsumg hero of this team for two seasons in a row. Last season he replaced Xavier Nady and saved the Yankees’ seaseon. This season, Swisher came through at the plate when others like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter didn’t.
He looks to be something special.
The Yankees played a litany of other outfielders this season when Swisher, Granderson and Gardner were either ailing or needing a rest.
Austin Kearns, acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Indians started 107 games, but most of those came when he was with Cleveland. He is able to play both left-field and right-field but he is not considered to be a very good outfielder.
In 403 at-bats, Kearns hit 10 home runs, drove in 49 runs and hit .263. However, he hit only .235 with the Yankees in 102 at-bats with two home runs and seven RBIs. Kearns’ biggest contribution to the Yankees so far: strikeouts. He has 38.
Over 102 at-bats that means Kearns strikes out 37% of the time. Why he made the playoff roster is beyond me. He hit only .250 against left-handers this season, which would be his primary role in the playoffs.
Marcus Thames also started 23 games in the outfield. It was more out of necessity than design because Thames is the worst fielding outfielder the Yankees have on the roster. His ticket to the playoffs is as a right-hand DH and pinch-hitter, a role in which he is exceptional.
The Yankees other outfielder is Greg Golson, who made only six starts during the regular season. But he can play all three outfield spots. He is very good defensively and has an exceptional arm. Just ask Crawford.
Golson also provides late-inning speed off the bench.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B
The seasons Gardner and Swisher had were very good considering the criticism the Yankees took in letting so many outfielders go this past offseason. Granderson, after looking like a complete bust in July, turned his season around.
The sum of the parts is pretty good. It is a good combination of speed and power. Gardner and Granderson do have exceptional range and Swisher and Gardner throw very well. Considering Johnny Damon roamed left last season, this area really improved.
The concern moving into the playoffs is if Gardner and Swisher can rebound enough from the injuries to contribute to the offense. Girardi rested both considerably when they were hurt and made sure they were capable of playing before reinserting them into the lineup.
Yankee fans just have to hope the patience pays off.
Granderson looks as if he is primed to continue his hot hitting with his rebuilt swing. With his previous postseason experience with the Tigers he could be a real asset to the Yankees.
Though the infield may be the strength of the team, you can hardly call this outfield a liability. It is looking pretty good heading into October.