Holy cow, these Yankees. With something close to an All-Star team on the sidelines, the replacement Bombers currently find themselves atop of the AL East. If a time traveler had told me prior to the season that the Yankees would spend the first two months without virtually all of their most valuable contributors, I would have thought the team would be knee-deep in trouble. Suffice it to say the current squad does not look like it’s in any sort of crisis.
However, the Yankees’ third consecutive playoff appearance is still far from a sure thing. It’s only May, and there’s plenty of baseball yet to be played. If the Yankees are hoping to be atop the division (or in possession of a Wild Card berth) come October, the current squad likely isn’t going to be enough. The B-team’s stellar performance notwithstanding, the A-team needs to return as soon as possible for the Yankees to keep pace with the Rays and Red Sox.
“Are you sure about that?”, followers of the Yankees might ask. After all, the B-team has been playing .614 ball, and they sure do feel like a better clutch team than last year’s squad. There is one substantial piece of evidence suggesting that the Yankees need help, however, and soon. Namely, the Yankees’ position player fWAR total is quite a bit underwhelming.
Despite currently owning the fourth-best record in the American League, the Yankees’ 5.5 batting fWAR puts them at just eighth in the league, and 17th in baseball. For comparison’s sake, the Rays are third in the league with 7.7 fWAR, and the Red Sox are fifth with 6.3 fWAR. While the Yankees find themselves sandwiched between the two teams in the standings, their batters’ actual production so far lags behind both squads.
If you’re allergic to WAR, the same argument can be made by looking at the Yankees’ runs scored total. Here, too, the Yankees find themselves at eighth in the league with 212 runs. Interestingly, the division-leading Rays have scored even fewer runs, but they are much more skilled defensively, hence their gaudy fWAR total. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are showing flashes of the elite offensive production they exhibited last year, and are now fifth in the AL with 231 runs scored. If the Yankees seek to fend the Sox off, they will need more firepower.
This isn’t to say that the current lineup is completely lacking in talent. The emergence of Gio Urshela, 2019’s golden boy, has ensured that the Yankees will have quality production at the hot corner even while Miguel Andújar recovers from surgery. The DJ LeMahieu signing has paid off and then some in the early goings, and projections think he will continue to be an above-average contributor going forward. Luke Voit has proven that he isn’t a one-year fluke, showing improved plate discipline while retaining his trademark power. Any team would be happy to roster such solid players.
What the Yankees need is high-end talent. Currently speaking, no player on the New York roster has more than 1 fWAR, with Urshela, Gary Sanchez, and Gleyber Torres all tied at 1.0. Compare that with the Rays, who have four such players (Brandon Lowe, Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham, and Yandy Diaz), or the Red Sox, who have five (Xander Bogearts, Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, J.D. Martinez, and Rafael Devers).
Yes, there are some small-sample surprises there, like Vazquez and Diaz. But on the whole, the top of both rosters are filled with either breakout performances from former top prospects or continued excellence from veteran pieces. Those performances are what have led the Rays to the top of the AL East, and what have enabled the Red Sox to claw out of their early hole. The Yankees will need such All-Star level production if they want to keep pace. Sanchez and Torres’ hot starts have been nice, but the Yankees will also need their All-Star injured list to start returning to the field.
The Yankees’ B-team has been incredible. I’m not trying to take anything away from that. It’s just that expecting them to keep this performance up against some of the most talented rosters in MLB is a bit much. For all the charm, pluckiness and chemistry that the current squad has, the A-team is, to put it bluntly, better. Let’s hope they return soon, so they can build off of the momentum that the B-team has worked so hard to build.