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How the dual-ball season may have affected the Yankees

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If you haven’t yet read Bradford William Davis’ reporting on MLB’s usage of two different baseballs during the 2021 season, you’ll want to do so now. It’s essential reading. Davis, along with Dr. Meredith Wills’ research, showed clear cut evidence of two different balls being used in 2021. The league admitted as such, but blamed it on COVID-19.

The two different balls had different specifications and thus resulted in different performance outcomes. The league didn’t inform anyone about this, players included, though the players may have had a hunch something was awry. The original plan was to introduce a single and more consistent ball in 2021. Instead, balls from prior year specifications were circulated. There’s already plenty of speculation about how the league could have done this — I have a Yankees-related theory to present, too — but first, some hypotheses about how the balls were mixed in, straight from the report:

While the league blames COVID-19 for the dual-ball season and says it won’t happen again, some of the players reached by Insider entertained more conspiratorial hypotheses. For example: What if MLB sent a disproportionate number of either ball to a specific park or for a specific set of games, putting its thumb on the scale to create incentivized to introduce two baseballs” to try to produce higher- or lower-scoring games.

The National League pitcher who replicated Wills’ study believes MLB “is more or less incentivized to introduce two baseballs” to try to produce higher- or lower-scoring games.

“You know, send a bouncier baseball, lighter baseball — whichever flies more — to a primetime series,” he told me, listing off marquee matchups like Yankees-Red Sox and Mets-Phillies. “Then,” he suggested, send more dead baseballs to “Texas versus Seattle. Or, you know, Detroit versus Kansas City. No one’s going to bat an eye.”

On the other hand, he speculates, the league could flip that approach around and send high-octane balls to low-profile games and “produce more offense,” which might “put more seats in the stands. Just continue to bring up fan engagement.”

Again, these are merely unproven hypotheses. But they sure are interesting, no? Here’s my theory: MLB consistently supplied the new balls to games played at Yankee Stadium. In other words: the baseball that doesn’t travel as far was used exclusively in the Bronx, whereas the Yankees played with a mix of the two elsewhere. Here’s some data I was able to pull via Baseball Savant:


Reviewing our preseason bold predictions

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Now that Atlanta’s World Series victory officially ended MLB’s season, it’s time to take a look back at our staff predictions from the end of March. All of our World Series predictions were wrong, unsurprisingly. This is a Yankees blog, after all, and not picking the team to win it all would have been sacrilegious. I’m sure we’ll do the same for 2022, provided that the team has a good offseason.

For today’s post, let’s evaluate all of our preseason bold predictions. I’m going to categorize everybody’s guesses in three groups: Good, Close Enough, and Whiffs. Keep in mind that these predictions were intended to be longshots in the first place. With that, let’s reflect on them:

Hitter volatility and the 2021 Yankees

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Sometimes we receive mailbag emails that are worthy of their own post. This came from one of our readers, Aaron, a couple weeks ago:

The Yankees were, despite not believing in ‘hot’, somehow one of the streakiest teams we’ve ever seen, alternating between looking like World Series contenders and a Little League team within the span of mere weeks. What are your thoughts on the possibility that having streaky players like Stanton, Sánchez, and (later in the season) Gallo in the lineup had something to do with this?

This question addresses a broader narrative about this year’s club, and even Yankees teams from prior seasons. The thought is that an offense prone to streaks (hot or cold) is less likely to find success in a short series. From a high level, this makes some sense. Either everything is going to click at the right time and a team will bulldoze its way to a title, or a team will suddenly turn into a pumpkin and get knocked out quickly. Meanwhile, a more consistent ballclub should have a better chance of making a long October run. And, while the Yankees have extremely talented hitters, they do seem like a group of guys who are either blazing hot or ice cold, making postseason success difficult.

What went wrong with the Yankees Offense?

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We expected the Bronx Bombers to continue being just that, an offensive juggernaut that ranks solidly among the top five offenses in the regular season. I mean, they’ve been constantly doing this ever since the Baby Bombers got here. How could we consider any other outcome?

Well, another outcome did indeed happen. And it was…not good. Now that’s everything is said and done for the Yankees, it’s time to check on why this happened.

So, let me get to my best Marvel’s “What If?” The Watcher’s voice, and say: Follow me, and ponder the question: What the hell happened to the 2021 Yankees’ offense?

Finding an upgrade at catcher will be difficult

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Gary Sánchez has been a lightning rod for a few years now. There are staunch defenders of him (us at Views, typically) and those who can’t wait to get rid of him. There’s no denying that Sánchez hasn’t been the guy we saw in 2016 and 2017 for a few years now. His offensive prowess has cratered and his defense has been mostly not good. Yet, at the same time, it’s going to be next to impossible for the Yankees to upgrade at starting catcher for the 2022 season.

Good catchers simply aren’t easy to come by. Teams don’t trade them away and it’s pretty rare that a good one reaches free agency. And even for all of Sánchez’s faults, he’s still one of the better catchers in the majors. There aren’t that many catchers below who I’m certain will be better than Gary in 2022. And odds are that none of them will be acquirable.

via Baseball Prospectus

I think the two issues many fans have with Sánchez is fatigue and unreasonable expectations. The Kraken’s offensive onslaught in 2016 and 2017 (.284/.354/.568, 53 HR, 143 wRC+ in 754 PA) set a ridiculous benchmark for a young catcher. It was both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it helped propel the Yankees into contention in ’17, while it also cursed Sánchez by making his league average numbers thereafter look awful. And in turn, the offensive decline also made it harder to ignore his defensive shortcomings.

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