Depth is obviously an important part of any team, particularly one with as many injury woes as the Yankees. However, it’s important to remember that, through the highs and the lows, usually these players are regarded as “depth” for a reason. You like your chances when they have to fill in a few times a week, but once you start asking for contributions above their pay grade, there’s a problem.
Mike Tauchman is the poster child of this enigma for the Yankees. Aside from Gio Urshela, there may not have been a better embodiment of “next man up” for the Yankees than what Tauchman meant for the club last year. An unheralded Quad-A player the Yankees acquired late in spring training, Tauchman became one of the team’s biggest surprise contributors. His fielding was sublime at all three outfield positions, he was a clutch hitter with runners in scoring position, and his unexpected power outburst led to him acquiring one of the team’s most endearing nicknames, “The Sock Man.”
However, we haven’t heard John Sterling’s best active home run call at all this year. Tauchman’s power has completely vanished for the Yankees this year, which is a problem given their current lineup situation.
He has batted in every position in the batting order this season, including a game at cleanup just this past weekend. Part of this is out of necessity with injuries up and down the lineup, but the Yankees may have become guilty of overexposing Tauchman for more than what he is: an excellent fourth outfielder, but not a long-term starter.
Tauchman’s offensive season is an interesting one to evaluate. His average and on-base percentage are both down from last year, but not unreasonably so. His whiffs and chase rate are also up a bit, but they haven’t affected his walk or strikeout rate too much from last year’s norms. If you just looked at those metrics, you’d figure that Tauchman was about as productive this year as last.
However, Tauchman’s power has been nonexistent. He has just five extra-base hits and no home runs, while receiving the eighth-most plate appearances of anyone on the team. His metrics paint the picture of a hitter who is projected for similar power numbers to last year, but has underachieved. Tauchman’s expected wOBA is exactly the same as it was last year, but his actual wOBA is 71 points lower. His expected slugging percentage is 37 points lower this year than last, but his actual slugging percentage is a whopping 171 points lower.
What’s the culprit? To be honest, Tauchman’s just not hitting the ball as hard as last year, despite some other factors being similar. His exit velocity is down to just 85.6 mph, which is in the 18th percentile league wide. His hard-hit rate has dipped by nine percent. Most concerning, he’s only pulling the baseball 18% of the time this year. It’s great to spread the ball around the field, but Tauchman still did that last year while pulling the baseball 11% more. Pulling the baseball is a hallmark of power, and among players with at least 35 plate appearances, no one is pulling the ball less than Tauchman.
These stats suggest that Tauchman either got lucky last season, or has been unlucky this year. I’d bet more on the former. Tauchman outperformed most of his expected stats last season, and hasn’t been able to reach those same heights this year.
Now, I’d like to stress that this is not the end of the line for Mike Tauchman. In fact, it’s far from it. He is still a very useful MLB player, especially for the Yankees. His defense is top-notch, he has some wheels and his plate discipline and contact ability play well as a bench player. The Yankees have him under contract for four more seasons — he won’t hit free agency until age 34 before 2025. For the minimal amount of money he’s making, Tauchman can more than provide enough value to be worth it for the Yankees to keep him.
However, the hopes that the Yankees had found their next starting outfielder look to be unfounded. Clint Frazier has surpassed Tauchman on the depth chart, and currently has the lead to replace Brett Gardner next year. Remember, depth players are usually depth for a reason. They’re best in short spurts and as temporary fill-ins, but not long-term starters. That’s what the Yankees have in Tauchman — an excellent depth piece, and perhaps the best fourth outfielder in the league. That’s still an excellent return on investment for the minor cost it took to acquire him, but it’s not the ceiling some thought he could reach after his breakout 2019.