The Yankees have not had the best month. Over the past few weeks, they’ve scuffled along around .500. Their best player, Aaron Judge, injured his wrist. Their closer just went on the DL with knee issues. Perhaps their most delightful player, Didi Gregorius, hurt his heel. And who could forget the fracas surrounding Gary Sanchez, his injured groin, and his failure to run out a groundball in Tampa Bay?
It’s all been enough to create a sort of malaise around the team. The Yankees haven’tt won all that much, have been struck by a brutal rash of injuries, and have suffered some particularly wrenching losses (namely the four-game sweep in Boston). They’ve frittered away what could have been an exciting and memorable race for the AL East.
Ask a random Yankee fan, and they will probably have some pointed criticisms about their favorite team. They might critique manager Aaron Boone’s tactical wherewithal. They might question the team’s ability to stay healthy. They might just wonder whether this team has it, the fortitude to get the job done and win. You would certainly find more questions than answers.
Yet this malaise, this sense that the sky is falling in Yankeeland, doesn’t hold true if you zoom out it a bit. When you obsess over a team, it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds, to miss the forest for the trees. In our bubble as Yankee fans, we’re acutely aware of how we’re feeling about the team, but we miss how exactly the team is perceived in a more macro sense.
Whereas the sky might seem like it’s sometimes falling when following the team day-to-day, from the outside, things still look peachy. The contrast between the perception of the team among the diehards and in the broader conversation is stark.
For instance, virtually every national publication that assesses the quality of the league’s teams at a particular moment via power rankings still sees the Yankees as the cream of the crop. At Yahoo, Drew Silva put the Yankees second, behind only the Red Sox. At CBS Sports, Matt Snyder had the Yankees third, (questionably) behind the red-hot Athletics.
The Athletic’s Matthew Kory ranked the Yankees second. ESPN’s MLB team placed the them third. Baseball Prospectus, which ranks teams by an unforgiving algorithm, put the Yankees third. Every outlet noted the concerns, from Luis Severino’s struggles to Judge’s slow recovery, but they all also noted the team’s unquestionable talent, track record, and stellar win-loss total.
Getting bogged down with the unfortunate rash of injuries and middling play makes it easy to miss that the Yankees have been and probably will be one of the two or three best teams in MLB. Even with all the injuries, it’s not like the Yankees have bottomed out; they’ve simply treaded water in the second half, rather than going belly up when their stars started going down one by one.
The Yankees not only rate well with national media, but also with the cold, hard numbers. Up until recently, in fact, FanGraphs’ depth chart projections forecast the Yankees as the most talented team in baseball going forward. It wasn’t until the Yankees’ health problems became more dire that they slipped in terms of projected WAR... all the way down to second overall, just a mere rounding error behind the first-place Astros.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that’s unfair to criticize the Yankees. They were proactive in trying to nurture CC Sabathia’s health, but overall, they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory for their injury management. They’ve blown some close games they should have won. Ownership should be held accountable for refusing to take on money to add an outfielder, when the team clearly could have used one once Judge went down.
In spite of all that, though, things are still pretty great in the empire, even if it doesn’t seem like it at times. The Yankees are banged up at the moment, but they’re still in a strong position with an incredible roster. Ryan Ruocco might have summed it up best on Twitter:
The Yankees haven’t had their best player for almost a month. They haven’t had their All-Star catcher for essentially 2 months. Their star SS & all-world closer are now on the DL. They are 32 games over .500 and on pace for 100+ wins. They’re having an outstanding season.— Ryan Ruocco (@RyanRuocco) August 23, 2018
For all the hand-wringing, the Yankees truly have been outstanding. They’re admirably weathering a storm of injuries and are still on track to compete for a 28th World Series crown. Despite the frustration they can cause, the Yankees are still the Yankees.