Top 10: Keys to early season success for the Yankees

We've finally arrived. Opening Day is upon us.  It's coming a week later than expected. The team doesn't look the way we expected them to when the offseason began six long months ago.  But here we are.  The Yankees chose not to make any of the marquee acquisitions Twitter lost their mind over all Winter, but at the end of the day they plugged some holes, and bring a much more versatile and athletic club into the 2022 season.  Did they do enough to dethrone the likes of Boston or Tampa or keep the quickly ascending Toronto Blue Jays at bay? Only time will tell.  In "The Late Show with David Letterman" fashion, here are our Top 10 factors to the Yankees getting off to a fast start.
Photo Credit: Adam Hunger/Associated Press


10.      Playing strong defense

It’s no shock that the New York Yankees were a defensive nightmare at times during the 2021 season and they made a point of addressing those issues in the offseason.  According to FieldingBible.com, the Yankees ranked second to last in all of Major League Baseball in 2021 with -41 team defensive runs saved. Only the Phillies had a worse rating. Blech.

The efforts to correct this started when the Yankees converted Gleyber Torres back to second base late in September of last year, which allowed them to focus on improving their shortstop defense this offseason.  While they chose not to cast their net into the deep shortstop free agent pool, they did acquire 2020 gold glover Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson in a trade with Minnesota, retained defensive first base stalwart Anthony Rizzo in free agency, and acquired pitch-framing wiz back-up catcher Jose Trevino from Texas.  The New York defense figures to be much improved in 2022.

 

9.        Better baserunning

Another huge Achilles heel of the 2021 squad was their inept baserunning.  The Yankees were among the league leaders in a few categories no team ever wants to lead the league in, including outs on the bases at home (22, most in MLB), outs on the bases at third (12, fifth most), extra base taken % (36%, tied for third lowest) and run scoring percentage (28%, tied for lowest).  The Yankees added some athleticism in acquiring guys like Kiner-Falefa, trading away poor runners such as Luke Voit, Gio Urshela & Gary Sanchez, and getting back a healthy (fingers crossed) Aaron Hicks.  It would be hard for the team to have a worse baserunning season than they did in 2021, but they are positioned to not just be improved, but be much improved, in 2022.

 


8.        Joey Gallo, are you there?

There’s no other way to put it than this: Joey Gallo’s first season in pinstripes was nothing but an unmitigated disaster.  In 58 games with the Yankees, Gallo slashed an unsightly .160/.303/.404 with 88 strikeouts in just 188 at bats.  He also came in with a reputation as an elite defender but struggled on multiple occasions to field simple pop ups or fly balls.  I don’t see a world in which Gallo is worse in 2022 than he was for us in 2021, so there’s a lot of upside his bat and glove can provide this team in his first full season in the Bronx.

 

7.         DJ LeMahieu back at full strength

DJ inexplicably struggled all of 2021, posting his worst season in New York by a wide margin.  We found out after the season, however, that he was dealing with a sports hernia in his core that required offseason surgery.  By all accounts, DJ has looked like his 2019-20 self again this Spring.  Aaron Boone plans to bat Josh Donaldson in the leadoff spot to start the year, meaning DJ will find himself smack dab in the middle of the lineup in a high-volume RBI spot.  He could be primed for another huge season.  Many of DJ's periphals (ground ball %, line drive %, barrel %, hard-hit % etc.) were in-line with his much more successful 2019 and 2020 campaigns, so it's possible he was just a victim of some bad luck last year (.349 BABIP in 2019, .370 BABIP in 2020, .301 BABIP in 2021). 

 

6.        Continued strength from the bullpen

The New York bullpen has been a stout unit for the past decade plus, and this year’s squad figures to be no different.  Despite being without Zack Britton for the majority of – if not all of – the season as he recovers from Tommy John Surgery, the Yankees are still loaded in the ‘pen, with long-term fixtures Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green joined by breakout star Jonathan Loaisiga, 2021 acquisitions Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes & Lucas Luetge, and up and comers Mike King and Clarke Schmidt. The Yankees also added hard-throwing Miguel Castro just last week.  There’s a lot of depth and a lot of experience in this unit.  One that can help shorten games for Aaron Boone and the starters all year long.

 

5.        Aaron Hicks renaissance

Aaron Hicks, following breakout years in 2017 and 2018, has been more of a non-factor in the years since.  The Yankees thought they were locking up a high-ceiling centerfield fixture when they signed Hicks to a seven year, $70 million extension ahead of the 2019 season, but so far he has done nothing to live up to that contract.  At his best, he’s a gold glover in center, and a patient switch hitter who can work counts and draw walks with occasional pop at the plate.  But at his worst, he’s an oft-injured offensive liability who struggles to do anything from the left side of the plate.  The ship may have sailed on him hitting his ceiling again, but it’s critical he raises his floor and stays healthy for the Yankees in 2022.  They have the outfield depth to work around him if he struggles, or finds himself on the IL once again, but they are better off when he’s excelling in an everyday role.

 

4.        A more balanced lineup

Over the past few seasons, the Yankees have been stuck in a rut of being wildly too right-handed on the offensive side of the ball.  It worked out well for them in 2019 – getting breakout performances from Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela & Luke Voit, but it all came crashing back to Earth last year.  The Yankees were an utter bore offensively for most of the season, despite the successes of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton (more on them later), and it necessitated trade deadline acquisitions of lefties Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo.  In addition to being overly right-handed, the Yankees struck out on a high rate, and hit into entirely too many double-plays.

As a result, the Yankees continued to focus on balance and general hitting ability in the offseason, acquiring higher contact hitters like Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson, trading away Gary Sanchez and handing the everyday catching role to Kyle Higashioka, and adding an intriguing depth piece in switch-hitting Marwin Gonzalez who made the Opening Day roster.  The aim is to be more than just a HR-or-bust team in 2022, and they just might have the pieces in place to achieve that goal.

 


3.        Towers of Power

Sure, a HR-or-bust mentality can get you into a lot of trouble, but that’s not to say that home runs aren’t still a load of fun.  And the Yankees have two behemoths in the middle of their order who punish baseballs unlike many others across the league.  Both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton put together healthy campaigns in 2021 and dragged the sorry New York offense to a Wild Card appearance in the process.  This year, with a better supporting cast, they could be primed for truly dominant seasons with massive numbers on the horizon.  Health will always be the biggest concern for Judge and Stanton, but provided they are able to each play another 130+ games this year, there’s no reason both can’t hit the 40 HR, 100 RBI thresholds. Please and thank you.

 

2.        Aaron Boone’s maturity as a manager

As one of Aaron Boone’s biggest critics over the past year, I realize how important his role in getting this team to the promised land is.  Sure, he’s not throwing the ball on the mound, stepping into the batter’s box, or making the plays in the field, but he’s the leader of this clubhouse and he’s had a general malaise and kumbaya attitude about him in the face of adversity in recent years, and I truly believe the team has taken on that same character when they fell on hard times.  By no means am I asking for a piss-everyone-in-the-clubhouse-off type demeaner that Joe Girardi carried for a decade, but I would love to see Boone show a little more fire and manage each night like it matters.  That means getting on the team when they play sloppy or make mistakes, and it means no weekly throwaway games.

In Boone’s defense, he hasn’t been handed the most versatile and athletic teams in recent years, and that’s something I think he has the luxury of this year.  He’s improved at managing the bullpen as the years go on, and I think he’s finally at a point where he’s tired of falling short, so there will be a higher urgency to get things done this year.  Boone’s ascension to a true clubhouse leader might just go hand in hand with this team taking the next step that’s eluded them in recent years.

 

1.         Gerrit Cole being that dude

Is this really a shock to anyone at #1?  More than anything else surrounding this team, the success of our ace, the $324 million man, Gerrit Alan Cole will determine the direction of this team this year.  The biggest concern with Cole will be how does he respond in the post-sticky stuff era, but let us not forget that he still finished second in AL Cy Young voting last year even after the midseason crack down.  He battled a hamstring injury all of September, and despite whatever he’d tell you about how he was feeling the night of the Wild Card Game in Boston, it was absolutely a factor in his poor outing. Assuming he's back to full strength to start the season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be back to his usual dominant self.  And as the ace of any successful team goes, so follows the team.  With Cole having another Cy Young caliber season and taking the ball every fifth day, the Yankees would be well positioned for another successful season that takes them deep into October. 


The first step in the long journey begins Friday afternoon in the Bronx.


Article by: Andrew Natalizio

 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Introducing Bronx Bomber Bets: BBBets 9/23

Opinion: The Yankees missed an opportunity to move on from a manager that has not improved enough

A third baseball team in NY?