It really has felt like the Yankees have played two different seasons so far this year. After opening the year a middling 7-6, the team spun together an 11-game winning streak that propelled them to one of the best starts in franchise history, one that drew comparisons to the famous 1998 super-team. Since late June, however, the team has appeared stuck in a rut, and while they remain 9.5 games up in the AL East, their lead over the Houston Astros for best record in the AL has all but evaporated.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve spilled a lot of digital ink diagnosing the small problems that have persisted with this ballclub, from the struggles of individual players like Aroldis Chapman to the hole in the bullpen that formed when Michael King required season-ending elbow surgery to the need for a sparkplug to combat the bad vibes. Today, however, I’d like to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, to see what — if anything — has changed about this Yankees team over the course of the season.
To begin, here are some basic team-wide stats from four stretches of time, the last three of which overlap.
Note: These stats were collected prior to the beginning of play on Saturday, August 6th.
Let’s start by looking at those offense statistics. As anyone who has watched the Yankees play on a regular basis can attest, the lineup has been fairly dominant over much of the season. Their 121 OPS+ leads the American League, as does their 5.33 runs/game. They lead the league in home runs (185) and are second in stolen bases (70). While there’s definitely room for potential improvement — Josh Donaldson could start hitting like he was expected to, Oswald Peraza could replace Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop (health permitting), and Andrew Benintendi could remember to hit the baseball — the lineup is, on the whole, not a large area of concern.
The pitching staff, on the other hand, is a red flag. After dominating the league for the first three months of the season and seemingly flirting with no-hit history at least once every other week, Yankees pitchers have been less-than-stellar in recent weeks. The next three images are screenshots from FanGraphs depicting the team’s individual stats since June 24th, July 1st, and July 21st, in that order.
The narrative here is pretty straightforward: A large portion of the pitching staff has been slumping over the last few weeks. Gerrit Cole has shut down opposing lineups about as often as he’s been blown up since the start of June (four starts in which he allowed three earned runs or fewer, three starts of five or more). Jameson Taillon has had just two effective outings — July 16th against the Red Sox and July 28th against the Royals — in that span of time. With Luis Severino on the shelf, Domingo Germán has made a trio of starts, two of which ended in losses. Jordan Montgomery is, regrettably, out of the equation altogether and now taking the mound for St. Louis.
For another point of reference, the late River Ave. Blues also did a nice job of summarizing the struggles of the rotation in one convenient table:
From Friday's Patreon post. This is the SP only: pic.twitter.com/yWEk6XZtRC— River Ave. Blues (@RiverAveBlues) August 6, 2022
It’s a long, grueling tumble from the top of the leaderboard to near the bottom in most categories, and the jump in home run rates is glaring in particular. Those are obviously the most damaging blows in a ballgame and can easily turn wins into losses.
Shifting to the relief corps, though their overall stat lines aren’t terrible — Yankees relievers have an 89 ERA- since July 1st — the bullpen has been prone to meltdowns lately with King on the shelf. Wandy Peralta recorded three losses in July, while Lucas Luetge, Aroldis Chapman, Scott Effross, Albert Abreu, and Miguel Castro (who is now on the IL) each had at least one outing in which he gave up a crooked number.
Most concerningly, Clay Holmes has blown the save or recorded a loss (or both) four times in the last month. The Yankees were lucky enough to not really have to worry about the end of ballgames for the majority of the first half, as Holmes had the ninth down on lock. Now, he’s going through his first real slump in pinstripes and facing questions about whether he should remain in the closer’s role. Even with the rotation’s struggles, had these meltdowns not occurred, the team probably has three to four more wins in this time span, which suddenly makes this stretch look a lot less awful.
Nobody enjoys watching their favorite team suffer a bad stretch, least of all in the middle of a pennant race. Fortunately for the Yankees, however, they built up a huge first-half division lead that can withstand some slumps, and their bad stretch is largely the result of one particular aspect of the team not performing to expectations. Although the last six weeks or so have been less than ideal, the Yankees are still in a fantastic spot at this point in time; it’ll just be on the pitching staff to turn it around, be it through Cole and Holmes settling down, home run rates getting back under control, or sheer talent shining through.