If you followed the Yankees during the 2021 season, it’s likely that you noticed that they ran very hot and cold as a team. As I wrote in early September, it’s likely they were even streakier than you realized at the time, alternating stretches of good play followed by bad play in a way that was very rare in franchise history.
Of course, a team can’t be that streaky without having at least a few players run hot and cold throughout the season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at which Yankees alternated between being white-hot for a good stretch before going icebox cold for another period (or vice versa).
Let’s get a few things out of the way before we get to the fun stuff. We all know what “streaky” purports to mean, yet it’s still a very subjective term. For today’s purposes, I looked at the widest ranges of a player’s wRC+ from one calendar month to the next with a minimum of 60 PA in each month. I chose consecutive calendar months in order to more easily compare apples to apples, set a sample size, and to find immediate swings in performance (i.e., a player who had a great May but poor September may or may not be what we’re looking for.)
Additionally, I certainly have my flaws, but I do try to be inclusive when I write, so if wRC+ is new to you here’s a very short breakdown: Weighted Runs Created Plus takes a batter’s outcomes (walks, singles, doubles, etc.) and weights their respective values accordingly. It then adjusts for park factors and the run-scoring environment of the season, and sets the league average to 100, so a 110 wRC+ is 10 percent better than the league average.
Now let’s get to the fun and put our fandom aside, eliminate biases based on which players we like personally (or don’t), and see who were the streakiest Yankees in 2021. In reverse order, based on the above criteria:
Giancarlo Stanton had a not-so-good July. He struck out 31 times in the month compared to only 19 hits and saw his SLG drop 40 points, so those hits weren’t exactly the Statcast breaking type either. His wRC+ of 86 for the month was less productive than Tyler Wade’s season wRC+ was, for some comparison.
You may remember what happened next. Stanton has a long history of getting his bat hot when the calendar turns to August, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see him start to produce, but did he ever produce. At one point he had five consecutive multi-hit games, and for the month posted a .402/.643 OBP/SLG line. His 181 wRC+ for the month was 95 points higher than it was in July, representing the fourth-highest swing among Yankees on the season.
If you recall Rougned Odor being a big-time producer for the Yankees in July, your recollection is 100 percent correct. His almost Judge-Esque OBP/SLG line of .361/.523 for the month, with four home runs to boot, helped the Yankees go 12-7 in the games Odor played. His 142 wRC+ in July is one all but the elite of MLB hitters would be jealous of.
My oh my did things go south in August. It started off bad with an 0-4 on August 1, and didn’t get much better after that. Over his last eight games and 26 PA of August, Rougie managed to reach base only twice (Anthony Rizzo probably had that many HBP over that same stretch.) Odor’s 46 wRC+ was the worst on the Yankees by far, and represented a drop-off of 96 points, the third-highest month-to-month swing for the team in 2021.
In May of 2021, I was of the opinion that it might have been time to call an end to the baseball-playing career of Brett Gardner. His 44 wRC+ was the worst on a Yankees team that had several players having awful months, and featured a K/BB ratio of 22/7. (I mention that as a reminder that one of Gardner’s strengths is his ability to control the strike zone.)
Impressively, despite most fans feeling that a funeral dirge should have been Gardner’s walk-up music at that point, Brett came back with a vengeance in June. His plate discipline returned as he drew 16 walks to go with 12 hits in his 19 starts for the month, and perhaps even more impressive, seven of his 12 hits went for extra bases. His 142 wRC+ in June was 98 points higher than May’s and represented the second-highest one-month swing for the Yankees in 2021.
Speaking of this past June, the aforementioned Stanton and Gardner, in addition to Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela, all had big offensive months – but none of them was as good as Gary Sánchez was in June. Sánchez put up an immense 172 wRC+ in June with a .372/.663 OBP/SLG line in what was one of the best months of his career. If you’re curious, no – it wasn’t a case of striking out less as his 26.6 percent K rate in June of 2021 is almost exactly what his career strikeout percentage is. It was a case of when he hit the ball, he hit it hard, resulting in 15 extra-base hits in his 20 starts.
I’m sure you know where this is going. Sánchez followed his phenomenal June with a clunker of a July, posting a 67 wRC+. The 105-point swing was the largest by a Yankee in consecutive months in 2021. Gary struggled coming out of the gate, going hitless with eight strikeouts in his first 18 July at-bats, and didn’t do much better over the rest of the month.
What does all of this mean? Not too much other than it’s an interesting off-season discussion topic and perhaps a reminder: All MLB players are going to go through ups and downs over the course of a season. Players who hit 30 home runs in a season don’t hit five per month, and players with a .400 OBP don’t reach base four out of every ten times. The above is just more evidence that baseball is simply very, very hard to be consistently good at.