At last we come to the bench, the final piece of the 2014 roster puzzle. The island of misfit toys that was assembled to support the shaky starting lineup. The Yankees were somewhat flawed in the construction of their starting lineup this season, but they were really flawed in how they put together their bench. They didn't have young legs that could run and play good defense, they didn't have much power for pinch-hitting situations, and they didn't have adequate backup depth at their weakest spots. It was not a good group, and the lack of production from the bench exacerbated the problem caused by the under-performing starters.
Best- The Catching Depth Shines Through
As underwhelming as Brian McCann's first year in pinstripes was, the Yankees got good production overall from the catcher position thanks to their backups. Francisco Cervelli was quietly stellar in 49 games, his season once again shortened by injury problems. He hit .301/.370/.432 in 162 plate appearances, caught a decent 25% of attempted base stealers, and graded out as above-average defensively by most measures. When he was unavailable, John Ryan Murphy looked like an improved player all-around after his late-season cup of coffee in 2013. He hit .284/.318/.370 in 85 plate appearances, looked comfortable behind the plate, and impressed the coaches with his work ethic and ability to communicate with pitchers. It's hard to say if both will be back next year, but either way the backup catcher spot is in good hands.
Worst- The Infield Depth Does Not
The rest of the infield was another matter entirely. As was the case with the starting group, the bench infielders didn't do much with the bats or the gloves. Kelly Johnson's .304 wOBA wasn't good enough to get him regular at-bats at second, and he spent most of the season playing out of position at either infield corner. The Yanks thought more of him as a trade piece to bring in Stephen Drew than as a contributor to the team. Nobody the Yankees plugged in behind The Captain as the backup shortstop was worth anything, Zelous Wheeler isn't the future at third base, and there was no real backup first baseman. As many problems as they knew they had in the infield going into the season, this was the best that Cash and the rest of the front office could do to reinforce it.
Best- Ichiro Suzuki
Big surprise for you Ichiro lovers out there, I'm not going to say more mean words about your boy. I actually had no problem with what Ichiro gave the Yankees this year. He hit for a decent average (.284), took a few more walks (5.5% BB rate, .324 OBP), stole some bases (15), and played passable defense in right field. It wasn't anywhere near "good", but it was better than having Beltran out there. Any semblance of power in his bat is gone, but what would you expect from a 40-year-old 4th outfielder. Ichiro gave the Yankees what he could, it was just a shame that it had to come as more of a regular player than they anticipated. I don't think the team will bring him back again, but if Ichiro wants to keep playing and chasing 3,000 hits, I wish him all the best.
This was the biggest blow to the 2014 bench. The complete and utter disappearance of Alfonso Soriano as a competent Major League hitter. The spark plug that drove the post-deadline offense last year was one of the catastrophic failures that helped shut it down this year. Soriano's bat looked slow from the beginning and it never sped up as the season got going and the weather warmed up. It could have been his relegation to regular DH duty that messed with Soriano's routine, but even when he was starting in the outfield or facing left-handed pitchers he looked like a guy who just didn't have it anymore.
His batting stats were atrocious. .221/.244/.367 with a 29.8% K rate, no home runs after mid-May, and only 2 extra-base hits after the start of June. Nobody was interested in him when he was released in mid-July, and even though he hasn't officially retired, he's done. Sad that a very good career had to end this way, but sometimes that's how it goes. Soriano was painful to watch this season and not having to watch him anymore was a good thing for any regular TV viewer.
Best- September Chris Young
With Soriano sucking then leaving, Beltran hurting, and Ichiro moving up to the 3rd starting outfielder job, the Yankees were left without a true bench outfielder for most of the season. They found a good one in Young in September when the Mets let him go. Young was the proverbial lightning in a bottle, hitting .282/.354/.521 in 23 games and coming up with some big time hits when the stagnant offense needed them the most. I'd rather take what we got and move on, sell high on a low-risk scrap heap pickup, but Young may have done enough to get himself a job offer for next year.
Worst- Brendan Ryan, All The Time
I don't know when my opinion on Brendan Ryan changed. I was digging him pretty hard last year when he took over the starting shortstop job. This year not so much. The guy just stinks. He's a stinky baseball player and the one thing he's good at wasn't even something the team could maximize because he was playing second base and first base more than he was playing shortstop this year. Ryan hit an appalling .167/.211/.202 in 124 PA and the only players with a lower fWAR value than him were Soriano and Drew. Oh, and he's under contract next year with an option year for 2016. Good grief.
Well that's it. That wraps up the review of the 2014 Yankee team. It's in the past now, we can leave it there, take the lessons learned with us, and move on towards next season. The 2014 season was more bad than good and that's something that needs to change in 2015.