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Author: Matt Imbrogno Page 1 of 21

The State of Things

Not great, Bob!

Well, damn.

After riding a relative high coming off the series with the Astros–despite the loss on Sunday–the Yankees had a shot (yet another) to right things in 2021, to get the season back on track. And then they reminded us that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, (Nasty) Nestor Cortes, Aaron Judge, Kyle Higashioka, and Gio Urshela find themselves in COVID protocol, with manager Aaron Boone anticipating they’ll all miss the full ten days. Given the importance of the next two series, this could well tank the season.

Of course, we must remember that the health and safety of the players is the most important thing. I’d rather the Yankees lose every game and those six guys be completely fine than the Yankees win and one or more of them suffer greatly from COVID. Putting that aside, since it should be obvious, the ramifications of these losses were felt immediately on Friday night.

The Yankees ran out a lineup that was positively 2013-esque, one that would’ve been more in place in Tampa in February than the Bronx in July. Not surprisingly, they were shut out and mustered just three hits against Eduardo Rodriguez and the Red Sox. That put them a full nine games back of the division-leading Red Sox and 5.5 back of the second wildcard leading A’s (with three teams in front of them in Cleveland, Toronto, and Seattle). Things aren’t over (talk to me, Yogi), but they’re feeling fairly bleak. Just a few days ago, we were talking about the Yankees as potential buyers at the trade deadline. Now…

As I’ve stated multiple times and multiple places–here, the Views’ Twitter account, my personal account–I don’t think the Yankees should sell at the trade deadline. There really isn’t anything to sell. This isn’t like 2016 when the Yankees had three expiring contracts attached to good players who could help out a stretch run. The most tradeable players on this roster with the best contracts–Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino–are injured. The guys who might be desirable–Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez–are players you should build around, not trade away, especially if you’re the Yankees. And, of course, they’re not trading Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, or DJ LeMahieu without taking considerable hits financially, reputationally, and on the field.

The entire organization is stuck in the middle. The team sports an incredibly talented roster…that also has easily exploitable flaws. The front office runs a tight ship and has been unarguably successful…yet there’s been no title in eleven-plus years and there seems to be rigidity in thought fomenting.

At this point, I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost. But one that certainly comes to mind is angry. I’m not necessarily angry at the play the Yankees have demonstrated on the field, however warranted. Sometimes, it’s just not your year and stuff happens. But I am angry that at least one player on the team has forgone getting vaccinated. Personal choice, blah, blah, blah. How a player on this team, from this city could watch how COVID ravaged the city and not get vaccinated is beyond me. Even on a baseball level, knowing that COVID could derail a season, like it’s doing right now, and not getting vaccinated seems selfish. This situation was completely avoidable, yet thanks to a selfish choice, here we are, potentially watching the last days of truly competitive Yankee baseball.

Maybe a funny thing will happen. Maybe baseball will be its unpredictable self and the Yankees will come out of this ten day stretch in better shape than they went into it. But, like many things related to this pandemic, it didn’t have to be this way. Yet it is.

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Blame Game

God-tier Yankee gif

As I’m writing this, it’s Saturday afternoon and the Yankees are losing 8-0 to the Mets. Taijuan Walker, whom the Yankees were linked to in the offseason, is throwing a no-hitter. I was frustrated with the Yankees before today and now, well…

If there is any silver lining to this–a thin one at best–it’s that we’re lucky that a middling, near-.500 team is so frustrating to us. We could be Pirates or Royals fans. But, to twist the old Spider-Man saying, with great expectations comes great responsibility. The Yankees expected themselves to be championship caliber this year. We expected them to be championship caliber this year. So far, that hasn’t happened. And with each passing day, each week with another embarrassing loss (or set of losses!), it looks less and less likely, no matter how much we here have tried to be positive.

When he spoke to the media, Hal Steinbrenner said–however ineloquently–that the blame lies with the players and, loathe as I may be to agree with him, he’s right. The players, for the most part, haven’t played well enough. Aaron Judge has been great, as has Gerrit Cole. Giancarlo Stanton has also performed well. But those are the stars, the leaders of the team both literally and metaphorically. The other players haven’t played up to snuff, including DJ LeMahieu and, to an extent, Gio Urshela. This also goes for Gleyber Torres, whom Randy spoke about at length on the podcast. Jordan Montgomery hasn’t been consistent. Even at the minor league level, Deivi Garcia has been a colossal disappointment and the rotation is feeling his absence.

Despite the fact that the Yankees looked like a 95+ win team on paper, there were some question mark players coming into this year and almost all of them have answered those questions in the negative. Brett Gardner looks done. Clint Frazier has taken his opportunity and fallen with it rather than run with it. Jameson Taillon–despite many mitigating circumstances–hasn’t been reliable. Corey Kluber and Darren O’Day had/have been effective, but injured. Justin Wilson, when not injured, has been bad. Very bad. The only player who’s answered questions about himself is Gary Sánchez (we love to see it; haters are mad, etc.).

We all have frustrations with the front office or coaching staff, which I’ll address, but they aren’t the ones on the field playing poorly. Simply put, the players need to play better.

Those question marks and their continued poor performance reflect poorly on the coaching staff. While Gary is definitely a triumph for them this year, the regressions of Torres and Frazier are downright tragedies. The same could be said of Garcia’s regression, but that’s a different coaching staff. The team has been in an offensive malaise for most of the year and while it’s on the players, mainly, to break out of that, the coaching staff seems to have made few adjustments to players who need them. Aaron Boone and his staff generally present a calm, relaxed front, which is usually a good thing in a long baseball season. But that attitude hits a lot differently when the team is just a game above .500 rather than comfortably winning the division (remember what that felt like?).

Beyond the on-field staff, the front office should accept some blame here, too. Again, we thought this roster would be good enough to win a lot and, obviously, so did the front office. But it’s clear the team is too right-handed. It’s clear the gambles for Taillon and Kluber, while certainly defensible, did not pay off. It’s clear that building a solid rotation beyond one ace eludes Brian Cashman and his team. It’s clear that the team did not have good enough depth on the position side.

Yes, the Yankee right handed hitters are, generally, good enough against right handed pitchers. Yes, Taillon and Kluber had bankable upside. Yes, you hope not to have to use depth. But the Yankees’ bets in these areas did not pay off this year. The Yankees’ roster construction has become stale and rigid and easy to beat. For proof of that, look no further than this excerpt from a piece by Lindsey Adler:

Let’s go over that again: “I’ve been writing the same game plan against the Yankees for years.” That’s embarrassing. That’s an indictment on the organization in ways I can’t even describe. It speaks to an absolute arrogance in the Yankee front office that their way is superior and will never be altered. Again, yes, the Yankees have been incredibly successful for damn near thirty years, but maybe some processes need to change. Maybe some ideas need to be rethought. Maybe some changes have to happen.

To say the Yankee organization is rotten would likely be an overstatement, but let’s borrow another cliche since we already did one up above: a fish rots from the head. Hal Steinbrenner can’t play the games. He doesn’t do what the baseball operations department does. But he has the final word. Regardless of what his words may be, he doesn’t back them up with actions, at least not fully. Yes, the Yankees have signed Gerrit Cole and traded for Giancarlo Stanton, but as Bobby is quick to point out, the team has twice (!) cut $50MM in payroll during what should’ve been a slam dunk championship window. The team spends near the bottom of the league when it comes to payroll as a portion of revenue. The team has hardly budged in its spending from 2004. At least as much as the team has tried to win a championship on the field, its also tried to win Hal and company the luxury of not having to pay the luxury tax.

If Michael Kay is to be believed, the Yankees passed on Michael Brantley and Kyle Schwarber, two players who could’ve helped the Yankees for a multitude of reasons, because of cost and roster ‘constraints.’ That excuse is further proof of organizational arrogance and a pennywise, pound foolish attitude in the front office and ownership respectively. Those two things should almost never be a factor for a team as smart and as wealthy as the Yankees. They’re so smart, though, that they outsmart themselves and don’t lean on their biggest advantage nearly enough: money.

The team eventually did push three across against the Mets–woo!–but fell 8-3 on a rainy Saturday. Another dull-looking loss that has many rightfully questioning the team’s competitive spirit and determination. There’s not much time left (for Christ’s sake, [today’s] the Fourth of July!) to turn that on and I fear it might be impossible to do so.

Judge’s June Power Swoon

Yankees at Orioles 7/10/18

Throughout the 2021 season, Aaron Judge has been the unquestioned MVP of the Yankees from the offensive side of things. However, June has not been kind to the resident right fielder. This month, he’s hitting .241/.333/.392. The gap in BA/OBP shows us he’s still taking his walks, but considering he hit .300/.407/.556 from April through May, that’s a big step back, especially in the power department.

His ISO works out to just .151, paltry for Judge even if we wish Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, and DJ LeMahieu could rack up an ISO that high. But Judge isn’t those guys; he’s better and way more powerful. So what’s up?

To start, he’s just not hitting the ball as hard as often. While he’s actually increased his hard hit percentage against breaking balls–68.4% in June–from April (50) and May (52), it’s gone down on both fastballs and offspeed pitches:

The drops on hard hit percentage are fairly drastic, dropping about 14 points against fastballs and about 30% against offspeed pitches. Predictably, this has led to a drop in average exit velocity against both pitch types, though the drop against fastballs still leaves him at 96 MPH. Against offspeed pitches, though, the number is just below 85 MPH, which is weak for anyone, let alone Aaron Judge.

Then there’s the thing that seems to have plagued Yankee power hitters all year: too many ground balls:

He’s had big jumps in grounders against offspeed and breaking pitches, which, if you’re a pitcher, is the point of those pitches. But given that Judge is a hitter, that’s a problem. As I wrote this sentence, Randy fired off this tweet:

What timing!

To drive this point home, let’s take a look at a heat map style spray chart for Judge’s June:

That’s a lot of red on the left side of the infield, even more so when you consider the following zone profile:

A lot of pitches down and away and a lot of grounders to the left side. That would seem to indicate, along with the decreased hard hit percentages and the increased grounder percentages, that Judge is pulling off balls down and away, as well as topping them/other pitches. All of that spells a lack of power.

There’s no way Aaron Judge is going to keep hitting to a .151 ISO, especially when his overall batted ball numbers are still very strong. His swing and whiff data, by the way, is fairly stable throughout the year, so that’s not at play here. This is a contact issue, a quality of contact issue to be more specific. It’s not going to be long, I imagine, before Judge corrects this and rounds back into his normal, powerful form.

Put Him In, Coach

The time has come.

In fact, the time has long since come.

The Yankees need to play Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield this season.

Randy, Jaime, and Rohan talked about this on the podcast, but I’ll expand on it a bit here. I’ll start by mentioning the potential downside that Stanon could get hurt. But, as the guys said, his injury history is rooted in baserunning and swinging, not fielding. Unless the Yankees know something we don’t–which may be true–there seems to be only a slight injury-related case for Stanton not playing the outfield once or maybe even twice a week.

Last weekend’s series against the Phillies was the most glaring example of why they need Big G in the field every so often. After a hot series against the Twins, Stanton amassed just one plate appearance in the Philly, after and before off days. I’d imagine it’s hard for any hitter, no matter how talented, to stay in rhythm that way. And while the Phillies series was a recent example, this move is long overdue.

Given the struggles the Yankees have had from their left and center field spots this year, this move should’ve come sooner to help stabilize the lineup. If the ream is willing to play Aaron Judge in center, they should be willing to play Stanton in right.

Freeing up the DH spot at least once a week gives the Yankees a chance to (half or full) rest Judge and maybe even get the best of both worlds with their catching duo: Gary Sanchez’s bat and Kyle Higashioka’s glove. This will also help them ease Luke Voit back in when he returns from injury; he can get a DH day while Stanton plays right and Judge shifts to center.

Should Stanton play four to five games a week in the field? No, probably not. But can he handle one or two? I absolutely think so.

Dipping a Toe into the Trade Pool

Though we’re all waking up this morning with a more sour Yankee taste than we’d like, the fact remains that the team is in contention. Given that fact and that it’s June, it’s time to look forward to the rest of the year and what can be done to improve the team.

In a surprise not many saw coming, the Yankee offense is the thing in need of improvement. The pitching staff has, for the most part, been excellent and likely won’t need too much tinkering. Luis Severino’s impending return will help bolster it, too. Now, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t look to explore trade options, but the priority needs to be the offense.

With Chris Gittens now called up to (potentially?) plug the first base hole and, thus, move DJ LeMahieu back to second base, the can be kicked down the road a bit and the focus can shift to the outfield, specifically center field, LHB if possible. Beggars, though, can’t be choosers and any outfield help should be considered.

MLBTR ranked the top 40 trade candidates the other day, so let’s take a look at the outfielders on the list. They are:

Mitch Haniger, SEA

David Peralta, ARI

Joey Gallo, TEX

Michael A. Taylor, KC

Robbie Grossman, DET

Starling Marte, MIA

Corey Dickerson, MIA

Kole Calhoun, ARI

Anthony Santander, BAL

Nick Castellanos, CIN

Of those, only Taylor and Marte are listed as CF and both are RHB. One name not listed, perhaps because his contract is pretty friendly–is Ketel Marte of Arizona, who plays center field and is left handed.

If the rest of the Yankee offense were clicking, I’d be okay with going after Taylor, who’s a good defender. But given his offensive profile and what the Yankee offense is doing right now, I think he’s a pass, even if his cost would likely be low. Starling Marte is just a better hitter and, even if he’s right handed, the Yankees have to take a surer thing to get the offense boosted a bit. Ketel Marte offers enough of a sure thing at the plate, too, and he is left handed, something the Yankees sorely need.

While early June certainly isn’t late, the time has come for the Yankees to press things a little bit. With each passing game, it’s harder and harder to say ‘they’ll come around’ or ‘they’ll snap out of it.’ Is it possible their hitters do that? Absolutely. But with their record falling over the last two weeks and few of those hitters showing signs of coming around, it’s time to go get some help.

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