With the Yankees reaching the All-Star break, we’ll evaluate the team thus far, position by position, before play resumes. I started with the rotation and yesterday covered the catchers and DHs. Now, let’s get to the infield:
The Yankees’ infield has anchored the team this season. You could say the bullpen and I wouldn’t argue much. However, the combination of DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela and, now that he’s healthy, Didi Gregorius goes toe-to-toe with the league’s best infields. The first four had legit cases for the All-Star Game and Didi could in a full season.
Let’s kick it off with the team MVP:
DJ LeMahieu: A+
Y’all already know. DJ LeMahieu has been one of the best hitters in the American League and holds the edge in the batting title race at the break. He’s hitting a crisp .462 with runners in scoring position and had seven hits in the London Series alone. French for The Mahieu, or The Machine. It’s all the same. He’s been wonderful in pinstripes.
His first two games against Baltimore showed the potential of all he could do. It’s laughable to think that he sat out Opening Day, then had four hits, a double, some sterling plays at third base (not his natural position) and saw a ton of pitches. I remember thinking about whether he could actually handle third base and he immediately made a diving stop.
His two-year $24 million deal has been the steal of the offseason, particularly when you remember that the Rays were likely about to sign him. He’s been the Yankees’ most valuable player, has anchored their infield defense and done everything the team could ask for.
Luke Voit: A
There was a somewhat real debate before the season: Luke Voit, Greg Bird or outside help, who would win first base? Voit left no doubt with stellar Spring Training and even better Opening Day, when he homered in his first at-bat and never looked back at Bird.
He started the season by extending his on-base streak to 42 games, a constant amid the ever-changing Yankees lineup due to injury. With Judge out, Voit held down the No. 2 spot in the lineup and has batted .280/.393/.509 with 17 home runs, cementing himself as a top-end first baseman at the plate.
Voit walks 14 percent of the time, up even from his second-half surge in 2018. He’s cut down on his strikeouts slightly, though he’s swung and missed more on pitches out of the zone.
Defensive metrics have not been kind to him as he’s a -4.0 UZR with -6 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Still, with his batting, the Yankees will take it.
One curiosity on my end: It always seems like he gets pitches up and in. He only has six HBP this season and the zone breakdowns don’t back it up. Maybe it’s just his reaction — falling over and/or getting angry — that creates the perception.
Gleyber Torres: A-
Torres might have been handed the toughest task in the first half; He had to move to shortstop in the interim (once Troy Tulowitzki was injured) and then surrender the position back to Didi Gregorius right away. Torres hasn’t missed a beat.
In fact, he’s been a better fielder all around, ranking better by most metrics at both second and short. That’s not easy, particularly for a second-year player who made plenty of rookie mistakes in the field a year ago. He’s generally seemed more comfortable and, in cliched baseball parlance, let the game come to him. Now he gets to move back to second base, where he could spend a good decade or so.
On offense, Torres was slow out of the gate as he was thrust into the middle of the order. The 22-year-old appeared to be trying to do too much and was able to relax when the lineup received more reinforcements, taking off with a 151 wRC+ in May and 171 wRC+ in June.
All games count the same, but Torres has really made the Orioles hurt. Though he’s hit well enough outside Baltimore, he’s crushed 10 of his 19 homers against the O’s with seven dingers and a .522 batting average at Camden Yards in seven games. Let’s see those numbers against the Rays and Sox next!
Gio Urshela: A
No one saw this coming.
How in the heck did Urshela become one of the Yankees’ key contributors in the first half? I truly can’t explain it in full, whether it’s simply the opportunity, his change in batting stance and swing or just plain dumb luck. It’s been a blast though.
With Miguel Andujar on the shelf, Urshela simply would have made up for Miggy’s value by playing a steady third base, something Andujar failed to do. Urshela has a highlight reel of plays, yet he’s held back by a lack of range and the occasional error. Still, he’s more or less an average third baseman compared to Andujar’s dreadful season in the field.
However, Urshela has been a godsend at the plate. He batted .330 well into May and holds a .304/.355/.469 line with seven home runs at the break. He had just eight homers in his career to this point. It doesn’t hurt that he has a flair for the dramatic.
Though his offense has stagnated some, he’s one of the better bench players in baseball once Voit is off the IL. He puts the ball in play at a high clip and will figure to start plenty of games the rest of the way.
Didi Gregorius: B-
Through 22 games, Gregorius is still finding his footing at the plate. His power is mostly there but he has walked just thrice in 94 PAs. Sir Didi has never been much of a walker to begin with, but under two percent is low even for him.
He debuted in early June after undergoing Tommy John surgery following the 2018 ALDS. Gregorius was a quick healer, getting through the rehab process quickly and back into the Majors in eight months.
Though he appears about the same in the field, UZR hates him in a small sample (-14.4 UZR/150), though DRS has him at a more average -1 runs. He found a way to make highlight plays on the turf in London, when the field was eating up most other infielders.
We haven’t yet seen the Didi of old. Only glimpses. A second-half return to normalcy would help take the Yankee offense up another level yet.
Miguel Andujar, Troy Tulowitzki and Greg Bird: Incomplete
Remember when Andujar, Tulowitzki and Bird all started on Opening Day? LeMahieu was on the bench, Gregorius was hurt and Urshela was in Triple-A, a complete afterthought.
All three of these guys had curious resumes going into the year: Could Miggy replicate his rookie season while achieving competency defensively? Could either Tulo or Bird actually stay on the field, let alone produce with the bat?
The answer to those questions, unfortunately, was no. Andujar injured his shoulder diving back into third in the season’s third game and wasn’t the same in a brief return before surgery. There’s no return in sight for either Tulowitzki or Bird as they sit on the 60-day IL.
You’d be foolish to have expected much from the latter two, but this injury is entirely disappointing for Andujar. When he comes back he’ll have the road blocks of LeMahieu and Urshela, let alone his own defensive efficiencies. This blog wishes all three the best in their arduous rehab.
If you’re worried that I forgot about Thairo Estrada, Mike Ford and others, don’t worry, they’ll be subject to another post. #SummerofThairo continues.