After three long years the Yankees will have a happy ending to the regular season today, no matter the outcome of the game. The road back to the playoffs has been an interesting one to say the least. One would have guessed before the season that if the Yankees were to return to meaningful October baseball, they would need health and luck on their side. However, that hasn't necessarily been the case. Here are three questions we never thought we'd be asking ourselves after a successful 2015 Yankees season.
Was Didi Gregorius a more productive player than Jacoby Ellsbury?
On the surface this seems like an unfair question. Sure Didi's counting stats like hits, home runs, and RBIs are higher than Ellsbury's, but Ellsbury missed nearly two months of the season due to injury. Yet, a look at their rate stats reveals that even when Ellsbury played he was no more or less productive offensively than Gregorius. Didi's slash line of .263/.317/.364 (through Friday) is nearly identical to Jacoby's .261/.322/.351 as evidenced by their respective 87 and 88 OPS+ marks. While Ellsbury had another solid season in center field, Didi was even better at shortstop after a rough start. According to defensive runs saved as tracked by Baseball Reference, Didi ranks as the better fielder in both raw total and rate of runs saved for the year. So yes, Didi Gregorius was better than the disappointing Jacoby Ellsbury in 2015.
Who was the Yankees' ace?
This is a trick question because the Yankees don't truly have an ace. However, it was assumed that if Masahiro Tanaka could remain relatively healthy, he would be the unquestioned ace of the staff. Tanaka missed the month of May with arm trouble but was healthy enough to make 24 starts. In those starts he did nothing to separate himself from the two other pitchers at the top of the Yankees rotation, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. From the end of June through the end of August Eovaldi was the Yankees' de facto number one as he went 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA before elbow issues shut him down in September. Of all Yankee starters Pineda has probably been most effective with the best strike out rate, walk rate and FIP on the team. Unfortunately, that has translated to only a pedestrian 4.24 ERA. Luis Severino has for the most part impressed in his 10 starts to close the season, but his unsightly walk rate also makes him a question mark. The Yankees will roll the dice with Tanaka to start the Wild Card game and hope for the best.
Was Dellin Betances the Yankees' MVP?
If you put any stock in the Baseball Reference version of WAR, then yes. He leads the team with 3.8 WAR which has also been good for 2.4 wins above average. The big righty has pitched 83 innings this year and struck out 128 batters, both of which are the most for any reliever in the majors. What's more impressive is that given his extreme workload he's maintained a strike out rate and ERA that sit comfortably in the top five of all major league relievers as well. As pointed out in this article, the fact that Betances does most of his damage in the eighth inning also adds to his value as the Yankees suppress runs by nearly 25% compared to league average in that inning largely thanks to him. Strange as it sounds, the Yankees' MVP might just be a setup reliever, let's hope they can ride him all the way to the World Series.