My word do the Yankees stink right now. Another loss last night dropped them to 6-11 on the season. To put that another, somehow even bleaker way: over a full season, that’s a 57 win pace. It is their worst start to a season since 1991, when they finished 71-91. To say it’s not fun to watch the Yankees right now is an understatement.
Now, it must be annoying to hear me say “it’s early” or “don’t react emotionally to April baseball” every time I fire up the ol’ WordPress or Twitter apps. I get it. It’s still true, of course, but I get it. So I’m here to make a confession: the Yankees are infuriating right now, specifically the offense. It is exhausting. I am exhausted. Night after night, they look lifeless at the plate. Seventeen games does not a season make, but it is certainly longer than I, or anyone else, expected to see the team completely fall flat on its face offensively.
There are plenty of numbers to back this up. As a team, the Yankees are hitting just .205/.296/.334 (83 wRC+). That ranks them 28th in baseball, ahead of just Baltimore and Colorado, and just behind Milwaukee and Detroit. Amazingly, they have negative fWAR (-0.1), which is better than just Detroit. Through 17 games, they’ve scored just 59 runs, 28th in the league. That’s 3.47 runs per game.
It’s all being driven by a complete evaporation of their marquee strength: their power. It’s honestly pretty baffling. Here are some statistics in which the Yankees rank in the bottom 10 of the league, for context:
- Hard Hit Rate: 37.8% (21st)
- Exit Velocity: 88.7 mph (22nd)
- Isolated Power: .129 (27th)
- wOBA: .284 (29th)
- Extra Base Hits: 37 (29th)
- Slugging: .334 (30th)
That is wild. It really is. Now, I know hitting is down league-wide this year – collectively, teams are hitting just .233/.312/.391 – but this level of “production” from the Yankees is still borderline incomprehensible. Who could have ever predicted that the lineup would be fully healthy for the first 17 games of the season and every hitter would be mired in a completely lifeless slump? Baseball is a bizarre, bizarre sport.
If there is a bright side to all of this, it’s that the team’s walk rate remains high (10.9%, 4th in the league) and discipline is good (they’re a top 10 team in chase rate). They’re middling when it comes to swinging at strikes (17th). They could be more aggressive, sure, but that really hasn’t been their big problem. Their biggest issue is that they’re simply not doing anything at all with the strikes they do see.
I think we all remember this from the weekend’s stinker against Tampa Bay, right? Remember this?
How could you not? This, unfortunately, is not an anomaly. The Yankees have done zero damage on pitches in the zone at all this season. Overall, the Yanks are hitting just .238/.243/.393 on strikes. (League average is .269/.271/.469.) Their 81.1% contact rate when swinging at pitches in the zone is 25th in the league. The team’s .274 wOBA on strikes is dead last in baseball, considerably below the .315 league average, as is their .393 slugging percentage on such pitches.
Overall, the team is rolling over these pitches and hitting them into the ground. Look at their spray chart on strikes:
That is a good recipe for grounding into an incredible amount of double plays, is it not? The Yankees are getting strikes to hit, but they’re not doing anything with them at all. It is true across the board. In fact, the Yankees only home run against a pitch faster than 95-miles-per-hour in 2021 came off the bat of Kyle Higashioka. Yes, you read that correctly.
That about sums it up, I’d say. Taken together, this can help explain why the Yankees are not hitting for power. Pitches in the zone are the damage pitches, and the Yankees are just missing them. As for why that is happening, I have absolutely zero idea. It’s not like these guys just woke up and forgot how to hit strikes. It seems like one of those weird baseball trends, but yeesh is it frustrating.
Alright, so what to make of all of this? Most fans are incredibly frustrated and it’s easy to see why. The Yankees are horrible right now. But while the Yanks could use some more length from their starters, or Boone could use the bullpen a bit more strategically, the stats laid out above are the root cause of the problem. Coming into the season, we knew that Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber would likely need to shake off some rest, and we knew they’d need to build up their strength. We also knew that the same was probably true for Domingo Germán.
The Yankees’ gamble, which was and remains reasonable, was that the offense would hit enough to paper over those early-season concerns as they built up their strength. That has not happened. If anything, they’ve given the rotation, bullpen, and manager absolutely on margin for error on a given night. Personally, I don’t think it can or will last. This is an incredible slump from top-to-bottom. It would be bad during the middle of the season, of course, but it’s significantly worse at the start. I’m sure it will turn around. It almost has to. Until it does, though, the 2021 Yankees will remain as frustrating a Yankees team as any in recent memory.