The 2019 Yankees broke the MLB record for most players to spend time on the injured list with 30. Considering baseball is played with a 25-man roster, having 30 players on the IL at some point means that depth will get tested to the limits.
It’s almost inconceivable to achieve 103 wins with that many players injured throughout the year. In April, the Yankees’ IL could cover an entire field of position players, including a starting pitcher and a reliever as well.
To have such a successful year, the Yankees needed some unheralded contribtuors come up big, and of course a little luck. Now, as part of Pinstripe Alley’s season review, it makes sense to take a look at the three biggest surprises the Yankees offered us in 2019.
This is an obvious choice. Three days before the season began, on March 23, the Rockies traded outfielder Mike Tauchman to the Yankees for left-handed pitcher Phillip Diehl. Most fans were confused at this trade and discarded the thought of him playing, assuming he’d stew in the minor leagues. Instead, he ended up being one of the team’s most valuable players, with a 3.6 WAR. As Giancarlo Stanton missed the vast majority of the year, Tauchman got an extensive opportunity to contribute.
In 87 games played, Tauchman hit .277/.361/.504 with 13 homers and 128 wRC+. His season numbers are quite good, but they hide how productive he was for a stretch in July. Over 16 games on the month, he hit .423./474./750 with three home runs, good for a 221 wRC+. He was nothing short of the best player in baseball for about three weeks.
Not only did Tauchman show off in the batters’ box, but he lived up to his calling on the defensive side of things. Here’s an instance of him flashing the leather as well as just about anybody in the big leagues.
Gio Urshela was acquired by the Yankees from the Blue Jays back in August of 2018. Little did he know, he’d become a main focus of a 103-win Yankee offense in 2019. Urshela was known around the league to have an elite glove, and with Miguel Andujar struggling to find a rhythm in the field, this was a good addition by the Yankees. When Andujar was placed on the 60-day IL with a season-ending injury, this opened the door for Urshela.
Being a career .226 hitter before coming to New York, fans probably didn’t expect much from him. Yet, Urshela proved them all wrong. With a rumored tweak in his swing over the offseason, he became one of the best contact hitters in baseball. Urshela batted .314 on the year in 132 games, a .088 increase from his career average. That, coupled with a fine glove, made Urshela one of the best third basemen in baseball over the course of 2019. Funny enough, he finished the year with 3.4 WAR, a touch better than Manny Machado’s 3.1 mark in 2019.
Mike Ford wasn’t supposed to be on the Yankees in 2019. He was buried on the depth charts, but injuries forced him to the show. Ford essentially played all of August and September while Luke Voit and Edwin Encarnacion recovered from injury. As one would have it, he showed he could hit major-league pitching, posting a 134 wRC+ in limited time.
He played well in August, hitting eight homers in 19 games, but it was September that he made his mark. Ford hit .353/.436/.706 with three home runs (197 wRC+) on the month, outrageous production from the 27-year-old.
Ford was another big surprise for the Yankees and played a huge role down the stretch keeping them afloat while other players returned from injury. I always think back to his walk-off homer against Oakland on September 1.
Ford got one at-bat that day against a potential Wild Card team in the A’s, and he blasted a no-doubter into the bullpen letting Tommy Kahnle and the rest of Yankee Stadium loose.
This season was special, and these three guys played the biggest roles in turning it into what defined the team all year. They defined the “next man up” movement.