The Yankees have drastically turned their season around. The team was 41-41, in fourth place, and was hearing rumors of a lost season. That’s all ancient history now. The Yankees are the hottest team in baseball, even with their 3-2 loss to Oakland today. That loss snapped a 13 game win streak that included a two-game sweep over a team that had won nine straight before New York came to town.
It’s no secret that this is not the same team we saw earlier in the year. But what is the secret? Why are they so good all of a sudden? There’s actually a couple of reasons. To put into perspective how drastic the turnaround was, they had a 40% or lower playoff chance for a lot of the season. Now, according to FanGraphs, it’s 96%.
The Yankees did acquire two of the best hitters available at the trade deadline. Anthony Rizzo stabilized the infield and vastly improved the defense and provided a healthy body and good bat at first base. Joey Gallo vastly improved the outfield defense and prevented them from having to trot Brett Gardner out there every single day.
These additions would improve any team, even the best teams in baseball. The turnaround can almost be directly linked to their arrival, but not quite. The Yankees were beginning to turn it around a bit before the All-Star break, and that was well before the deadline.
The real secret is that, along with Rizzo and Gallo, the players have been playing a lot better now. Most players on the roster have had a significant turnaround and have experienced their own little hot streak.
Giancarlo Stanton had a blistering August in which his OPS surpassed 1.300. Aaron Judge, the only constant the entire season, has remained hot and is getting even hotter (He went 3-4 with a two-run home run today in a game that saw them score two runs and muster just five hits overall).
Rougned Odor got hot for a little while. Luke Voit seems on a mission to force his way into the lineup despite losing his defensive position to Rizzo (which is the right move and should stay that way). Even Brett Gardner got hot and contributed to several wins. D.J. LeMahieu has slowly climbed into the above-average hitting range.
The real secret is that this is mostly the team they were supposed to be. The Yankees were always supposed to be really good. There was a time when all of the hitters did not name Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and (surprise!) Kyle Higashioka was below average in wRC+. That’s all changed now.
The only regular contributors under that threshold now are Gleyber Torres (who’s been hurt for a bit), his replacement Andrew Velasquez, Rougned Odor, and Brett Gardner. That’s a recipe for success.
The secret isn’t that they made some big change, though they have gotten a bit more aggressive on the basepaths. The secret is that they were always really good. They added two great players and started playing like they were supposed to. Now if only they could bottle that and sell it.