The Yankees haven’t had a very good season. They’re 81-75, and are likely going to finish 10+ games out of first place for the second year in a row; the first time that has happened since 1992. Fun piece of trivia unrelated to the rest of this post: their manager in 1992 was Buck Showalter, whose team is the reason they’re so far out of first place this year.
But this isn’t a post about Buck Showalter, or even about the Yankees lousy season. This is a post about the thing the Yankees did this year that went really well. At the trade deadline, they weren’t so close to the race that they could justify making big moves to add star players, but they’re also the Yankees, so they weren’t going to punt the season in July. This left them in the position of wanting to upgrade their roster without borrowing significantly from their future to do so, which meant that they had to go dumpster diving. Or, maybe phrased more politely, they had to target buy-low players in the midst of down years and hope that their early struggles weren’t predictive of future performance.
This low-cost upgrade plan began in earnest on July 6th, when the acquired Brandon McCarthy from the D’Backs. On July 22nd, they got Chase Headley from the Padres. On July 24th, they bought Chris Capuano from the Rockies. On July 31st, they acquired Martin Prado from the D’Backs, Stephen Drew from the Red Sox, and claimed Esmil Rogers off waivers from the Blue Jays. And then on August 28th, they signed Chris Young after the Mets cut him loose.
Over the course of a couple of months, they brought in eight new players, and the total cost was a couple of non-elite prospects and some cash. How has it worked out?
Here are the players PA/IP totals and WAR totals for their seasons before joining NYY, and then after. Since we’re focusing heavily on players who were regression candidates, we’ll use RA9-WAR instead of FIP-WAR, since a high runs allowed total is what allowed these pitchers to be available in the first place.
|Player||Pre-Yankee PA||Pre-Yankee WAR||Yankee PA||Yankee WAR|
|Pitcher||Pre-Yankee IP||Pre-Yankee WAR||Yankee IP||Yankee WAR|
These seven players combined for the playing time equivalent of about three full seasons before joining the Yankees, and averaged about +0.5 WAR per “season”. They played like scrubs, basically. The pitchers runs allowed totals were worse than what you’d expect from waiver wire fodder, and a good chunk of the position players’ WAR total was tied to Chase Headley’s UZR. Based on pre-Yankee 2014 performance, this was a group of players having pretty terrible years. Since joining the Yankees, however, they’ve played the equivalent of a little less than two seasons, and have combined for +6.2 WAR, even with the disaster that has been Stephen Drew included in the mix.
Headley’s continued to post excellent defensive numbers at third base, and his bat has rebounded almost exactly to his career average, as he’s put up a 112 wRC+ in New York. Prado regressed well past his own mean, putting up a 145 wRC+ and making a pretty decent case for being the Yankees starting second baseman next year. Young, meanwhile, has put up a 146 wRC+, though only in 55 plate appearances, since he joined less than a month ago. This trio has been so good that, even adding in Drew’s awful .153/.221/.258 line, they’ve still put up a combined 103 wRC+ since joining the Yankees, and they’ve added in a good amount of defensive value as well.
Of course, McCarthy’s story has been told multiple times, so we don’t need to do a full rehash here. His peripherals were outstanding in Arizona, but the results were not, and so no team even claimed him when he was put on outright waivers earlier in the season. Since joining NYY, McCarthy has re-established his cut fastball and posted a 65/76/77 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- line in 85 innings of work. For reference, that 65 ERA- would rank 5th best in baseball if it was his full season mark, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, and Jon Lester. That’ll do.
Capuano and Esmil Rogers haven’t had the same kind of transformations, but they’ve been useful enough role players, with Capuano giving the team decent enough innings as a rotation stop-gap and Rogers providing perfectly reasonable performances out of the bullpen. Neither one is anything special, but they’ve given the team above replacement level performance without requiring the organization to surrender any talent to acquire them.
This kind of broad success — with Drew as the exception — leads to the natural question of whether the Yankees just did a good job of identifying players who were likely to start performing better or whether they identified fixable flaws that could change the course for these players if extracted from their current circumstances. With McCarthy, the cut fastball has been given a lot of credit for his resurgence, though it’s worth noting that his BB/K/GB rates are basically identical from what they were in Arizona, with the entirety of the improvement coming from decreases in BABIP and HR/FB rates, both of which show little predictive power in small samples.
Likely, it is a mix of both aspects, with the front office identifying players who are underperforming and the coaching staff helping those players make changes that could improve performance. The two variables are difficult to untangle, and we can’t know whether these players would have had the same success in other venues, had they not been traded to the Yankees. But for the players acquired by the Yankees whose names don’t rhyme with Treason Stew, the move to the Bronx has been a big positive. However one wants to divide credit between the front office, the coaching staff, and the players themselves, the combination has worked exceptionally well for New York.
Now if only they could figure out how to fix the guys they paid real money to get last winter.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.