Billy McKinney was part of a rotating cast of middling outfielders plugging the black hole left by Aaron Judge’s toe injury midseason. After a putrid 2022 with Oakland, McKinney started this season in Triple-A and was called up on June 7th for his sixth season of MLB action, in the aftermath of the Aaron Judge injury in Los Angeles.
The lefty hitter took a small share of the outfield duties before winding up on the IL in late August with a lower back injury. Jake Bauers performed a bit better than McKinney offensively and got the lion’s share of available outfield at-bats once Willie Calhoun and Franchy Cordero were discarded. McKinney ended up as basically a league-average bat over the course of almost fifty games, facing almost exclusively right-handed pitching. He put up a career-high 0.4 fWAR, so he was at least a little better than your average depth piece.
2023 Statistics: 48 games, 147 PA, .227/.320/.406, 6 HR, 101 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration (arbitration eligible in 2024); outrighted
Much like the other fill-in outfielders, McKinney was a known commodity coming into the season as at least a replacement-level left handed hitter with an iota of upside as a former first-round pick. The Yankees were short on competent lefty bats this year and McKinney at least partially filled that role too.
Ultimately, McKinney performed a bit better offensively than expected and walked at an 11.6 percent rate. In short, he was a consummately tepid student who merits a mediocre C+. He contributed somewhat and could’ve been worse, which is more than can be said about many of these report cards. To his credit, McKinney hit the ground running as the team reeled from the Judge injury. During a dark June for the Yankees, he hit .276 with four home runs and three doubles in 60 plate appearances.
Under the hood, McKinney’s quality of contact was the best of his career in his limited action. His barrel percentage and xSLG were all well above average. A look at his Statcast page is a pleasant surprise and shows a hitter with a plan up there. His aforementioned solid walk rate and chase rate gave him solid control of the strike zone. His significant limitations as a hitter presented themselves in the form of his extreme one-dimensionality — he only had the capability to face righties, and really only hit fastballs. The xSLG figure was a solid .627 against fastballs, but around .320 on everything else, a non-competitive number. It wasn’t exactly difficult for teams to gameplan against him. One-dimensionality is the tendency of the Yankees offense as a whole these days, so no surprise there.
McKinney had perhaps his best individual effort on July 21st at home against the Royals in a 5-4 win. He showed out in center field with two excellent catches and came through with a big three-run home run to propel the Bombers to a win.
Despite these two catches he was a net negative in the outfield according to Outs Above Average. McKinney wasn’t a needle-mover on either side of the ball and that was never the plan. It’s very, very difficult for a lefty hitter with a 42.2 percent ground-ball rate to be successful.
McKinney started the year as a Triple-A depth piece and ended up getting a healthy amount of at-bats. On a better team, he’d likely have stayed in the minor leagues.