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Early-season weird stats: Yankees edition

Small sample sizes create room for the unthinkable. Let’s have some fun while watching some weird stats and numbers

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

By now, we know that we shouldn’t trust early-season stat lines. We have seen too many fast April starts crash in May or June, too many batters or pitchers struggle in the first few weeks of a season, only to pick it up later down the road.

There is a reason for that. Baseball is a game with a considerable degree of randomness involved; we need chunks of data to provide legitimacy to a specific player’s performance or stat line. The more data, the better.

Here are some weird stat lines by Yankees’ players in the early going:

Gary Sánchez’s 15.6 K%

We all know Gary Sánchez has prodigious power for a catcher. After all, he was able to hit 10 homers last year in a short season even with a batting average below .200, and has gone yard 117 times in his career.

But he is also extremely prone to punchouts. His career strikeout percentage is 26.1, and it was 36 percent last season. That’s why it’s pleasantly surprising that he has trimmed his strikeout rate to 15.6 percent in the early days of the 2021 campaign.

Sánchez worked hard during the offseason to leave 2020 behind, and it’s paying off. It’s highly doubtful that his K% stays lower than 20 during the whole season, but that’s the fun thing about small samples: they can really make a stat line jump to the eye. Here is hoping that the Kraken can at least return to his 2017 levels (.278/.345/.531, 22.9 K%.) That would be a huge win for the Yankees.

Aaron Hicks’ -2.5 Offensive Runs Above (Below) Average

Aaron Hicks is the Yankees’ regular third hitter for a reason. The manager likes his combination of power, patience, and the fact he is a switch-hitter. The outfielder usually has very competitive at-bats, and excels at getting on base.

However, he hasn’t gotten going this season, at least not yet. Before Tuesday's games, he was hitting .129/.250/.226 with a 43 wRC+. According to FanGraphs’ ‘Offense’ rating, which means Offensive Runs Above Average, Hicks’ -2.5 is the worst mark on the Yankees.

He will probably get going eventually, but I’d guess you didn’t have Hicks as the worst hitter on the team, did you?

Aaron Judge’s -0.4 Def (Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment)

This one is surprising. Judge, when fully healthy, is among the very best defensive right fielders in the league. However, FanGraphs’ ‘Defense’ rating, which is basically fielding runs plus a positional adjustment for every player, disagrees, at least with this season’s tiny sample size.

Judge is currently at -0.4 wins in terms of overall defensive value. He hasn’t been on the negative side of it since 2017, when he finished with -1.3. There should be a correction with each passing week.

Kyle Higashioka’s 469 wRC+

Just as everyone expected, Higgy has been the Yankees’ best hitter, with a wRC+ beyond even Ruthian levels. The Bombers’ backup catcher as the most productive batter after nine contests.

Of course, Higashioka’s wRC+ comes with a grand total of eight plate appearances. Considering his career wRC+ is 71, it’s fair to say he is due for a bit of regression.

Gleyber Torres’ .026 ISO

Torres’ 2021 season has been a nightmare so far. Known for his offense – he has 65 home runs and a career 119 wRC+ at 24 – he has struggled on the field so far, and some of his defensive miscues have cost the Yankees dearly.

But his offense has also been lacking in 2021. He is bound to have a hot streak soon, but so far, he has produced almost no power, with a .026 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average.) Torres has only one extra-base hit, a double. He has a career .215 ISO, so … yeah, that .026 mark won’t last.

Giancarlo Stanton’s 44 wRC+

Aside from a mammoth home run that nearly broke Statcast, Stanton has been cold at the outset of 2021. After Monday’s game, he is hitting .167/.231/.278 with a 44 wRC+. The man has a career 141 wRC+ and 313 home runs to his name. I’m betting he turns it around sooner than later.

Chad Green’s 0.00 ERA/4.49 xFIP

Chad Green hasn’t been scored upon this season. That means his ERA is good, a nice, round 0.00. Yet expected Fielding Independent Pitching, or xFIP, sees him differently.

The xFIP metric judges every pitcher as if he had a league average HR/FB ratio and average outcomes in balls in play, plus walks and strikeouts. Since Green hasn’t been striking out so many hitters this year and hasn’t given up a home run (hence his 0.0% HR/FB ratio), there is a sizable disparity between his ERA and xFIP. Chances are he will concede a run eventually and his strikeout rate will pick up, but for now, it’s a fun, weird differential.

Aroldis Chapman’s 73.3 K%

Well, yeah. Chapman is a great reliever with an elite strikeout rate. He has a 41.4 strikeout percentage for his career, which is insanely high. Yet, he apparently took it up a notch this year and, after Monday’s game against the Blue Jays, was sporting a 73.3 mark in the stat.

But let’s calm down. It’s just four innings worth of data. That number will go… up! (Just kidding.)

Nick Nelson’s 9.00 ERA/0.65 FIP

FIP considers a pitcher’s walks, home runs, and strikeouts to estimate his run prevention skills. Nelson has pitched 4.0 innings so far, and considering he has been very unlucky with a .556 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and has a 42.1 strikeout percentage and a 5.3 walk percentage, it’s fair to say that FIP loves him and has him at 0.65 so far.

ERA, on the other hand, just reflects the four earned runs he’s yielded in four innings. Of course, the sample is extremely small, and the difference between his ERA and FIP will likely shrink throughout the season.