One of the best parts of this stretch run for the Yankees has been watching the impact of the next-men-up. In this case, Andrew Velazquez and Tyler Wade are the latest players to step up and contribute to wins with the regulars on the Injured List. Everyone loves the hometown kid or homegrown prospect who had to pay his dues, but all feel-good stories must come to an end at some point. And for Velazquez and Wade, that time is sooner rather than later.
Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees would not be in the position they are without Velazquez and Wade. They’ve brought an element of speed to a lumbering Yankees lineup, come through with timely and even game-winning hits, and provided ship-shape defense on the left side. However, neither are nor should be considered full-time starters.
Those distinctions belong to Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela, both of whom are nearing their returns from the IL.
Gio Urshela could be back for the Oakland series, will play for Somerset again tomorrow. Brett Gardner should be available tonight. Gleyber Torres could begin a rehab assignment this weekend.— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) August 23, 2021
Torres and Urshela’s returns will push Velazquez and Wade back to the bench, and that is the right decision to make. The former pair have established track records of success sustained across multiple seasons in the big leagues, while the latter pair’s recent results are a blip in otherwise uninspiring career numbers. Not to mention, Torres and Urshela have demonstrated much higher ceilings of production and are proven contributors in the postseason.
And this is coming from someone who very much believes in playing the hot hand or “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Velazquez and Wade are performing right now, so why interrupt that momentum? Maybe there is some truth in Wade’s statements how regular playing time and consistent at-bats have finally unlocked his bat. But what happens in a scenario where the Yankees don’t immediately plug Torres and Urshela back into the starting lineup? What happens when the hits stop falling and all of a sudden they’ve wasted time that could have been used getting Torres and Urshela back into the rhythm of the season?
There’s no telling how much longer the results will keep flowing for Velazquez and Wade, and in fact there are multiple signs that suggest they could dry up any minute. There are several metrics that point to the unsustainability of the pair’s results, owing to luck, approach at the plate, and batted ball profile.
Speaking of luck, Velazquez and Wade have been two of the luckiest batters in MLB. Out of almost 600 batters with at least 30 plate appearances this season, Wade has the tenth-highest delta between wOBA and xwOBA, while Velazquez sits 21st on that list. The pair outperform their other expected batting statistics, leading one to believe that results are bound to normalize sooner rather than later. Additionally, Wade’s BABIP of .380 and Velazquez’s of .333 are well above the league average (.291), giving further weight to the belief that regression is due.
Wade is quite an anomaly. Glancing at his quality of contact, it’s easy to see why he has struggled throughout his career to string together hits. What’s even more shocking is that he’s actually producing the worst batted-ball quality of his career in 2021, and is somehow getting career production.
His 80.5 mph average exit velocity is dead last in the league among batters with at least 50 batted ball events, and almost six mph slower than his career average. It makes sense then that he owns an expected wOBA on contact more than 100 points below league average — if you make poor contact you can’t expect to do well. This is why I have no problem relegating Wade to the bench when Urshela returns — he is constantly teetering on the edge of collapse.
Things are a little more encouraging with Velazquez. Relative to Wade, he hits the ball harder, owns a BABIP and xwOBAcon closer to league average, and produces results more in line with his expected metrics. That said, his approach at the plate does not leave him much margin for error. He owns a measly 2.9 percent walk rate, which when paired with his 32.4 percent strikeout rate places him in the ninth percentile in walk-to-strikeout ratio. His productivity at the plate therefore is almost solely driven by balls in play, and considering the lack of power, his offensive value takes a nosedive the instant balls stop finding the grass.
Again, I do not wish to minimize the boost Velazquez and Wade have brought to the club. Their contributions have directly resulted in wins, all while bringing a fresh, attractive style of play to an at times stale lineup. That said, as we enter the back stretch of the season, you want your best hitters in the lineup every night. And that means getting Torres and Urshela back on the field and putting Velazquez and Wade back on the bench.