Celebrating the Yankees' "unsung heroes"On a team full of stars, the role players have been clutch in 2012
Much of it is due, of course, to the stars. On the field, Derek Jeter is still hitting a team-leading .316 after a sizzling start, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira have all reached the 20 home run plateau (with Grandy nearly at 30), and Alex Rodriguez is one of five Yankees with an OPS over .800.
Meanwhile, on the mound, CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.57, 127 K) has been his usual ace self for most of the year, Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.28 ERA) has adjusted well to the AL after a rough April, and Rafael Soriano (1.93 ERA, 26 saves) has flourished as the closer while filling in for the injured Mariano Rivera.
But even on a team with dozens of All-Star appearances, Gold Gloves, and MVP Awards, you still need those “glue guys” who do the little things, come off the bench, and produce when needed.
For the Yankees, it’s a handful of those unheralded players who have kept the machine rolling along, even in the absences of a handful of the gentlemen mentioned above – and so it only fair that as the season comes into its final trimester, they get a salute they richly deserve.
Jayson Nix has been one of those guys, and to quote the movie Clerks, “he wasn’t even supposed to be here.” Nix was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and was sent to Triple-A at the end of spring, but was called up when Eric Chavez went on the DL in early May and was kept around when Eduardo Nunez struggled defensively.
The result? All Nix has done in his 44 games played is hit .260 with four homers, 13 RBI, eight doubles, and 15 runs scored, all while playing great defense at four different positions.
Chris Stewart, who was also a late addition to the team, has also excelled behind the plate. Picked up in a trade right at the end of the spring, Stewart has hit .248 with a homer and 13 RBI, has thrown out 21 percent of runners trying to steal, and has come up big on several occasions.
And, of course, we cannot forget DeWayne Wise; although he was designated for assignment and later released after the Yankees acquired Ichiro, the 35-year-old outfielder certainly softened the blow of losing Brett Gardner for almost the entire season. Wise put up a .262-3-8 line with seven steals in his 56 games played, and provided a bit of the speed element the Yankees lost when Gardner was disabled.
On the mound, meanwhile, it has been the duo of late-spring waiver pickup Cody Eppley and spring non-roster invitee Clay Rapada that has carried a lot of the relief load and done it well. Rapada has appeared in 49 games as a lefty specialist (throwing 29.2 IP) and compiled a 2.83 ERA, while Eppley has a 3.07 ERA in 37 games over three stints with the team.
And finally, when looking at the team’s success, one must also look at three guys who aren’t necessarily under the radar, but have been asked to do a lot more than their initial roles suggested: Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, and Raul Ibanez.
Chavez was expected to serve as a backup for both A-Rod and Teixeira again this season, while Jones and Ibanez were set to be a lefty-righty DH platoon with occasional outfield duty. Instead, injuries and Joe Girardi’s desire to rest regulars have kept them in the lineup consistently, and through August 1, the trio had put together a .244 average with 35 homers, 95 RBI, and 55 walks in 602 at-bats – numbers that would be a pretty good full season of production from one regular, let alone three supposed part-timers.
As the Yankees enter August, they do so with Rodriguez and Teixeira on the DL, Nick Swisher banged up, and the trio of Jeter, Cano, and Granderson having had exactly three full games off total.
So, if the Bombers are to continue winning and maintain their cushion in the AL East, it will be the Nixes, Chavezes, and Eppleys of the world who will have to “keep on keepin’ on” and do their part to keep the machine in working order.
So far, so good, right?
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES