In the first two parts of this series, we covered nearly every returning Yankee hitter. Almost all of these hitters were coming off of underperforming seasons. That’s a lot for coaches, especially new hitting coach Dillon Lawson, to handle. Luckily, some key parts of the lineup that are returning were magnificent in 2021.
By some, I mean two. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge carried the Yankees to the postseason. Without either of these players, the offense would have been in shambles. Lawson won’t have much to say to them, but in this fantastic, difficult game, there is always more to learn.
On the other hand, there is another hitter on the Yankees who struggled in 2021 that we have yet to analyze. That player is Gio Urshela. Like many of his teammates, Urshela is coming off a down offensive year after plenty of production in both 2019 and 2020. For a while, Gio was one of the most reliable everyday Yankee players. In those two seasons, Yankee fans became accustomed to his good defense and consistent offense. With injuries and positional flip-flopping, Gio regressed. He and Stanton actually have one thing in common that needs to be a focus in 2022. Let’s dive into it.
It’s been said time and time again that defensive metrics do not love Gio Urshela as much as the eye test does. That discrepancy isn’t going to disappear. His defense in 2021 was good as usual, and he even delivered passable SS defense when taking over the position. However, the ongoing questions about the team’s defensive alignment and a nagging hamstring injury significantly impacted his offensive production. Hamstring injuries are tough. They can plague an entire season. One can’t necessarily say that this type of injury can affect things such as plate discipline, but it may cause a hitter to push.
Urshela’s improved his plate discipline in a big way during the 2020 season. His chase rate dropped 13% from 2019, and his BB/K ratio improved from .29 to .72. In 2021, it dropped back down to .18. It’s not surprising that his plate discipline overall regressed after a stellar shortened campaign. But regression back to his pre-2019 levels was very unexpected. With health and a solid game-to-game approach, Urshela can rebound back and stop taking the bat out of his own hands. It’s a very broad suggestion, but it’s extremely important for Urshela to make better swing decisions in 2022.
Stanton’s ceiling is reliant on him making returns to his 2017 level of plate discipline. He’s been a great hitter for the Yankees when healthy, especially in 2021. That said, he hasn’t quite reached his peak level of output. There is no denying there have been stretches which show the level of hitter he can be at any given moment. If he is to keep those streaks going for closer to an entire season, it’s going to take more aggression on balls in the zone.
Stanton is known for having the occasional at-bat where it looks like he’s never stepped on a baseball field. One at-bat he’s taking three in a row in the zone, and another he’s grinding out an eight pitch at-bat and ending it with an emphatic home run. His issue is those stretches with little feel for the strike zone or pitch sequencing can sometimes come in longer spurts which lower his floor.
The best version of Stanton is the one that is uber aggressive on pitches in the zone. His ability to take several different types of swings is special, making it all the more valid to be as aggressive as possible on pitches in the zone. Although his whiff rate is near the bottom of the league, I still believe he has a fine feel for the zone. It only comes into question when he guesses too much. He is going to swing and miss with his aggressive approach, but if he can lay off even more often on pitches out of the zone, we might get his hot streaks for more than just a few weeks at a time.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that there is much anybody can do to help Aaron Judge. He is consistently one of the best hitters in baseball. He will always be limited when it comes to swings and misses, but he has progressively cut down his strikeout numbers as his career has moved on. It’d be silly for anybody to question his current approach or want to do anything to change; he is that incredible. Other than not being afraid of pulling the ball a bit more, I’d tell Judge to continue on as he has because it works as well as one could hope. With players of this caliber, it’s about giving them all of the resources they need to continue on with their routine.
Dillon Lawson has his hands full with this Yankee offense. If these three articles have proven anything, it’s that the team has several bounce back candidates. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but Lawson must be excited as anybody for this lockout to end and to get in the cage with these sluggers.