The New York Yankees in April – Part one – The Hitters (2021)

Well, it’s so wonderful to have baseball back at something approaching normal. The crowds allowed to attend are limited but isn’t it great to hear games being played with real crowd noise – we are not there yet but we are taking steps in the right direction and it is so heartening.

So, the time comes to survey the Yankees first month. The picture is not pretty but with so many players under-performing there is so much scope for growth – so, let’s not sink into the slough of despond just yet, even with the Boston Red Sox sitting pretty at the top of the division.

It is fair to say we wouldn’t have expected that anymore than we would have expected one of the Yankees’ roster to have retired from MLB in the first month of the season. We closed out the month at 12-14 and in fourth place but given they spent 8 days on the bottom spot, at least the trajectory is in the right direction,

So, our first task is to survey the hitters. It is not a pretty job, so grit your teeth. Here goes…

GABRH2B3BHRRBISBBBKBAOBPSLGOPS
Tyler Wade (if/of)95220000002.400.400.400.800
Gio Urshela (3B)2488424404301621.273.316.455.770
Aaron Judge (RF)238110223071501524.272.385.563.953
DJ LeMahieu (2B/if)249614265016059.271.358.354.712
Giancarlo Stanton (DH)23931325306150727.269.320.495.815
Kyle Higashioka (c)1331682046068.258.378.7101.088
Gleyber Torres (ss/2b)2594822500411319.234.327.287.614
Mike Tauchman (OF)1114131000216.214.267.286.552
Brett Gardner (OF)17455920010613.200.294.244.539
Rougned Odor (2B)16527100041101316.192.288.423.711
Gary Sanchez (c) 1858711102401015.190.329.310.639
Clint Frazier (LF)2264610302301321.156.299.297.596
Aaron Hicks (CF)2384813204100923.155.242.321.564
Mike Ford (1B)720430023046.150.292.450.742
Jay Bruce (1B/of)10343410130613.118.231.235.466
GABRH2B3BHRRBISBBBKBAOBPSLGOPS

Catchers

Well, we might as well as get some of the worst over first.

Gary Sanchez. What can you say? The debate was whether Sanchez could resume the form of his early career or whether he would be the same player he was in 2020. Well, in many respects it is too early to call and the jury is still out but the Yankees have already started to favour Kyle Higashioka. At the end of the first week, Sanchez was batting .286 with an OPS of .994. By the end of the first month, it was .190 and .639 in those columns. His defense wasn’t close to matching Higgy’s and two home runs on their own weren’t going to influence matters much. Higashioka is puzzling. He is defensively excellent and he can hit for power – indeed, all of his 6 hits in April went for extra base hits – and he is reasonably patient at the plate. But he can’t hit singles and, so, his batting average is due to fall considerably the more batting time he gets. The balance is that Gerrit Cole obviously would prefer to have him framing his pitches all the time so Sanchez’s days might be limited.

Infielders

The Yankees came out of Spring Training with a difficult issue. Luke Voit was on the injured list (still struggle to get used to that term over the historical “DL”) and Mike Ford is not great defensively, wasn’t showing much power and was never an accomplished guy at hitting for average. Mmm… It came down to March 25 and the day that Jay Bruce and the front office had to make decisions on his contract status with opt-out options all around. Bruce had applied pressure by missing a couple of Spring Training games and it worked – he forced Brian Cashman’s hand. He was given a spot on the 26-man roster for opening day, and Ford was sent to the alternate training site. And then it all went wrong. Bruce, usually an outfielder, looked reasonably good defensively at first base but he just never got started with the bat. .118 with a double and homer just wasn’t enough. On the 18th of April, he announced that he would retire after that day’s game. The Yankees didn’t put him in the line-up for that day and there was no late innings substitutions to make the day special. It was just over. Ford was recalled and the Yankees made extensive use of new signing, Rougned Odor who they had acquired from the Texas Rangers a week or so in exchange for a couple of minor leaguers, Josh Stowers and Antonio Cabello.

The saga of Rougned Odor is already an interesting one – whatever the future brings. he had thrown away a promising future in the Lone Star state. In 2016, he had batted .271. In 2017, he was so highly thought of that he played in all 162 games and then… Well, there’s the puzzling thing. After hitting 30 home runs in 2019 but seeing his batting average sink to a previously unimaginable .205 across 145 games, things just got worse. In the shortened 2020 season, he managed a mere .174 albeit whilst still showing some power. This season, the Rangers had given up on him despite Odor still being due $12m for this season and with $25.5m still oustanding for years ahead. Can anybody here spell Bobby Bonilla?

Odor arrived in the Bronx with Texas agreeing to bite down on the majority of that huge contract (New York will be responsible for just over $570,000) and a beard that just had to go. Traded on the 6th (having not featured at all for Texas), he was activated on the 10th, smoothly shaven and looking like a different guy.

And then if it could, it got a little stranger. DJ LeMahieu began to move around the infield on any given day and Odor became the incumbent second baseman, This would have been odd if Odor had been playing well at his previous club and if LeMahieu hadn’t been the Yankees outstanding player for the last two years, but then you had to add into the mix that Odor whilst playing in a gutsy and determined manner was producing batting figures which would have been a credit to a bench player and the contant moves around the infield might be a factor in the decline of LeMahieu’s hitting.

Of course, it is very difficult to make any meaningful comparison between last season and this but by the end of the first month of the season then (August!), LeMahieu was batting over .400, now it was .271. Settling into a regular position could obviously do him no harm.

Gio Urshela continues to show his worth at third base where he batted .273 (leading the team amongst regular players) and adding a solid 8 extra base hits and 16 walks. Ironically, Gleyber Torres is still not the most convincing shortstop but the Yankees have not experimented with using him at his native second base and his batting figures have also sunk.

Off-the-bench, utility man Tyler Wade has provided a useful bat too. He was sent to the alternate training site on the 10th to make room for Odor and then recalled on the 27th. There is nothing to suggest he has a long term future in New York but in the meantime he will do very nicely in the role he is given.

In another significant move the Yankees designated Thairo Estrada (2b) for assignment on the 6th of June. He was then traded to the San Francisco Giants five days later in exchange four our old friend “cash considerations”. On the face of it this achieved little more than further limiting the Yankees’ choices – although it did clear a spot on the 40-man roster for the acquisition of someone like Odor.

Outfielders

If there were questions over the infield, then the outfield had even more problems.

First, the good news (and there’s not much). Aaron Judge led the team through the month in home runs (7) and extra base hits (10). Amongst regular players he led the way in on-base percentage and slugging and consequently in OPS. However, he had some injury niggles which meant he had to sit out for a couple of days at a time which recalled his recent problems in previous years which he really doesn’t need to see a reoccurrence of and indeed, neither do the New York Yankees.

The two other players who were elected to start in the outfield by Aaron Boone had extremely poor months. Clint Frazier (.156) and Aaron Hicks (.155) were really only separated by the fact that Frazier did much better in the field than might have been expected and the fact that Hicks carries a long term contract which is now looking a bigger and bigger problem for the Yankees whereas if the Yanks have to give up on Frazier, frankly, it won’t be the end of the world. The other plus for Frazier is that he seems to have managed, at least in public, to have cleared his closet of his obnoxious Joba Chamberlain-like image. In short, he seems to have grown up.

If the first choice outfielders were performing weakly, then the alternatives on the bench were no better. Brett Gardner, who has sometimes been a slow starter, isn’t improving with his advanced years. He batted .200 with a couple of doubles. Mike Tauchman batted .214 with one less double than Gardner. With nothing to separate them and Tauchman eminently more tradeable, the Yankees decided that they needed reliever Wandy Peralta more. This leaves the Yankees very short-handed with Frazier and Hicks disappearing into a hole-into-the-ground. Bruce would have been another option but we have already covered that one. Perhaps someone will look impressive at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when the Minor League season starts.

Designated Hitters

The Yankees have ruled out using Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield for the time being and that means he is the everyday Designated Hitter (DH) going forward. After a slow start, he has improved greatly which means that there is one less offensive issue for the Yankees to worry about. If he can maintain the form he showed in the last few days of the month, it helps but it doesn’t solve the defensive issues and their threadbare outfield.

Hitters 1 thru 5 – LtoR: Gio Urshela, Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu,
Kyle Higashioka, Giancarlo Stanton

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