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On negativity, perception, and patience

Only 15 games into the season, much has changed, and there’s no reason to believe things won’t keep shifting all year.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have played 15 games in 2022, less than 10 percent of the regular season slate. It seems as though many players have already undergone changes, at least in terms of public perception. Some have experienced this in a positive direction, others have not been so lucky. But that’s just the nature of sports, fandom, and early season excitement. A lot changes over a course of a baseball season, even just 15 games, and it’ll happen more over the next 147.

The Bombers are 9-6 so far this year; a fine record! Regardless of that fact, there have already been times where you could be led to believe this team had yet to win a game, or even record a hit. Through it all, the team has done well in the big picture. Sure, there have been tough-to-stomach losses and unjustifiable struggles in some departments already, but those are some of the inevitable consequences of watching baseball on a regular basis.

Negativity has been, and likely always will be, a dominating force in sports fandom. I’m not sure if that’s inherently a good or bad thing, or if that says something about sports or our species in general, but I do feel pretty confident in saying that it’s true. It feels safe to say that feeling content and satisfied is not a phenomenon often experienced by fans.

Coming into the season, there was some concern surrounding, say, Aaron Hicks and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. After a solid-enough beginning to the campaign, a lot of that negativity has seemingly faded away. It hasn’t been because of anything earth-shattering. Hicks has been fairly in line with his past good seasons, and Kiner-Falefa has been a little above average, with the pair holding 121 and 105 wRC+ marks, respectively. This certainly does not mean concern was unwarranted preseason, or that it won’t pop up at some point soon, but it shows how malleable our perception of players, and thus the team, can be.

The same can be said for players in the opposite direction, as Gerrit Cole has struggled out of the gate, and Joey Gallo seems to be in a world of trouble. There are legitimate concerns to be had here once again, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if, in a week’s time, much of it is largely forgotten. Soon enough, Cole will throw eight scoreless innings and strike out 14 batters, and Gallo will hit a couple balls 450 feet, and all will feel well. And then, it’ll change again. That’s just how it goes.

There are never any guarantees, of course, but there can be safe bets. The safest bet of them all is that most players will end up being reasonably close to who we know them to be. Last year, through the first two weeks of games, Giancarlo Stanton posted a nauseating .175/.233/.275 slash line, good for a 40 wRC+, not far off from where Gallo is at these days. But you know what? He ended up being Giancarlo Stanton, posting a 135 wRC+ mark by season’s end while hitting 35 home runs, all in the manner we would expect Stanton to do so.

These quick changes in a player’s performance and the perception around them is more amplified at the beginning of the season. Even a single game can greatly alter the complexion of someone’s season this early. For example, going into this Friday’s game, Judge had hit to the tune of a 126 wRC+, not bad by any means, but maybe a bit disappointing for a player of his caliber. After going 2-for-3 with a pair of home runs and a walk, he bumped himself all the way back to a 174 wRC+ mark, and a much prettier .280/.368/.540 slash line.

There is a reason the baseball season is 162 games long. The performance of any given player, or any given team on a single day, or even a week, is really not all that different from the next. It is the sustainability of performance that eventually wins out. All of this is good cause to reason with ourselves and our expectations as we go.

The Yankees seem to be turning a corner with a few good wins recently, and it surely instills some confidence that was not there days ago. Of course, that level of confidence will inevitably flip back and forth throughout the course of the season. In the long run, the Yankees might be able to ensure that the positive stretches end up outweighing the negative.