The Yankees have played a roller coaster-like season for most of 2017. The team experienced thrilling victories and crushing defeats. Extended runs at the top offset the long patches of mind-numbing mediocrity. As the ride nears its finish, it appears the club will cap things off on a high note. The Bronx Bombers seem to have found another gear when it comes to offense down the stretch.
In order to fully appreciate the team’s resurgent offense, it makes sense to first backtrack to mid-summer. After ranking among baseball’s best hitting teams in May and June, the lineup stalled out in July. The Bombers fell silent for most of the second half. Several key bats went through prolonged slumps, ones that took a toll on the fans’ patience and the standings.
The Yankees stirred from their slumber in August, but jolted awake once the calendar flipped to September 1st. Even after Tuesday night’s loss, the club is positioned to have quite the successful month. There’s a good foundation on which the Bombers can build. In terms of monthly wRC, the Bombers are trending in the right direction.
One has to take into account the small sample size, but a closer look reveals promising trends. Take Aaron Judge, for example. The rookie sensation had a nonpareil first half, capped off with a monstrous 196 wRC+. He nosedived following the All-Star break, and there’s been no shortage of possible explanations. On the bright side, it appears Judge has started to get back on track of late. He has a 148 wRC+ since September 1st.
Judge has done a better at job squaring the ball up lately. He isn’t 100% back, but the results have turned in his favor. His four home runs on the month back this up. If Judge gets that long ball swing working again, the rest will follow.
The other pertinent example worth discussing is Chase Headley. His second half breakout has been well documented, but we should take a minute to talk about his September. The Yankees third baseman has posted a ridiculous .343/.368/.600 triple-slash. He’s also swatted three home runs on the month. That adds up to a 151 wRC+.
Part of this success comes from his newfound propensity to hit balls in the air. Headley’s 36.7% fly ball rate in September tops his 33.3% career average. Fly balls have a reputation for being easy outs, but no one ever hit a home run with a groundball. The recent barrage of homers lend credence to this idea.
What’s most encouraging about the Yankees’ September success? Their batters largely have a track record of success. Judge had the Ruthian first half, while Headley has torn the cover off the ball since the end of June. Gary Sanchez hasn’t stopped hitting since arriving to the big leagues full time, while Matt Holliday, Didi Gregorius, and Starlin Catro have longer resumes. Outside of Aaron Hicks, it’s hard to find an anomaly or outlier season in the Yankees’ lineup.
Having said that, there are other areas the Yankees need to work on. The rotation has been shaky of late; the staff 3.75 ERA looks a lot better than the ominous 4.29 FIP. The bullpen, for all its talent, consistently makes one reach for the antacids as well. If there’s one area for the team to dig in on, it’s the pitching. The offense appears to be in healthy shape.
Of course there will be exceptions. Last night the Yankees mustered only a single run against the Rays, while Sonny Gray pitched a complete game. He took the loss squarely because of the Bombers’ offense, or lack thereof. Outliers happen, however, and that one game shouldn’t hamper the team’s efforts in September. Given the recent run of success, I’m willing to write that one off as just a bad loss. The team as a whole has shown it can hit at a high-caliber down the stretch.