The New York Yankees finished April at 12 wins – 14 losses and in 4th place in the 5 team American League East. For a team who were expected to dominate the division, things clearly were not going to plan. Noises were made about Kyle Higashioka becoming the first choice catcher and Gary Sanchez being seen much more often warming the bench. Tyler Wade and Wandy Peralta were added to the active roster. One or two things seemed to be falling into place.
By the middle of May, the team sat in second place with a record of 22-17. That’s 10-3 over that period.
And then things began to turn again. Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton and Rougned Odor had headed to the injured list. As a partial balance, 1b Luke Voit (last season’s leading home run hitter) was back.
But things were still not going the way the guys from the Bronx wanted. The second half of the month went 7-8 and the Yankees closed out the month with a run of 4 losses
Let’s see who was struggling and who was holding their own:
First, let’s look at the batters:
|Estevan Florial cf||1||3||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||.333||.333||.667||1.000|
|Aaron Hicks cf||9||24||5||8||1||0||0||4||0||5||7||.333||.452||.375||.827|
|Aaron Judge rf/dh||28||99||17||32||4||0||6||14||0||13||30||.323||.404||.545||.949|
|Gleyber Torres ss/2b||20||72||8||21||1||0||2||15||2||8||16||.292||.363||.389||.751|
|DJ LeMahieu if||26||99||18||25||1||0||2||8||2||12||23||.253||.333||.323||.657|
|Miguel Andujar 3b/1b/lf||19||66||5||16||1||0||1||3||0||0||16||.242||.242||.303||.546|
|Gio Urshela 3b||22||79||5||19||4||0||1||8||0||7||18||.241||.302||.329||.631|
|Giancarlo Stanton dh||13||50||3||12||3||0||3||9||0||8||21||.240||.345||.480||.825|
|Tyler Wade if/of||24||31||5||7||0||1||0||1||2||2||9||.226||.273||.290||.563|
|Gary Sanchez c||20||61||8||13||2||0||4||9||0||10||22||.213||.333||.443||.776|
|Clint Frazier lf/rf||22||68||7||14||2||0||2||4||2||6||21||.206||.280||.324||.604|
|Rougned Odor 2b||13||41||4||8||3||0||1||2||0||5||17||.195||.298||.341||.639|
|Brett Gardner lf/cf||26||69||5||13||2||1||0||2||0||7||22||.188||.266||.246||.512|
|Luke Voit 1b||12||44||4||8||0||0||1||3||0||5||15||.182||.280||.250||.530|
|Kyle Higashioka c||14||41||4||6||2||0||1||3||0||4||15||.146||.222||.268||.490|
|Mike Ford 1b||14||37||2||5||0||0||1||2||0||7||14||.135||.289||.216||.505|
|Ryan LaMarre rf||3||7||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||.000||.125||.000||.125|
Like Austin Romine before him, Kyle Higashioka doesn’t seem to respond well to the prospect of more time in the batting lineup. His batting average on the month fell to .146 whilst Sanchez lifted his to .213. At the same time, Sanchez began to hit for power again and was re-installed as the catcher for most of the starters (with the exception of staff ace Gerrit Cole, who obviously seems to favour Higgy).
Higashioka remains by far the superior defensive catcher but this alone is not likely to help him become the staff number one behind the plate.
The mystery of why the Yankees seem to want to play DJ LeMahieu in a different fielding position almost every game remains a very puzzling one. Whatever the explanation, he is obviously not the hitter he was for the last two years and any kind of measure to settle him into a groove might be helpful. In addition, it has to be noted that the player that the Yankees are making space for by moving him around in this way, Rougned Odor, is not showing any reason why making space for him is necessary or appropriate. I think the notion when the Yankees brought Odor over from Texas was that it would break him out of his funk and give him a fresh start. It hasn’t worked. LeMahieu has 3 extra base hits, Odor has 4. But that is the only thing in Rougned’s favour. LeMahieu is batting a sub-par (for him) .253 with an OPS of .657. Odor is batting a .195 with an OPS of .639 which is about what you would have expected when he was with the Rangers. It is an experiment that needs to end.
The first base position really hasn’t become a great deal more productive since Jay Bruce retired. Leaving aside the nights when DJ LeMahieu plays there, most of the other time has been split between normal incumbent, Luke Voit and back-up Mike Ford. The Yankees were able to activate Voit on the 11th of the month but by the 27th, he was headed back to the injured list. In between times, he wasn’t himself and hit with little power. On the other hand, Ford is showing that he has little to offer and batted .135 with one extra base hit in May. The obvious internal fix is Chris Gittens, who looks a capable slugger, and an adequate defensive first baseman but who will need time to settle having no previous Major League experience.
Moving onto shortstop, Gleyber Torres is doing well in terms of hitting for average but has made some amateurish and very basic fiedling errors which has left rumours circulating about the Yankees attempting to sign a big name before the trading deadline and shifting Torres back to second base. In many ways, I think this might raise more questions than it solves so it is very much a wait-and-see.
At third, Gio Urshela’s .241 average leaves quite a lot to be desired too. Like Torres, he doesn’t display a lot of power and he needs to be more consistent at the plate but then you could say that about almost everybody in this Yankees line-up.
Tyler Wade and Miguel Andujar give the Yankees options in both the infield and outfield as required. Neither are setting the world alight. Things to note? Andujar has more power. Peculiarly, of the Yankees two triples in May, one came from Wade. Wade is more patient at the plate. In fact, he couldn’t be less patient if he tried. On the month, Andujar had 16 strikeouts and no walks – which is an amazing statistic to digest. Andujar is more likely to be somewhere in the starting lineup than Wade whilst Wade is more likely to be used as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.
The batting problems that exist amongst the infield players only get worse when we turn our attention to those who ply their trade in the outfield.
However, they do say that for every rule there is an exception and the Yankees exception in this category is Aaron Judge. After being plagued by injuries in recent times, 2021 has seen him being available for all but a couple of days when a slight strain made Aaron Boone cautious about using him and inclined him to give Judge time to sit on the bench and rest. Indeed, if it wasn’t for red-hot players at other clubs, Judge’s performances so far might make him a contender for MVP. In May, he batted .323 with 10 extra base hits and a team-leading (by quite a margin) OPS of .949.
The rest of the motley crew who make up the rest of the Yankees’ outfield possibilities certainly leave a lot to be desired
Nothing has gone right for Aaron Hicks since he signed a mammoth, long-term contract a couple of years ago. Ironically, in the period early in May he looked like he might turn things around which is shown in his .333 BA and .452 OBP in our table for that month. But after needing to rest for several days to see if he would heal, he went to the injured list on the 16th and it was soon revealed that he would need surgery which was potentially season ending.
The woes which surround Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier have nothing to do with injury or aches and pains. Gardner should probably have retired at the end of last season and might then have avoided going out under a cloud which is one of the possible scenarios which is ahead of him now. Frazier occasionally pulls off a dramatic catch in the field but the rest of his defensive performance (when he is not grandstanding) is not good. In addition, he managed to bat only .206 which ironically raised his batting average on the season and is showing little in the way of power.
Ryan LaMarre was promoted from Scranton-Wilkes/Barre (AAA) and was expected to augment the outfield defence and attack with the departure of Mike Tauchman. Whilst Tauchman has been a great asset for the San Francisco Giants, the same cannot be said for LaMarre in New York. Noticeably, he sits at the foot of our table and is now on the injured list. We should be worried if his period in the Bronx pinstripes is a lengthy one. Estevan Florial had a brief visit to the majors which was interesting for the novelty of seeing a rated rookie but mostly emphasised that he is still a work-in-progress
Giancarlo Stanton who has sole ownership of this position when he is fit, got off to a torrid start through April and the early part of May. However, a left quad strain put him on the injured list in the middle of May and when he returned his bat was quiet, leading to the depressed figures shown above. The optimistic view is that a few more days getting the kinks out of his mechanics will see him rebound. The Yankees really do need it.
Best batters in May 2021 – from l to r – Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela