The New York Yankees entered Thursday as the best team in baseball. They have a 18-7 record and just broke off an outstanding 11-game winning streak. Though many may not have seen it coming, they have been head and shoulders above the competition in the American League. With the best record in the majors and the second-best run differential, trailing only the Los Angeles Dodgers, they have separated themselves early.
But it’s not the Dodgers, or division rivals like the Rays or Blue Jays, that I want to compare the Yankees to today. No, when digging into the numbers, and the teams’ philosophies, we can say that the 2022 Yankees look a lot like the 2021 San Francisco Giants. This doesn’t mean the Bombers will win 107 games like Gabe Kapler’s 2021 squad, but they are well-positioned to achieve a healthy total via means similar to last year’s Giants.
Neither team brought in any major free agent acquisitions in their respective offseasons. Ahead of 2021, San Francisco signed pitcher Alex Wood and traded for outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr; the 2022 Yanks re-signed first baseman Anthony Rizzo and traded for Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
The Giants and Yankees both decided against splashing big bucks in free agency like the big-market teams that they are. In spite of that reticence to spend, both teams managed to improve by focusing mainly on their internal options, thanks to top-notch player development work and excellent coaching.
s, much like the Giants.
Last year, San Francisco’s stellar player development crew turned around Brandon Crawford (.895 OPS), Evan Longoria (.833 OPS) and Buster Posey (.889 OPS). Not only did they resuscitate a handful of former stars, they helped mold Wade (.808 OPS) and Darin Ruf (.904 OPS) into very productive hitters. They also pushed Brandon Belt to a whole new level (173 wRC+ in 2020 and 158 in 2021).
San Francisco’s success in constructing a pitching staff also cannot be overstated. Wood broke out (3.83 ERA, 158 strikeouts in 138.2 innings), current Blue Jays’ ace Kevin Gausman (2.81 ERA, 227 K in 192 IP) had the best season of his career, and the always inconsistent Anthony Desclafani (3.17 ERA, 152 K in 167.2 IP) suddenly became consistent.
It’s probably too early to put the Yankees on the Giants’ level in terms of player dev. But they’re getting there. The Yankees’ decisions to hire Sam Briend (June 2019) and Matt Blake (November 2019), in addition to the promotion of Dillon Lawson to hitting coach (December 2021) have yielded tremendous talent development gain.
In small samples, Rizzo has had a great bounceback year (nine homers and a 174 wRC+), they have made Kiner-Falefa a competent hitter (108 wRC+), and have a few formerly disappointing players like DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres hinting at brighter things to come.
Most notably, the Yankees have churned out talent on the pitching side, both internally, and by plucking arms from other teams and helping them develop within their own system. They have created bullpen beasts in Michael King (team-leading 1.2 fWAR in just 17.2 innings!) and Clay Holmes (0.69 ERA in 13 IP). Clarke Schmidt (1.08 ERA, 24.2 K%) has the look of a contributor. And of course, Nestor Cortes (1.82 ERA, 2.48 FIP in 24.2 IP) somehow looks like a top starter.
Through 25 games, the 2021 Giants were 16-9, tied with the Dodgers for first place. This year, through their first 25 games, the Yankees are 18-7 and looking every bit as the best team in the American League.
We don’t know if the Yankees will win 85, 95, or 110 games in 2022. But they do look a lot like last year’s Giants, both in terms of their fast start, and how they got there. If the Yankees can sustain these player development games, they just might go even further than those 2021 Giants did.