Rejoice, my friends, for the Yankees appear to be on the cusp of good health. Miguel Andujar was activated yesterday, Clint Frazier is expected back tomorrow, and Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks are both well on their way to rejoining the team too. For the first time all season, we can be optimistic about the lineup rather than wonder who the next guy to go down is going to be.
Of course, in the time that All Of The Team was on the injured list, the ragtag group of replacements did a great job. The Yankees are in second place in the AL East, with the third-best run differential in baseball, and the additions of guys like Andujar and Frazier this week should only oxidize what’s become a fairly hot team.
What’s always intrigued me about baseball is the disconnect between public perception of performance and the actual performance. This is no different for the 2019 Yankees, as the replacements, guys like Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin, have acquired a reputation for being scrappy, put-the-ball-in-play types, a complete philosophical change from the Aaron Judges and Giancarlo Stantons of the world.
That doesn’t really hold up, though:
This Yankees team is every bit the offense that last year’s was. They have posted an identical wRC+ at 111, their strikeout rate is just 0.1% different, and even their rate of swinging and missing is almost identical. The replacements have made this team their own in a way, but at the plate, they look exactly the same as the guys they’re replacing.
This even holds up in the total offensive production of the team, comparing the 2018 squad to what a full season of 2019 would look like:
The 2019 team is on pace to hit just ten fewer home runs than last year, and score just seven more runs overall. This shouldn’t be surprising - two teams running similar philosophies and underlying metrics will roughly mirror each other in total production, given a large enough sample size - like a full season.
If you want to go to the most macro of levels, even the rate of Three True Outcomes is frighteningly similar between the two teams. TTO baseball is decried as hurting the game, as teams pile up more strikeouts, walks and home runs. The 2018 Yankees were a standard bearer for that kind of baseball, and saw 36.94% of plate appearances end with a strikeout, walk or home run. The 2019 team, the team that’s been taken over by a “scrappy” approach? Their Three True Outcome rate is 36.90%.
The big difference between this year’s team and last is the aggression on the basepaths, as the Yankees have stolen 18 bases in 2019 while being caught just three times, a sterling 86% success rate that leads all of baseball. Last year they stole just 63 bags, while they are currently on pace to eclipse 90 if they keep running the way they have. If anything, the Yankees should be running more often to leverage the success they’re enjoying, but in virtually every other facet, it’s the same performance they rolled out a year ago.
What this should indicate to everyone is that this approach is a feature, not a bug. Brian Cashman and company have had to scramble at times just to get a functioning 25-man roster in the dugout, yet the players the team trusts to fill in are behaving exactly as the regulars would.
The front office has a performance type they favor, and they actively seek out players that either play that style already or can be molded into it. Take Cameron Maybin, whose career TTO rate is 31%. He’s only been on the team a week, so we’re dealing with the smallest of sample sizes, but it’s already 40% with the Yankees. Andrew McCutchen, a late season replacement last year, was the same way. He boasts a career 33.8% TTO rate, and that jumped to 43% in his time with the Yankees.
The deliberate acquisition or manufacturing of this kind of player is an indicator that the Yankees, with all their resources at their disposal, believe in the TTO approach. The results - the second-best offense in baseball last year, on pace to at least match that performance this year - should be a signal that the theory works out, and you can expect the next player acquisition to fall into this bucket too.
Brian Cashman talked in Inside the Empire about how his goal was to create the most redundant, replaceable roster possible. One guy leaves the team or suffers an injury, the next guy provides a similar level of production without having to make too many adjustments. In 2019 he’s done that, and not only is the production the same, but the way it’s executed at the plate is too.