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Revisiting the Yankees’ preseason reasons to be optimistic

Bright spots from last season have managed to exceed expectations for the 2022 Yankees.

New York Yankees v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The doldrums of last offseason’s work stoppage were a tough time for thinking of topics to write about. Luckily, one idea that jumped out at me was something that seemed like a fool’s errand at the moment: reasons to be optimistic about the 2022 Yankees’ chances.

But it turned out that it was not overly difficult to see glimmers from 2021 that foretold future success. In the end, I settled on four of them. And now, with the Yankees coming off a superlative first half that has left the rest of baseball in the club’s rearview mirror at 61-23, it feels like a good time to look back on those reasons to be optimistic.

1. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are really good at baseball - especially when they’re healthy

After the Yankees’ twin towers embarked on a season of destruction in 2021, we finally understood what it looked like to have both of them healthy and mashing at the same time — and that was a reason to dream on 2022. We had proof that they could put together full campaigns, and we got to bask in the results.

2022 has been more of the same, except taken to the Nth degree in the case of Judge. But Stanton, who’s been quieter than his regular 118-mph exit velos might have predicted, has also put together a heck of a first half while staying healthy. The big guy matched Judge with an All-Star berth of his own, posting a 134 wRC+, a number that compares favorably to last season’s 137.

And Big G’s stats could be better. His expected weighted OBA is outpacing his weighted OBA by 70 points (.424 vs .354), a sign that Stanton has hit into some bad luck. Throw the six categories in which his Statcast red ink is in the 96th percentile or higher (average and max exit velocity, barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, expected slugging, and the aforementioned xwOBA) into the mix and it’s clear that Stanton’s bat might have even bigger things in store as we move into the summer.

Judge meanwhile has been otherworldly. Oceans of ink have been spilled about the world’s biggest center fielder. So I’ll leave it at this: 4.3 fWAR in 80 games played, a .457 xwOBA, and a legitimate chance to enthrall New York, and all of the baseball world, if he can make a run at Roger Maris’ all-time Yankees and American League single-season home run record.

Mark that 1-for-1 (albeit a pretty easy one, honestly) on reasons to be optimistic about the 2022 Yankees.

2. Glimmers of Gleyber

“Any kind of return to form for Torres... would almost certainly make the Yankees offense more formidable.”

Huh. Yep. Underestimated this one, to be frank. Torres showed signs of comfort and life down the stretch in 2021 that I hoped boded well for him and the Yankees in 2022. But I think we’d be hard-pressed to find a Yankees fan whose honest expectations for Gleyber this season have not already been surpassed.

The return of his power, after a two-season outage? Confirmed, to the tune of 13 home runs in 74 games, and an ISO of .220. For context, you can add his ISOs together from 2020 and 2021 (.232), and that sum barely ekes past his 2022. Overall offensive game? Check. His 128 wRC+ so far this year outpaces his homer-happy 2019 season that had us all wondering precisely how high his ceiling might be.

And Gleyber’s return to second base has even paid off defensively. Both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs have his defensive metric as a positive number, which is honestly a big deal after last season. And while Outs Above Average doesn’t think much of Torres in the field, ranking him in the 27th percentile, that is still the best he’s ever done in that category, and represents a 26-point climb from 2021, when Torres was in the 1st percentile in OAA. Gleyber good.

3. He’s Baaaaack

Speaking of exceeding the expectations of even the most starry-eyed dreamers, Luis Severino has been fantastic in 2022. He returned in an extremely small sample size in 2021 and that alone offeredhope that he could meaningfully contribute to the club this year.

But Sevy’s gone above and beyond this year. With the Yankees at roughly the halfway point of their season, Sevy has started 15 games, averaging over close to six innings/start (going at least six in eighth of his last nine starts) to the tune of a 3.11 ERA. While I’d admittedly be surprised to see him throw another 84 regular season innings, especially if the Yankees continue to lap the competition, Severino’s comeback season after what seemed like a decade has been one of the most feel good stories of the season.

4. Starting pitching shoves

The Yankees rotation in 2021 racked up the fifth-highest combined fWAR in the bigs. So it wasn’t a huge leap of faith to posit that the starters would again perform well. Even acknowledging the recent slump, the staff has been lights-out for the most part, and a key to the Yankees’ success in 2022.

A look at the AL pitching leaderboard tells the story:

  • Gerrit Cole: 9th in IP, 4th in K, 7th in WHIP.
  • Nestor Cortes: 5th in ERA, 3rd in WHIP, 6th in ERA+
  • Jordan Montgomery: 8th in WHIP, 4th in BB/9, 12th in ERA+
  • Jameson Taillon: 1st in BB/9, 2nd in K/BB, 14th in WHIP
  • Luis Severino: 5th in K/9, 10th in K/BB, 11th in ERA+.

If you want to play a fun drinking game, load up B-R’s pitching leaderboard and every time a Yankees starter is in the top 20 of a category, take a shot. I don’t advise trying that if you need to work in the next couple days after. Or if you have any respect for your liver.

It makes sense that a lot of things have gone right for a club that is on pace to win an unfathomable number of games. And so it probably is also pretty intuitive that bright spots from 2021 have continued on to carry the load this year. If these pieces of the puzzle (along with many others not mentioned in here) continue on this path, the second half of the season looks good for the Bronx Bombers.

All cited statistics were active as of the beginning of play on Friday.