It has been a quiet offseason for the New York Yankees. In advance of the current work stoppage, the club stood pat amid an absolute frenzy of free agent signings. Now, with the lockout in place and no meaningful negotiations, let alone progress toward ending it, on the immediate horizon, the club will not even have the chance to make any significant moves for a while.
And though the 2021 club, like the 2020 team that preceded it, was wildly inconsistent and irritating, there are reasons to believe that the 2022 Yankees are set up for success with the pieces already in place.
1. Healthy Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are monsters
For the first time since the club obtained Stanton from Miami prior to the 2018 season, the Yankees’ hulking mashers stayed healthy for an entire season. In doing so, the two terrorized opposing pitching. Judge and Stanton combined to club 74 homeruns, racked up 9.1 bWAR together, and finished with a 149 and 136 OPS+, respectively.
A quick look at the pair’s metrics provide reason to believe that if they stay healthy again in 2022, they will match or even exceed their 2021 production. Judge and Stanton are absolutely elite when it comes to smashing baseballs.
Judge finished 2021 no lower than the 96th percentile in average exit velocity, maximum exit velocity, hard hit percentage, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, and barrel percentage. While Stanton did not quite match Judge in all those categories, Giancarlo still finished 2021 in the 100th percentile in maximum exit velocity and hard hit percentage, and the 99th percentile in average exit velocity.
Two of baseball’s biggest and strongest sluggers form the backbone of an offense that either one of them can put on their back when they go on a hot streak. If and when they are hot at the same time? That spells good things for the 2022 Yankees.
2. Signs of life from Gleyber Torres
There is no real way to sugarcoat what a disaster the 2020 and 2021 seasons were for Gleyber Torres. After hitting 62 homeruns and turning in 121 and 125 wRC+ seasons prior to turning 23 years old, Torres fell off a cliff offensively, beginning in the COVID-abbreviated 2020 campaign. That continued last season, when Torres only managed to hit 9 homeruns in 127 games played and finished the season with a sub-par 94 wRC+.
All that said, Torres was considerably better in the second half of 2021. His previous power surge did not reappear, but he did manage a .794 OPS, a mark almost 100 points higher than he finished the season with and finished the second half with a 115 wRC+. The Yankees finally pulled the plug on the Gleyber-as-a-shortstop experience in mid-September, and though correlation does not mean causality, Torres hit even better after the move.
As a second baseman, he finished the season with a .300 batting average and a 124 wRC+, albeit in limited plate appearances. It seems highly unlikely that the club would play Gleyber at shortstop in 2022, so perhaps a full campaign back at second base will herald a return to the lofty offensive numbers that Torres achieved in his first two seasons rather than the dismal statistics he compiled the past two years.
Any kind of return to form for Torres, who also stole more bases last season than any other returning Yankee, would almost certainly make the Yankees offense more formidable.
3. Luis Severino
After missing almost all of the past three seasons, the former ace returned to the majors late in 2021. His gaudy results (a 0.00 ERA, for example) are basically meaningless, considering the small sample size of 6 innings pitched for the flame-throwing righthander.
The important part is that Severino made it back to the big leagues after what seemed like innumerable setbacks and stayed healthy down the stretch, setting him up to contribute in 2022. The Yankees no longer need him to be the club’s ace. A fellow by the name of Gerrit Cole has that job on lockdown.
But Corey Kluber is gone and Jameson Taillon is unlikely to be back in the rotation until May. Jordan Montgomery and Nestor Cortés Jr. will slot in behind Cole but even at the best of times, you can never have enough starting pitching. Considering we will probably still be dealing with COVID during the 2022 season, it is fair to say these are not the best of times. Starting pitching will continue to be at a premium.
If Sevy can give the club 100 or so innings in 2022, the results are likely to be better than some of the hurlers the Yankees featured in 2021 (Andrew Heaney, anyone?). In an American League East division that figures to be tight and competitive again, Severino’s presence could make a legitimate difference.
4. Starting pitching
Speaking of pitching... even without Kluber, who for anyone that missed it now toils for the hated Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees return the five starting pitchers who threw the most innings for the club in 2021. Cole, Montgomery, Taillon (eventually), Cortés, and Domingo Germán will all don the pinstripes again this season.
Of those five, only Germán pitched at a level below league average last year, finishing with a 94 ERA+. Overall, the Yankees pitching staff combined for 22.3 total fWAR, a total that ranked fourth in all of baseball. Barring massive regression from any of those pieces already in place, the rotation seems poised to be a strength for the club again in 2022. And there are other valuable contributors poised to make a difference.
Severino’s aforementioned return looms. And Michael King, Luis Gil, and Clarke Schmidt, who seems ready to go for 2022, are just a few of the arms the Yankees can have toe the slab when required.
The Yankees’ successes from 2017 through 2019 made it seem almost inevitable that the club would soon win a World Series. The past two seasons have poured cold water on that optimism. But there are reasons to think, even based on an underwhelming 2021 campaign, that the Yankees could be a formidable force in the American League when baseball returns. Stay tuned for next week when I argue with myself and list the four reasons I am pessimistic about 2022.