Inside the trophy cases of the Yankees preeminent superstars, shelf space is at a premium. Giancarlo Stanton’s MVP plaque, Aaron Judge’s Rookie of the Year Award, Didi Gregorius’ Baseball World Cup gold medal, CC Sabathia’s Cy Young, and Aroldis Chapman’s World Series ring represent just a tiny fraction of the proof that — when healthy — this is an absolutely devastating roster.
Yet with Stanton, Judge, Gregorius, and countless others now on the shelf themselves, the prospect of a healthy Yankees team sounds increasingly like an ancient legend, one so old that no one can quite remember whether it was ever even possible. Against all odds, of course, the Bombers have not only stayed afloat without their perennial awards contenders — they have thrived. With that in mind, it is my pleasure to present the 2019 Yankees quarter-season awards:
Reliever of the Year: Tommy Kahnle
Key Stats: 1.50 ERA, 18 IP, 25 SO, 0.83 WHIP.
Honorable Mentions: Aroldis Chapman (2.04 ERA), Adam Ottavino (1.64 ERA).
In a legendary bullpen that entered the season with five bona fide closers, no one would have projected the pick here to be Kahnle, who spent much of last season at Triple-A after posting a dreadful 6.56 ERA with the big club. But having rebounded from the arm troubles that plagued him in 2018, Kahnle has been lights out so far in ’19. His fastball is once again touching the upper 90s, while his changeup is among the best pitches in the majors. Kahnle’s been even better when it’s counted most: hitters are just 1-13 against him with 7 strikeouts in high-leverage situations. He even set a new Yankees record by making 11 consecutive appearances without allowing a hit or run.
All that said, Chapman — who is 11 for 12 in save opportunities — is the best reliever on the team, even if his stats aren’t quite as impressive as Kahnle’s to this point. After sitting at 96 mph with his fastball early, Chapman has silenced the doubters by returning to his familiar triple-digits territory, pairing that heater with an unfair slider. Ottavino, meanwhile, has not allowed a run in his last ten appearances. All three deserve recognition.
Most Improved Player of the Year: Gio Urshela
Key Stats: .353/.402/.500 through 35 games, .226/.267/.296 career hitter entering 2019, began season in Triple-A, .429 BA with RISP.
Honorable Mentions: Domingo German (2.50 ERA), Gary Sanchez (145 wRC+), Tommy Kahnle (1.50 ERA).
There’s a compelling case to be made for any one of the players listed above. Since all of the honorable mentions had shown glimpses of their lofty ceilings prior to the season, I’m giving the title to Urshela, the former defensive specialist who’s suddenly become an elite force at the plate. Consensus coming into the season was that the 27-year-old simply couldn’t hit enough to stick in the big leagues, so naturally, he’s now pacing the AL in batting average among players with at least 100 plate appearances. It’s the baseball equivalent of Timofey Mozgov becoming the NBA’s leading scorer.
On defense, Urshela’s always been known as a star at third, while the advanced metrics suggest that his poor range and five errors outweigh the flashy plays. In fact, his -4 Defensive Runs Saved are the worst mark on the team. I’ll split the difference and say he’s been solid at the hot corner, though I’m sure that’ll earn me flack from fans. Still, Urshela is the most improved player in the entire sport thus far. He’s already cast Miguel Andujar’s future into question.
Platinum Glove: Aaron Judge
You've just entered the Judgement Zone. pic.twitter.com/R1ezrQaC4l— New York Yankees (@Yankees) April 2, 2019
Key Stats: 4 Defensive Runs Saved, 0.4 dWAR (3.4 dWAR over a full season).
Honorable Mentions: Mike Tauchman (5 DRS), DJ LeMahieu (2 DRS).
The Yankees have not been a good defensive team this season, and it hasn’t helped that their best defender is on the injured list. No, I’m not talking about DJ LeMahieu, the three-time Gold Glove second baseman who’s been remarkably versatile and reliable in pinstripes. As with all these awards, this was a tough call, but the winner is Judge.
Known for his legendary power, Judge is a true five-tool talent whose cannon arm, surprising speed, and Jeter-esque commitment to every single out have made him a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder. True, he’s only played 19 games there in 2019, but he is nevertheless tied with Mike Tauchman for the Yankees lead in defensive WAR. In fact, Judge was on pace for 3.4 dWAR before his injury, a mark achieved by only one player in all of baseball last year. He’s as much of a game-changer as a corner outfielder can be, particularly because his athletic, 6’7” frame has proven ideal for robbing home runs over the short porch at Yankee Stadium.
Cy Young: Domingo German
Domingo Germán is our April Hurler of the Month. Stay tuned for more in May. pic.twitter.com/ZgtNjdVA99— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 5, 2019
Key Stats: 8-1, 2.50 ERA (2.98 FIP), 0.95 WHIP, .179 opposing BA.
Honorable Mentions: CC Sabathia (2.97 ERA), James Paxton (3.11 ERA), Masahiro Tanaka (3.09 ERA).
Starting pitching has long been the Yankees’ weakness, but their rotation has unexpectedly been electric to this point, despite losing ace Luis Severino in spring training. CC Sabathia has a sub-3 ERA since returning from offseason heart surgery, while James Paxton was among MLB’s strikeout leaders before he landed on the injured list. Opening Day starter Masahiro Tanaka, meanwhile, has outdueled reigning AL Cy Young Blake Snell twice in the last week. This is a crowded field, to say the least.
Still, German — who began the year as the #7 starter — is on another level. His eight wins lead all of baseball, while he paces all Yankees starters in the most important pitching categories, including ERA and WHIP.
MVP: Gary Sanchez
Ground Control to Major Sánchez ... pic.twitter.com/GpF9xG583W— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 4, 2019
Key Stats: First on team in SLG%, OPS, wRC+, and home runs. Leads MLB with 17.2% barrels/plate appearance. 1.1 WAR in just 28 games.
Honorable Mentions: Aaron Judge (1.2 WAR), DJ LeMahieu (1.1 WAR), Luke Voit (0.7 WAR), Gio Urshela (0.8 WAR), Domingo German (1.5 WAR), Masahiro Tanaka (1.5 WAR).
Full disclosure: I went back and forth between Urshela, Sanchez, and German about seven times before making up my mind. The strength of the 2019 Yankees has been their balance, and that’s reflected in how close this award is. Yet even after his horrific game yesterday, in which he went 0-5 and struck out four times before grounding into the game-ending double-play, Gary has just been a tad too scary to snub for team MVP.
Yes, I know he’s among the slowest Yankees on the bases. Yes, I’m aware of his blocking struggles. And sure, he’s missed time with injury. None of that changes how much and how often Sanchez has clobbered the ball in 2019, to the tune of 12 home runs in 28 games. That’s nearly a 70-homer pace per 162 games; no AL catcher has ever hit more than 35. Moreover, he’s the only Yankee who would start the All-Star Game if it were tomorrow. Urshela is the easy choice, but Sanchez is mine — if only barely.
Who is the Yankees Quarter-Season MVP?
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