Did you realize that the triumvirate of Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Jordy Mercer accumulated 170 plate appearances in 2020? That was nearly a third of the team’s total plate appearances at second base and shortstop. Both DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres spent some time on the injured list which quickly exposed the Yankees’ lack of depth up the middle.
This problem was something we clamored about last winter when Didi Gregorius departed. It’s something the team needs to address this offseason even after re-signing DJ LeMahieu or acquiring a shortstop like Francisco Lindor.
Here’s how this should play out. If LeMahieu returns, the Yankees still need to bring in another infielder capable of playing shortstop. Going another year of Wade/Estrada just isn’t going to cut it. If it’s Lindor (or another shortstop), Torres can act as the reserve shortstop when he’s not at second base. That doesn’t mean the team should rest on their laurels, though. In fact, it might make it easier to obtain a bench infielder upgrade since said target wouldn’t have to be able to play shortstop (though it’d still be nice).
With that in mind, let’s get into a few options that the Yankees should look into this winter.
It is August 5th, folks. Why does that matter? Because the Yankees have now hit more home runs at Camden Yards in 2019 than any visiting team has ever hit in any ballpark in Major League history. From the irreplaceable Katie Sharp:
Does that really matter? No, it does not. The baseball is juiced, the Yankees are awesome and the Orioles are the very definition of trash. Their pitching staff is historically atrocious. They are so bad. The Yankees should demolish them, and they have. But come on. It is August 5th, and the Yankees have hit more home runs in Camden Yards than any team has ever hit in MLB history. That’s nuts.
Anyway, the Yankees defeated the Orioles 9-6, improving to 73-39 on the season. They have a commanding lead in the American League East. Let’s get right to the takeaways.
1. A Frustrating Start for Tanaka: That was an extremely 2019 Masahiro Tanaka start, wasn’t it? He looked pretty good for a while (60 of his 92 pitches, or 65%, went for strikes) and he limited the damage despite allowing some hits in the early innings. He did throw some nice splitters in the early going, too, right on cue. Overall, though, that was not the step forward we wanted to see. Here’s how his pitch did tonight: 22 pitches (2nd most thrown pitch), 12 strikes, 11 swings, 2 whiffs. That’s only an 18% whiff-per-swing rate, which is about half of where he was in his last start. Oh well.
In any event, much like it has gone with Tanaka for a while now, once everything unraveled, it was impossible to stop. That’s not unusual. Check out his splits throughout games in 2019, with his career in parentheses:
1st time through the order: .255/.294/.348 (.236/.276/.381)
2nd time through the order: .222/.275/.438 (.240/.288/.421)
3rd time through the order: .312/.363/.616 (.251/.288/.461)
So, as is expected, batters have historically fared better against Tanaka the more they’ve seen him throughout his career, but yeesh, nothing like 2019. That is a stark, stark difference. Batters have a .979 OPS against Tanaka the 3rd time through the order! Good grief, that is bad. Capital-B Bad. Those numbers are only going to get worse once they update with tonight, too. Check it out.
Tanaka took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the 5th inning, which was led off by Renato Nunez. Here’s what happened after that:
Renato Nunez double
Jace Peterson home run
Hanser Alberto single
Chance Sisco double
Chris Davis sac fly
Tanaka replaced by Tommy Kahnle
Were any of those cheap, you might ask yourself. No. No, they were not. Here is that same list, put differently:
Yikes! That is not what you want. A rare home run off Tommy Kahnle two batters later would tie the game. Not what you want, folks. Not what you want. It was looking like Tanaka would tough it through not his best night. It did not end up that way. There’s always next time, Masahiro.
2. Please Extend Didi Gregorius: I have been very fortunate to root for some truly incredible Yankees during my fandom. Seriously. There have been absolute studs donning the pinstripes basically my entire life. My fiancée and named our cat after one of them! And yet, here I am, in 2019, struggling to think of Yankees I have loved more than Didi Gregorius. There are candidates, obviously, but my goodness is the man lovable, easy to root for, and, of course, extremely talented.
Let’s start with the offense. In his last 50 at-bats, Gregorius is hitting .311/.360/.600 (144 wRC+) 8 extra-base hits (14 total), 15 RBI and exactly as many walks as strikeouts. He is putting that injury and the post-rehab rust all the way over there, thank you very much. Tonight, he went 1-4 with a single, which isn’t exactly something to write home about…
…but his defense sure was. Here is his throw on a perfect relay from Brett Gardner (more on him later):
Beautiful. Just beautiful right there. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, Didi saved another run at the plate that Austin Romine tried his damn near hardest to give away (yes, Didi should have just tagged him out at 2nd but this is a Didi Appreciation Takeaway so we’ll leave take for my Twitter):
My man. I wish we had the Statcast numbers on those throws. But yeah. In other words, this is all a very wordy way of saying to the Yankees: extend Didi Gregorius. Please.
3. LOL Mike Tauchman: What more can you say about the dude? I basically said everything I have to say about Tauchman a few weeks ago when I explored him in-depth, but I mean. This is just getting ridiculous now. The Sock Man is now hitting .294/.368/.541 (138 wRC+) with 9 HR in 190 plate appearances with New York. He plays great defense, too. What the hell?
He hit two home runs tonight, because of course he did. Here’s the first one, which was his first road home run and also has a cool thumbnail of Brett Gardner:
And here is the second home run, which extended the Yankee lead to 3:
Every time I say “wow Mike Tauchman came out of nowhere” someone says this to me “but he was good with Colorado!” That’s kind of true. He had good Triple-A stats in 2017 and 2018 but was horrible in the Majors. I think we can all recognize how absurd it is that Mike Tauchman has been 40% better than the average MLB player in 2019, though, no matter where you stood on him. What a ride the 2019 Yanks are.
4. Brett Gardner For How Long? Forever: Finally, let’s just appreciate ol’ Brett Gardner, why don’t we? Our guy is hitting .253/.332/.473 (110 wRC+) on the season, which is pretty damn great! That’s about everything you could reasonably assume Brett Gardner could do in his best case 2019. Tonight, he went 3-4 with a home run and 3 runs scored. Here is the video of the home run:
Love it. He also added two singles to his line, and he just continues to rake. The longest-tenured Yankee is doing his part on a revolving door team in 2019, and his performance is a lot to do with why the Yanks sit among the very best teams in the league.
But he also performs on defense, too. You saw the relay above, but I want to highlight this play:
Gardy had to really hustle to get that one, traveling over 74 feet to get it, per the YES broadcast. He traveled 28.7 feet per second. That was not a guaranteed catch, and while Kahnle gave up the tying run, Gardy saved it right there. That would have probably made it 6-5 with the tying run on 2nd, but instead, it was one out and a guy on second with a 6-4 lead. In baseball, that can really, really matter, even if it didn’t tonight. As River Ave Blues used to say: Brett Gardner Forever.
Breyvic Valera, Because Why Not: It is 2019, which means that an unheralded Yankee had to step up in a big way. Tonight it was Breyvic Valera, he of .328/.402/.532 in Triple-A fame, because of course it was. The former Oriole, who hit his first career triple against the Yankees in the Bronx last year, came up to bat with the score knotted up at 1 in the 5th after Gardner and Tauchman both singled. Breyvic ripped a triple down the line, and 2 runs would score. The Yankees now had the lead. Check out the video:
A Rare Mistake From Judge, Who Picked Himself Up: You know, I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but so what: Aaron Judge’s defense is really underrated. The man does so much more than just hit home runs…which is exactly why it was so weird to watch him haphazardly go after a weak Jonathan Villar single in the bottom of the 5th. His lazy play and throw in allowed Villar to take 2nd. Now, let’s be clear: when I say lazy, I really just mean routine. And to Villar’s credit, he really, really hustled and took 2nd. He took advantage every bit as much as Judge was complacent. Still, it was weird to see Judge involved in a play like that, so to cancel it out, he made a spectacular play two batters later because he’s Aaron Judge. Here’s the video:
Ruocco with Yankee Positioning Insight: Ryan Ruocco, who is mercifully back calling Yankee games, had a really interesting insight during the bottom of the 5th (I think). He mentioned to Ken Singleton–seriously, can every Yankee game be called by Singleton and Ruocco??– that he spoke to Mike Tauchman the other day about the Yankee defensive positioning, which Tauchman called “freaky.” This is just another example of the Yankees analytics department doing the damn job. Defensive positioning is a critical component of preventing runs from scoring–as beneficial as scoring them!–so it is nice to hear players rave about it like this. It’s a good sign.
Tommy Kahnle Struggles: Wow did I not expect to see Tommy Kahnle give up a massive game-tying, 2-run home run tonight. He looked so good, and of course, he’s been so good in 2019 overall. He gave up the home run. Whatever. It happens. The Yankees won. I’m only putting this in here because I feel like I have to. Still love ya, Tommy.
Rakin’ Romine Goes Yard: In addition to playing some atrocious defense, Austin Romine hit a home run. Here is the video, in case you need to see it to believe it:
Built Ford Tough: Mike Ford, obviously, had the go-ahead home run tonight. Who else would it have been? One of the Yankees’ All-Stars? Of course not! It’s 2019, folks. Here’s the home run, which came in the top of the 8th and put the Yankees up for good:
A Cycle for Baltimore: Jonathan Villar hit for the cycle! Aaron Judge’s aforementioned lazy play helped, but that’s a cool accomplishment. Good for you, Jonathan. It’s only the 5th time in Orioles history that this has happened, which is nuts. Pretty cool, since the Yankees still won.
The Yankees will take on the Orioles for the second game of this three-game set. The Yankees haven’t announced their starter yet (hello Chad Green) but he will take on Asher Wojciechowski (2-4, 4.15 ERA). The game will begin at 7:05 pm in Baltimore. You can catch it on YES and/or WFAN, as usual. Enjoy your night, everyone. Things are good in Yankeeland right now.