So far this season, the Yankees have had a relatively pedestrian offense, posting a 108 wRC+, good for 13th best in the league prior to last night’s games. Not all that bad, especially when considering some of the disturbing games they’ve had at the plate. But a few of the Bombers’ key contributors have been disappointing (to say the least, for some).
To this point, Joey Gallo and Giancarlo Stanton have been unjustifiably poor, but it’s early and both of them obviously have potential and a track record of being good. Josh Donaldson and Gleyber Torres have been floating around league average in 2022, but it might feel a lot worse than that. The reality is that offense is significantly down all around the league, and that has to be taken into account when judging player performance.
Comparison to the norm is, analytically, how we judge just about anything. Sports and statistical performances are no different. It’s how we know that Aaron Judge is good, and more importantly, how good he or any other great player is. It’s also the reason that comparing say, Barry Bonds and Ty Cobb is often a fruitless venture. The environment in which they played is so different that a comparison on equal grounds just wouldn’t be fair. These circumstances are much harder to take into account, however, when a very sudden change occurs, such as the one we are seeing this year.
So far in 2022, the league-wide OPS is .675, the lowest such number since 1972. Even more telling, this figure would be the lowest season total since 2015 by 46 points. Most notably, the league’s power numbers have seen a significant decrease this season in comparison with recent years. Both slugging percentage and ISO are seeing their lowest figures in a long time:
There are plenty of possible explanations for why offense is down this year. Between expanded bullpens, early season weather, humidors, and of course the ever-changing nature of the actual baseball, a change in this direction would make sense. Focusing on that much-discussed aspect of the elements of the ball itself, one good indicator to look at is the HR/FB rate. Currently sitting at a clean 10 percent, this would once again be the lowest mark since 2015. This is also all the way down from over 15 percent in 2019.
Many of they Yankees’ hitters, particularly those who have experienced some disappointment out of the gates, have put up career low HR/FB rates thus far. That includes Torres down near the five percent mark.
Again, it is early, and April weather may have something to do with this as well, but the idea is supported by an increase of drag on the ball. Essentially, the ball is facing more resistance in the air, and thus balls aren’t flying quite as far, helping pull a lot of these numbers down. It also aids the anecdotal feeling of some of the Yankees running into tough luck on their batted balls.
This was uh...some camera angle of the Stanton flyout pic.twitter.com/jAc9VRE1c7— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) April 14, 2022
In relation to the Yankees, struggling hitters like Donaldson (.182/.308/.345) and Torres (.227/.286/.364) may not be hitting as poorly as it seems. In reality, both have been on either side of the average around the league. There are, of course, concerns to be had for any number of the team’s struggling hitters, but the numbers they are putting up should be viewed through the lens that much of the league is struggling along with them.
The Yankees have a good lineup, many members of which should be expected to perform well above their average peers. However, that threshold seems to have changed, at least so far this year. Perhaps this decline is just a fluke, maybe the ball will change again in the middle of the season, but in the present moment, our interpretation of the Yankees’ offensive performance should take into consideration the environment in which they are playing.