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Comparing Yankee hitters to their preseason projections

Sadly, there is more underperforming than overperforming in the Bronx.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The 2023 New York Yankees, as a whole, have underperformed thus far. They entered 2023 as the favorites in the East, with FanGraphs giving them a 42.7 percent chance to take the division crown and 81.2 percent to make the playoffs. In such a competitive division, these numbers were the best by a fair margin. Now, as we sit just over half way through the season, their division odds have dropped below 10 percent, and their playoff odds below 75.

Things have looked bleak at times, and with Aaron Judge still down, things may not change all that quickly. As one might expect, a few Yankees have underperformed individually as well, while a few have at least done a bit better. Let’s take a look at how some have shaped up relative to their projections so far. Because of the ease of comparing preseason projections, to current numbers, to rest-of-season projections, I’ll be using FanGraphs’ ZiPS figures.

We’ll start with the bad news: DJ LeMahieu has had a rough 2023. It has become clear that he is not the guy he was during the early days of his Yankees tenure, when he was a legitimate MVP candidate. This year he has a 78 wRC+ in 71 games. He’s posting an on-base below .300, and is striking out over 10 percentage points higher than he ever has in New York. Preseason ZiPS had him projected for a 115 wRC+, and a 4.1 fWAR season. These numbers feel a bit out of reach, as he’s been a net neutral in the fWAR department thus far. He’s talented enough to still maintain some hope, but with three more years left on his deal, things could get rough if he keeps underperforming.

A fellow infielder, and 12 years LeMahieu’s junior, Anthony Volpe has had a similar experience for much of 2023. At the beginning of the year, the youngster was projected for a 108 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR, and a reasonably balanced hitting profile with some power. For a lot of the year, this hasn’t quite been the case, thanks in part to his near-30 percent K rate. As of now, Volpe owns a 91 wRC+, which is buoyed by a nice bounce back June and good start to July. Looking ahead, ZiPS thinks he’ll be about average at the plate for the rest of the year. And all things considered, you could do worse than a league average 22-year-old at shortstop.

Elsewhere on the dirt, Gleyber Torres is pretty much exactly who he is, who would have thought? The 110-120 wRC+ with 20-something homers guy is back at it. After a good start against the Orioles, Torres has his wRC+ up to 108 and is projected to finish with around 24 homers. Pretty close to right-on with his preseason ZiPS figures. It’s been discussed at length, but he’s just simply not the 38-homer budding superstar he seemed like, and that’s okay, even if there was a time that ZiPS once had some astronomical projections for him. He’s a solid player — the Yankees just have to hope they don’t need to rely on him too much for too long.

The story for Anthony Rizzo is much of the same. While his power hasn’t been quite up to expectations with a slugging percentage 20 points lower and an ISO 47 points lower than projected, he’s still been about as productive as expected. The veteran has maintained a 120 wRC+ this season despite a miserable June, and is projected to stick right around that number for the rest of the year.

One of the bigger disappointments of the year, Oswaldo Cabrera, hasn’t come close to matching his modest expectations. Headed into the year, ZiPS wasn’t particularly high on Cabrera (93 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR), but even that seemed to have overshot it. With an OPS over 100 points lower than Aaron Judge’s slugging percentage, and a wRC+ of 52, Cabrera just hasn’t answered the bell. Given the left field job out of spring training, hope has rather quickly ran low on the young switch-hitter.

We’ll wrap things up with some of the brighter spots out in the outfield. Although he has missed significant time, Harrison Bader has continued to produce fairly well after his scorching 2022 postseason. He’s good enough in center field that even just an above average bat makes him an All-Star level player. And of course, after a 62-homer, all-time great season, Aaron Judge has outpaced his already sky-high projections when he was on the field. Before his injury, he hit 19 homers in 49 games, and was posting a top-shelf 188 wRC+, culminating in 2.8 fWAR in about a third of a season. The Yankees’ anchor is making baby steps toward a return, and as a lot of the lineup is treading water at best, this team desperately needs Judge and his projection-breaking bat back in the fold.