The start to the 2018 season has been anything but optimal for a Yankees team that expects to compete for a World Series. The bullpen struggled out of the gate, some key offensive contributors fell into painful slumps, and the top of the rotation was just plain dreadful in Boston this past week. Things haven’t been pretty.
Still, it’s not necessarily the slumps or pitching woes that are most maddening when watching the Yankees at this point. Slumps happen, and we have already seen Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez begin to break out of their hitting hibernation. The Yankees are too good to continue along this rocky road.
They may have been able to weather this early storm, however, if they fine-tuned some of the simpler fundamentals of the game — the ones that a team should always be on top of.
The Bombers have been a nightmare on both the field and the basepaths so far. Sure, the team is young, but almost all of the current roster saw a full major league season in 2017, including a deep playoff run. Despite the experience, their baseball senses appear dulled in the early going.
Errors and baserunning blunders are among the most frustrating events in baseball, and the Yankees have already provided plenty of them. The Bombers finished their series with the Red Sox having played 13 games to start the season, committing 13 errors. I don’t have to tell you what that averages out to. In the sloppy series finale in Fenway, we saw a throwing error from Tyler Wade and a badly misjudged fly ball in left field by Stanton, who briefly took the form of Scott Smalls when he turned a routine fly ball into a ground-rule double.
The team’s 13 errors are the second-most in the majors so far this season, behind only the Brewers. The teams with the fewest errors are the Red Sox, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Angels — all with just three apiece. Three of those four teams were first in their respective divisions heading into the weekend. Defense is clearly important.
Lack of defense is one of the main culprits behind the Yankees’ early struggles. The Bombers left Fenway tied for third with the Red Sox for the most runs scored in the league so far this season, yet sit 4.5 games behind Boston, who have been far more disciplined in the field.
The starting rotation and their 4.83 ERA deserve some of the blame, but the defense hasn’t had their back at all this season. The starting staff is 11th best in the league in FIP in 2018, so if the defense behind them can tighten up, the other numbers — and outcomes — will improve.
Then there’s the baserunning. We’ve already seen plenty of poor decisions that had a major impact on the outcome of a game, especially in the home series against Baltimore last weekend. The Yankees were caught in three rundowns over the frustrating weekend, including the controversial pickle that Stanton found himself in during a sixth inning rally. Even in a victory the next day, the baserunning remained an issue when Andujar cost the Yankees a run in the second inning by getting caught between second and third.
Kento wrote up a complimentary post back in March on the Yankees’ effective baserunning in 2017, when the team ranked fifth in baseball in BsR, a] formula created by FanGraphs which factors in stolen bases, advancing on hits and sacrifices, avoiding double plays etc. The Yankees finished that season with 10.6 baserunning runs above average. As of Friday, they were 0.9 baserunning runs below average, good for 23rd in the league.
So, who is to blame? Many will point to rookie manager Aaron Boone, but realistically, this feels like a group effort. The team as a whole needs to improve on some of the most basic aspects of baseball. Watching the Yankees falter on the bases and in the field has been aggravating to say the least, and it will only get harder to watch if this trend continues.