Jun
06
2021

How To Fix The New York Yankees

The Yankees need help. Even the most rose-colored glasses can see that. They’re 31-28 and in fourth place in the American League East. They’re 6-6 in games started by the best pitcher in the American League, Gerrit Cole. They’re scoring under four runs a game. And they’re in the midst of a 3-9 stretch. They need help.

The trade deadline is over a month and a half away, so a trade isn’t likely, though if things continue to get worse, that may speed up the timeline. So how can the Yankees right the ship?

In baseball, there’s a fair amount of luck involved. Pitchers don’t make perfect pitches every time. They throw hanging sliders that get missed or fouled back. Sometimes they throw hanging sliders that get crushed right to the edge of the wall that results in outs. Sometimes hitters get a hanging slider and crush it right at the outfielder. Sometimes they just miss it.

Usually, over the season, the luck evens out. Good teams almost always turn it around, and the pretenders usually falter. The Yankees are a good team, despite what the record says.

Playoffs in the last three years under Aaron Boone, including two 100-win seasons in the full seasons, are a good team. Those teams usually don’t fall off the face of the planet. And especially not after adding Gerrit Cole to the mix. The Yankees are a good team, and eventually, they should start playing like it.

For several individual Yankees, they’ve been bad. But they’re not bad players. Hitters who produce good seasons usually don’t drop off like this, especially not ones who have produced multiple seasons. The Yankees have four above average (over 100 wRC+) hitters on their roster this season. Look at the seasons for the Yankees hitters who are struggling mightily.

Gary Sanchez currently has a 99 wRC+, which is slightly below average. For most of the season, he’s been slightly above average, though not by a lot. His career wRC+ of 115 is good, and that includes a 68 in the truncated 2020 season. Over his career, he’s been a good hitter, and his 2021 projections reflect that. Some projections think he’ll post as high as 132, with most hovering around 110.

Kyle Higashioka, Sanchez’s backup/platoon mate, is in the same boat. He, too, has a 99 wRC+ despite most of the year spent being a little above 100, even being higher than Sanchez for some of the season. The projections don’t expect much out of Higgy, with none of them being higher than 98. For now, unfortunately, he’s been the 5th best hitter on the roster.

If you base things off how players are performing right now, the D.J. LeMahieu signing was an absolute disaster for the Yankees. Six years of sub 100 wRC+? Classic baseball players always stop caring when they get the money. Right?

Wrong. Yeah, LeMahieu has been awful. His performance probably hurts the most because he’s the leadoff hitter and fans are accustomed to seeing him rack up multi-hit games. The defending batting champion is hitting a measly .259.

I hate batting average as a stat, but the rest of his numbers don’t indicate he’s been better than that number suggests. His expected batting average is .275, which is better, but not what you’d expect from the only player to win a batting title in two different leagues.

Still, good players don’t stay down for long, and LeMahieu is a good hitter. His 135 and 176 wRC+ in his first two Yankees seasons aren’t flukes. The projections expect him to get to between 115 and 121 wRC+, and I think it’s a safe bet that eventually he’ll start hitting. He’s too good not to.

For both Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres, they’re just above average at 104 wRC+, though last week they were just below 100. Those numbers are low for both of them. Torres, in his career, has posted 121, 124, and 106, so he’s a safe bet to return to somewhere around the projections of 120ish. Urshela had a 132 and 133, so his 104 is much lower than was expected. Projections for him go as high as 117.

Clint Frazier finally got his opportunity and has struggled mightily. Following a sterling 2020, in which Frazier posted a remarkable 149 wRC+, he’s been awful in 2021. 79 wRC+ is the lowest among “regular” Yankees starters who aren’t 37-year-old Brett Gardner.

Luke Voit, albeit in just 50 plate appearances, has posted a 57 and his replacements at first base haven’t been much better. Projections see Voit getting to around 130 when he returns to the field. The regular lineup looks bad right now, no matter what numbers you look at:

  • LeMahieu, 92 wRC+
  • Stanton, 121 wRC+
  • Judge, 158 wRC+
  • Voit, 57 wRC+
  • Urshela, 104 wRC+
  • Torres, 104 wRC+
  • Gary Sanchez, 99 wRC+
  • Clint Frazier, 79 wRC+
  • Brett Gardner, 60 wRC+

For comparison, here’s what that lineup produced just last year even when most hitters struggled with the COVID impacted season.

  • LeMahieu, 172 wRC+
  • Stanton, 142 wRC+
  • Judge, 139 wRC+
  • Voit, 152 wRC+
  • Urshela, 133 wRC+
  • Torres, 106 wRC+
  • Sanchez, 68 wRC+
  • Clint Frazier, 149 wRC+
  • Brett Gardner, 110 wRC+

Much better, right? Now, look at what it looks like when everybody gets to where their projections are, taking the average of all projection stats.

  • LeMahieu, 117 wRC+
  • Stanton, 141 wRC+
  • Judge, 152 wRC+
  • Voit, 128 wRC+
  • Urshela, 106 wRC+
  • Torres, 127 wRC+
  • Sanchez, 115 wRC+
  • Frazier, 108 wRC+
  • Gardner, 98 wRC+

Now that looks more like the Yankees. And to be truthful, some people won’t reach those projections. Others might blow past them. Trades will happen. People will get hurt and return from injury. The point is, the Yankees are a much better team than what’s been shown on the field lately.

Right now, the Yankees as a team are producing about six percent fewer runs than average teams do. If things revert to somewhat normal, they’ll be looking at producing around 20% more runs than the average team, which is better than all but one of the Boone era years. Yeah, they’re hard to watch right now. But they’re a good team, with good hitters. They’ll be ok.