Tuesday, September 4, 2012

AB4AR "Best Of The Month" Awards: August 2012

The Yankees started the month of August with a shrinking division lead and they finished August with a shrinking division lead, a lead that has shrunk down to practically nothing after their poor start to September.  As bad as things have been, the Yankees actually did play above-.500 baseball in August with a 15-13 record, but that does little to distract from the team's rapidly-deteriorating margin for error.  Plenty of players got hurt in August, continuing a trend that just won't go away, and those injuries appeared to finally catch up to the old Yankees this month, as the rest of the healthy troops couldn't rally to support their DL-stricken teammates.  But as always, there were some good moments and good performances from some, and that's what these "best of the month" posts are al about.  So forget about all the negativity and impending panic and just look back on the good times from last month.

Player of The Month- Nick Swisher

Tough call with both Swish and Derek Jeter raking the entire month, and basically being the entire Yankee offense for most of it, but Swish gets the nod thanks to having slightly better offensive numbers in the key categories and playing above-average defense in multiple positions.  Swish was one of just 4 position players to appear in every game in August, and without his production I shudder to think at where the Yankees might have been.  He hit .306/.400/.537 in 125 plate appearances, most of them coming from the 2-spot in the batting order that he was moved into when Curtis Granderson started sputtering.

Beyond the batting line, Swish had a .401 wOBA and .153 wRC+ (both tops for players with regular ABs), led the team with 22 RBI, tied for the lead with 6 HR, was second in both hits (33) and R scored (21), and drew 17 walks.  It was cruel and unusual that Swish became a major run producer during a month when the rest of the Yankee run producers were hurt or slumping, but he at least made the top of the order dangerous hitting behind Jeter.  And with Mark Teixeira battling his wrist injury, Swish was called upon to play first base in some games in addition to right field and he answered the call.  He posted positive defensive metrics for the month (SSS warning) and that was probably the determining factor in him getting a team-leading 1.2 fWAR for the month over Jeter.

Pitcher of The Month- Hiroki Kuroda

It was a tough call to give Kuroda his 3rd straight award for best pitcher of the month; CC had better overall ERA, FIP, and K numbers, and Rafael Soriano was damn near perfect in the closer role.  But Hiroki gets the nod again for having more quantity than each, and for putting up some more than respectable quality in the process.  Kuroda threw 6 outings in August, all of them at least 6.1 innings in length, and the last 4 each at least 8.0 IP in length.  In his 46 total innings of work for the month, Kuroda allowed just 12 ER and struck out 28 while walking just 5.

He was snakebitten by the HR ball a bit, most noticeably in his last 2 starts of the month against Cleveland and Baltimore, but once again Kuroda was the rock of the rotation in a month of underwhelming starting pitching production.  CC spent more time on the DL, Ivan Nova hit the DL, and Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia each got into some trouble by having short outings.  Kuroda was looked to for at least a quality start every single time he took the mound, and every single time he took the mound he gave his team a chance to win and then some.  His line of 2.35/3.82/3.50 isn't as clean as his previous 2 months, affected by the HR totals in a small sample size of IP, but it's hardly a stretch to say that Kuroda was the best Yankee pitcher again last month.

Play of The Month- Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez hit back-to-back HR to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the top of the 8th inning against Detroit- 8/9

Technically this was 2 plays, but it still stands out in my mind as the biggest positive moment of the month for the Yankees in a month where they had few.  Down a run late in the final game of a 4-game set on the road in Detroit, looking at a 3-1 series loss after taking the third game 12-8 the day before, Teix and Chavez combined to give the Yankees a lead that would spark that last good run this team had against the Rangers and Fraud Sawx.

The aforementioned Mr. Kuroda had given up the 2-0 lead that his team had staked him to in the 5th inning, with the aid of some questionable umpiring, and the Yankees stayed scoreless until the 8th.  Against Joaquin Benoit, one of the top relief pitchers in the AL, Teixeira and Chavez homered on consecutive pitches, Teix smoking a 2-0 fastball to left and Chavez driving a first-pitch fastball to left, to re-take the lead.  That play in and of itself was plenty filled with drama, but the last 2 innings only added to its importance as David Phelps and Rafael Soriano combined to work out of trouble in the 8th-9th innings to hold on.  The Yankees went on to win 7 of their next 10 games, which really looks good now that they've had their division lead cut down to 1 in the past 2 weeks, and they couldn't have done it without Teix and Chavez coming up huge in a huge spot in this game.

Game of The Month (Individual)- Kuroda's complete game, 2-hit shutout victory against the Texas Rangers- 8/14

Outside of C-Grand's big 3-homer game in April I believe every other top monthly individual performance has been a starting pitching one, and that's fair because the Yankees have had some brilliant starts this year.  But none was as good as the job Hiroki Kuroda did against the Texas Rangers on August 14th.  It was the first of his 4 straight 8.0 IP+ starts, easily the best one, and without a doubt the one outing Kuroda would submit to Cy Young voters if the Cy Young Award worked like the Emmys.

This start would have been a gem against any opponent, even the weakest of lineups, but to do what Kuroda did against a lineup like Texas' is what makes it truly special.  Kuroda held the mighty Ranger bats hitless through the first 6 innings, and only allowed 2 baserunners on walks during that time.  The first hit he gave up was a dinky little infield single that was probably only a hit because it was Elvis Andrus running and the last hit was immediately erased with a double play groundball.  Groundballs were the name of the game, and Kuroda's command of his slider was so pinpoint that he used it to rack up those GB outs rather than go for swings and misses, a near-genius approach against a lineup as dangerous as the Rangers'.  For me, this start was more than enough to justify making Kuroda another FA offer after this season.

Game of The Month (Team)- 12-3 win against Baltimore at home in the first game of the month- 8/1

It was tough searching for a good team game in a month that had more bad games than good, and as it turns out we have to go back to the first game of the month to find the best one.  The Yankees were looking at a series sweep at home at the hands of the O's and 5 straight losses as the calendar turned from July to August, and they stepped up in a big way on August 1st to prevent that from happening.

The offense jumped all over Zach Britton early, putting 11 runs on the board in the first 3 innings, the highlights being a Curtis Granderson 2-run HR in the 1st and a Robinson Cano grand slam in the 3rd.  Phil Hughes wasn't great with that run support, scattering 11 baserunners in 6 innings, but he only gave up 1 run and gave a returning Joba Chamberlain plenty of cushion in his first game in over a year.  We know now how that return has worked out, and we know that things haven't gotten better in the division race today, but the biggest Yankee win by margin of victory, and the best-all around team performance came in a similar situation to the one they now find themselves in.  Maybe that means good things for an early turnaround in September.

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