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:
- Giancarlo Stanton, +1.62
- Brett Gardner, +0.91
- Aaron Judge, +0.71
- Tyler Wade, +0.70
- Luke Voit, +0.64
- Joey Gallo, +0.49
- Gleyber Torres, +0.24
- DJ LeMahieu, +0.17
- Andrew Velazquez, +0.12
- Albert Abreu, +0.96
- Wandy Peralta, +0.92
- Jonathan Loaisiga, +0.81
- Luis Gil, +0.69
- Gerrit Cole, +0.54
- Jameson Taillon, +0.29
- Nestor Cortes, +0.21
- Aroldis Chapman, +0.16
- Jordan Montgomery, +0.13
- Chad Green, +0.13
- Joely Rodriguez, +0.08
- 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.Embed from Getty Images
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.