Given this afternoon’s CC Sabathia update, let’s try this expectations game with the pitching staff. Same idea as the previous position players list. This is strictly an attempt to pick out which players have most exceeded expectations, and which one’s absolutely have not. It’s not a ranking of best-to-worst, it’s a ranking of better than expected to worse than expected. And again, it’s totally subjective and could easily be argued every which way. Here’s my attempt at ranking the Yankees 12 go-to pitchers in terms of who’s most exceeded expectation this season.
1. Adam Warren
Strictly because this is an expectations exercise, I think Warren goes at the very top of the list. My sense is that there was always some belief that Warren could be a good pitcher, especially in a long relief or back-of-the-rotation role, but I’m not sure anyone would have expected this level of production with Warren in a short-relief situation. He was basically a mopup man most of last year, and now he’s been a go-to guy when the team needs big outs. He’s been a far more significant part of the bullpen than he was last year, and he’s been excellent in those high leverage innings.
2. Dellin Betances
Absolutely dominant out of the bullpen, which is what plenty of people might have hoped but perhaps not what anyone could have confidently expected. Capable of it? Sure. But to actually see Betances pitching this well, and doing it with this kind of consistency is surely defying the expectations of most people coming into the season. I, for one, thought he’d be good, but I didn’t think he’d be this good. I’m sure plenty will say they saw this level of performance coming.
3. Masahiro Tanaka
He’s been the best pitcher on the team, but the guy also got a massive contract this winter and came to the Yankees with overwhelming international hype. I think he’s been better than expected — how many people thought he would immediately be one of the best pitchers in the league? — but given the extremely high expectations, I’m not sure I can say he’s been a bigger surprise than either of the young late-inning guys. Best pitcher on the staff? Sure. Biggest surprise? Maybe not.
4. Michael Pineda
This might have been my No. 1 if not for the injury, which surely crushed those expectations that he was fully healthy and ready to be an every-fifth-day starter for at least the first half of the season. His performance on the field — beginning in spring training — has been, I think, better than most would have expected after two years out of rehab and minor league assignments. As for the injury, I’m basically assuming he’s a few weeks away from a return and will soon have a chance to pick up where he left off.
5. Dave Robertson
The only uncertainty was about shoving Robertson into a new role; a role that’s left plenty of solid relievers unable to meet expectations. Seven weeks into the season, even with a disabled list stint, Robertson has already doubled his career saves total. And he’s done it by being basically the exact same pitcher he was as a setup man. Even better maybe.
6. Preston Claiborne
Hasn’t been all that many games, and there are certainly some short-comings, but I honestly thought Claiborne might be designated for assignment by the end of April. Instead he’s gotten another chance at the big league level, and he’s once again been a solid middle innings guy. He hasn’t been great, but compared to the expectation of being DFA, he’s been better than expected.
7. Shawn Kelley
The back injury is a problem, clearly, but Kelley has not only been a pretty good setup man, but he also did a nice job filling in as closer while Robertson was hurt. My difficulty in ranking him on this list is because I have a hard time figuring out what exactly the expectations were heading into the season. He was coming off a really nice breakout season, and the Yankees clearly trusted him as their setup man, but I also tend to think there was at least some question about whether he could actually have this kind of season again.
8. David Phelps
He’s allowed a lot of baserunners (1.48 WHIP) but he’s done a good job limiting the damage (3.33 ERA). It’s been a pretty uneven season for Phelps, but he’s also helped the Yankees in a variety of roles and delivered more good outings than bad. Pretty much right in line with what’s expected of him.
9. Vidal Nuno
He gave up that go-ahead home run in the sixth inning, but ultimately Nuno was perfectly solid yesterday and gave the Yankees a chance to win. He hasn’t been particularly good this season, but I also don’t think expectations were sky high. I’m sure it was expected that Nuno could be better than a 5.82 ERA, but I don’t think anyone would have expected him to be a dominant starter.
10. Matt Thornton
Although the Yankees talked about Thornton as if he could still be more than a left-on-left specialist, it was pretty clear that his role would be that of a go-to lefty. And actually, he has a 1.06 WHIP against left-handers. But right-handers are hitting .417 against Thornton, and his overall performance has been uninspiring with a 1.70 WHIP and .313 opponents’ batting average overall.
11. Hiroki Kuroda
Since we’re talking about expectations, it’s hard to put Kuroda very high on this list. After two years of rock solid consistency, Kuroda has seemed fragile and beatable this season. He has a 4.61 ERA that’s well over a run higher than in either of the past two seasons. And early season used to be his strength. The Yankees could really use a reliable No. 2 starter right now, and Kuroda hasn’t been that guy.
12. CC Sabathia
This one probably goes without saying. Expectations were surely diminished after last season’s disappointment, but there was also a sense that Sabathia had no where to go but up. Surely he’d be better than in 2013. Instead, Sabathia’s ERA is actually higher than last season, and now he’s on the disabled list with a knee injury that doesn’t seem likely to get better any time soon.
Associated Press photos