When the 2021 season started for the Yankees, no one thought that they’d be playing under .500 baseball and be closer to Baltimore in the standings than to first place. Virtually all prognosticators, professional and otherwise, had the Yankees as the clear favorite to be representing the American League in the World Series later this year.
Although there are some aspects of the Yankees’ play and roster construction that may be cause for concern (starting pitchers numbered two through five and infield defense have justifiably been well covered), the team’s ability to score runs is not one of them. If you’re worried about the Yankees’ offensive struggles so far in 2021, I’m here to tell you, (insert Aaron Rodgers voice) R-E-L-A-X.
Since the start of the 2019 season – that’s 234 games – the Yankees are first in MLB in runs per game, total runs scored, and OPS+. If you follow baseball even tangentially, you’re aware that a good chunk of that stretch was played without some (many?) of their best offensive players, and they still managed to score more runs than any other team in spite of the handicap. Given the players in the 2021 regular lineup were also players on the 2019 and 2020 rosters, the premise that there will be significantly different production on a team scale this season is an unreasonable conclusion to draw.
Of course, there are some of us who lean toward the skeptical, glass half-empty side of the forecast spectrum, and would prefer to weigh the small sample size of 2021 more heavily. That’s fine, but even as sluggish as the Yankee offense has been so far this season, their team on-base percentage is still better than the league average. As anyone who read Bill James in the 1980s can tell you, when it comes to scoring runs on a team level, obsessing over whether or not opportunities were capitalized upon is wasted mental energy. The key to scoring runs is to get as many opportunities as possible – i.e. get as many runners on base as possible. As long as hitters are reaching base safely, runs will be scored. It’s true the Yankees’ power show hasn’t been put on display so far this season, as they’re currently 22nd in MLB in SLG. Of course, if you’re worried about whether or not the Yankees will hit for power, then your concerns exceed the scope of this article.
That’s on a macro, team-wide level. If you’re concerned about an individual player or three, I have even better news for you. Every batter in the Yankees “when healthy” lineup – LeMahieu, Judge, Hicks, Stanton, Voit, Torres, Urshela, Sanchez, Frazier – has a better than league average OPS+ as a Yankee. In fact, Hicks’ career OPS+ is only one point below league average due to the slow start to his career when he was a Twin – all other starters have a 100 or better OPS+ for their entire career. When commentators discuss lineups without a hole or a weak spot in them – this is that lineup.
Worried about their lineup being too right-handed dominant? Discard that fear as wel. As noted above, a right-handed dominant lineup is what has led MLB in runners crossing home plate since 2019, and platoon splits affect left-handed dominant teams more than right-handed dominant teams anyway. Additionally, the Yankees have only lost one left-handed batter who had more than 300 plate appearances for them between 2019 and 2021: Didi Gregorius, who posted an 87 OPS+ for them in 2019. (Reports have since confirmed that he was not in fact, using a pool cue as a bat that season…) And due respect to the lefty-hitting new additions Jay Bruce and Rougned Odor, but they are free from concern about being confused with Don Mattingly and Robinson Cano in the box.
Concerns about too many “all or nothing” power hitters, generally speaking, are greatly exaggerated as well. The final score of a baseball game is decided by how many, not how. Discussions about the aesthetics of the game are legitimate and are issues over which we should all engage. The reality, however, is that a lineup of nine Rod Carews and a lineup of nine Bryce Harpers would score about the same number of runs over the course of a season. How it gets done with regards to wins and losses isn’t really a factor.
It’s cool to be a fan and become fanatical when your favorite team struggles – it’s why we’re all here. That shouldn’t preclude us, however, from using rational thought when assessing particular aspects of team performance. Consequently, if you’re worried about the Yankees’ offense then by the power of Billy Martin’s high ball glass, I command you:
Relax and wait for the power station – it’s coming.