Despite the disappointing finish, I think the 2015 season was a good one overall. The Yankees didn't get far, but at least they made the postseason, and we got to see some of the kids that will make up the franchise's bright future. There were, however, some players who simply did not live up to their billing. Our very own Scott Davis covered the season's biggest surprises, so today I'll discuss the season's biggest disappointments.
What qualifies a player as a disappointment? That's easy. It's when a player is expected to do well and help carry the team, but doesn't. I wanted to define this so that nobody wonders why guys like Stephen Drew or Chris Capuano aren't on my list. Yes, they were terrible, but did we really expect them not to be? Here are the guys I thought belonged on this list:
Ivan Nova, SP
Despite the fact that he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, I have to put Ivan Nova on this list. Nova's battled with inconsistencies his entire career and the added injury didn't help. He came back fairly quickly (missing just over a year, as opposed to the 18 months it usually takes), and he never really put it all together. He made 17 starts on the year and finished with a 5.07 ERA and 4.87 FIP with a 1.404 WHIP. He also allowed 13 home runs in just 94 innings, which is higher than the Yankees would have wanted.
I know he was coming off the surgery, but I think the Yankees were counting on him to anchor the rotation and he couldn't keep his spot in the rotation through the second half of the season. While Nova could be back next year, I think the Yankees should look to replace him with someone more consistent this offseason. He's far too up-and-down for the team to count on him.
Michael Pineda, SP
Sticking with the starting rotation, the next disappointment is Michael Pineda. Big Mike's 2015 was really a tale of two seasons. Before the All-Star break, it looked like the Yankees were finally getting the player they thought they'd gotten in 2011, when they sent top prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for Pineda. In 17 starts before the break, Pineda had a 3.64 ERA, with a ridiculous 8.6 KK/BB ratio and 9.6 K/9. He was making his pitches, throwing hard and not walking anyone. The highlight of that run was a 16-strikeout performance against the Orioles on May 10th. You could even make the case that his season took a turn after that start, as he had a 5.04 ERA in 20 starts after that, though he still had a few dominant starts over the course of the season.
Things got really bad after the break. He missed over a month with an arm injury, and in the next 10 starts after returning, Big Mike had a a 5.80 ERA. His K/BB ratio dropped to 5.6, and his K/9 dropped to 7.5. Our own Nikhil Chaturvedi covered this extensively last week, theorizing that his four-seam fastball (among other things) could be the cause of his woes. I'm not sure what it is, or what adjustments Pineda can make this offseason to improve, but it's clear that he has to do something. He has all the talent in the world, but he just didn't live up to his potential this season.
Chase Headley, 3B
Focusing on to the offense, Chase Headley proved to be one of the biggest disappoints of the season. If I had my druthers, I'd put the entire second half offense on this list, but there were plenty of guys that had overall good years, so that wouldn't be fair. Frankly, I'm not putting Headley on this list because of his offense alone. Did he disappoint with the bat? Sure he did. His .693 OPS and 92 OPS+ are less than ideal for a traditionally productive position like third base. He only hit 11 home runs and drove in a paltry 63 runs too, which is also bad, considering how many games he played in Yankees Stadium as a left-handed batter. While it's a big part of it, I don't think the Yankees brought Headely back on a four-year, $50 Million deal just for the bat.
He came here with a reputation for being a great fielder (which we saw in the second half last year) to help solidify the infield defense. Simply stated, he failed. He made 23 errors this season, which was good for fifth-most in the majors across all positions (and the most at 3B), and he had a terrible .946 fielding percentage. For a good portion of the season he seemed to have the yips, unable to make good throws. At other times, he would simply boot grounders. He was a total mess at the hot corner. This is not what we wanted to see in year one of his contract, and this is something that very much scares me. Here's hoping Chase can get back to the defensive stalwart he was before this year, or we might be in trouble for the next three seasons.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Finally, we get to the player I thought was the biggest disappointment of the 2015 season: Jacoby Ellsbury. When the Yankees signed him to a seven-year, $153 million contract before last year, they thought they'd be getting a guy who could be their leadoff man and center fielder for years to come. In Boston, Ellsbury used his bat and speed to wreak havoc on the base paths and set up the offense for the big boppers lower in the order. In 2014, the Yankees didn't really have any boppers, but Ellsbury had a very good season nonetheless. This season, he got out of the gates like a house on fire, hitting .324/.412/.372 with 29 runs scored and 14 stolen bases through his first 37 games.
On May 20th, he was placed on the DL with a knee sprain and when he came back in early July, he was a ghost of his former self. Over his last 74 games, Jacoby hit just .224/.269/.332, scoring just 37 runs and stealing only seven bases. When Ellsbury's bat died, so did Brett Gardner's. When the top of the order stopped getting on base, the boppers had no one to drive in. Then, when Mark Teixeira got hurt, it all went down hill. When the leadoff man is hitting .224 and not getting on base, the offense is going to struggle. Ellsbury struggled so much that he was benched in favor of Gardner for the Wild Card game against the Astros. This was, by far, the most disappointing performance of the season by a Yankees player.
So, what happened to the Ellsbury we saw in the first month and a half of the season? Owen Watson over at Just A Bit Outside, wrote a great post on the subject. Basically, Ellsbury's struggles seem to come from his front foot, because he was all over the place with it in the second half. His recent swings involved a much higher leg kick than he's used in the past, and he seemed to be behind everything because his foot wasn't coming down in time to make solid contact. Although the Yankees said he was healthy, the knee issues could have contributed to this and the rest of his swing. It could have also impacted his running, although it's hard to tell because everyone on the team stopped running during the middle of the summer. Whether it's caused by injury or simply a mechanical flaw, Ellsbury's disappointing season could just be a blip on the radar. If he focuses on strengthening the knee and getting back to the basics with his swing this offseason, he could return to form in 2016. I don't think Ellsbury is "done" by any stretch of the imagination. Here's hoping 2016 goes better for him because he'll be on the team until 2020. The Yankees need him.
What do you think? Were these the most disappointing Yankees? Do you think others should have made this list? Let us know in the comments below.