clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What went wrong for the Yankees in 2015?

This year was a big surprise in many ways, but not everything went well.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, I didn't expect the Yankees to make it this far. Most projections pegged the team as very mediocre, and a combination of old age, possible injuries in the rotation, and question marks surrounding new acquisitions did not help many Yankees fans' optimism. When looking back, though, a lot went right.

Mark Teixeira before his injury had a resurgent year, and Greg Bird filled his spot beautifully. Alex Rodriguez proved he can still hit, and he gave the Yankees the best designated hitter performance in years. Trades for both Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi turned out to be very successful so far, and they instantly made an older club a bit younger. Carlos Beltran came back from the dead, and Brian McCann bounced back. I could go on for a while, but suffice it to say that a lot did go right. That being said, not everything did. There is a 50% chance the Yankees will be sitting on the outside for the divisional series, and that's because a few key things (aside from the Blue Jays doing incredibly well) didn't fall in place.

1. Second base was a black hole.

You know this, and I know this. The team luckily has gotten a few very good games out of Dustin Ackley, but that really doesn't excuse the 131 games Stephen Drew played in. Drew hit for an abysmal 76 wRC+ in 428 plate appearances, and even though he hit 88 wRC+ in the second half with good defense, that really isn't good enough to even tread water at the position. The front office was well aware of this, and considering the cost of Ben Zobrist, for example, they decided to make due, and the recent Rob Refsnyder/Ackley platoon could breathe new life into the position next year. It's probably wise they didn't give up an actual top prospect for Zobrist, but going into the 2015 season without a second baseman was a problem that was never solved.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt.

After Elllsbury got hurt in May because of a knee injury, he hasn't been the same. Even though he got off to an excellent start, he's hit at a 64 wRC+ rate since returning on July 8th. I don't have concerns about him long term, but his injury and lack of performance cost the Yankees at least a couple of wins.

3. The Blue Jays owned them.

I'm no huge fan of saying, "Well, if only the Yankees won this series--then they'd be good!" because very often being a good team precludes winning, and not vice-versa. I would even try to avoid "owning" as the language here, in the sense that there is no guarantee they will "own them" in the future. At least in the past tense, though, the Blue Jays did own them. While losing to one team in particular is not that catastrophic, losing to the Blue Jays proved to be critical. Head-to-head divisional matches are disproportionately more important to playoff odds than in the traditional wild card era; you can't get away with just being good against everyone else, in most cases.

Part of the problem in this analysis is that it is not only luck-based in certain regards, it also relies heavily on sequencing. If the Yankees played the bulk of their games against the Blue Jays in April instead of August and September, things may have been different. They didn't, though. The two teams split a two-game series in April, and then the Yankees dropped two of three in Toronto in May. In August the Yankees were swept at Yankee Stadium, and they compensated a bit by winning two of three in Toronto later that month. The killers, as we know, came in September when they lost five of seven. It's not like these were one-run games, though. In September the Jays were an objectively better club playing at a red-hot pace, and the Yankees got caught up in that tornado. There are a lot of "could have" situations here, but their 6-12 season record against the Jays is one of the reasons they will not win the division.

4. The middle relief was very inconsistent.

The Yankees are lucky enough to have been immune to the types of late-inning reliever problems other teams have had, and that's largely because of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. The two have combined for 4.5 fWAR in just 140 innings, which is pretty good if you ask me. If you also throw in Justin Wilson it only gets better, as his 3.20 ERA in 59 innings has been stellar in the seventh inning. Beyond that, though, the bullpen gets much murkier. Chasen Shreve has utterly collapsed and Adam Warren has been forced back into the rotation after the injury to Nathan Eovaldi, so the middle relief has been incredibly unreliable. Other than the three best relievers mentioned before, the relief has been worth -3.13 Win Probability Added.

I could probably go on, but I think these are the main three failings for me. One could say injuries to the rotation as well, but I don't think they were worse than what we would have expected; heck, the Yankees gotten 149 innings from Masahiro Tanaka when many thought it would be zero. Luis Severino, Adam Warren, and Nathan Eovaldi have also helped out, so while the rotation wasn't perfect, it wasn't what really sunk them.

Overall, this was a team that over-performed. I, for one, did not expect them to occupy a wild card spot, or at least under the circumstances in which they did. They were just a few good outcomes away from being the best team in the American League, but third best is fine with me.