Despite their often pedestrian pitching performances by the back-end starters and late-inning relievers, meltdowns which weighed down their overall record, a depleted Yankees lineup has somehow managed to replicate last year’s offensive dominance. Even if the individual performers have looked different, the results have been broadly the same, perhaps slightly better, again ranking in the top two of the American League in runs scored and wRC+.
In 2019, the Yankees were the third best team in the majors against both lefties and righties per wRC+. Even with a season of injuries to sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the club deployed a deep lineup loaded with righty power bats. The Yankees as a whole, also finished well above average against both left and right-handed pitching.
Though they often trotted out a righty-dominant lineup, the right-handers they deployed were at least as capable of hitting same-sided pitching as well as southpaws. Among the Yankees’ hitters with the ten most plate appearances over the course of the 2019 season, half of them hit better than average against lefties and righties according to wRC+. Further, only one performed below average against right-handed pitching, and just two were more than ten percent worse than average facing lefties. This made for a particularly flexible, balanced lineup, capable of putting up runs against either-handed pitching.
Further, with nearly every position occupied by an above average Yankees hitter, one through nine, the lineup offered no reprieve for opposing pitchers.
This season’s run of injuries has forced the club to turn to a number of third-string players, unfit for day-to-day service on a major-league ball-field. Tyler Wade, who the Yankees started everyday at short during Gleyber Torres’ absence, is bad against righties, but creates “Rothkos of Despair” against lefties.
Although the power numbers have tapered, Mike Tauchman’s actually been able to get on base this season almost as much as last year against righties. However, against lefties, he’s apparently taken art classes with Wade, posting an unplayable .100/.243/100 slash-line against lefties, compared to last year’s stellar marks of .357/.446/.529.
Brett Gardner’s sub-Mendoza Line (.198 batting average) season wouldn’t look so bad if he never had to play against lefties—the same could be said for Tauchman. Gardy’s .807 OPS and plus-defense is a solid everyday option against RHPs, but with his production falling off a cliff against lefties, he’s effectively a glorified platoon player. All three left-handed hitters’ lopsided marks have dragged down the overall Yankees’ production, particularly against left-handed pitching. Starting all three against a lefty, is like forfeiting a third of your total outs.
Even so, DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit have had such strong follow-up performances to last year’s breakouts, they’re carrying the rest of the lineup on their backs. Last year, LeMahieu was good against righties, and superb against lefties. This season, he’s been great against lefties, but played out of his mind against righties. His wRC+ of 195 against righties, up from last year’s 119, now trails just Freddie Freeman in all of the majors. After an eight-hit series against the Jays, LeMahieu’s forced his way into the front of the AL MVP conversation.
With more homers than anyone else in baseball, Luke Voit seems like he’s undeniably among the best handful of hitters in the AL. Of the Yankees who’ve been available all year, LeMahieu and Voit have really been the only two consistent hitters against both lefties and righties. By thinking outside of the bun, they’ve made the Yankees’ offense supreme, Baja Blasting opposite field homers into the short right field porch in the Bronx over and over again. When the bottom third of the lineup often couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat, Voit and LeMahieu have been the Yankees’ life vests.
A healthy Clint Frazier has been consistently great for the first time in his career, as evidenced by his 171/147 vs. LHP/RHP wRC+ splits. Forget Gleyber Torres, Glasses Gleyber looks like the All-Star shortstop the Yankees have started over the past two years, a far superior option to the dashingly handsome, but offensively challenged Wade. Urshela’s come off the IL, and has effectively repeated last year’s performance despite missing some time with the bone spur. Gary Sánchez has too much offensive potential to give up on, and it seems like he just might be in the midst of turning around the worst slump of his career.
All this has allowed the Yankees to do better than tread water…and they just got Stanton and Judge back. The heart of last year’s production against lefties has yet to even get going. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton’s returns rebalance the Yankee lineup. Over the past several years, the two sluggers have been even better against lefties than righties, repairing the only true deficiency in the current Yankees lineup. Replacing Tauchman and Gardner’s innings with Judge and Stanton, is like dumping nitrous into a high-speed sports car, it might end with an injury, but you’re gonna go really, really fast. If Judge and Stanton can join in the fun, the Yankees can roll into the postseason with the best offense in baseball. What we’ve known all along is as true as ever, the Yankees can beat anybody as long as their pitching cooperates.