We all know the last two weeks have not been the best for the Yankees. A few players have gone down with injuries. The bullpen currently stinks. The defense committed three errors Thursday night. Since the first game in Los Angeles last week, watching this team has felt more like a chore than it has in a long time. Still, there are some silver linings to be found in the Yankees’ most recent skid.
Young core still performing well
Poor pitching performances are largely to blame for the Yankees’ most recent rough patch. Despite the poor overall record since the West Coast trip, the Yankees have had several solid offensive contributions from young talent.
In the last two weeks, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Starlin Castro have been the team’s best offensive performers based on fWAR. Granted, both Castro and Didi committed costly errors on Thursday night, but those don’t change the fact that they have both been solid contributors during the skid. Having such solid offensive contributors up the middle helps take away some of the frustration with the lack of production at the corner infield positions.
Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have far and away been the offensive anchors of the team during the losing streak. Judge has been absolutely unreal and might just pull an Ichiro this year. Sanchez has bounced back after missing nearly a month, and his offensive production has been nearly identical to 2016. Both have a wRC+ of 226 in the last two weeks, good for 9th and 10th in the league, respectively.
It’s been tough to watch the team play so poorly and give up games in the late-innings, but the Yankees weren’t supposed to be this good this year. The offense is back, and the Yankees are back to being the Bronx Bombers. Once the team’s pitching gets straightened back out, the Yankees will be back to being one of the best teams in the league.
The Yankees’ odds for winning the division have taken a bit of a nosedive since June 13th, the start of their losing streak. After winning the series-opener against the Angels on June 12th, the Yankees had a four-game lead in the division. FanGraphs gave them 91 expected wins and a 51.8% chance to win the AL East.
That number has decreased significantly in the last ten days. Obviously, the Yankees’ 1-8 record has a lot to do with that, but the Red Sox have gone 6-4 in the same time frame, even winning two of three in Houston. On Friday, FanGraphs listed the Yankees at 87 expected wins with a 32.2% chance to win the division. Boston ranked at 89 and 53.3% in the same respective categories.
Regardless, the Yankees’ chances to make the playoffs still look great. The Red Sox look like the only other team that can seriously challenge the Yankees for the division. The Blue Jays and Rays are on pace to finish a game or two above .500, and the Orioles are playing their way into fifth. Even if the Red Sox do win the division, the Yankees look like the safe pick for second place and a Wild Card berth.
The East is the best division in the American League right now. The Yankees and Red Sox are battling for first, and the Blue Jays and Rays could have a very competitive race for the second Wild Card spot. The other divisions just simply are not as competitive. The Astros are running away with the West. Seattle could be in the hunt for the second Wild Card berth, but they have a ton of questions in their starting rotation. In the Central, the Twins are only two and a half games back of the Indians, but that looks unsustainable. The Twins have one of the worst run differentials in baseball.
Ultimately, the Yankees’ recent backslide has resulted in a decreased chance at winning the division, but they are still safe bets to make the playoffs, statistically speaking.
Dellin Betances’ workload
There hasn’t been much to root for out of the Yankees’ bullpen recently. In the last two weeks, the bullpen has blown five saves, Adam Warren has gone on the DL, and Tyler Clippard can’t stop giving up home runs. Most frustratingly, other bullpen arms have pitched in high leverage situations while Dellin Betances stayed in the bullpen.
As of June 22nd, Betances only had six appearances this month, down from ten in May and nine in April. I would argue that the length between appearances has seemed to affect Betances’ ability to throw strikes. He’s always struggled with walks, but his walk rate is significantly higher this year than any other year he’s been in the league. However, the sparing use of Betances’ this season might actually end up being a good thing by the end of the season.
As of June 22nd, Betances has only pitched 23 1/3 innings. At the June 22nd mark in the previous three seasons, Betances had pitched 34 1/3 innings in 2016, 35 innings in ’15, and 42 innings in ’14. The last month of the 2016 season was the worst of Betances’ Yankee career. His struggles seemed to have everything to do with just being tired. Not using Betances much in the month of June has resulted in some tough-to-watch games. However, games will only become increasingly high-leverage during the second half of the season. His decreased workload to this point ought to help him retain the stamina he needs to pitch effectively at the end of the season and possibly into the playoffs.
While the Yankees of the last two weeks haven’t been as fun to watch as they were earlier in the season, there is a silver lining to all the recent backslide. The Yankees’ cornerstone players continue to perform well. They are very much still in the running for the division and have a fantastic shot at the Wild Card if they do not take the division. Finally, Dellin Betances’ decreased workload to this point has been frustrating, but it could very well pay dividends later in the season.