The trade deadline helped, but that’s not the driving factor in the Yankees’ resurgence

It took more than half the season, but the Yankees finally look like the team we had expected to see before the regular season began. They’re 32-13 since July, which is the best record in the majors in that span, but have played their best ball this month (18-4 and a current 10-game winning streak). As a result, the top Wild Card spot is theirs to lose and the division is still a possibility.

If on June 30th, when the Yankees ended the day 41-39 and 5.5 games out of a postseason spot, you told me that they’d go 18-4 in August, I’d have assumed that they were playing inspired baseball thanks to an aggressive trade deadline. And indeed, the Yankees made a lot of moves at the deadline by acquiring Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo, and Andrew Heaney, but none of those three are actually the driving force behind the team’s ascension. Take a look:

  • Joey Gallo: .148/.310/.358 (88 wRC+) in 100 PA
  • Anthony Rizzo: .217/.333/.413, 107 wRC+ in 57 PA
  • Andrew Heaney: 6.55 ERA/7.22 FIP in 22 IP

Granted, all three of these guys have had their moments. Rizzo had a huge series in Miami, Gallo has made some stellar defense plays and hit a couple of clutch homers, and Heaney had that one terrific start against Boston. Still, it’s actually the incumbent Yankees who’ve helped turn things around the most.

Take a look at this month’s Win Probability Added leaderboard for the Bombers:

Position Players

  1. Giancarlo Stanton, +1.62
  2. Brett Gardner, +0.91
  3. Aaron Judge, +0.71
  4. Tyler Wade, +0.70
  5. Luke Voit, +0.64
  6. Joey Gallo, +0.49
  7. Gleyber Torres, +0.24
  8. DJ LeMahieu, +0.17
  9. Andrew Velazquez, +0.12

Pitchers

  1. Albert Abreu, +0.96
  2. Wandy Peralta, +0.92
  3. Jonathan Loaisiga, +0.81
  4. Luis Gil, +0.69
  5. Gerrit Cole, +0.54
  6. Jameson Taillon, +0.29
  7. Nestor Cortes, +0.21
  8. Aroldis Chapman, +0.16
  9. Jordan Montgomery, +0.13
  10. Chad Green, +0.13
  11. Joely Rodriguez, +0.08
  12. Clay Holmes, +0.01

Some of the usual suspects are near the top of this list. Stanton (181 wRC+), Judge (155 wRC+), and Voit (173 wRC+) are carrying the offense, just like we had anticipated back in spring training. Loaisiga is arguably the best reliever in baseball. Taillon’s mid-June resurgence has continued. Cole has been Cole when not sidelined with COVID-19. Ultimately, all of these guys were expected to be key cogs on this club. Meanwhile, some of the biggest contributions have come from places no one anticipated.

Brett Gardner looked absolutely toast for most of this season. He had a .188/.305/.294 (72 wRC+) in the mid-July and was playing too much, partly because Aaron Hicks is out for the season. And then, Judge hit the COVID-19 IL in mid-July, forcing Gardner to continue playing everyday. So of course, the old Gardy is back, hitting .278/.392/.405 (125 wRC+) in his last 98 PA, and even better in the month of August alone: .300/.419/.420 (139 wRC+).

Then there’s Wade, who inexplicably has a .441/.525/.559 (206 wRC+) this month and is 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts. He played a big part in the Yankees winning that series against the Royals in Kansas City, and has done a fine job filling in wherever there’s an opening. Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres have been sidelined for a while now, and Wade has helped plugged those holes. And we can’t ignore Velazquez, although low on the WPA leaderboard above, who has held his own at short.

On the pitching side, Luis Gil is the first guy to come to mind as a surprise hero. 15.2 shutout innings will do that, especially with the likes of Cole and Montgomery sidelined with COVID-19 earlier this month. Gil’s one of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects, but I don’t think anyone anticipated this type of immediate dividend at the major league level. He was struggling in Triple-A, after all.

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As much of a surprise that Gil was in his three starts, Cortes has been an even bigger one. And it’s not just his recent strong run — it’s been all season — though a 3.14 ERA since joining the starting five in late July has been a huge boon.

Last but not least, Abreu and Peralta have been lifesavers in the ‘pen. Zack Britton’s had a lost season, Aroldis Chapman has been an enigma, and even Chad Green has taken his lumps of late. Meanwhile, Peralta has a 0.00 ERA in 11.1 innings this month (one unearned run allowed, though). Abreu has a 1.64 ERA in 11 frames and a pivotal save against the White Sox too.

Anyway, I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with all of this other than to share my appreciation for a few of the previously unheralded guys on the roster. The Yankees have needed every contribution they’ve gotten from them.

At the same time, I also want to emphasize that importance of the team’s pre-existing stars performing too. As much as Gallo and Rizzo can help, this season was never going to turn around without the likes of Judge, Stanton, and Voit clicking. Additionally, just because Gallo and Rizzo haven’t performed up to the back of their baseball cards doesn’t mean they haven’t helped. Gallo and Rizzo will pick things up in the near-term — they’re too good not to — but just their presence alone has made an impact. Obviously, the lineup is deeper and tougher to pitch to whether or not they’re struggling.

Ultimately, everyone deserves some credit for the team’s turnaround. The stars from the Opening Day roster are now living up to or beating expectations, the organization’s depth is chipping in, and the front office went for it at the deadline. There’s still plenty of season to go, but the Yankees are in far better position than they were just a couple of months ago, and it’s been a top-to-bottom organizational effort to get here.

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9 Comments

  1. The Yankees are winning now for one reason and one reason only-they are playing winning baseball, which means doing the little things (defense, steals, moving the runner, working the count when appropriate, solid pitching). This allows the big things (the long ball) to actually mean something over the course of the game.

    I don’t know who decided that playing a slow pitch softball style game was the way to win but it has never been true and continues to not be true now. If you take advantage of the small things and it gives you a run or two every game it makes an enormous difference over time.

    The two best teams I’ve ever seen in my lifetime are the ’61 and ’98 Yankees, in spite of the power of the ’61 team they played excellent defense, the Mick would occasionally beat out a bunt or steal a base in between he and Maris going yard, and they won everything in spite of only having one stand out starting pitcher (The Chairman of the Board, of course)-I doubt anyone on this board could name any other starters that year (except possibly Ralph Terry) without checking Baseball Reference.

    As for the ’98 team, they just refused to lose a game, ever, whatever it took was OK, and that is the way the current team is approaching each game now.

    • Brian

      That first paragraph was a very John Madden statement. They are winning because they are scoring more runs than the other team! Expert analysis there.

  2. MikeD

    I’d like to read the article, but the new DraftKing video advertising is a bit overpowering.

    • Brian

      I actually emailed them about it and they are trying to have some income to offset the cost of the site. I guess I don’t know how much a blog costs to run.

  3. Yes correlation does not equal causation, but your analysis is oversimplified. You do touch on that both Rizzo and Gallo were special enough (at different points), however that helped win those games. You just need “enough” guys to contribute to on particular win, although that does not mean consistency. Having a more balance left/right lineup changes things dramatically, especially at the top of the order. David Cone mentioned this, as well, pitcher think ahead and having different types of batters means the pitcher “has to move their feet”, instead of the batter. It might be an interesting analytics exercise to see if the pitches and location thrown to the Stanton, Judge, et al, has changed before and after.
    Philosophy has changed as well, the Yankees are now first in steals since the all-Star break, whereas they were dead last. Giancarlo’s rise in contribution and consistency parallels his playing the OF more. So how they are playing the game, affects “how well” (results) they are playing the game.

  4. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    Yeah, it’s been more the pitching and guys we already had, Derek. Rizzo sure turned into a pumpkin quick. Gallo does nothing but strike out 4 times a game. And I thought Stanton struck out a lot. They have given us threats from the left side which makes the opposing manager and pitcher change their ways so in that regard it’s been a success. Heaney had one great start and I fully expect him to bomb tonight. Stanton playing the OF has helped his offense. The notion that he couldn’t stand out there for 6-7 innings and catch a ball was always absurd. Last night he just flicked his wrists and boom. Amazing that he doesn’t even really use his legs. Voit needs to be playing every day and Rizzo needs to sit tonight. Good thing Cash didn’t cater to the masses and trade Voit. We need him. And we need to find a way to keep Wade’s bat in the lineup when Urshela returns. Velasquez too. Maybe Wade and Velezquez can platoon at SS. Put Gleyber in a bench role until we can trade him in the offseason. Peralta and Abreu have been unsung heroes in the pen. Loisaga is Mariano 2.0. This is why you don’t pay $40 million a year for two relievers, a headcase in Chapman and a battered and broken Britton. And that was on top of the money they gave Crappavino and O’day. What a waste.

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