Every year, Grant Brisbee looks at what narratives would emerge on the baseball blogosphere if April didn’t exist. What would the headlines read if the season began on May 1st? It’s a nifty exercise that illustrates how quickly we jump to conclusions. Our tendency to make generalizations based on little evidence knows few limits.
This thought experiment kicked around in the back of my head for a while, and it resurfaced following the All-Star break. Being a Yankees blogger, I wondered how this would look strictly from this team’s perspective. To add to the fun, instead of imagining that April didn’t exist, I decided to expand the parameters. What would we talk about if the entire first half never happened?
The staff here at Pinstripe Alley spent most of April cautioning our readers to not read into the early-season stats. Small sample sizes will deceive you and break your hearts. Now though? What the heck! Let’s look way too closely at these tiny samples and speculate on all the would-be narratives.
Judge is a bust
Aaron Judge had a remarkable first half of the season. You know a player is in special territory when he passes Joe DiMaggio in any offensive category. He found himself in legitimate MVP discussions and won the Home Run Derby. These accomplishments, though, are gone now. They never happened. In the immortal words of The Notorious B.I.G., it was all a dream.
If the season began after the All-Star break, headlines would declare Judge a bust. His triple-slash won’t cut it. Neither will that strikeout rate. Remember, he only hit to a 63 wRC+ last year. This guy can’t square up major league pitching. He’s just too big and strikes out far too often. Sure, he might run into one every now and then — like this Statcast breaking moonshot at Safeco Field —- but that’s hardly what the Yankees wanted from their former top prospect.
After battling Aaron Hicks for the starting right field job in spring training, his early season performance would come under further scrutiny. The team should have let him spend more time in Triple-A, some would opine. Others would point out that the Yankees missed their opportunity to trade the mammoth right fielder at his peak value. What a strange, scary world this is.
Sabathia is the new Andy Pettitte
Of all the players on the roster, perhaps none benefit more from erasing the first half than CC Sabathia. That’s not to say that the big left-hander pitched poorly up until the All-Star Game. He owned a 3.81 ERA over 78 innings, after all. It’s more a testament to how strong he has looked of late.
In two starts since the break, Sabathia has posted a 0.82 ERA with some interesting peripherals. He has walked too many batters (6.55 BB/9) but, at the same time, he has become a groundball inducing machine. His 56.7% groundball rate fits squarely into the elite category. Plus, the southpaw has shown he can reach back and dial his fastball up into the 95 mph range.
If this performance occurred right out of the gate, writers would quickly crown Sabathia the next Pettitte. A left-hander who throws a cutter, works himself into and out of trouble, and serves as the staff workhorse? Those comparisons draw themselves. Given the tendency to make snap judgements in the early season, there would already be stories suggesting future contracts for Sabathia. So, congratulations CC! You’ve pitched your way into endless one-year deals territory. You share company with Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Hiroki Kuroda. Not too shabby if you ask me.
Injuries have already doomed the season
If the first half of the season taught us anything, it’s that this Yankees team never says die. It might sound cliché, but in the face of adversity, the 2017 Bombers thrive. They’ve mounted a number of late-innings comebacks and overcame a veritable laundry list of injuries.
The second half, however, proves less inspiring. As the Yankees prepared to return from the All-Star break, Michael Pineda suffered a season-ending UCL tear. He underwent Tommy John surgery a few days later. Losing a starter to a longterm injury stings no matter when it happens. That said, there’s something foreboding about losing a key player on this exercise’s equivalent of Opening Day. The headlines would be spectacular.
Then there’s the position players. Starlin Castro landed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury after appearing in just six games. He struggled, hitting .227/.292/.273 with only one extra-base hit, but losing your starting second baseman is a significant blow. That’s not to mention Greg Bird, who underwent surgery to remove an os trigonum from his right ankle. When a team opens the season down two-thirds of its infield and a starting pitcher, well, there’s not much hope. Better luck next year.
Frazier for Rookie of the Year
Gary Sanchez took the Yankees by storm down the stretch last season. In our alternate timeline, Clint Frazier picked up where Sanchez left off. The top prospect made a strong first impression with his dynamic play. In the first seven games following the All-Star break, Frazier’s batting line seems even more impressive when one sees Frazier’s so-called “legendary” bat speed. Plus, he’s played some mean defense.
Sure, plenty of non-stories have dogged Red Thunder, but that doesn’t outweigh his performance. His impressive two-way play would capture headlines, especially at the opening of the season. Some have questioned if the Yankees should have traded Andrew Miller. If Frazier played like this to kick off the year, then headlines would certainly ask if the Indians made a mistake.
Thankfully the Yankees played an entire first half. Even with a long stretch of dreadful baseball, this season’s been a fun one. It would be a shame to lose some of those early memories. Nonetheless, it’s intriguing to take a peek through the looking glass at what could have been. What headlines would you expect to see in our alternate timeline? Let us know in the comment section below.