Like many other Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton is off to a slow start offensively. He went 0-for-4 last night, which brought his full season line down to .167/.231/.278 (43 wRC+) in 39 plate appearances. It’s a far cry from the Stanton we saw last October.
People love to point at Stanton’s strikeout rate when he’s struggling, but that’s not the issue for him right now. His 28.1 percent K-rate is in line with his career norms. Rather, Stanton’s batted ball profile is his biggest issue at the moment. Including last night’s game in which he hit three groundouts, Stanton now has 16 grounders on 25 batted balls (64 percent). We’re used to watching him hit lasers and majestic fly balls, not worm killers. It’s also worth mentioning that he has three pop-ups so far, too. Those are also no good.
Stanton’s lifetime ground ball rate is just north of 43 percent, making his current (extremely small sample) performance a major outlier. On the bright side, he’s still stinging the baseball. Giancarlo’s 60 percent hard hit rate is in the 92nd percentile of the league. So, it just seems like something is off with his swing. I couldn’t tell you whether that’s mechanical, timing, or both (or something else!), but it’s clear that something’s not right.
After a so-so 2020, the Yankees put a lot of faith in Aaron Hicks, specifically by naming him the number three hitter to start the season. It’s a move I thought made sense, but it hasn’t paid off yet. Hicks is off to a troubled start with an ugly .148/.258/.259/.517 line in the early going. Of course, that caveat applies; it’s still early and a hot week or so could have this line looking much better.
On the plus side of things, he does have four walks already and his walk rate puts him in the 63rd percentile per Statcast. It’s not much, but given the above batting line, we should take our positives where we can get them. The biggest problem for Hicks so far has been the opposite side of that coin: strikeouts.
He’s racked up 11 already. While I normally don’t mind a middle-of-the-order hitter whiffing a lot, it’s been excessive this year, with a strikeout rate pushing towards 40%–37 to be exact. This is a stark departure from 2020, when he had a career low strikeout rate of 18%. Let’s take a look at the early strikeout returns and see what’s up.
My first thought, as it is with most high strikeout rates, was that Hicks was having trouble with breaking balls. Breaking stuff is, generally speaking, pretty nasty these days and plenty of guys swing and miss at it. But his overall swing and miss percentage has actually dropped on breaking balls, going from 31.4% in 2020 to 22.2% so far in 2021. In fact, per Statcast, he actually hasn’t whiffed on a breaking ball in the zone so far this year. That’s encouraging. But…
With that decrease, there’s probably an increase elsewhere. And there is, both with offspeed pitches and fastballs. There’s been a moderate whiff increase with offspeed pitches from just under 45% to 50%. The incline has been much less subtle for fastballs: up to 35.7% from 20.7% in 2020. In the zone, he’s missing 23.8% of fastballs, up from 18% last year, up from 10% in 2019. That’s a semi-worrying trend, no?
In terms of out of the zone misses on fastballs, he’s double what he was last year, over 70%! That last one is a bit preposterous, driven by early season small sample sizes; but it’s still shocking to see, especially considering he is chasing a slightly higher percentage of out of zone fastballs which compounds the effect of the whiffing.
There’s also been a negative trend so far when he does make contact. After hitting too many grounders last year, Hicks has corrected in 2021, but perhaps a bit too much. His GB% now sits under 30% and he’s hitting fly balls at a career high rate of 35.7%. However, the lack of grounders so far isn’t all good.
His line drive rate is a touch under where it normally is and his pop-up percentage is a career high 14.3%. Indeed, Statcast tracks his contact as him getting under the ball 50% of the time so far. For reference, his career average there is just over 26%.
So he’s striking out a lot. And when he makes contact, he’s popping up too much. This is not a great combo! But, luckily, it is still way early and these numbers are definitely going to correct. That he’s still walking a lot is a good sign. Hopefully, he cuts down on the whiffs slightly and finds the balance between ground and air.
This is always a difficult time of the season in terms of finding topics to write about. Samples are small and I gravitate toward writing statistical pieces. But on occasion, there are teamwide trends or simply obvious things to point out. Randy astutely noticed the Yankees’ changeup emphasis in the other night’s takeaways. Today, I’m going to focus on something that’s obvious: Gleyber Torres is not assuaging anyone’s concern about his ability to play shortstop. Last night’s costly error was yet another example.
As Matt pointed out just before the season began, Torres has a lot of trouble going to his right, or third base side. And if you’ve listened to our podcast since last year, you’ll know that Randy has had his doubts about Torres playing the position for the same reason. Having good range is a combination of things: reaction time and lateral agility. It’s hard, from our perspective, to say whether or not Gleyber has a quick first step. But his ability to close on a ball to his right simply isn’t very good, and hasn’t been for a while now.
Unfortunately, it’s not just Gleyber’s range that’s an issue now, either. Torres has already made a handful of poor throws to first base this season. Some of these have been on more routine plays, whereas others were arguably difficult, long throws. Regardless, that there have been so many poor throws already is worrisome. Poor range can be tolerated at short if the routine play is made. The Yankees survived with a certain shortstop for two decades who had very little range, after all. But add in off-target throws to first and things start to get untenable.
Let’s take a look at some of the hiccups Torres has had in the field so far this season.
Tonight is one of the more exciting early season games of the young season as Jameson Taillon will make his Yankees debut. I have been looking forward to this since the Yankees traded for him back in January, and I’m sure you have been too.
While there will not be any long-term takeaways from just one early April start against the lowly Orioles, there are quite a few things to watch as Taillon takes the mound. Let’s get into those after the jump.
In typical Ninja Cashman Style, the Yankees acquired my fellow countryman Rougned Odor (even from the same city!). The 27-year-old former Texas Rangers second baseman arrived to MLB in 2014, having three pretty solid seasons in 15′ and 16′ and 18′, with WAR values of 2.1, 2.7 and 2.5 respectively.
However, from 2019 to present, the ride has been quite ugly: -1 WAR in 729 plate appearances ugly. Just to be clear, that means the Rangers would have been 1 win better if they had used a replacement level player (i.e. a random guy from Triple-A) instead of Odor. To quote a former manager: “That’s not what you want”.
So, let’s take an in-depth look at what the Yankees can expect from Rougned Odor after the jump.