5 Yankees Hurt the Most by a Shortened Season
By Andy Singer July 8, 2020
Photo Courtesy of Kathy Willens, Associated Press
I think that it is fair to say that whatever happens in the 2020 season, it will be a year unlike any other in baseball history. While the 2020 Yankees were built to prevail over a grueling 162-game season, the Yankees remain well-positioned as one of the best teams in the league, with star power and plenty of depth to absorb injuries and under-performance. Despite that reality, I think that a 60-game regular season changes the likely outlook for multiple players. Yesterday, I looked at 5 Yankees who stand to benefit the most from a shortened season. Today, I want to look at the 5 Yankees who will be hurt the most by a shortened season:
Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press
DJLM was nothing short of a revelation for the Yankees in 2019. Prior to last season, LeMahieu’s best season came during the 2016 campaign, during which he utilized sky-high contact rates (typical) and an even higher batting average on balls in play (.388…decidedly not typical for a player with LeMahieu’s lack of speed) combined with stellar defense at 2B to produce an excellent season by any metric (5.3 bWAR/4.4 fWAR). Besides 2016, LeMahieu made his mark as a high-contact, low-power contributor at the plate who played good defense at 2B, making him a solid, everyday role player. That helps explain why LeMahieu signed with the Yankees, who initially planned to use him as a super-utility player last season, for just 2 years, $26 million in Free Agency. That’s solid money for a starter, but not much beyond that.
LeMahieu’s value far exceeded his contract last season. In the year of the gopher ball, LeMahieu added significant pop to his profile without diminishing his ability to make solid contact. LeMahieu also played typically solid defense at both 2B and 3B, which added up to LeMahieu producing the most valuable season of his career according to multiple metrics (5.0 bWAR/5.4 fWAR). So where’s the problem, you ask?
For starters, there is little in LeMahieu’s batted ball profile that makes me believe the sudden jump in power. While LeMahieu’s Exit Velocity and Hard Hit % were both among the best in baseball in 2019, those numbers are not substantially different from previous seasons during which his power numbers were below-average. More importantly, in the midst of baseball’s launch angle revolution, DJ LeMahieu’s launch angle in 2019 (6.7*) was barely higher than in 2018 or his breakout 2016 season. In short, much of LeMahieu’s power surge appears to be due to the juiced ball that was used during the 2019 regular season.
LeMahieu’s will be a Free Agent following the conclusion of the 2020 season. Teams around the league are surely skeptical of LeMahieu’s power numbers in 2019 for the same reasons as I list above, and they have no way to verify what the ball will look like from one season to the next. Anything positive that LeMahieu does in the power department in 2020, assuming his underlying numbers are similar to the rest of his career, will be chalked up to small sample size noise or the baseball. Add in the fact that contracts for all but the best Free Agents are likely to be depressed this offseason, and LeMahieu stands to lose a lot of money due to the shortened season.
Photo Courtesy of Arturo Pardavila, Wikipedia Commons
I wish we could ignore the fact that Tanaka was just beaned by Giancarlo Stanton on the first official day of Summer Camp (seriously, this team is cursed), but it will certainly play a factor for someone who already stood to lose a fair amount in a shortened season. Since entering the league with tons of fanfare in 2014, Tanaka has built a reputation as a pitcher who is a rock-solid member of a good rotation who has shown an ability to adapt on the fly to record outs. While Tanaka may not be the perennial CY Young candidate he looked like in the first half of 2014, Tanaka has earned his positive reputation, and the Yankees have been lucky to have him.
However, the perception of Tanaka does not necessarily meet the reality of the situation. Tanaka had no better than the second-worst season of his career last season, and in fact, I’d argue that it was the worst performance of his career to-date based on some of the peripherals. Despite the fact that Tanaka’s reputation is not one that would lead one to believe that he is a strikeout artist, Tanaka has actually been a guy who strikes out roughly a batter per inning throughout the majority of his Yankee career. In 2019 though, Tanaka’s strikeout rate dipped noticeably, falling to 7.4 K/9, leading to the worst K/BB ratio of his MLB career (3.73). Additionally, Tanaka’s hit rate spiked and he continued to allow home runs at an alarming rate (1.4 HR/9). His season does not look any better when looking at the Statcast numbers either as his Exit Velocity allowed, Whiff %, and xwOBA against were all well below-average and represented a decline from his previous performance.
These indicators would all be bad enough in a normal year, but we need to evaluate the circumstances in context. Tanaka is a Free Agent at the end of the season; he has been pitching with a partially torn UCL since 2014; and now the beginning of his season could be interrupted by a scary concussion sustained on the first day of Summer Training. The small sample size arguments that can be made against LeMahieu are even more significant for Tanaka, even in the event that he has a great 10-12 starts in 2020. Tanaka’s walk year could not come at a worse time.
Photo Courtesy of Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post
Monty was one of the hottest pitchers in Yankee camp a lifetime ago…March. In truth, he had been trending up since the end of last season. Monty underwent Tommy John Surgery in mid-2018, and after a long recovery process that included a setback in the Summer of 2019, Monty made it back on a big league mound in September with a clean bill of health, allowing him to focus on actually building strength and preparing for Major League season coming into 2020. The early returns were impressive, to say the least. I wrote about it more extensively in March, but the reports were fairly consistent: Monty was throwing in the low-mid 90s pretty consistently in his early Spring Training appearances. To sum it all up as succinctly as possible, Jordan Montgomery found a way to be effective as a rookie in 2017 with just a below-average four-seam fastball/two-seam fastball and a collection of breaking and off-speed stuff with which he fooled hitters through good sequencing and command. If the velocity gains stick when the games count, Monty projects to be an even bigger asset than he was previously.
All of that remains true today. However, a shortened season will not allow Monty to build innings in any meaningful way. At best, I think that we can hope for Monty to throw 60-70 innings in 2020. After almost two seasons during which Montgomery threw just 31.1 innings total, he really needed this year to build innings and arm strength. Now, not only will Monty have a pitch count in 2020, but he will likely have an innings limit in 2021 as well. As someone who is likely to be an essential part of future Yankee rotations, a shortened 2020 regular season will stunt Monty’s ability to accumulate innings in years to come, thus hindering his total value to the Yankees.
Photo Courtesy of a Screenshot from the Following Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SW1yiXL_DPE
We’ve talked about Jasson Dominguez ad nauseum for a year now; most of us who write about him have never seen him play in person. Due to the fact that the Yankees chose not to place him on the 60-man shuttle squad, we won’t get an opportunity to see Dominguez play this season either. While that’s a real bummer for us, it’s even worse for Dominguez.
We know that Dominguez has raw tools that make scouts drool. I am also sure that the Yankees are working to ensure that Dominguez’s time away from organized baseball games are as productive as possible. However, there is only so much progress that a young player can make without playing real baseball games. Prospect history is full of guys who were never able to turn loud tools into everyday baseball skills. A year ago, scouts were talking about Dominguez as someone who could possibly one of the rare players to debut in the Majors as a teenager. The lost season in 2020 makes a teenage MLB appearance a near-impossibility.
It also must be noted that Dominguez has not played a lot of real baseball in the last couple of years either. The baseball academies in Latin America focus far more on skill development in non-game settings through drills than they do on competitive games, and Dominguez really didn’t get to play much in the way of intra-squad games last season after signing or in Spring Training this year. Dominguez has lost out on a ton of valuable development time due to the shortened season, and sadly it’s time that can’t be replaced.
Photo Courtesy of Mike Stobe, Getty Images
Those of you who have been following along probably think that I’m trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Yes, I also wrote yesterday that Gardy was one of the guys who stood to benefit most from the shortened season. I stand by what I wrote! However, in one very important way, Brett Gardner could easily be hurt far more by the shortened season than any other Yankee.
Prior to retirement, Gardy surely is looking for one more ring in pinstripes. The Yankees were one of the best teams on paper heading into the 2020 season. That remains the case today. However, a shortened season has created a scary dynamic for the Yankees. The schedule is even more unbalanced than it would be in a season of typical length. Thus, the Yankees play all of their games against teams from possibly the two most competitive divisions in baseball: the AL and NL East. With the volatility brought by a short season full of small sample size luck, an extended slump could cost the Yankees a shot at even making the playoffs in 2020. I would argue that the Yankees have an even tougher road to championship in a shorter season than they do in a typical year. This reality makes Gardy’s quest for another championship in pinstripes an even steeper climb, particularly considering that this could be his last season as a Yankee.
I really feel for all of the players whose situations are going to be hurt by a shortened season. While I have reasons to believe that all of the guys listed above will persevere in the face of the added adversity this season brings, there is little question but that these are the Yankees with the most to lose in 2020.