The New York Yankees had the most amazing start to a baseball season in their history but unfortunately, it wasn’t in the Wins column (although they didn’t too badly in that respect). Rather it was in terms of players heading to the (now renamed) injured list (IL). Let’s see what happened:
With the season scheduled to start on the 28th of March, the Yankees felt confident enough to reassign struggling outfielder, Clint Frazier to Scranton/Wilkes/Barre Railriders (Triple-A) on the 22nd – but then everything began to go wrong. Knowing that they would start the season with CC Sabathia suspended, and Jordan Montgomery on the 60-day injured list, the Yankees didn’t really need any more problems – but they got them and, oh boy, they got a lot. They were expected to start the season with infielder/outfielder Tyler Wade on the bench but a last-minute reversal of plan so them bring in Mike Tauchman from the Colorado Rockies and then their troubles mounted.
On opening they placed reliever, Dellin Betances on the IL. He was suffering a frustrating loss of pitching speed and effectiveness which was presumed to be caused by shoulder problems. Then Luis Severino went that way too with rotator cuff inflammation. Didi Gregorius was already unavailable as he continued to recuperate after surgery. and then here’s everybody else in list form:
Giancarlo Stanton – Left Biceps Strain (10-day list)
Miguel Andujar – Right Shoulder Strain (10-day list)
CC Sabathia – Rehabbing from surgery (10-day list)
Troy Tulowitzki – Left Calf Strain (10-day list)
Gary Sanchez – Left Calf Strain (10-day list)
Greg Bird – Left Plantar Fascia Tear (10-day list)
Clint Frazier – Left Ankle Sprain (10-day list)
Aaron Judge – Left Oblique Strain (10-day list)
In the same time bracket, Jacoby Ellsbury, Luis Severino and Didi Gregorius were moved from the 10-day IL to the 60-day injured list – mainly to make room for the excessive number of players who were being added to the 40 man roster to cover for the no longer walking wounded.
The very fact that Clint Frazier who had begun the season at Scranton is included in the list of those who were injured in April whilst playing for the New York team, shows just how many reassignments the Yankees had to make. Indeed, all the pre-season reassignments of players like Jonathan Loaisiga, Tyler Wade and Clint Frazier had to be reversed.
Let’s then take a look at the form of those offensive players who survived this plague of injuries:
|New York Yankees 2019 – Batting – Month – March and April|
While the Yankees were heading for a 5-8 Win-loss record over the first two weeks-plus of the season, it didn’t look as though there was going to be much of anything positive to report. But by the end of April, things were looking much rosier. The team had a 17-12 record and had risen to second in the division table. And some of this was down to the success of some of the players that the Yankees might have been tempted to give up on at the end of last season.
Chief amongst these was perhaps Gary Sanchez who whilst still not hitting for average had rediscovered his power stroke, giving him a team lead tying 8 home runs, despite as noted earlier spending the period between the 12th and 24th of April unavailable. Austin Romine‘s .244 batting average (BA) and injury cover call-up, Kyle Higashioka‘s .200 were about what previous samples of their hitting would have led you to expect but no worse and their defensive capabilities made up for some of Sanchez’s failings in that department.
A “normal” Yankees infield (if there is any such thing in this bizarre situation) would probably have consisted of a tandem of Luke Voit and Greg Bird sharing first base (1b) time, Gleyber Torres at second (2b), Didi Gregorius at shortstop (ss) and Miguel Andujar at third (3b). With the anticipated unavailability of Gregorius, the Yankees had brought in DJ LeMahieu from the Chicago Cubs with the intention of playing him at 2b some of the time while shifting Torres to ss. Also, they brought in Troy Tulowitzki, who last played for Toronto in 2017, as an all-purpose backup on the bench assuming on his return to full fitness. That at least was the plan.
Bird lasted 10 appearances before once again being injured. Tulowitzki managed only 5 games. Andujar survived for 3.
In the midst of all this though something amazing happened. If it wasn’t too much of a pun, I would be saying that all the other players and the replacements who arrived from the Railriders really stepped “up to the plate”! LeMahieu, one of the few who was actually expected to be in the line-up, hit .310 with 10 extra base hits. 3b Gio Urshela, who suddenly found himself as first choice in that position when he wasn’t even meant to be on the roster, gave the team .345 with 7 extra base hits with some very accomplished defensive work. Indeed, there was never much question about Urshela’s arm and glove but both Toronto and Cleveland had given up on him because of the weakness of his performance with the bat. Only time will tell if he can maintain this unexpected breakout of form.
Luke Voit didn’t respond too well initially at being limited to mostly time at DH whilst Bird got the lion’s share of time at 1B. But when it came time for Voit to take up a role in the infield, he warmed up nicely. Every game saw him getting on base by some means – at one point he reached base safely in 21 consecutive games. He tied Sanchez with 8 home runs and picked up more extra base hits than the catcher 11-10.
Gleyber Torres made 26 appearances as shortstop during this period and his .272 BA and 12 extra hits made him yet another stand-out player.
Greg Bird in his limited time before his injury struck, saw him struggling at the plate, producing on .171 with very little power. Mike Ford was called up from Scranton to stand in the gap of the many injuries and his .167 suggests that his time in the Majors will be very limited. He divided his time between 1B and designated hitter (DH).
Tyler Wade played the majority of his time after call-up, filling the 2B booth but also saw some innings at 3B, SS, LF and RF. You would think with that kind of versatility that a seat on the bench for late innings work would be guaranteed but so many younger players have flashed the bat so much better than his .227 that it may not work out as planned. One of those players who looks likely to leap the pecking order is Thairo Estrada who arrived in April and in albeit a small sample of games at 2b and LF hit .353. If he can continue that form, then he will do better than Wade who the Yankees seem to have cooled on.
Both Andujar and Tulowitzki struggled before they got injured. Andujar’s prognosis is not good and Tulowitzki has had a series of injuries which makes his future uncertain.
With Ellsbury continuing his long trek back to fitness, with Clint Frazier in the minors, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton injured and with Mike Tauchman just off the train from Colorado, it would be fair to say that the Yankees’ outfield situation looked very uncertain at the end of March. One stalwart who was going to be the backbone of the outfield, Brett Gardner who the Yankees expect to consistently hit for average, actually struggled in that department but had more power than the Yankees might have expected producing 10 extra base hits in this period. With Hicks unavailable through to the end of April at least, Gardner switched to centrefield.
Consequently, Tauchman and the, eventually called-up, Frazier split the time in left. Tauchman was the second most used outfielder appearing in 22 games but it was Frazier who was to light the spark – a .324 batting average and 6 home runs would do nicely, and those figures were much better than the Yankees had any right to expect after last season’s debacle which had continued right through Spring Training.
Aaron Judge was going along very nicely (.288 BA, 7 extra base hits) until the 21st of April when he pulled up and needed to go onto the injured list for undetermined period. With Frazier heading that way again a few days later, the Yankees were being squeezed tight for players who looked like they could play the outfield every day. Consequently, the Yankees dipped into their stash, towards the end of the month, for that old chestnut “cash considerations” and brought in Cameron Maybin in return.
In the early part of the month, with Greg Bird being preferred defensively, Luke Voit was pretty much the everyday designated hitter. After that with Stanton unavailable, Frazier, Ford, Sanchez, Gardner, Andujar and Judge shared time with Voit but no-one was going to suggest that this was the most productive spot in the Yankees’ line-up.
And, so the Yankees rolled into May looking stronger than they had any right to do, given all the injuries they were carrying. If they could keep it up, it looks like it won’t be long before they are atop the American League East.