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An aggressive Billy McKinney is giving the Yankees another offensive contributor

Swinging early and often has seemingly unlocked more production from the lefty-hitting outfielder.

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Five years after the Yankees packaged him to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for J.A. Happ, outfielder Billy McKinney found his way to the Bronx again. This time, he is off to a fantastic start and is actually one of the most productive hitters on the roster at this time.

Our own Jeff Middleton recently went through McKinney’s journey as a baseball player, from his days as a first-round draft pick in 2013 by the Oakland Athletics to his time as a prospect with the Chicago Cubs. From there, he was part of the Aroldis Chapman deal that netted the Yanks Gleyber Torres.

McKinney’s career has really taken a full-circle trajectory since the Yankees signed him to a minor league contract a few weeks ago. He made his MLB debut in pinstripes in 2018, and badly hurt his shoulder in his second game. He was traded to Toronto, spent parts of three seasons there, played with three franchises in 2021 and landed in Oakland in 2022.

While he had his moments, he never quite found consistent playing time anywhere. Right now, the Yankees’ injury situation can grant him more than his fair share of at-bats, and he is actually making the best of them. As of Monday, McKinney was slashing .302/.327/.623 with four home runs in 55 plate appearances. His 159 wRC+ is indicative of his success, and while his OBP is not particularly high, the Yankees probably won’t care too much if he is slugging over .600.

Now, McKinney is a career .213/.280/.404 guy with an 82 wRC+. He didn’t suddenly became Shohei Ohtani or Yordan Alvarez, but the lefty masher does have a .191 isolated power (ISO) during his MLB tenure. He does have some power. What has changed, then, that he has given the Yankees a legitimately productive hitter from the left side of the plate? It comes down to pitch selection and plate discipline.

For his career, McKinney has an 8.3-percent walk rate and a 25.4-percent strikeout rate. Those numbers are down to 3.6 and 14.5 percent this year in the tiny small sample we have at hand. It means McKinney has been more aggressive than ever in hunting for a pitch to hit early in the count. You would be surprised at how hittable first pitches can be, as pitchers try to get ahead in the count. The lefty masher is taking advantage of this, increasing his rate of swings at the first pitch to 32.7 percent. It has never been higher than 26.8 percent in his MLB tenure.

You can say with confidence that McKinney is swinging more often than ever. His 52.2-percent swing rate is considerably higher than the 45.1 percent he has posted for his career as a whole. With a .398 wOBA, a .409 xwOBA and a .468 xwOBA on contact (xwOBAcon), it’s safe to say the strategy is working for the 28-year-old former first-rounder. His hard-hit rate had never been higher than 37.9 percent, and it’s currently at 48.9 percent.

It will be fascinating to see if pitchers expand the zone a bit early in the count, throwing more first-pitch balls to him, and how he adjusts. However, he is going to the plate with a plan, and so far has been executing it masterfully.

It will also be fascinating to see what the Yankees do with McKinney’s playing time once they get healthier, but Aaron Judge won’t be back anytime soon and Willie Calhoun is still several weeks away. Barring any trade acquisitions in the short-term, McKinney — who has seemingly locked up the left field gig in New York for now — will likely have a healthy share of the playing time available in the outfield. It will be up to him whether he cements his place on the roster or if he is out of it in a few weeks.