The 2018 Yankees started their first 68 games with a record of 46-22. This season, they are 41-27. Considering the well-documented series of injuries the Yankees have endured in 2019, this is pretty impressive. Last year’s team did win 100 games, after all.
The Bombers’ health concerns have been a dominating storyline across Yankees media. As it should be. Even ignoring their injuries in the outfield, the Yanks came into this season without their shortstop Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar was sidelined for the year after just 49 at-bats. It’s certainly not what you want.
So, how have the Yanks been able to win games despite missing 50% of their infield? Well, the easy answer is that their replacements have stepped up. But how do they compare to last year’s production? Let’s take a look.
Third Base: Andújar to Gio
To start: this comparison is NOT suggesting that the Yankees trade Andújar, nor saying that Urshela will win the job over him when he comes back. It is merely outlining how the Yanks have kept pace with last year’s team despite missing their stars. Here’s Andújar and Urshela last year and this:
- Andujar (through 68 NYY games last year): .291/.319/.516 with a 122 wRC+.
- Urshela: .310/.364/.466 with a 120 wRC+
Andújar was the Yanks surprise talent of the first half of last season. But man, Gio has taken over that title with ease. Alas, Urshela has able to not just match, but overcome his production in a few ways. Pretty insane talent from a replacement player, even if there are signs the magic is wearing off.
The Yanks traded Miggy’s power for Urshela’s ability to get on base. While they strike out at similar rates, Urshela walks a lot more – 7.2% compared to 3.8% BB rate. Again, the large takeaway here is that Urshela has been able to match Andújar’s production offensively. They are not the same style player, but Urshela has been able to fill the offensive hole left by Andújar with ease. You can’t take those at-bats away.
The storyline of Andújar’s poor defense has run its course, but it is impossible to mention Urshela’s ability and ignore his talented glove. His defense simply saves runs–a skill that Andujar didn’t bring to the field. Again, the point isn’t that Urshela is a better player, just to point out that he has been able to keep pace with Andújar’s comparison a year ago.
Shortstop: Didi to Torres
Didi is now, of course, returned from injury – and seeing him man short is a sight we’ve all waited a long time to see. But how did the Yankees fair while he was away?
- Didi through 68 NYY games in 2018: .263/.326/.474 with a 112 wRC+
- Torres this season: .284/.336/.517 with a 121 wRC+
Damn. Torres, who is only 22, outperformed Didi in every category, even if only slightly. The big caveat here is that Torres strikes out more – a lot more. Almost twice as much, actually. And he doesn’t necessarily hit more home runs. This season he’s hit 14 out of the park whereas Didi had 17 at this point last year. Less, but not a huge deal, especially considering Torres better overall run production.
There’s really not a huge difference in their defensive abilities. As this is a general comparison of how well replacements have slotted in, I think it’s safe to say they’re about equal at short.
It is not controversial to say that Torres stepped up to fill Didi’s role pretty exceptionally.
Second Base: Torres to LeMahieu
Again, Torres is back to his position at second and LeMahieu will platoon. But it’s fun to compare how the controversial offseason signing (I, for one, was livid at this signing) fit in while Torres was slotted at short.
The numbers here are a bit less smooth. LeMahieu has only played 49 games at second this season, as he revolves around the infield, and Torres was called up in the middle of April in 2018 so he’s a bit shy too. Nevertheless, let’s take a look:
- Torres through 68 NYY games in 2018: .287/.341/.557 with 140 wRC+ (183 PA).
- LeMahieu this season: .311/.358/.450 116 wRC+. (275 PA)
These stat-lines are very similar. Hard to complain about that production for a replacement player, especially with Torres’s hot start last year. Their style of play is pretty similar, but LeMahieu lacks a bit of power and run production. Torres had 13 home runs at this point last year where D.J. only has 7. The differences in wRC+ are pretty stark as a result. We all know how good DJLM has been, so if anything, this is a testament to how good Torres is.
Regardless, LeMahieu has been more than a suitable replacement, with a significantly higher OBP. What he lacks in power he makes up for with getting on base. I’ll take it.
In a season where the Yankees have had to re-arrange their infield following injuries to two key players in their infield, they’ve managed to keep pace with the production of their peers last year. It’s great. Gio, Torres (playing short instead of 2nd), and LeMaheiu have matched or out-produced last year’s starters.
Andújar isn’t returning, of course, but now that Didi is back, things will return to normal in the infield: Torres back to 2nd, Didi at short, and DJLM likely playing often at third. It’s safe to say that the Yanks’ temporary infield has been a huge reason the Yanks’ have largely kept pace with their 100-win predecessor.