Coming into the 2022 season, the Yankees and their new hitting coach Dillon Lawson were sporting a new approach at the plate, an approach that focused on hitting strikes hard. In the first few weeks and months, this new mindset was showing itself in a few different ways. I have written here about the general change in aggressiveness throughout the lineup, the very low walk rates for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks’ contrast from the rest of the lineup in this department. Now, as we head into the summer months of the season, many of the changes we saw early in the year are beginning to level out, but a good number of the Yankee sluggers are producing through it all.
As I’ve detailed in the past, an approach that involves swinging more, and thus hopefully putting the ball in play more often is a good thing. This is especially the case when you have hitters like the Yankees do, who can hit the ball harder and farther than just about anyone.
In the early going, this change in sentiment and approach was apparent. Judge and Stanton were posting career-low walk rates, and were swinging more than usual, along with a lot of their teammates, particularly Joey Gallo and Gleyber Torres. As a team, they started with one of the top five highest swing percentages, and the highest swing percentage on pitches outside of the zone. Telling not only of the changes they were making, but also of the possible negative consequences of those changes.
Since then, things have changed, or at least they have leveled out for many of the Yankee hitters, and for the team as a collective group as well. Through the beginning of May, both Judge and Stanton were posting unusually low walk rates, with each slugger doing so less than 10 percent of the time, while Stanton was just a surprising 4.5 percent of the time.
Now, both of the giant outfielders find themselves in more familiar territory, with Judge drawing a base on balls in 11.6 percent of his plate appearances, and Stanton 9.9 percent. Both of these figures are still a bit low for their usual standards, but certainly more in line with their career numbers than they were through a month of the season. Much of the same applies to their swing rates too. Judge’s 43.3 percent clip and Stanton’s 45.4 are a tick higher than their typical past numbers, but are much closer to their norms than they were earlier. To boot, both of their out of zone swing rates have returned to normal as well, with Judge even lowering his relative to last season. All of this could be used as a good argument for these two finding a good balance between patience and aggressiveness, an ability that is among the most important at the plate.
Two other lineup regulars who seemed to make similar changes at the beginning of 2022, Torres and Gallo, have not calmed the difference as much as their teammates. Each of them are continuing to post career-high swing rates, and near career-high chase rates. Most importantly, particularly for Torres, his numbers look a lot closer to the ones we were seeing in 2019. And through all of this, Torres has at least temporarily put to bed a lot of the early season concern surrounding him, and a case could be made that Gallo is clawing his way back to normal as well.
As a team, New York has dropped back to 20th in overall swing percentage and 18th in out of the zone swing percentage; a noticeable change from the beginning of the season, and one that tracks better with their performance in recent seasons. But of course the aspect that reigns supreme, is that the Yankees are crushing it. Their team-wide 118 wRC+ is good for the best in the sport, and the particular success of Judge speaks well on a lot of the changes this team tried to make. The aggressive sentiment may still be there, and as each player tries to find the right spot between patience and attack mode, this lineup only looks to become more dangerous.
As it is for a hitter at the plate, anywhere in the game, or in life for that matter, finding good balance is supremely important. As the Yankees came out of the gates more aggressive than ever, many of their best hitters showed this, putting up some out-of-character numbers, for better and for worse. But many of the Bombers seem to be settling into a personally adequate balance of patience and knowing when to attack, and the success is speaking for itself.