It’s a copycat league. All professional sports leagues are. Once Stephen Curry started raining threes all over NBA courts, teams (and analytics) pointed towards the benefits of shooting more threes and playing fast. In the NFL, dual-threat quarterbacks are running the league. One might think guys like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen are primary-rocket throwers, but they can move around the pocket and create something out of nothing, too.
Then of course, there is MLB. Ten years ago, only a few teams had a clue how to use high-level pitch-tracking data, but over time, we saw more and more high-spin pitchers come around. Gradually, we saw more and more Rapsodo tracking units and high-speed Edgertronic cameras popping up in spring training and behind home plate at big league fields.
This is the way. You take some of the best traits from successful teams and do your best mimicry to replicate them on your big-league team, minor league levels, and even coaching staff. The teams beginning the World Series today have strengths where the Yankees’ deficits are concentrated. This exercise will be straightforward because most fans are probably all thinking the same things.
Now, wherein lies those deficits? Well, Atlanta has done a phenomenal job supplementing its core with trade and/or free agent acquisitions. That’s not to say that the Yankees haven’t necessarily done the same, but Atlanta’s acquisitions have been very contextually sound. That is, almost all of them have taken the state of the roster into strong consideration, rather than making tunnel vision moves.
That’s the thing about the Yankees’ recent string of acquisitions that has confused some folks. Each move (outside of Andrew Heaney) looks wonderful in a vacuum! But when you sum all them up, the roster has many good players, but some glaring holes — such as a defensive shortstop and center fielder.
When Ronald Acuña Jr. went down for the season and Cristian Pache proved that his bat was not quite ready for the show, Atlanta called on several outfield veterans who could support the already-thriving stars like Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and the breakout seasons of Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson.
Joc Pederson provided a power-lefty bat with hefty postseason experience. The acquisition of Eddie Rosario brought in a free-swinging, contact machine who could balance the less-contact oriented lefty in Pederson. They revitalized the Jorge Soler of 2019. He cut his K% by nearly 10 percent after joining Atlanta. Then finally, they reacquired the defensively-flexible Adam Duvall who’d already had success with the team in previous seasons. You may not think of Duvall as an elite-defender, but his 86th-percentile sprint speed and 72nd-percentile Outfield Jump rating make him playable at all three of the outfield positions.
I personally am a big fan of Joey Gallo. He is extremely talented and has one of the highest ceilings in the league. But in way, does his strikeout rates and strictly-corner outfield defense perpetuate issues that have plagued the Yankees? That fact has to be considered.
Moving over to Houston, you will find one glaring strength that is often nowhere to be found in the Bronx come playoff time: the absurd ability to make contact. I know. I’m beating a dead horse. It must be done though! The Astros have targeted contact-oriented players in both the amateur draft and free agency for a decade.
They have an affinity for players with a variance in the way their barrel enters the zone and it has really paid off. The Yankees did the same thing by reupping DJ LeMahieu and acquiring Anthony Rizzo, but the Rizzo move was too little too late for the 2021 season. Contact-making ability plays up in the playoffs. If your roster is constructed around players whose swings will inevitably lead to consistent contact, then you will inflict pain onto opposing pitchers, no matter how good they are.
Having a few swing-and-miss bats won’t kill you. In fact, for players like Gary Sánchez, they’re better off being aggressive no matter the repercussions. But having multiple players who can be pitched to in similar ways allows pitchers to have a focus and not worry too much about changing their plan. These things make a huge difference in the playoffs when the pitchers are better and can consistently pitch to their strengths.
The two lineups put a lot of pressure in the playoffs by attacking opponents with different types of swings from hitters who aren’t likely to strikeout. It’s easier said than done. Luck is definitely at play come playoff time but there is no denying that this type of hitting style plays up in the playoffs, and both the Yankees and Brian Cashman need to take notes.