Yesterday, I took a look at the biggest surprises of the Yankees’ first half. In a macro sense, it wasn’t a particularly surprising first half, as the Yankees played great when they were expected to be great. On a micro level, though, there were plenty of surprising ways in which the Yankees ended up at the expected results.
Similarly, just because the first half went extremely well doesn’t mean there weren’t disappointments. The Yankees still had players under-perform, which, given the team’s outstanding record, is almost a good thing, as it indicates there are still ways to improve. Who were the Yankees’ biggest disappointments of the first half?
To a large extent, Sanchez is here because of a bit of poor fortune. There’s little chance that he just forgot to hit over the offseason, and there’s nothing in his numbers that would suggest so. Per FanGraphs, Sanchez’s hard hit rate is as high as it was last year, and he’s hitting the ball in the air as much as ever. Statcast lists Sanchez among the league leaders in barrels, and suggests he’s been unlucky overall at the plate.
To top it all off, he injured his groin just trying to beat out a groundball, something Sanchez rarely does in an effort to stay on the field as much as possible for his team. In spite of all that, though, Sanchez’s season has been a disappointment. Luck is a part of the game, it is a part of life, and just because Sanchez has had a bad stretch of it doesn’t preclude his year from being a downer.
He has still hit for power, with 14 bombs and a .242 isolated slugging, but Sanchez’s .191 batting average is just a killer. That’s mostly due to a .194 BABIP, a figure that is sure to regress positively, but that average has torpedoed his wRC+ down to 97. He posted a 171 wRC+ in his abbreviated 2016 season, and a 130 mark in 2017.
Sanchez is overwhelmingly talented, and he has almost certainly been unlucky, which makes him an obvious candidate to bounce back in the second half. Regardless, his first half has been dispiriting, and one of the few blemishes on the Yankees’ campaign overall.
Gray has been far and away the most disappointing Yankee on the pitching side. When Brian Cashman dealt three prospects for Gray at the trade deadline last year, he was expected to be a strong number-two starter behind Luis Severino. Instead, he has filled the shoes of the departed Michael Pineda as the most frustrating pitcher on the staff.
The reason Gray is so frustrating is that he still clearly has the skills that made him great in the past. His velocity isn’t down: Gray’s four-seamer has been right at 94 mph per Brooks Baseball. He still has the deep arsenal that has been his trademark, with multiple types of fastballs, a changeup, and both a slider and curveball capable of buckling opposing hitters’ knees.
The same recipe that added up to success in Gray’s past has simply been a disaster in 2018. Opponents are hitting .272/.352/.433 against Gray in 2018, and his 5.44 ERA has left him below replacement level by Baseball Reference’s calculations. His struggles, along with injuries to Jordan Montgomery and Masahiro Tanaka, have amped up the pressure on Cashman to get another arm to bolster the rotation.
On the positive side, as noted, Gray’s stuff is still there. At age-28, he’s not someone we’d expect to fall off a cliff physically. Gray has a lot to sort out, but the ability to get hitters out is there. Plus, he’s probably had some poor luck as well: his strand rate of 69% is below average and likely to increase, and his 4.40 FIP offers some reason for hope.
Like Sanchez, though, just because there’s reason to hope for a bounce back doesn’t make the first half any less disappointing. There is a lot of pressure on Gray to get things together after a miserable first few months of the season.
Compared to Sanchez and Gray, Kahnle is rather small potatoes. Sanchez is a star, a franchise catcher, and the Yankees traded a chunk of prospects for Gray to be a front-line starter. Kahnle was perhaps fifth on the Yankees’ reliever depth chart entering the year, meaning his struggles aren’t as impactful.
That being said, Kahnle’s season has been a big disappointment. Cashman gave up Blake Rutherford, the team’s 2016 first-round pick, last year in large part because of the potential Kahnle offered. Not only did Kahnle post a 170 ERA+ last year, but he came with three years of team control. Kahnle profiled as hugely valuable.
Instead, Kahnle has hardly even been heard from. He gave up 11 runs (seven earned) in nine innings to start the year, saw his velocity plummet, and promptly went on the disabled list. Kahnle is at least healthy now, but is pitching in Triple-A.
That is a sharp descent for one of the game’s best and most improved relievers from last season. At some point, Kahnle figures to get another chance to prove himself at the major-league level. For now, though, his season has been one of the rare disappointments of the first half.
What other players did you expect more of in the first half? Let us know in the comments!