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As injuries mount, underperformance hurting Yankees more than depth

The Yankees would be in a much better spot if the players they started the season with were all playing well.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

For April and about half of May, the Yankees were merrily chugging along, seemingly free of the injury bug that has frequently plagued them in seasons past. That was never going to last forever, but the injuries certainly came in a bunch — Giancarlo Stanton, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Aroldis Chapman are on the injured list, and DJ LeMahieu is resting a sore wrist on the bench. All of them were expected to be big contributors to the team, and Stanton and LeMahieu were living up to that. The lineup and the bullpen look a lot less stalwart in a hurry.

Still, it seems that in theory the increased depth that Brian Cashman spent the offseason building should be paying off. Josh Donaldson should still be in the lineup, and presumably will be back soon once he clears COVID-19 protocols. Chapman going on the IL is probably a net-positive, considering his performance, and it just gives more high leverage innings to Clay Holmes. And the Yankees still have three of their starting outfielders — there’s no running out the likes of Ryan LaMarre.

But of course, the Yankees are missing a lot of production from their active outfielders not named Aaron Judge right now. Aaron Hicks has been painful to watch, unless you love walks — his ISO of .035 is atrocious (and he’s now battling injuries, too). Joey Gallo at least can still hit home runs, but still has a negative WAR by Baseball Reference. Any performance even close to their career norms would be a huge boost to the team.

The bullpen too would inspire more confidence if Michael King wasn’t suddenly going through major struggles. While he started the season looking like a great bet for AL Reliever of the Year, his May ERA is 5.02 (as of Thursday night) compared to his eye-popping April mark of 0.69.

Lucas Luetge has struggled so far as well after his breakout 2021. His fastball spin is ranked among the best in MLB by Baseball Savant as far this season, but he’s not striking enough batters out and giving up way too much hard contact.

A bullpen led by Holmes, King at peak powers, backed up by Luetge, Wandy Peralta, and Miguel Castro for the less high-leverage innings is hardly bad in the best-case scenario. There’s just not enough production coming right now from the players who were expected to be stalwarts.

Injuries, and more than usual, were expected this season after the shortened spring training. The Yankees are hardly alone with having multiple core players unavailable at the same time. Still, Cashman has to be disappointed that the depth he built up isn’t looking too hot. Can you imagine how the lineup would look if Judge hits the IL? It was already alarming enough on Thursday night with Miguel Andújar batting cleanup despite just returning from Triple-A last week. Even if Judge was the only man injured, the other starters wouldn’t be doing enough right now to elevate the offense in his absence.

Fortunately, the Yankees got themselves a tidy sum of wins before this wave of injuries hit, so they have a nice buffer at least while everyone gets healthy. Stanton’s return should hopefully come after the minimum number of days, and his power has been sorely missed. Still, the Yankees are mostly relying on the players they entered the season with. It’s them not playing at the peak of their powers, not the injuries, that’s hurting the team the most now.