The New York Yankees have a 33-15 record in the young season. They say that winning cures everything — even more than that, when a team is winning it becomes easier to not focus as much on the weaknesses and points of concern that are inevitably waiting under the surface.
You have your usual suspects doing what was expected out of them, the leaders of the team in Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge. There are the complementary pieces also doing their part in Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and others, and there are the likes of Nestor Cortes who has exceeded even the highest expectations. However, even a winning club that’s on a hot streak, there’ll be a player or two that are struggling or at least not performing as their track record would indicate, and the Yankees are no exception.
The number one offense in the American League in terms of home runs (65) and third in runs scored (218) are without two of its four best hitters. Both Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton are on the 10-day IL, and without them, other regulars in the lineup will need to step up. The problem is that two of the main players you’d expect to step up in the absences of Donaldson and Stanton are struggling mightily at the plate, and there’s little to no sign in the underlying numbers that better production is on the horizon. Those two players are Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo, and 2022 hasn’t been too kind for these two outfielders:
Aaron Hicks: .207/.336/.241, 74 OPS+
Joey Gallo: .172/.278/.310, 74 OPS+
If you remove the catching position out of the equation they are by far and away the two worst hitters for the Yankees in the 2022 season, and even José Trevino has a better OPS+ (88) than either one of them.
Aaron Hicks has completely lost the ability to hit for power, and his .241 slugging percentage is accompanied by a career-worst 86.7 average exit velocity. Gallo’s .310 mark isn’t much better, and he’s also posted the worst exit velocity of his career since becoming a starter at 88.5 — this is the only time he’s been below 91 mph outside of a 17-game stint in 2016.
Perhaps even more than their hitting, the concern lies with their defensive play. The expectations were never great for Hicks in center field, but as of the end of May, he sits in the 12th percentile in Outs Above Average with -2. Gallo was known for his great defensive work in right, but he hasn’t been the same in pinstripes. Gallo sits in the seventh percentile in OAA with -3 in left field.
These two players are established big leaguers, and there’s always the chance they turn their seasons around, but with impactful absences in the Yankees lineup, they need to do that sooner rather than later — otherwise, it will begin costing wins at some point. Even with Donaldson and Stanton in the lineup, this level of play from two regulars is bound to be costly at some point, much less without two staples of the lineup. Both Gallo and Hicks need to figure out a way to regain form, even if they ultimately fall short of their career norms, which at this point feels rather likely.
The last two games in Tampa Bay were already telling of what could happen. The pitching staff allowed three and four runs respectively, but the offense failed to capitalize and the Yankees dropped both to split the four-game series against the Rays. You can’t pin all the blame for that on two players, but when there’s consistently a void where you pencil them into the lineup it becomes one of the highest areas of concern.