For such a successful season, the Yankees sure had their fair share of frustrations in 2018. They did manage to win 100 games, but it was amidst a general feeling that they could be doing more. For everything that went right, there was something that went wrong.
That brings us to our biggest disappointments of 2018. Who left us wanting more? Let’s take a look:
When the Yankees traded for Gray at the 2017 trade deadline, the move seemed almost obvious. The Yankees were in need of a quality starter both for a playoff run and for the future. Gray checked both those boxes, bringing a solid track record and multiple years of team control.
Gray was good in 2017, then watched it all go down the tubes in 2018. The Yankees could have reasonably counted him as their second-best starter entering the year, and yet when the season concluded, Gray was nowhere to be found. The Bombers likely didn’t even consider Gray for a second for their postseason roster.
At first glance, Gray’s numbers for the season don’t actually look as bad as you might think: 130.1 innings, a 4.90 ERA, but a 4.17 FIP and 123 strikeouts. Gray’s misery peaked in August, when he was battered for seven runs in a start against the lowly Orioles. He was removed from the rotation then with a 5.56 ERA.
Gray finished the season strong, posting a 2.36 ERA and holding opponents to a .690 OPS in 26.2 innings across his nine final appearances. That will mostly be forgotten, as when Gray was a primary member of the Yankee rotation, he was a disaster. Hopefully, opposing teams paid attention to his good finish, as the Yankees will actively try to move Gray in the offseason.
Sanchez spoiled Yankees fans for the first two seasons of his career. He went on a Ruthian run in 2016, nearly winning the Rookie of the Year award on the strength of two unbelievable months. He followed that up by merely establishing himself as possibly the best catcher in the league, leading MLB’s backstops in both wRC+ and fWAR in 2017.
There were high expectations for Sanchez in 2018, and he obviously failed to meet them. He hit a paltry .186/.291/.406 for the year, good for an 89 wRC+. He was often pilloried for his tendency to coast to first on routine groundouts, as well as his perceived defensive shortcomings behind the plate.
It was, on paper, an awful year for Sanchez, but it was also one in which his abundant talents continued to peek through. His average hit velocity on balls in the air was still fifth-highest in the league, and Giancarlo Stanton was the only one to strike a ball harder than a 121.1 mph screamer Sanchez hit in June versus the Mariners.
For as disappointing as Sanchez’s year was, it left little reason to believe he wasn’t as talented as before. In all likelihood, 2018 was a blip, a year in which the results just didn’t go his way, despite his obvious potential.
Bird’s season was disappointing in a different way than Sanchez. While Sanchez had a down year that should still leave the Yankees with unwavering confidence in him, the same cannot be said about Bird.
The 25-year-old first baseman simply didn’t have anything to write home about in 2018. He put up bad numbers, and those bad numbers were borne of bad process. It was a fundamental step back as a player.
Bird finished the season with a miserable .199/.286/.386 slash line and an 81 wRC+. That’s simply untenable for a starting first baseman (the league average first baseman put up a 105 wRC+ in 2018). Bird’s strikeout rate rose slightly from last year, his walk rate dropped, and he it for less power.
He was less patient, as his chase rate on pitches out of the zone increased eight points since 2017. He drove the ball less, with his groundball rate rising, and his average hit velocity on balls in the air fell two mph to 93.6, good for just 110th in the league. Bird was less disciplined in the batter’s box, put the ball in the air less, and didn’t hit the ball as hard. That’s regression in virtually every important area as a hitter.
It was extremely disappointing to see that from a player the organization touted as possibly its most talented. That’s not to say that that talent is gone, just that it failed to show itself this year. However, that’s two consecutive years in which Bird really didn’t display much at all at the major league level. After another deflating year, his future with the Yankees is in question.