The Yankees are sitting around .500 and they started off even worse. I’m just here to write an article that they still have one of the most talented rosters in the MLB and they will be okay as they are taking care of business against the Tigers this weekend like they should. I’ll go over the reasons not to panic over the Yankees rough start and why their line-up is okay despite the fact many guys are slumping with low batting averages. I fully expect the Yankees to be battling for the top of the AL East at the end of the season with the Rays and possibly the Jays and Red Sox.
First let’s dive into the line-up. To lead off Luke Voit is missing and that is really messing things up. Rougned Odor isn’t really a starting caliber player at this point. He will be a nice complementary piece of the bench to pinch hit and start a few times a week when Voit is back as he can still hit for power, but Voit is a more complete power hitter. You may also think, well the Yankees have plenty of power hitters but Voit was the biggest contributor in 2020. That’s not to say he’s better than certain hitters like Aaron Judge, but he was the straw that really stirred that line-up last season and getting him will be a huge boost for the team.
Speaking of Aaron Judge he hasn’t gotten off to as steaming of a start as the like of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., J.D. Martinez and Byron Buxton but he is playing really well under the radar. He has 7 homers spraying the ball to all fields and though he will always have some swing and miss in his game his strikeouts haven’t been overwhelming and his chase rate is actually above average. He’s basically a shoo-in for 40 homers and though not the most predictive, he has an expected batting average of nearly .350 a testament to his process working. His contact suggests more of the same Judge we have come to know when he’s healthy. If he can stay healthy the Yankees will have a huge boost from their right fielder. He really has matured as a hitter and his mammoth swing is working with a more selective approach. His K rate is down nearly 5% from his career. Go watch Judge hit this year and tell me he isn’t of the best hitters in the game, I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t disagree.
Aaron Hicks has been the subject of worry too as he can’t get anything to fall in for a hit. He has a .594 OPS and a .155 average this season. This isn’t the craziest statline ever though; Kole Calhoun, Jose Ramirez and Evan Longoria all hit under .200 in 2019 and had various degrees of solid seasons. Also, Hicks is notoriously a bad April hitter and having spent his career in New York and Minnesota I’d say the weather has a negative effect on him. He usually improves in May and hits his stride in the summer months. He is hitting lower at Yankee Stadium, where the summer hasn’t arrived yet and in Aprils of the past this trend. It might not have the biggest effect on him but in the random noise or higher variance that can happen in smaller samples it explains a lot. Hicks won’t be this bad all season.
Gleyber Torres is another guy people have worried about. He has just 3 homers in 267 plate appearances since the start of 2020. This is a bit concerning as a guy who hit 38 bombs in 2019 should be going deep at a higher rate, especially when that is part of his game. Overall though 2020 was a weird season and this season hasn’t been long enough to draw any conclusions that you can be highly confident in for the most part. It is probably in Torres head a little too as he has recently started to swing the bat better and got the ball to fall having more success this last week. Baseball is a mental game and hitting 3 homers in a stretch of 40 games isn’t unheard of but when you start hearing about your power missing and you’re still just a 24 year old developing at the plate it leads me to believe you’re overthinking and slumping. If he just eases into his approach I believe he will start hitting and the power will follow. He may not hit 38 home runs again but he can get over 25 and be valuable to the team. His defense will be more of a concern as he fits way better as a second baseman but if things fall into place for the Yankees they can likely overcome any negative value his defense brings.
Lastly with the offense I wanted to hit on the catchers, as Gary Sanchez is losing playing time to Kyle Higashioka. Higashioka has some power, but not as much as Sanchez and though he has hit well over the last two seasons that’s in less than 80 plate appearances. In his career so far he has a 79 OPS+ so he’s well below league average. He’s a good back-up to have around and its okay to play the hot hand, but over the season Sanchez will reign superior. Sanchez is a below average framer as FanGraphs has him costing the Yankees about 8 runs in his career, his arm though brings to around being just a slightly below average fielder. Sanchez has had insanely bad BABIP luck too, so if his luck improves his average should get above the Mendoza Line. If he can do that, field as around an average catcher and hit 30 home runs he’s an insanely valuable catcher. The thing about him though is that he is so slow that when you look at his defensive shifting below you can see that fielders play him up the middle and far back, so a lot of his hard hit contact doesn’t turn into singles like with a faster player who can use right fielder would. He won’t gain speed so he will either need to cut down on his strikeouts and/or try going the other way to shoot the hole on the second base side, even if his contact isn’t scalding to open up the whole field again. The good news is so far this year he’s being somewhat selective and has walked more and struck out less. That’ll go a long way, especially when his power shows again. The upside is a .230 hitter with 30 homers and one of the better wOBA for a catcher out there.
I felt it worth mentioning that the Yankees bullpen has looked very good so far, contributing 2.4 WAR with a FIP below 3 and Aroldis Chapman being one of the best closers in baseball. They also have Gerrit Cole who is pacing right behind Jacob deGrom still and has actually been rewarded with run support, which is huge for a team to have that advantage every fifth day of that added win boost. Corey Kluber isn’t the pitcher he once was but he could be the slow and steady veteran that turns in a good season and is quietly the leader of the staff. Jordan Montgomery also still has breakout potential as he upped his velocity and lowered his walk rate last season. At the very least he’s a solid middle of the rotation lefty and at the best he will be the second guy behind Cole. His stuff is nasty, especially the way he plays his pitches off of each other to fool guys and create one of the better contact profiles in the league. He’s the guy to watch in that rotation. I also think Jameson Taillon has high potential and solid mechanics. I think he fills in the middle of their rotation well and he just needs time to get going consistently for them. We’ve seen some really good performances out of him in Pittsburgh, but he’s coming off of two injury saddled seasons and needs to find himself in game. Luckily, the bullpen is good too so if they can get 5 innings out of the guys behind Cole they are golden. The starting rotation is just one of seven with a called strike plus swinging strike percentage above 30% so far too, again suggesting bad luck in the Yankees record. Deivi Garcia and a possible trade deadline acquisition will only bolster their rotation as well.
I think all in all the Yankees limped out of the gate, not uncommon for any team. They have answered the call now though and their guys are starting to come out of slumps. When you look at their roster from top to bottom it’s with the Dodgers, Padres, Braves, and Rays of the world. The Yankees have the ninth best expected win percentage going by the Pythagorean record. They are among the elite teams in baseball since 2017 and aren’t giving up that anytime soon.