Quick Hit: The Reigniting Of Rob Refsnyder's Existence

By all accounts, it sounds like Stephen Drew is done for the season with post-concussion symptoms.  I honestly can't remember a play in the first half of September that would have given him a concussion, but that's really here nor there.  His recent absence, combined with Brendan Ryan's general terribleness, has opened up some opportunities at second base in this final month as the Yankees try to lock up a playoff spot. The greater opportunity has been seized by Dustin Ackley, who's been swinging a hot bat since coming off the DL and has essentially taken over the "starting" second base job with Drew on the shelf.  The smaller opportunity has gone to Rob Refsnyder, the once future greatest second base prospect in the history of baseball and the recently forgotten man in the second base organizational depth chart.  It's been a long, strange trip up and down the prospect hype curve for Refsnyder this year, but he's getting a chance to contribute in important late-season games and he's showing a few things that might bring a little luster back to his name and perceived future potential.

Since coming in as the fourth different second baseman in the win over the Mets on 9/19, Refsnyder has gone 5-15 with a double and a walk in 6 games as a second baseman/pinch hitter.  Refsnyder got the start at second against all 3 Chicago left-handers over the weekend and Eduardo Rodriguez on Monday night, and he's had at least 1 hit in all of those games.  He hasn't done anything to change the narrative about his defense, but he did make a fantastic diving catch the other night and he's looked athletic enough (to me at least) to be able to handle the position full-time once he gets more experience.

The Yankees face another lefty starter in Wade Miley tonight, and I expect Refsnyder to be on Joe's lineup card starting at second and batting 8th or 9th.  He's shown himself over the past week to at least be capable of producing in that favorable matchup situation and the Yankees need all they can get offensively at the moment.  Refsnyder has clearly supplanted Ryan as the right-handed part of the second base platoon and he can continue to build some positive momentum for himself heading into the offseason/next season if he continues to produce.

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As The Rotation Turns

It's been a challenging year for the Yankee starting rotation.  From injury scares to innings limits to uneven performance to forearm strains to unforeseen promotions to undeserved demotions and everything in between.  Yesterday was another chapter in that saga both on and off the field, as Michael Pineda looked terrible in the 2nd inning of his start against the Orioles before rebounding to complete 6 innings and the team announced that Nathan Eovaldi will be out for the next 2 weeks with what's been called "elbow inflammation".  Guys getting hurt and missing a few weeks?  That's basically par for the course for the Yankees this year. Roll it back to the first month of the season and look what they've gone through.  Masahiro Tanaka made 4 starts in April and then went to the DL for a month with right arm problems.  The "he should have had TJS!!" crowd went into overdrive, but Pineda pitched like an ace and helped get the rest of the rotation through that month, highlighting his time at the top of the rotation with a brilliant 16-K performance against the Orioles in May.

The Yankees took another injury hit in May when Chase Whitley, called up to replace Tanaka in the rotation, hit the DL and the operating table for TJS on his elbow after only 4 starts.  This put the rotation on very shaky ground, as Eovaldi and CC Sabathia were not pitching well and Chris Capuano was not the answer to that open 5th spot.  Then May turned to June and Adam Warren began to emerge as the most consistent member of the rotation, meaning of course that he had to be banished to the bullpen to make room for the returning Ivan Nova.  This caused a fair amount of controversy among the fansbase and blogosphere, but Nova's OK early performance and the return of Tanaka kept it from becoming a major issue.

As we've moved through the proverbial dog days of summer and into the final month of the regular season, we've seen Tanaka battle home run problems, Pineda hit the DL for a month with a forearm strain of his own, and Sabathia continue to struggle with what we now know was more knee pain.  Nova is going through the usual command problems that accompany TJS comebacks, Warren languishes away as a misused and under-used piece of the bullpen, and Eovaldi had blossomed into the best starter in the rotation before hitting the DL with this elbow inflammation.  And to top it all off, the Yanks went ahead and called up 21-year-old top prospect Luis Severino last month.  Because of all the aforementioned issues, there were calls for the team to add a starter at the trade deadline.  They elected not to go that route, instead putting their faith in Severino and the return to form of their other guys.

Now, with 3 weeks and change remaining in the regular season, it would be fair to say that Severino is the best and most consistent pitcher in the current rotation.  Tanaka has been decent, Pineda has shown signs that he's back to being his usual self, Sabathia is coming back tomorrow with a new knee brace, but it's the 21-year-old kid taking the ball every fifth day and putting the team on his back.  Who would have predicted that back in April?

As you might expect, all this turmoil and turnover has left the Yankees mid-pack in most key statistical categories.  They're 18th in MLB in rotation ERA at 4.29 and 13th in FIP at 4.02.  Their 13.2% HR rate is third to last in the AL, and with Eovaldi's injury they are now guaranteed to not have a single pitcher in their rotation make more than 30 starts this season.  It hasn't been pretty by any stretch of the imagination and it seems like there's been a new high for one pitcher, a new low for another, and a new injury creeping up every week, but somehow the Yankees continue to win games and wake up this morning with a chance to retake the AL East lead.

There has been no shortage of stories and drama in the Yankee rotation this season and I fully expect that drama to carry over into the offseason.  With 3 weeks left, they can delay that drama and write one more positive story if they can hold together long enough to get the team back to the postseason.

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The Future Is (Finally) Now For The Yankees

At this time last year, Greg Bird was a few weeks into his promotion from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton.  Yesterday he was batting 5th and starting at first base in the Yankees' Major League lineup, and hitting 2 2-run home runs to propel the Bombers to a series sweep of the Twins. At this time last year, Luis Severino was also with the Trenton Thunder and was in the process of returning from the DL and making a few short starts before the end of the Minor League season.  This year he's already a key part of the Major League rotation after getting called up 2 weeks ago, and in his last start on Sunday he mostly held the best offense in baseball down for 6 innings using only his fastball.

For years Yankee fans have called for the team to re-commit to player development and build the franchise from within.  The game has changed since the late 90s-early 2000s heyday of using big free agent signings and blockbuster trade deadline deals to build a winning team, and the Yankees were among the last teams to recognize that and get with the times.  It's been a slow and seemingly fruitless process over the last few years as the front office has tweaked its MiL development approach, but this season has been the first big harvest from this current crop of prospects and what a harvest it's been.

Bird and Severino are just the latest and highest profile prospects in a long and continuous line that's fed up to the 25-man roster this year.  We've seen Mason Williams and Ramon Flores come up and look more than capable in small injury replacement sample sizes.  We've seen Slade Heathcott come up and dazzle for a few games after Ellsbury went down before falling victim to another injury of his own.  Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder have gotten looks in the infield as the Yankees searched for an upgrade over their entrenched-below-the-Mendoza-Line second baseman.  John Ryan Murphy has established himself as a legitimate Major League backup catcher and in some respects may already be a better defensive catcher than Brian McCann.  And let's not forget about the Triple-A bullpen carousel.  The Yankees have had an endless supply of high-velocity relief arms to fortify the back end of the 'pen and they've used that supply brilliantly.

Some of those players are in the typical mid-20s rookie age range where guys either get the call or settle into life as a Quad-A regular, so in their cases it's been the natural progression of moving through the minors.  But that's not the case with Bird and Severino.  Bird is only 22 years old and Severino is only 21.  They were already young for Triple-A before they got called up and they're even younger for their level now that they're in the show.  A few years ago, it would have been crazy to think about the Yankees promoting young players this quickly and calling them up to be regular contributors in the lineup.  This year it's not only common practice, it's been the right decision.  Bird and Severino aren't young pups who are in over their heads.  They're polished, mature, confident, good baseball players.  They've shown in small samples that they're capable of hanging at this level and producing in the midst of a playoff run, and the Yankee front office and MiL development team deserve a lot of credit for having confidence in them and choosing to use them to help their playoff charge rather than trade them away for a more "proven" player.

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Nathan Eovolving - Part 2

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Looking at most leader boards on statistic sites, you cannot find a Yankee starting pitcher anywhere. They are not present in any of the big categories like FIP, ERA+, WAR or pretty much anything else. Yankee starters are deemed serviceable but not able to go long into games and at least most of the time, give the very good offense a chance to win the game. So imagine the glee of sorts to find a Yankee starter on top of one of a big-time writer's lists--Keith Law's list..

In a post last week, Keith Law ranked pitchers with the best pitches in various categories. For example, Law ranked Clayton Kershaw's curve as the best in baseball. Well, duh. Then we get to the split-fingered fastball and sitting on top of Law's list is Nathan Eovaldi!

This is remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, Nathan Eovaldi did not have a split-fingered fastball before 2015. It's a brand new baby of a pitch. Secondly...it's Nathan Eovaldi. But is Keith Law correct?

I decided to look up the numbers on PitchF/X which keeps track of such things. The first thing I noticed is that only 26 MLB starters use the pitch. Compare that to the 85 starters that throw a curve as an example. This is a little like me having the best fried chicken in town when there are only two chicken dives.

But still, of all qualified starters, Nathan Eovaldi's splitter has been worth 8.9 runs above average this season good for first place. Law doesn't mention whether he used these stats to compile his lists or scouting. Either way, in this case, he is correct in that Eovaldi's splitter is highest among qualifying starters in total value. The key word here is, "Qaulifying."

Eovaldi has a teammate who hasn't pitched enough innings to be considered a qualifying starter. He is, of course, Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka's split-fingered fastball has been worth 10.2 runs above average. That would put Tanaka on top, qualified or not.

There is another way of looking at this statistic and that is the value of the pitch per a hundred thrown. In other words you take the total thrown and divide that into the total value and multiply that figure by 100. This changes our view a bit because all pitchers who throw a splitter do not throw them as often.

When viewed this way, the winner is Chris Sale, but Sale doesn't throw the pitch nearly as often (maybe he should). Eovaldi comes in fifth when looked at this way. He throws the splitter 14+% of the time. Tanaka comes in sixth and throws it 24+% of the time. Tanaka throws it more, but Eovaldi comes out ahead of him on the value per pitch.

I would say that Keith Law's rating, if based on statistics, would only be correct from one point of view. The bottom line is that Nathan Eovaldi has added a weapon and it has been a good one for him. The pitch has been a bit transforming and could really aid in his Eovolution.

Just to give you an idea of how far he has Eovolved this season, in April, May and June, Eovaldi pitched 82.1 innings and gave up 105 hits. Yeesh. In July and August, Eovaldi has pitched 46.2 innings and has given up 49 hits. That is much better. His batting average against has gone down every month this season.

And the pitch is very important because his other pitches all rate below average except for the two-seam fastball which is slightly above average.

All I know is that earlier in the season, I cringed at the prospect of an Eovaldi start. Now, I sort of look forward to them. I am looking forward to watching him today as the Yankees attempt to sweep the Twins!

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Monday Morning Food For Thought: The Road Warriors

On the morning of July 24th, the Yankees were 5.5 games up in the division and heading out on a 10-game road trip.  At the time they were a sub-.500 road team and their inability to score runs away from the short porch of Yankee Stadium was starting to become more of a concern.  10 games against pseudo-Wild Card contenders the Twins, Rangers, and White Sox would be a good test for the offense and the team as a whole.  If they were going to make the playoffs and make any kind of noise in the playoffs, the Yankees had to start figuring out how to score and win on the road.

10 days later and I'd say they passed the test with flying colors.  The Yankees went 6-4 on the trip, securing that winning record with a big victory yesterday afternoon in Chicago.  Not only did they find a way to score more runs outside of Yankee Stadium, they found a way to score a ton of runs.  A combination of the traditional team power and patience along with a bunch of hot streaks from guys up and down the lineup resulted in 78 runs scored over the 10 games.  They didn't just score, they were a scoring machine.

The Yanks scored 6 or more runs in all of their 6 wins and the way they went about scoring them in some games was thoroughly impressive.  Their 8 in Minnesota on July 25th came unanswered after the Twins went up 5-0 in the first 3 innings, and culminated with a 4-run 9th to secure the comeback victory.  The 21-run outburst in Texas started after the Rangers went up 5-0 in the 1st inning and included 11 runs in the top of the 2nd.  They hung 11 on the White Sox in the first 4 innings on Friday night and 8 on Jeff Samardzija in a 2-inning span yesterday.  You don't put up numbers like with just 1 or 2 guys hitting and that certainly wasn't the case on this trip.  Everybody was contributing and everybody had at least 1 or 2 big games.  Teix is on fire, Didi is on fire, A-Rod is still jacking home runs, Chase Headley has woken up, and Stephen Drew is right on the cusp of cracking the Mendoza Line.

The Yanks showed on this trip that they can score runs on the road, they showed how good and deep their lineup can be when everybody is healthy, and most importantly, they came back from the trip with a bigger division lead (6 games) than when they began.  Now they've got 6 in a row at home with a chance to put some more distance between themselves and their AL East competition.  Not a bad position to be in and just another reason to love this team.

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How About That Triple-A Bullpen Carousel?

In a game that had precious few Yankee highlights, one of them last night was Caleb Cotham's MLB debut.  As described in the recap, he pitched 1.2 scoreless innings and struck out 4 batters without issuing a walk.  In doing so, he became the 12th different rookie pitcher the Yankees have used out of their bullpen this season and the 8th to make his Major League debut. That might seem like a sign of major performance/injury problems, but it really hasn't been the case.  While there have been a few instances of that happening (see "Carpenter, David" and "Miller, Andrew"), the Yankees' strategy lately in shuttling guys up and down to fill out the back end of the bullpen has been mostly a proactive one.  They know they need to have fresh arms available to cover for their rotation, they know they need to be able to give their bullpen regulars enough rest, and they know they have a stockpile of useful arms in Triple-A to help serve those purposes.

And how has this collection of fringe-y arms performed?  Not too bad actually.  Combine all the non-Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin - because they were on the Opening Day roster - pitchers together (Branden Pinder, Bryan Mitchell, Diego Moreno, Jacob Lindgren, Jose De Paula, Nick Rumbelow, Jose Ramirez, Matt Tracy, Dan Burawa, and Cotham) and you get this line:

50 IP, 46 H, 24 ER, 23 BB, 48 K (4.32 ERA)

Remove Ramirez and Burawa's 4 rough appearances and you get this:

46.1 IP, 37 H, 15 ER, 18 BB, 45 K (2.91 ERA)

That's pretty good value for the last spot in the bullpen.  It's been mostly low-leverage work, there hasn't been too much of an impact of the outcomes of those games, and there have been some pretty good performances.  Mitchell was lights out in short relief before getting sent back down, Pinder showed himself to be competent and capable, Rumbelow looked good in a small sample, and Moreno might have carved out a longer-term role for himself.  Add in Shreve's 40+ innings of sub-2.00 ERA ball and the overall contribution of this rookie relief corps really looks solid.

The Yankees have always been good about finding under-valued relievers to take on chunks of workload and this year has been no different.  What has been different is the way they've gone about doing it with their own internal cadre of pseudo-prospects, and they deserve credit for that.  They've helped themselves manage workloads in the present and given themselves options to consider for the future.  Not a bad way to manage the lesser-heralded part of your farm system.

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Top Five Yankees Storylines of the First Half

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.

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Quick Hit: Let The Gary Sanchez Heat Up Commence

With the Severinos and Judges and Birds of the world performing well and getting moved up to Triple-A, former #1 organizational prospect Gary Sanchez has fallen a bit by the wayside this year.  That'll happen when those other guys are doing what they're doing and you're opening your second return trip to Double-A with a .246/.328/.351 month of April. Lately, however, Sanchez has been on a tear.  He homered for the 4th straight game last night, giving him 12 for the year and continuing an absolutely torrid start to this month.  He had a pretty good May (.789 OPS), a down June (.672), and now in 29 July plate appearances he's hitting .335/.448/.962 with the aforementioned 4 homers, 3 doubles, and 7 runs scored.

I can't think of a single Yankee prospect who's experienced the negative effects of prospect fatigue more than Sanchez has this season.  It feels like he's been around forever, and that's partially true.  He's been in the organization since 2010 and playing full-season ball since 2011, and the fact that he hasn't reached Triple-A yet is going to make people forget about him and move on to the next shiny new prospect toy.  But Sanchez is up to .268/.326/.488 on the season now with the 2nd most HR in the Eastern League in 53 games, he's still throwing almost 40% of potential base stealers out, and he's almost half a year short of his 23rd birthday.

However the Yankees want to use him - future potential roster piece or trade piece - Gary Sanchez remains a very valuable chip in their prospect stack.  If he stays hot for a few weeks more, he should be bumped up to join the rest of his top prospect brethren.

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Short Analysis: How Many Players of Tony Renda's Height (5'8") Make It?

[Note: I'm just under Renda's height, so I have in-group privilege to make all the short jokes in this post.] Tony Renda seems mildly promising, from what I'm reading: a second-round pick who's a solid contact hitter with a great eye; defense that's not only solid, but improving, at a position of need; and someone who could earn promotion in short order, as a 24 year-old playing pretty well at AA. Conceivably he'll grow into a AAA job when Refsnyder is promoted, and then who knows, he could be a utilityman after Ryan and Drew leave, or even a potential full-time 2B if Refsnyder stagnates. But Renda is 5'8", so you fear his utter lack of power (4 HR in 1640 PA in A-AA) is a real sign, not something he'll grow out of with better contact. Yesterday I happened to be reading opinions about whether women will ever play in MLB, and I take this side: (1) yes; (2) the biggest barrier is how softball diverts girls away, but some girls do play little league through high school baseball; (3) fewer women are 6' or musclebound, but some are, and you see plenty below 6' in positions where agility and talent can thrive without raw strength and size – 2B, SS, LF, CF, and to an extent P. Of those positions, 2B is the one that most privileges agility and reflexes over pure physicality, so I easily could see women playing there – and, for the same reason, I could see a 5'8" guy like Renda.

But how often do guys that height make it? "Rarely," I'd thought, but I was totally wrong. To my surprise, a number of recent players have been 5'8" or less – 68 since 1995, but that slightly exaggerates: some are like Ramón "Who?" Caraballo, a 5'7" 2B with 110 career PA and a 57 OPS+. To exclude short-timers like Caraballo, and make the question, "how often do short guys play enough to be regulars, if just for a little bit," I narrowed the search to players 5'8" or under with at least one season of 550+ PA since 1995.

Here's a list of short guys who 'made it." No further comment after the list, but here's my take-home point: promising for Renda, they are disproportionately 2B or utilitymen, and (1) the "marginal utilitymen" group seems like a plausible hope for a guy like Renda, (2) the "quality regulars" group is probably the best-case scenario for him, and (3) don't hold your breath for the "superstars" group," who are not only rare, but disproportionately are either (a) short guys I remember to be impressively musclebound (Raines, Puckett, Durham), or (b) super-defense top athletes (Furcal, Rollins) – neither of which category seems a plausible match for Renda. Oddly, a number of the top folks who made a career elsewhere still played a few games at 2B, and not just the SS (Rollins, Furcal), but even the OFs (Puckett & Raines) - which is mainly silly trivia, but it hints that managers see 2B as a good match for a talented little guy; I mean, it's probably not a coincidence that the Puckett/Raines random-games-elsewhere weren't at 1B.

1. The marginal utilitymenAaron Miles: Over 3/4 of his games at 2B, but eventually a utilityman; with a 75 OPS+ and 1.0 career WAR over 3064 PA, he's almost the definition of "replacement-level infielder" • Desi Relaford: Really similar to Miles as a long-lasting replacement-level utilityman, except a little more versatile and a little worse: played every position except 1B & C, logging just -0.5 career WAR in 3347 PA. • Quinton McCracken: Playing mostly CF and a little in the corners, McCracken replacement-played his way to a grand total of 0.4 WAR in 2779 PA.

2. The quality regularsChone Figgins: A genuinely valuable utilityman: 3B (about 50% of his games), 2B (about 25%), and CF (about 20%); only 4 seasons with 100 games at any one position, two of those at 3B, on at 2B, and one OF. Racked up 22 WAR in 5360 career PA, including one outlier 7.7-WAR season. If a prospect turns out to be him, you're pretty happy. • David Eckstein: Very similar career stats to Figgins (20.8 WAR in 5705 PA), except Eckstein played about 75% SS, 25% 2B - and he fully handled SS, the more demanding middle-infield position: as a full-time SS his first 6 seasons, he logged +5 dWAR. • Joey Cora: A 2B (with a few games elsewhere, but he was a true 2B, not a utilityman) with only 7.9 WAR in 4297 PA, but in his good seasons he was a 1-2ish WAR regular. • Jose Altuve: Could well go into the superstar category before long, because he reached 10 WAR before turning 25, including a breakout age-24 season (6.1 WAR), yielding this amazing BBREF list of his top 5 comps through age 24: Billy Herman, Rod Carew, Fred Dunlap, Paul Molitor, Pete Rose – 3 Hall of Famers, Rose, and an 1880s star 2B (Dunlap) I know nothing about except that he probably would be really mad nonwhite guys like Altuve and Carew got permitted to play his position. • Marcus Giles: Career 2B with 16.7 WAR in just 3340 PA. Sort of the cautionary take about getting too excited about Altuve: at 25, started a 3-year peak of 7.8, 3.3 and 3.9 WAR, then completely collapsed at age 28, and was out of baseball by 29. • Josh Harrison: The next Zobrist, if he can repeat his stellar 2014? But more likely a quality utilityman (of his 5 years, 2014 was the only one with a 3-digit OPS+) who may or may not stick at 3B: he's running a 30-error/yr pace at 3B this year, and he's hitting more like a utilityman (88 OPS+). And he hasn't had one position for the majority of his career games; he's split his time between 3B, 2B, RF, SS, and LF (in that order), with 7.4 WAR in 1352 PA through just age 27.

3. The superstarsJimmy Rollins: We all know he's a SS, but he played 1 game at 2B too! Closing in on 10,000 PA, with over 46 WAR so far. • Tim Raines: My #1 gripe about the Hall of Fame is this guy getting snubbed. 69.1 WAR in over 10,000 PA. A left fielder, but also played 53 games at 2B! • Ray Durham: No Hall of Fame candidate, but a legitimate star in his prime: his 33.6 WAR 8423 PA included 7 seasons of 3.1-4.4 WAR. Unusual compared to others his size, he was a much worse fielder (-5.7 dWAR) than hitter (43.0 oWAR) and actually had some pop (192 HR) • Rafael Furcal: I'd somehow remembered mainly the replacement-level mid-30s Furcal, but he was a legitimate star before that: 39.0 WAR in 7237 PA, including 5 seasons of 4.0-6.4 WAR. A shortstop with 44 games at 2B – including, oddly, 31 in his first season at age 22, and 8 in his last at age 37. • Kirby Puckett: A weak Hall of Fame selection, but a heck of a CF: 50.9 WAR in 7831 PA. Inexplicably also played 4 games at 2B, 4 at 3B, and 3 at SS; can any Minnesotans or trivia buffs tell me what that was about?

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The Underrated Brett Gardner

[caption id="attachment_75702" align="aligncenter" width="525"]Gardner vs LAA That home run swing is getting real pretty too. Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption] All things considered, the Yankees are humming right along this season.  They've been healthier and more productive than expected in some areas and less so in others, they've successfully dealt with their injury problems, and the overall mediocrity of their division has helped to keep them in first place.  There has been no shortage of important stories to follow as well, be it the surprising turnarounds of A-Rod and Teix, the unfortunate injuries to Tanaka and Ellsbury, the emergence of Big Mike, or the decline of CC.  All of those stories and players have helped get the Yankees to where they are in some way.

And underneath all those big stories and big names and beneath the big, bold headlines being written about them sits Brett Gardner.  Starting left fielder and #2 hitter for most of the year, starting center fielder and leadoff hitter lately, Gardner is once again putting together a very good season.  Entering tonight's game, he's hitting .278/.355/.438 with 12 doubles, 5 home runs, 39 runs scored, 26 RBI, and 14 stolen bases in 17 chances.  His run total is good for 5th best in the American League, the SB total good for 2nd, and if the defensive metrics were a little kinder to him he'd probably be a top 20-30 player in terms of fWAR.  The B-R version has him at 2.0 and just outside the top 10, which I think is a much more accurate assessment of how good he's been.

Not that we necessarily need any WAR value to tell us how valuable Gardner has been this season.  He formed a terrific 1-2 punch with Jacoby Ellsbury when Ellsbury was healthy that helped drive a lot of the Yankees' earlier 18-6 hot streak, has continued to be a consistent run-producing presence at the top since Ellsbury left, and at worst has played an average defensive outfield at 2 different positions.  His 9.5% BB rate is his highest since the double digit rates of 2010-2012, his 18.6% K rate is his lowest since 2011.  His .438 SLG would be a new career high if the season ended today, as would his .349 wOBA and 124 wRC+ values (not counting the SSS 2012 season).

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