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Thoughts ahead of today’s rubber game against Toronto

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Happy hump day, folks. The Yankees are 5-6 as of this writing, and while that’s a less than ideal start to the season, it’s important to emphasize that there are still 151 games remaining on the slate. I’m not sure what the cause is, but it feels like everyone is hyper-focused and scrutinizing each and every pitch so far unlike any season prior. Perhaps that’s because people are more focused on baseball after 2020’s general awfulness. Nonetheless, as the old saying goes: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. So with that, I have some thoughts on the Bombers thus far.

The non-Cole starters need to do better finishing at-bats. Not everyone can be Gerrit Cole, obviously, but the rest of the Yankees’ rotation has had a lot of trouble putting away hitters when they get to two strikes. We saw it last night with Jameson Taillon, namely in his second inning. He wound up plunking a batter and walking another after getting to a couple of favorable two strike counts. Unfortunately, that’s been a theme for the Yankees’ starters thus far, other than the ace of course. Some numbers to chew on:

OBPK-Rate (%)
MLB.23345.0
NYY.26552.6
NYY excl. Cole.29744.5
SP in two strike counts.
OBPK-Rate (%)
MLB.19439.9
NYY.24540.6
NYY excl. Cole.30533.3
SP ahead in the count.

Ugly, to say the least. It’s no wonder that the rotation hasn’t been able to offer much length so far this season. Can’t go deep into games if you’re unable to put away opponents in pitcher’s counts consistently. As I noted in last night’s recap, the team has gotten 5+ innings from its starters four times in eleven games. All of those came from Cole and Jordan Montgomery.

Now, it’s very early in the season and I’m not ready to hit the panic button on this rotation. A few reasons why I’m still confident:

  • Corey Kluber will not maintain a 15.2 percent walk rate. Admittedly, his command has not been good to date. But we’ve seen flashes, and his stuff looks fine. There’s still some rust to shake off here.
  • Jordan Montgomery is terrific at suppressing hard contact. I know his last start didn’t exemplify this, but I believe that was a blip. Monty owns a career hard hit rate of 31.5 percent, well below the league mark of 35.1.
  • Jameson Taillon’s stuff looks sharp. He’s dotting his fastball up in the zone and getting tons of whiffs. He had a difficult time honing his breaking balls last night, but the movement and spin on those offerings are still very good. I think we’ll see more of the performance he gave in his first outing, plus some more length as he builds up.
  • Deivi García is waiting in the wings and even though Domingo Germán had two terrible starts, I think he’s perfectly capable of being a better-than-your-typical fifth starter.

I’ve seen enough of Jay Bruce. Look, the veteran isn’t the heart of the Yankees’ offensive struggles, but he is a part of the problem right now. And unlike some players who are slumping (Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Clint Frazier), I’m not optimistic that Bruce is turning it around at this point. Bruce hasn’t hit for a few years now. The 34 year-old owns a .213/.281/.441 (90 wRC+) in 832 plate appearances since 2018. Yes, he’s shown good power (42 homers, .227 ISO), but is that enough to justify him on this roster?

Bruce’s 2021, via Statcast.

I might be a little more patient if Bruce was actually playing a decent first base. He’s not. It’s not necessarily his fault — he’s an outfielder by trade, after all — but the Yankees can’t keep running him out there if he continues to struggle to scoop throws in the dirt. I’m not saying he has to be a vacuum out there, but it’d be nice to see him save a couple of errors, at least. Yes, the throws should be better from the infielders, but still. Bruce just isn’t offering anything positive at the moment.

We’ve already seen Aaron Boone move away from Bruce in recent days, choosing to shift DJ LeMahieu to first base and start Rougned Odor at second. And while there are some reasons to think Odor’s talent can be unlocked, we can’t ignore that Odor owns a .214/.278/.416 (73 wRC+) batting line in his last 1,927 plate appearances. That’s a ton! More than twice as many opportunities as Bruce. Maybe the Yankees magically fix Odor, but there’s no certainty that he helps the lineup. On the bright side, Odor at second and LeMahieu at first improves the infield defense a tad.

All of this is to say: hurry back, Luke Voit. As quickly as your rehab allows.

The offense has had plenty of opportunities to strike, but the hitters just aren’t capitalizing. Here’s an interesting stat: 29 percent of the pitches the Yankees’ lineup have seen are while ahead of the count. 1-0, 3-1, 2-0 — you get the idea. That’s the fifth-highest percentage in MLB. Those are great situations to hit in, but of course, the problem has been execution at a broad level.

In these ahead of the count situations, the offense has a .412 wOBA and .406 xwOBA. Sounds decent on the precipice, but it’s not whatsoever. The league mark is .423 and .437 for wOBA and xwOBA when ahead of the count, respectively. In terms of rankings in these scenarios, the Yankees’ bats sit 17th and 26th in these metrics. Bad bad bad.

Another strange tidbit: the Yankees have done pretty well with runners aboard, but not with runners in scoring position. Take a look:

  • Men on-base: .277 BA, .364 OBP, .452 SLG 130 wRC+
  • Men in scoring: .225 BA, .347 OBP, .300 SLG 92 wRC+

The power output with runners on base could be better, more so with runners on second and/or third, but it’s not like the Bombers are automatic outs in these scenarios. The team’s done a decent enough job of not chasing bad pitches and passing the baton if need be, but when push comes to shove, the offense isn’t delivering.

I can guess what some of you are thinking now: the Yankees are too reliant on home runs, which is why they are scuffling to score runs. I’ll counter with: it’s not easy to string together a bunch of singles! Hell, you can see that the Yankees hitters are getting on-base at a fine clip in these scenarios. Would more base hits help? Obviously. But at the same time, power is pivotal in this day and age.

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I also guess that some folks are concerned about the Yankees’ propensity to strike out in these scenarios too. Well, that really has not been a problem whatsoever. The Bombers have the 7th-lowest strikeout rate with runners in scoring position this season. They’re putting the ball in play just fine, but again, the lack of pop is really the main culprit.

The lack of power has been a glaring issue for this team so far, period. Not just in the splits outlined above. The Yankees have hit just 11 home runs, putting them in the bottom-10 in the league. The club’s .133 ISO places bottom-5.

The offense will come around, that much I’m certain. Luke Voit’s eventual return will be a big help. Giancarlo Stanton isn’t going to only hit ground balls. Gleyber Torres (57 wRC+) and Clint Frazier (65 wRC+) are better than what we’ve seen so far. It’s annoying to watch the offense fail to deliver right now, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that the season is just 11 games old.

Even with the team’s slow start, there are plenty of positives. I’ve focused enough on things that have gone wrong for this team so far, so let’s close this out on a better note. I’ll respond to Matt’s tweet from early this morning:

  • Gary Sánchez looks great at the plate. I know, I know. Last night’s baserunning gaffe was inexcusable. But otherwise, the man’s at-bats have been terrific. He’s got a .267/.389/.500 (151 wRC+) in 36 plate appearances to date. Very small sample size, indeed, but I also think his approach has been strong. His 13.9 percent walk rate and 16.7 percent K-rate seem to support a good plan of attack. I’ll even point to his at-bat last night before he got picked off. Last year, I bet he expands the zone and gets himself out in that high leverage spot. Instead, he passed the baton and drew a walk yesterday.
  • Gerrit Cole is awesome. Guy’s got a 1.47 ERA in 18.1 innings to start the season. Oh, and he’s allowed just one dinger while punching out 41.4 percent of opponents. Need I say more?
  • The bullpen is ridiculously good, and the team doesn’t even have Zack Britton yet. The team’s pen owns a 1.84 ERA and 1.6 fWAR in 49 innings so far. Only San Diego’s bullpen (1.55) has a better ERA, but they trail the Yankees’ in the fWAR department by 0.7. Not only does the team have the big name relief aces, but its now getting breakouts from folks like Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson. You love to see it.
  • Most importantly, the team remains mostly healthy *knocks on wood*. There haven’t been any new injured list stints since the season began. Nice change of pace, huh?
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4 Comments

  1. I’ve watched most of the games so far, and frankly, with exception of Odor and Gardner, there does not seem to be any excitement, sense of ugency or joy in Yankee baseball.

    Boone the ever optimist, seems to not understand what is going on, the team does not look ready to play.

    Yes, the pitching is not good beyond the top two, but the general malize, to me is the most serious issue.

  2. S

    I know they have to wait until he’s eligible to return from the minors but I’d much rather see Mike Ford out there than Jay Bruce. Ford will give you like a 700 OPS and at least knows how to play first base. I’m really not sure why the Yankees chose Bruce over Ford in the first place.

    • Dani

      heck, I’d rather give Chris Gittens a chance before running Bruce out there almost every day. Gittens had a great ST and also has a full-ish year in AA under his belt already. If he doesn’t get a shot now he’ll never get one.

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