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The Yankees with the worst luck this season

These players have run into some tough luck in the first half of 2019

MLB: New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to baseball, it’s sometimes better to be lucky than good. For years we lived by the old adage that what goes around comes around, but with advanced stats taking a larger role by the minute, we can do quite a bit to pinpoint which players have been lucky and which performances are for real. We’ve reached the point in the season where the sample size is large enough to declare that certain players have simply been more unlucky than others, whether they’ve done a poor job of creating their own luck or not. These are the Yankees that likely don’t consider themselves the luckiest men on the face of the earth this season.

Gary Sanchez

Sanchez is becoming one of MLB’s poster boys for bad luck, and might force those behind baseball’s advanced metrics to take another look at some of their calculations. His 2018 season was a disaster on many accounts, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked on paper. Among players with at least 350 plate appearances, Sanchez ranked 4th in the difference between his expected batting average and his actual average.

Gary Sanchez’s Expected Batting Stats

Year BA xBA Diff MLB Diff Rank
Year BA xBA Diff MLB Diff Rank
2018 0.186 0.222 -0.036 4th (350+ PA)
2019 0.268 0.285 -0.017 33rd (200+ PA)

This season he’s tearing the cover off the ball at an MVP level, but he’s still underperforming his expected stats. Sanchez ranks 33rd in MLB among players with 200+ plate appearances with a -.017 differential in BA and xBA. His .264 BABIP this season doesn’t jump off the page, but it’s much better than the unsustainably low .197 he posted last season. Sanchez probably feels lucky after last season, but he’s experienced some of the worst luck on the team when you consider the league average BABIP is .291, 27 points higher than his own .264.

Kendrys Morales

It’s true that Morales has consistently underperformed Statcast expectations in recent years, but it’s hard to not consider him unlucky while he owns an MLB-worst (among players with 200+ PA) -.079 differential between BA and xBA. To put that into perspective, Jarrod Dyson led MLB last season with a -.054 differential. In fact, the number two man behind Morales this season is Justin Smoak, whose differential of -.051 doesn’t even compare with Morales. You have to account for the fact that Morales hits the ball on the ground far too often for a player with his lack of speed, but he also batted .250 in 2017 with a similar batted ball profile and nobody was calling him a speedster then either. It will be interesting to see which runs out first, the veteran first baseman’s bad luck or Yankees fans’ patience.

Brett Gardner

The longest tenured Yankee doesn’t have much of a history with bad luck. A lot of that has to do with the concept that speed never slumps. Even at age 35, Gardner’s still in the 93rd percentile of MLB players when it comes to sprint speed, but he’s also been a very different batter than his previous 11 seasons. Gardner is launching at the highest rate of his career, hitting 31.7% of his batted balls for fly-balls or pop-ups. In recent seasons, Gardner hovered around 26% of batted balls hit in the air. By doing this, Gardner has cut down significantly on his ability to leg out weakly hit grounders, a staple of his game previously. The veteran’s career BABIP is a very high .306 and his career low was last season at a still respectable .272. This season his BABIP sits at a lowly .227.

Brett Gardner Expected Batting Stats

Year BA xBA Diff SLG xSLG Diff
Year BA xBA Diff SLG xSLG Diff
2019 0.228 0.239 -0.011 0.443 0.342 0.101

Much of Gardner’s struggles have to do with his own changes in approach. However, among Yankees players with 150+ PA’s (8 qualifiers), he ranks only behind Sanchez and Morales for negative expected batting average differential. Gardner isn’t experiencing the same bad luck as someone like Sanchez, who’s annihilating baseballs, but there is a sense that a few hits could go his way in the second half of the season if water finds its level. The case could be made, however, that Gardner’s been lucky in the power department. In fact, his expected slugging differential is tops on the team. Keep in mind that Gardner has outperformed expected slugging the past three seasons, so his ability to take advantage of the short porch might have more to do with it than luck. Regardless, it’s reasonable to expect Gardner’s average to creep up and slugging percentage to decline in the coming months.