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The Pinstripe Alley community grades the 2021 Yankees

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We put out a call for fan grades on 20 notable Yankees players. It’s time to check that report card.

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees
A tale of contrasts.
Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

At the beginning of December, I put out a call for Yankees fans to cast their own grades for the most relevant contributors to the 2021 Yankees. The writing staff had just recently completed its 38-post series reviewing the same, but just like last year, we wanted to hear from you.

I have to admit: The response was tremendous. We received 157 survey entries last year; this time around, we got 513. Thank you to all who took the time to fill out the grades!

Now, onto the results.

Catchers

C Gary Sánchez
Most common grade: F (19.7%)
Average grade: D+

C Kyle Higashioka
Most common grade: C (20.3%)
Average grade: C+

Sánchez fared better in 2021 than he did during his miserable 2020, but not by much. In fact, his most common grade was still an F. The only difference is that he at least hit league-average this time around, boosting his average grade from D- to D+. Barring a post-lockout trade, Sánchez will be back for 2022 due to the weak catching market, and the Yankees still need a lot more from him.

As for Higashioka? Higgy is just Higgy: a perfectly whatever backup catcher who doesn’t offer much excitement for the future since he’s already 31, and whose bat wilts with extended exposure. We’re a long way from the days of Jorge Posada at this point, let alone the younger, All-Star editions of El Gary.

Infielders

1B Anthony Rizzo
Most common grade: B (27%)
Average grade: B-

2B DJ LeMahieu
Most common grade: C (26.2%)
Average grade: C+

3B Gio Urshela
Most common grade: C+ (20.3%)
Average grade: C+

SS Gleyber Torres
Most common grade: C- (22.3%)
Average grade: C-

1B Luke Voit
Most common grade: C (22.2%)
Average grade: C-

What an unexciting infield. The top grade went to a trade deadline addition who only made it into 49 games. Rizzo at least provided stability at the position, which Voit could not meet due to nagging injuries that kept him out of the lineup for nearly 100 games. Some respondents wanted to give him an Incomplete, and I understand that.

Urshela, LeMahieu, and Torres were a sliding scale of a broken dreams. Urshela’s bat was a far cry from the exciting talent that came out of nowhere to capture fans’ hearts in 2019-20. Take that sentiment, add a five-year contract and even more expectations, and then you’ll have an idea of what it was like to watch LeMahieu stumble from MVP-caliber form to simply forgettable in 2021.

As for Torres, the shortstop experiment could not have gone worse, and his power outage at bat meant that he didn’t hit nearly enough to make up for it. They’re well-deserved C’s all around and honestly, those who dipped even lower in their grades for the infield can’t be blamed for their displeasure.

Outfielders

RF Aaron Judge
Most common grade: A (48.5%)
Average grade: A

OF Brett Gardner
Most common grade: C (21.7%)
Average grade: C

RF/DH Giancarlo Stanton
Most common grade: A- (27.1%)
Average grade: B+

LF Joey Gallo
Most common grade: F (15.8%)
Average grade: D+

The outfield situation is better than the infield because Judge and Stanton were two of baseball’s best hitters in 2021. It’s as simple as that. If Judge and Stanton didn’t play as well as they did, the Yankees wouldn’t have even sniffed a Wild Card spot. They dragged this underwhelming offense to the finish line, and the frustrating finale sure wasn’t their fault, either.

With Aaron Hicks injured for essentially the entire season, the veteran Gardner had to step in, and to no one’s surprise, the 38-year-old looked his age. The C grade is quite fitting because I don’t think anyone had high hopes for him. He just shouldn’t have been starting that much, and he doesn’t create the lineup.

Gallo was a colossal disappointment. For all the criticisms around his style of play, he was still a 139 OPS+ bat in Texas during the first half. When you hit just .160 with a 93 OPS+, that’s not going to win many fans. Sure enough, a whole bunch of F’s were directed his way.

Starting Pitchers

SP Gerrit Cole
Most common grade: A- (26.6%)
Average grade: B+

SP Jameson Taillon
Most common grade: B (26.8%)
Average grade: B-

SP Jordan Montgomery
Most common grade: B (30.4%)
Average grade: B

SP Nestor Cortes Jr.
Most common grade: B+ (24.6%)
Average grade: B+

SP Domingo Germán
Most common grade: C (19.9%)
Average grade: C

The Yankees’ starting rotation was quietly competent in 2021, exceeding preseason projections with great credit to pitching coach Matt Blake. Montgomery and Taillon were perfectly solid, Cortes emerged from alternate site limbo with a bunch of tricks up his sleeve to become a folk hero, and even veteran Corey Kluber pitched well before injuries inevitably curtailed his campaign.

Cole was the anchor though and he delivered a campaign that very well could have won the Cy Young Award with a different bloc of voters. So why did he only get an overall B+ with the most common grade being A- rather than A? Well, a $324 million contract carries great expectations with it, and Cole didn’t dominate to the same degree after the sticky stuff crackdown. A hamstring injury in September also likely impacted his terrible Wild Card Game start at Fenway Park, and all that adds up to a bummer of a way to end an otherwise-strong year for the ace — hence the A-’s and B+’s.*

*I can’t speak for the 29 people who gave Cole a C or worse though, or for the lone angry fella who marked him an F. Then again, he gave Judge and Stanton C’s with a B+ for Gardner, so who even knows?

Relievers

RP Aroldis Chapman
Most common grade: B- (20.7%)
Average grade: C+

RP Jonathan Loáisiga
Most common grade: A (29.9%)
Average grade: A-

RP Chad Green
Most common grade: B+ (23.1%)
Average grade: B-

RP Lucas Luetge
Most common grade: B+ (23.8%)
Average grade: B+

Bravo, Jonathan Loáisiga. Bravo. What a year for the superb setup man, and the fans let him know! Chapman and Green had stretches of dominance, but not to the same degree as Loáisiga, and both of those former bullpen aces endured rough patches that made them borderline unwatchable at points. They only saved their overall grades with better looks at other times.

Much like Cortes, Luetge rose from anonymity and non-roster invitee status to become a valued member of the pitching staff. It was quite the come-up for a man who hadn’t appeared in the majors since 2015. Well done.

I should also mention that a number of bonus comments wanted to give high marks to trade deadline acquisition Clay Holmes, who certainly earned them. I just didn’t want to make this survey too long. But in 28 innings, he was filthy.

Manager/GM

Manager Aaron Boone
Most common grade: C (16.9%)
Average grade: C-

GM Brian Cashman
Most common grade: F (17.8%)
Average grade: C-

Not much of a surprise here. When a team underachieves, management is going to shoulder plenty of blame, and while I agree that the big names had to perform better, I frankly don’t have much sympathy for Boone or Cashman, either. Neither swung the bats anemically in key spots or threw meatball pitches, but there were several instances throughout the season when it didn’t feel like they put the team in a position to win.

Lastly, I’ll repeat what I said in 2020 about trying to grade owner Hal Steinbrenner. I share the sentiments and it might well be no different than grading Boone or Cashman, but I stand by this:

Some respondents asked why I didn’t include owner Hal Steinbrenner in the survey. I decided that it would be hard to evaluate him on a typical grading scale based on how little we definitely know about his contributions. If anything, I feel like he would have to be graded pass/fail.

Maybe next year, I’ll just include that pass/fail option for Hal.

Miscellaneous Comments

“A mediocre/below average team, helped by a few outstanding performers.” - Respondent No. 160

“Signing Boone as a manager for three more years is ludicrous. He’s done nothing, with talent laden teams. He’s mishandled the pitching staff but he stays out of trouble by being inept and that’s exactly what Yankee management wants.” - Sub par

“Cashman should be moved up or let go if Yankees do not go to World Series in 2022” - Respondent No. 39

“Wish there was a grade for Hal, who should get an F.” - Ruff Trade

“The pitchers deserved more than they received. Except for Torres and Sanchez, defense was good.” - tvedmond

“Based on my grades for each individual, I am amazed that the team achieving over 90 wins.” - Respondent No. 165

“I get that Brian Cashman has to answer to Hal Steinbrenner, but I am absolutely appalled that we have made no moves whatsoever in one of the better free agent markets in recent memory. And the moves that he made in season didn’t work out nearly as well as they should have (see Rizzo, Anthony and Gallo, Joey) ... Plenty of other AL teams have taken steps to improve themselves, and the Yankees have done absolutely nothing. I don’t see how this is a winning strategy.” - Respondent No. 171

“Bottom line, this team is going backwards and needs immediate help!” - Mjs