There are two important things to remember as you dig into this post: nobody’s perfect, and I’m a genie.
Everyone understands the “nobody’s perfect” bit. We experience it relentlessly in our daily lives. The “I’m a genie” part, well maybe that’s a bit more of a stretch. You just have to roll with it.
I’ve decided to bestow upon some key Yankees hitters one wish (not three, I’m not fully licensed, even in my own imagination). They get one skill boost that could take their production up a notch and bring them a tiny bit closer to perfection. Did they ask for this? No. Did they have any input into the wishes they’re receiving, as is obviously custom when dealing with real genies? Absolutely not. But let’s give it a shot anyway. Who would turn down free wishes?
A couple of ground rules before we begin: choosing health for a player, while certainly fitting these days, is too broad. It’s a cheat. So I won’t be doing it. I’ll also, as much as possible, avoid double-dipping on skills, just to avoid repetition. And, of course, there won’t be any “infinite wishes” loophole. Don’t even try it, Yankees.
Torres stands on the cusp of truly elite status, but he could benefit with a couple of minor improvements. His genie-granted skill upgrade: stop chasing so much.
Torres swung at 31.1% of pitches out of the zone last year. That’s not egregious, but higher than the average 28.3%. He made contact on those swings just 54.9% of the time, though, even further below the 59.6% average. If you can’t hit those pitches, just stop swinging at them!
Judge, of course, is awesome and if there were wishes to be granted, surely health would be it, but like I said, that’s cheating. So let’s settle on this: hit more fly balls.
Judge’s hard-hit numbers are eye-popping: he was in the top 99th percentile among all hitters last year in hard-hit rate (57.1%) and barrel rate (20.2%), but his fly-ball rate has dropped from 33.1% in 2017 (you remember 2017, right?) to 28.6% in 2018 and, last year, to 26.5%. Let’s launch a few more in the air and see what happens.
We can try to get granular with Stanton, but let’s not overthink things: strike out less, Giancarlo! It’s well documented that his MVP campaign in 2017 coincided with the lowest strikeout rate of his career, at 23.6%. That jumped back up to 29.9% in 2018 and was at 33.3% in VERY limited action last year. Make more contact and great things will happen.
Of all the players I looked at, LeMahieu was the most difficult to pick an upgrade for. He exhibited no obvious weaknesses last year: he hit the ball hard, had success against all pitch types, tapped into heretofore unseen power. It was a banner year for The Machine.
So, without necessarily full conviction, let’s grant this wish: swing at more first pitches. He’s never been a big first-pitch swinger; his 20.6% rate last year was his highest since 2015, but it was far below the league average of 28.3%. Hitting at the top of the lineup, in front of Judge and Torres, and with his ability to make contact, perhaps LeMahieu would further benefit from a more aggressive approach.
Sort of a corollary to Torres’ wish: swing at more pitches in the zone. Like Judge, the Kraken’s had a 99th percentile barrel rate, but he swung at only 58.9% of pitches in the zone, well off the league-wide pace of 66.1%. Sanchez’s offensive performance wasn’t bad last year, with a 116 wRC+ and a 119 OPS+, but Yankees fans know there’s so much more potential, having glimpsed a truly magical two-month debut stretch in 2016. Swing at the good pitches. Easy.
Speaking of swinging at good pitches: eat your meatballs, Gardy! The veteran outfielder only swung at meatballs 64.7% of the time, well below the 75.1% average. Sanchez was also an offender in this category, but saw fewer meatballs—5.5% of the pitches he was thrown— than Gardner, who saw meatballs on 7.9% of pitches. They’re delicious, I promise.
The obvious answer here would be defense, but it’s a bit broad and feels like a cheat. So let’s pick something that’s only marginally less broad and therefore feels slightly less like a cheat: taking walks.
Andujar’s offensive skills are apparent. He makes contact, only whiffing on 19.7% of pitches in his rookie season, compared to a 24.3% average. He’s an extra-base machine, setting a franchise record for rookie doubles with 47. He just doesn’t walk. His 4.1% clip was in the bottom 4% of the league in 2018.
Voit is another challenge. He hits the ball hard, walks at a very good clip, and puts the ball in the air. Remember Gardner’s 64.7% meatball swing rate? Voit’s was 90.9%. The dude doesn’t get cheated. So what wish shall we grant him? How about this: better awareness of offspeed pitches. His expected batting average against change-of-pace offerings was just .213 last year; his expected slugging was just .433. That’s not horrible, but it’s the weakest amongst his splits against pitch types.
When you dig into Urshela’s breakout season with the Yankees last year, it’s tough to find something to quibble with. But he’s got a wish coming and here it is: hit the ball to the opposite field more. His oppo-rate last year was 24.2%, a tick below the league average of 25.4%. But when you factor in the friendly short porch, the benefits of hitting to right field are significantly more robust. Combine a better opposite field approach with an already solid contact rate (82.2% on pitches in the zone) and Urshela could take yet another step forward.