It is difficult to quibble too much with the Yankees' results during the first month of the season. They ended the month at 15-11, tops in the American League East, and third-best in the AL. Obviously they went through some hurdles that will have to be overcome in May, most notably the loss of both Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda from the rotation, but they also faced challenges in April, as they played the majority of the month without Mark Teixeira or David Robertson. Their 15-11 start was led by a few different players, but which one was your Yankee of the Month?
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Ma-Kun was brilliant during his first month in pinstripes, quieting the critics (at least for now) who did not like the Yankees committing $155 million to man who had never thrown a pitch in the United States aside from the World Baseball Classic. He has plenty more work to do to validate the investment, but Tanaka really could not have gotten off to a much better start than he did. Tanaka averaged just over seven innings in his five starts, pitching to a 2.27 ERA, 2.95 FIP, and most remarkably, an 11.6 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9. Tanaka set a Yankees record for most strikeouts within the first five starts of a career with 46, a mark exceeded by only two other pitchers in MLB history. With the rest of the starting rotations off to mixed beginnings, Tanaka emerged as the clear-cut ace of the staff, a trend that will hopefully continue for the 25-year-old throughout the 2014 season. It would not be surprising to see him named AL Pitcher of the Month, or at the very least, AL Rookie of the Month.
Of course, if MLB feels like spreading the love to other Yankees, here's another guy they could name AL Rookie of the Month:
On the last day of spring training, the Yankees made the relieving decision to finally part ways with Eduardo Nunez, one of the worst players in franchise history, and instead took a chance on infielder Yangervis Solarte. While it was pretty much a consensus opinion on the site that Solarte was a worthy choice given Nunez's suckitude and the likely need for Scott Sizemore to continue rehabbing, no one expected him to do what he did in April, his first month of big-league ball. When Teixeira went down a hamstring injury just a couple days into the season, Solarte was forced into everyday duty at third base with Kelly Johnson moving across the diamond to cover first. Baseball being baseball of course, Solarte skipped right on by more accomplished batters like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann to become arguably the Yankees' best hitter of the month. The beautifully-named switch-hitter batted .303/.404/.461 with nine doubles, a homer, and a 143 wRC+. He looked just fine in the field too, even kicking off a crazy triple play during a game against the Rays. Even if Solarte hits the regression train, we'll always have this exciting month.
Plangervis > Nunez. #analysis
Tanaka was the Yankees' best pitcher, Solarte was the Yankees' best hitter, but perhaps the Yankees' greatest all-around player in April was Ellsbury. Many fans were surprised when the Yankees gave the former Red Sox rival a seven-year, $153 million deal in December to be their center fielder. It seemed like an odd decision, but just one month into Ellsbury's Yankees career, it is evident just how valuable he can be on a baseball field. Circus catches like the one above became common to see, and while defensive metrics have struggled to adjust for the frequent defensive shifts used by the Yankees thus far, Baseball Prospectus FRAA (fielding runs above average) seems to have handled Ellsbury the best so far, rating him with a 2.1 FRAA already, albeit in a small sample size. Ellsbury complemented his excellent defense with a consistent bat, as he hit .312/.369/.441 with eight doubles, two triples, eight stolen bases, and 121 wRC+. Here's hoping we see more of this terrific overall performance from Ellsbury thus far.
So which player do you think was the Yankees' Player of the Month in April? Is it someone not mentioned, like Carlos Beltran, who led the Yankees with five dingers, or maybe Shawn Kelley, who stepped in when Robertson was hurt and used his improved control (2.2 BB/9) to save all four of his opportunities with a 2.19 ERA? Vote in the poll below, and defend your position in the comments!