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Ranking the best tools on the Yankees’ roster

From DJ LeMahieu’s hit tool to Aaron Judge’s and Giancarlo Stanton’s power, these Bombers have game-changing abilities.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

When you are the New York Yankees, you target players with game-changing skills and tools. Thankfully, the team has plenty of players that can help determine the outcome of a ballgame with one swing, one throw, or one pitch. Much of that stems from the fact that any number of players on the team have unadulterated, 80-grade tools.

So, let’s highlight the best of them. Here are the five best tools in the New York Yankees’ organization, in no particular order (note: for this exercise, I’ve considered any of the standard five scouting tools, as well as individual pitches):

Aaron Judge’s power

Aaron Judge has serious, all-world power. If you need evidence, there is plenty: he led all qualified hitters in the bigs in average exit velocity in 2019 at 95.9 mph, which is a mile and a half harder than the second-place Nelson Cruz.

Judge was also second in hard-hit percentage at 57.1. Do you want total homers? Well, he has 106 of them in his first three full seasons in the majors, two of which have been cut by injury. The only time he played over 150 games (in 2017, with 155) he hit 52 taters.

Aaron Judge is a very complete player with a unique set of skills: he can hit the ball hard, he can field his position very well (more on that later) and he has a rocket for an arm. However, it is his power that defines him and has earned him his place among the MLB elite.

Luis Severino’s slider

Don’t let the time he missed because of injury in 2019 fool you: Luis Severino has a filthy slider, and he flashed it at times in September and October. Still, a better way of evaluating the pitch would be focusing on what he did on 2018, his last full season.

According to FanGraphs’ pitch values, his slider had the seventh-highest mark in the majors and the second best in the American League at 13.5 runs above average in 2018. When it’s on, it is a nasty pitch with late bite that is tough to make mere contact with, let alone square up.

Hitters had a .191 average against the pitch back in 2018, with a .187 expected batting average. He allowed a paltry .297 slugging percentage and .280 expected slugging percentage, with a .221 xwOBA. His 37.4 whiff rate was stellar.

In his 2019 small sample size, batters hit .154 (.192 xBA) against the slider, with a .239 wOBA and a .277 xwOBA. However, his whiff percentage was down when compared to 2018, at 28.0. If Severino rediscovers his 2018 slider in 2020 (which is entirely possible with a normal offseason and spring training) he may be primed for a run at the Cy Young award.

Giancarlo Stanton’s power

Giancarlo Stanton is a man among boys. He lost nearly all of 2019 to an assortment of injuries, but his prodigious power will remain in play for the Yankees in 2020 and beyond.

Ever since the Statcast era started in 2015, Stanton has ranked no lower than sixth in average exit velocity during every single full season. When it comes to max exit velocity, “Gonecarlo” has been at the top of the table with 120 mph+ connections every year in the same time frame.

You know a player has legendary power when he has a “down” season in an “less-juiced” ball environment and still hits 38 home runs. Such are the fans’ expectations for the muscular slugger, who managed to hit 59 homers in 2017 while playing for the Miami Marlins.

DJ LeMahieu’s hit tool

While he lost the batting title to Tim Anderson in 2019, it is fair to say that DJ LeMahieu’s hitting prowess wasn’t just a product of playing half of his games in Coors Field. In fact, in his first season with the Yankees, he finished fourth in the MVP voting, something he never achieved with the Rox.

LeMahieu is an extraordinarily tough out, one that has the hand-eye coordination, power, and plate discipline to do damage against every pitch in the book. He can get on base, he established a new career high in home runs with 26, and he just had his fourth full season with a .300+ batting average.

This year, LeMahieu hit .324 against fastballs, .319 against breaking balls, and. 372 versus offspeed pitches. What a machine.

Tommy Kahnle’s changeup

After a down 2018, Tommy Kahnle, a pitcher that Brian Cashman targeted and acquired in 2017, had a rebound season in 2019 and proved that he is here to stay in the heart of the game’s best bullpen.

One of the primary reasons behind Kahnle’s success is his amazing changeup. It can be as filthy as this:

The righty reliever led all MLB relievers in the pitch value ranking when it comes to the changeup, and it wasn’t particularly close: his 12.8 runs above average was significantly better than the second-ranked 9.7 mark, registered by Tommy Milone.

The pitch has vertical drop, horizontal break, and is fast enough (90 mph on average) to be very difficult to hit. Batters had a meager .181 wOBA against it.

Honorable mention:

Aaron Judge’s fielding

Surprise! Some may have missed Judge’s elite defense because of his more prodigious power, but he has a fantastic glove at right field. Had he qualified, he would have led the position in FanGraphs’ defensive value with at 8.7 runs above average.

Judge is rangy, moves his legs very well and has improved in the field ever since breaking in the majors. He had a 12.7 UZR in 2019, a 24.2 UZR/150, and an astonishing 19 DRS.

Make no mistake, Judge is not a one-dimensional slugger. He is a mature, complete player in the prime of his career.