Friday, June 1, 2012

AB4AR "Best Of The Month" Awards: May 2012

It's that time again, gang.  Time to rip a page off the calendar, which means it's time to hand out some end-of-the-month awards.  Bit of a strange month for the Yankees, but there were still some good performances and memorable moments.  After the jump, check out the winners for May.

Player of The Month: Robinson Cano

A hitter of Robbie Cano's caliber was not going to perform as poorly as he did in April for long, and almost as soon as the calendar turned to May, Cano started to right the ship and heat up at the plate.  Even with his 0-5 stinker against Dan Haren the other night, Cano's line still sits at .303/.356/.587 for the month, the .303 ranking 2nd on the team in May, the .356 and .587 3rd.  Cano has 33 hits this month, 2nd only to Derek Jeter, and 17 of them have gone for extra bases (10 2B, 7 HR).  His .399 wOBA this month leads the team, as do his 19 R scored, 152 wRC+ and 1.5 WAR.  After a down year defensively in 2011, Cano is also back to playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, something that has been very valuable with the rotation giving up so many hits.

More important than just the numbers, though, is the fact that Cano stepped up and produced them during a month when the rest of the Yankee run producers weren't producing.  C-Grand seems to either walk, strike out, or hit a HR, A-Rod has morphed into a singles hitter/walk drawer who would probably be better suited in the 2-hole rather than the cleanup spot in the lineup, and Teix's May stat line is greatly aided by the stretch of games he's had over the last week plus.  The Yankees' record could have looked a lot uglier than it did in May without Cano's contributions.  There's been plenty of talk about how Cano is the premiere hitter in this lineup now, and he definitely lived up to that title this month.

Pitcher of The Month: Boone Logan

When you're dealing with small sample sizes from just a month's worth of games, it's a difficult case to make to pick a reliever as the team's best pitcher, but not in this case.  Logan has been lights out for the Yankees in May, continuing the strong start that he had to the season and even improving upon it as his level of responsibility and importance in the short bullpen has increased.  Maybe it's more of a call to how bad the rotation has been that Logan gets my vote here, but his dominance certainly merits recognition.  His fastball has been as lively and sharp as it ever has been during his time in pinstripes, his slider is an absolutely devastating swing-and-miss out pitch, and he's evolved to the point where he's very effective against both right and left-handed hitters.

Logan has only pitched 9.1 innings this month over 13 appearances, and has allowed 5 ER in those innings, but his peripherals show that he's been a much better pitcher than that.  Logan has faced a total of 43 batters in May and has struck out 16 of them (37.21%).  Of the 28 outs he's gotten, an amazing 57.14% of them have been via the strikeout, and that number becomes even more impressive when you consider that Logan didn't get a single K in his first 4 appearances (2.1 IP) of the month.  Of the 14 baseunners he's allowed, only 2 of them have been via walk and 1 of those walks was intentional.  He's striking guys out, not issuing free bases, and hasn't given up a HR, which adds up to an incredible -0.08 FIP for May.  With D-Rob still out and Cory Wade coming back to Earth, Logan is likely going to continue to be Joe's 8th Inning Guy, and he's earned the job.

Play of The Month: Raul Ibanez's 3-run HR with 2 outs in the bottom of the 6th off of Felix Hernandez- 5/11

It was the first game of a weekend home series against Seattle.  The series was the one in which Andy Pettitte was going to make his triumphant return.  Felix Hernandez was on the mound, the same guy who has owned the Yankees and absolutely dominated them at the new Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees had just gone down 2-1 in the top of the 6th on a HR by Jesus Montero, the former top prospect they had traded in January to Seattle for the now injured-for-the-season Michael Pineda.  They had been knocking on the door all game against Hernandez but hadn't been able to capitalize through 5 innings.  Do you see the picture I'm painting here?

Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano get credit for starting the rally in the bottom of the 6th with a leadoff walk and a single to put 2 on with nobody out.  But after Teix and Swish failed to plate either of them, the situation looked like it was going to be another example of the Yankees' 2012 RISP Fail issues.  Then Ibanez stepped in the box, already 0-2 on the day, and looking sinker all the way after being started off with a first-pitch sinker in each of his 2 previous ABs.  Hernandez threw a sinker again, but left it up, and Ibanez lined it into the right field seats for a 4-2 Yankee lead.  On that one swing, their win expectancy went from 40.8% to 81.1%.

Felix Hernandez doesn't make many mistakes like that, and for Ibanez to be able to capitalize on it when he did, and help the Yankees win the game (and eventually the series after the offense gagged against Kevin Millwood on that Sunday in Andy's start) was a big-time clutch play.

Game of The Month (Individual): Andy Pettitte's 8-shutout inning, 9-strikeout win vs. Cincinnati- 5/18

To a man (and a woman), any Yankee fan would have told you that they would have loved to see Andy Pettitte come back and be as dominant as he was at times in his prime.  But I don't think many, if any, of us were actually expecting that to happen, which made what Andy did on May 18th against the Reds extra special.  He didn't just pitch a good game, or even a great game.  Andy pitched a straight up BRILLIANT gem of a game, and did it in a situation where his team really needed him to.  The Yanks had lost 3 games in a row in the beginning of the week-long slump that plagued them 2 weeks ago, scoring a total of 4 runs in those 3 games.  Without Pettitte's dynamite outing on this day, they would have been staring down the barrel of a 7-game losing streak.

The Andy on May 18th was the Andy from his heyday.  Everything was working, everything was down in the zone, and everything was efficient.  20/29 first-pitch strikes, 78 out of 115 total pitches for strikes (67.83%), 13 out of 78 strikes of the swinging variety (16.67%), 8 out of 9 strikeouts of the swinging variety.  Even Joe, master of the questionable bullpen decision, could sense that something special was happening that day.  How else do you explain him sending Andy back out for the 8th in what was a 1-run game at the time after Andy had already eclipsed the 100-pitch mark?  He knew, just like Andy knew, and Andy rewarded Joe's faith by sitting the Reds down in order on just 9 pitches.

And don't give me any of the "well the Reds were struggling at the plate" excuses.  That's a team with multiple All Star-caliber hitters in Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips.  They got shut down by a pitcher on his game, and Andy would have shut pretty much every lineup in baseball down with how well he pitched that day.  His game score of 82 for that performance is the highest by any Yankee starter this season, and I think the rest of the rotation is going to be hard-pressed to beat it.  As I said in my game recap, no matter what happened after May 18th, there was no doubt that Andy Pettitte can still be a very good Major League pitcher.  

Game of The Month (Team): 8-5 comeback win at Baltimore- 5/14

In a 14-14 month defined by inconsistent starting pitching, crippling bullpen injuries, and almost no clutch hitting, picking a best game can be a hard task.  But the complete picture of the Yankees' win over Baltimore on May 14th was enough for me to give it the nod.  They had started off the month losing 2 consecutive games to Baltimore at home, found themselves down looking up at Baltimore in the standings, were coming off a tough loss at home to Seattle in Andy Pettitte's return outing the day before, and had just learned of D-Rob's oblique strain.  And that was before the game even started.

When it finally did, there was plenty of on-field drama as well.  The Yankees were in a 2-0 hole after the 1st inning thanks to 3 hits (2 of them doubles) by the first 4 Baltimore batters, but fought back to tie the game in the 4th on a 2-run double by Nick Swisher.  They briefly grabbed the lead 3-2 on C-Grand's 12th HR of the season in the 5th, but Nova gave it right back in the bottom half with 3 more runs.  Not to be deterred, the offense put up 2 in the 6th to tie the game again (error), 2 in the 7th to re-take the lead (Teix HR), and an insurance run in the 9th (Chavez sac fly).  The Robertson-less bullpen worked 3.2 scoreless innings with 6 strikeouts to pick up Nova.

Everything about this game was a little weird.  The weather was horrible all day, and there was a brief rain delay before the start; Nova, Clay Rapada, and Raul Ibanez all left the game with injuries within a few innings of each other; and it was a rare game when all 3 big run-producing spots in the lineup (Cano, A-Rod, Teix) actually produced.  It wasn't the prettiest game by any stretch of the imagination, but the Yankees came back from 2 separate deficits to pull out a win on the road.

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