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For the 2022 Yankees, the only thing that stands in their way are bad vibes

Projections? Stats? No, vibes.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees-Workouts Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On February 16th of this year, potentially the article (and the statement) of the year was written: “A Vibe Shift Is Coming: Will any of us survive it?,” written by Allison P. Davis of The Cut. This piece codified a term for what would normally be a word that would exist in German but would have no English translation: the emotions and feelings that encompass how we filter events in the world, the way in which we self-present, and consequently how events are shaped by those very things. Simply, they are called Vibes. She writes:

“A vibe shift is the catchy but sort of too-cool term [consultant and Substacker Seak] Monahan uses for a relatively simple idea: In the culture, sometimes things change, and a once-dominant social wavelength starts to feel dated... [there are] three vibe shifts... [in recent memory] Hipster/Indie Music (ca. 2003–09), or peak Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, high-waisted Cheap Mondays, Williamsburg, bespoke-cocktail bars; Post-Internet/Techno Revival (ca. 2010–16)... Hypebeast/Woke (ca. 2016–20), or Drake at his Drakest, the Nike SNKRS app, sneaker flipping, virtue signaling, Donald Trump, protests not brunch.”

Cultural shifts unsurprisingly correlate to political shifts in consciousness; Americans as a whole structure their understanding of the world, for good and mostly bad, around who is the president and how we can contextualize how the president affects the world around us. I’m not going to dig too deeply into that — you can certainly draw your own conclusions on what that means — but I’m going to dovetail this with how the most recent vibe shift has corresponded to our current moment in what’s actually relevant to our lives here, the 2022 Yankees. Davis quotes Monahan again:

“‘[T]he trajectory of the 2010s has been exhausted in a lot of ways. The culture-war topic no longer seems quite as interesting to people. Social media isn’t a place where you can be as creative anymore; all the angles are figured out. Younger people are less interested in things like quote-unquote cancel culture. These were kind of, like, the big pillars we used to navigate pop culture in the 2010s. And we had the rise of all these world-spanning, like, Sauron-esque tech platforms that literally have presences on every continent. People want to make things personal again.’”

Here’s what we’re angling for with respect to baseball, and it resonates on a visceral, almost psychological level: people want to make things personal again. If we could do some recent meta-history on baseball vibes, we would say that the corollary for baseball would be their own 2010s culture war, which was analytics-based. The 2010s were fought around the domain of the worth, the use, and the misuse of sabermetric analysis in baseball, culminating in an end-of-2010s destruction of the debate entirely.

By 2022, nearly (I’m looking at you, Rockies) every team has culled their philosophy into a narrow band; there are no “smart” teams and “small market” teams anymore: every team is basically the Rays now. Roster churn, early extensions, fewer deals for post-30-year-old players, and relievers abound are no longer the domain of Whether We Should Do It but a reckoning over why, how, and what exactly the effect is on this sport. If 2012 was arguing that WAR is better than the Triple Crown and constantly arguing that clutch isn’t real, the vibe for 2022 is to simply be pro-player and follow this meme instead:

A meme showing two people on a bus, the left saying “advanced stats nerd” and the right saying “‘he got that dawg in him’”

This, mercifully, brings us to the 2022 Yankees and their outlook. The Yankees, like cultural/pop culture/political eras, also have their corresponding vibes. The dynasty Yankees, of course, were followed by a group from 2004 to 2008 that reeked of bad vibes — the collapse to the Red Sox, completely inept postseason performances, Joe Torre batting Alex Rodriguez eighth in a win-or-go-home ALDS game, Joba Chamberlain’s midges fiasco, and missing the playoffs for the first time since before the dynasty.

The signing of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett ushered in the vibe of World Series champions, and let’s say a close-but-no-cigar mindset that was finally shattered into a million pieces along with Derek Jeter’s ankle in 2012. Next, 2013 to 2016 could easily be typified by rebuilding and mediocrity, and 2017 (until let’s say COVID) was defined by the tenacious Baby Bombers, with their inability to overcome their demons in the Red Sox, Astros, and Rays.

I think we can toss out the COVID year entirely because of how atypical it was, which brings us to the dreaded 2021, the King of Bad Vibes. It was a year dominated by close games — almost exactly half of the team’s games were decided by two runs or fewer. The second obvious point is that they were dreadful with runners on (19th in MLB, 100 wRC+) and with runners in scoring position (25th in MLB, 92 wRC+) which sometimes is randomness, but if we go by the aforementioned meme, it was truly how poor they were. They were only a 101 wRC+ crew as a whole, and there were just massive, glaring holes all over the diamond: Gleyber Torres was a non-factor, DJ LeMahieu looked completely pedestrian and unimpressive, and until Anthony Rizzo arrived, first base was a horror show.

It was also a year of terribly excruciating moments, and oh where to begin: the gut-punch of Tim Anderson’s home run at the Field of Dreams; the Jose Altuve walk-off home run before the All Star break; Aroldis Chapman allowing an embarrassing, game-tying grand slam against the Angels; and the pièce de résistance of losing to the Red Sox in the Wild Card Game after they came into the season as less-than-heralded. In a word, they did not have that dawg in them.

That doesn’t mean it was all bad. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton played full seasons, with the latter seemingly putting all critics to rest by hitting clutch home run after clutch home run. Another example of WAR being of the 2010s is that while Stanton was basically average by that metric, any visual observer would see that he delivered crucial, high-leverage home runs. The pitching was also stellar, with the bullpen being a standout, and for all the belly-aching about the offseason (much of which was justified), pitching was basically a non-issue from a roster management perspective.

The 2022 Yankees, then, really did not have anything in the way of talent issues heading into the season. It was simply: can they get out of their own heads and play to their expectations? By all indications, they have done exactly that. After starting the season at 5-5 with absolutely embarrassing games against the Orioles on April 15th and April 17th, the Vibes indicator was distressingly pointing towards 2021. They hopefully wiped that slate clean after going on their most recent run, winning 11 straight games against the Guardians, Orioles, Royals, and Blue Jays, including a post-Easter series win against Detroit that put them at 13 of their last 14. More importantly, the team scored more than 10 runs in four of a five-game stretch; in 2021, they had three 10-run-games in the first half of the season.

Aaron Hicks, so far, is healthy. LeMahieu looks to be back in 2019 form. Judge is playing like an MVP contender again. The pitching is somehow even better, and despite all the stats, Isiah Kiner-Falefa has delivered a shift in vibes by providing some defense and contact to a team that focuses on home runs and extra base hits. His game-tying double against Cleveland on April 23rd was something sorely lacking from 2021. Ditto for Rizzo, who has gone on an early tear and has been a mostly-decent-substitute for the other available options in Matt Olson and Freddie Freeman. Even Torres, to his credit, has delivered two game-winning hits in a two-week span.

The caveat of course is that it is early. Josh Donaldson hasn’t quite hit his 2021 form, Joey Gallo was dinged with his first injury and has only recently heated up, and Gerrit Cole despite recent results has had consistency issues in April that continued from last September. Chapman, as always, maintains a penchant for blowing a game (which thankfully hasn’t shown up much yet outside of Michael King bailing him out on April 14th). Catcher, despite excellent pitch framing returns from Jose Trevino, seems to be a near-automatic out in the lineup. The 2021 team, after all, won 13 straight and immediately dropped 11 of 13, evaporating most of their goodwill. Their fate put them exactly in the place they should have been, a one-game loser.

If we’re putting on our culture war hat, 2015 me would say that it doesn’t matter. The projections say they will be this good, and despite what happened before, we can expect them to do exactly that good. With vibes, despite it being pseudoscientific and almost quasi-mystic, players actually do buy this stuff. Ballplayers are notoriously superstitious and hyper-aware of criticism, so when reporters are nipping at their heels about RISP, you can’t say that doesn’t affect how they approach those situations in the future. I’m sure randomness played a role at least early, but the games became almost formulaic to the point that no one could deny that this was who they were.

There are always things outside their control, like injuries, and they also can’t control if a team like the Blue Jays or Astros or Rays are simply better than them, but there is no road to the World Series parade that doesn’t end with them vanquishing the vibes that wrecked them last season.