Three biggest surprises you say? That sounds like fun. In the up and down season that was 2022, there was a fair share of surprises, both good and bad. As a Yankees community, I think we’ve experienced enough disappointment in the last few weeks, so I’ve decided to stick to the good for this piece. You’re welcome. If you want to read about bad surprises, I’m sorry. I’m not here to deliver you any more pain than you already have with this team.
Anyways, perhaps we should set some additional ground rules on the criteria I used in addition to these surprises putting a smile on all of our faces. First, I must make clear that something will only be defined as a surprise if that person did something beyond what we/projection systems expected of them. There will be a bit of statistical and emotional influence behind that. Next, I’m sticking to performance, if that wasn’t obvious. For example, I won’t talk about surprising trades or transactions. It will be strictly based on what performance surprised me and/or Yankees universe. Lastly, I’m sticking to captivating stories. Why? Well, I do want you to enjoy this reflection, of course. Now here we are, Pinstripe Alley’s three biggest surprises from the Yankees’ season.
Harrison Bader’s Postseason Dominance
Performed above statistical expectations? Check. Captivating performance and carrying of his team? Check. Harrison Bader didn’t have too much time played in the regular season after returning from a long stay on the injured list. In that short time, he did not hit well. His final slash of .217/.245/.283 was uninspiring. Don’t get me wrong, every hitter needs time to get back into the swing of things, and by all accounts, this isn’t close to who Bader is/was as a hitter. However, for those reasons, the offensive bar was not high for Bader heading into the playoffs. But my oh my, did he destroy those expectations.
This was just one of five home runs Bader torched in his magnificent postseason run. It’s not hyperbole to say this was probably the best nine-game stretch of his career. A .500 ISO is pretty darn good! As many other Yankees swung and missed over and over again, no matter the pitcher, Bader just kept hitting while carrying the offense. That is certainly something I never expected to type, hence his placement on this list! I haven’t looked too deep into Bader’s run and its validity as an offensive breakout, but it’s hard to ignore these swings against great pitching. Hopefully he figured something out and will bring an improved offense to his game next season.
Nestor Cortes’ Breakout Season
Aside from John Griffin’s brilliant prediction of Nestor Cortes as the Yankees’ ERA leader, the lefty starter didn’t appear in any of Pinstripe Alley’s predictions before the season. While his performance in 2021 and underlying pitch specs were pretty convincing, it was difficult to really expect anything near or north of that in Cortes’ follow up campaign. His 153 innings pitched blew away what I expected from him, and on top of that, his strikeout numbers remained about the same in the larger sample.
This defensive play wasn’t the only thing that shocked us this season. After hearing a lot about Nestor’s offseason work and preparation, it makes sense as to why he was able to increase his workload so drastically without skipping a beat. His hyper competitive attitude and knack for reading swings and adjusting his arsenal to them drove his incredible season. I can without question say he has skyrocketed my expectations for him. He has cemented himself as a legitimate No. 2/3 starter entering next season.
Aaron Judge’s Record Setting Season
I mean, I had to, right? Coming off four straight seasons with a wRC+ between 140 and 150, it seemed clear who Judge was. He would provide top-10 in the league hitting and continue to lead the Yankees’ offense. Thankfully, Judge had other plans. Heading into a year where he just declined lots of money and bet on himself, Judge changed as a hitter and broke the American League record for home runs in a single season.
Number 62. This was the best season I’ve ever seen. If you weren’t surprised, shocked, amazed, awe struck, then you’re lying. I think we all knew Aaron Judge had more in the tank. His rookie season with 52 home runs suggested he absolutely had more power output in him, but the steadiness in his statistics allowed us to be completely okay with who he was! At most, I thought he could return to the 174 wRC+ from that 2017 season with better plate discipline, but he far blew away those expectations with a 207 wRC+ and 11.4 fWAR. 11.4, yeah. There aren’t too many chances left to say this, so I might as well go ahead and do it again.
Hal Steinbrenner, don’t you dare let this man walk in free agency. He was the Yankees this season. Without him, they would have blown the massive division lead they built up in the first half. He is the pulse of this team and will be if he remains on the roster. For maybe the final time, here is your message:
Pay the man.