We’re far enough removed from the season to the point where I’ve partaken in reflection time. At this point, we’re still all trying to reconcile what the hell happened when the offense went stagnant. There’s a few reasons why, but we are all well aware that the offense was the issue at the end. However, one point that may be some debate is whether the fully healthy lineup would have been enough for the Yankees to overcome the Astros.
It would have been nice to have an actual shortstop. That is where Brian Cashman fell far short and should deserve endless criticism, but for the sake of this exercise, I want to focus on just the players who were on the Yankees’ roster this season. It’s impossible to know for sure, but Cashman and Aaron Boone seem to think missing DJ LeMahieu, Andrew Benintendi, and Matt Carpenter played a big enough role to unquestionably proclaim the Astros the better team in their press conference earlier this week.
To an extent, I do understand the argument. Those three hitters brought balance to the Yankees lineup. The team was forced to rely on too many righties with similar holes and it made them look like a worse version of previous iterations of the team. It doesn’t excuse them for not acquiring a shortstop or letting Oswald Peraza take the job earlier in the season, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a reasonable way to explain the offensive struggles.
This argument isn’t coming from out of nowhere. I’ve been on an adventure trying to find out how to explain what happened, and in that quest, I have come across convincing data that suggests or confirms the idea that this lineup needed the three previously mentioned hitters and the disappointing Josh Donaldson more than I initially thought. Earlier this week at FanGraphs, I wrote about the Astros’ swing path diversity according to team vertical bat angle (VBA) variance and the competitive advantage it gives them. The short story is this: Because they have so many different types of productive hitters, they force pitchers to attack them in several different ways. If the pitcher doesn’t have the stuff to effectively pitch to all the hitters’ weaknesses, then they will inevitably find themselves in a hole.
The reason I reference this piece is because there was a blurb at the end that elevates the Yankees’ lineup in a similar manner. Like the Astros, the healthy version of the Yankees features an extremely diverse group of hitters. They have a combination of lefties and righties that give pitchers a wide range of looks. I know the team looked slightly different at the point when they were dominating, but it gave us a glimpse of what this type of diverse lineup can do when it’s healthy and clicking. The subtraction of Joey Gallo and addition of Benintendi would have only improved the diversity. To prove it to you, I present each player’s average VBA in the 2022 season. If you’re not already aware, VBA is the angle of a player’s bat when they make impact. 45 is perfectly diagonal, and 0 is completely flat.
Yankees 2022 Vertical Bat Angle
Focusing in on the top players, we can see Aaron Judge and Carpenter. When they made contact this season, their barrels were at an almost perfect diagonal. This might not work for every player, but if it does, well then you got some home runs coming to ya. Moving down the list, you see Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres with slightly flatter paths from opposing sides of the plate. Benintendi appears a little below them, and then we get to a group of hitters with flatter angles in DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, and Giancarlo Stanton.
Intuitively, we all knew of Stanton’s bat path. The way the ball comes off his bat tells us exactly how he impacts the ball. To a much lesser extent, the same goes for Donaldson. Back when he could still strike the ball with authority, you saw low home runs to all fields and sizzling line drives over infielders heads. Lastly, you know the story with DJ. He hits line to line and makes the most of his incredible hit tool. The point is, the team’s identity of diverse hitters was compromised when they lost DJ, Benintendi, and Carpenter, and on top of that, the disappearance of Donaldson left the offense in shambles. Boone said it well when discussing Donaldson’s struggles during the playoffs. If the team was to go anywhere, they needed Donaldson. Without him, well, you saw the result.
So what does this all mean for the future? Does Cashman try to run it back with the same group? I’m not sure to be honest, but if slightly squint, you can imagine this team being better next year even if it doesn’t make any significant moves outside of bringing Aaron Judge back. A Donaldson bounce back is hard to envision, but if it does happen, he adds a layer to this lineup that is needed and can potentially put them over the edge. He’s not the only question mark, of course, but I suppose the argument I’m making is that this is still a very good team and it can be even better with health and a bounce back.