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  • E.J. Fagan

Five Thoughts After The 8-2 Start to the Season

by EJ Fagan

April 9, 2024

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NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.


Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.

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8-2! The Yankees have had an incredible first two weeks of the season. It’s still too early to start looking at stats, but I have a few stray thoughts that don’t deserve their own post.


It’s early, but 8-2 matters

I don’t want to make the mistake of generalizing from a small sample. The Yankees are winning games right now, but they could easily erase their great start with a bad week.


Let’s start by putting some numbers to it. Fangraphs has the Yankees at 85% to make the playoffs and 52% to win the division, up from 72% and 36% at the beginning of the season. That’s a big shift! The 2-4 game lead they’ve built over the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays matters a lot when the division is so tight.


They’ve also had one of the hardest schedules to start the season, playing the great Astros and Diamondbacks, plus a solid Blue Jays team. In particular, they’ve faced three of the better pitching staffs in the league and scored a lot of runs. In contrast, the second place Red Sox got to play the Mariners, Angels and Athletics. The Orioles got the Royals, Pirates and Angels. The Yankees are about to enter an easier portion of their schedule, with upcoming series against the awful Marlins and Athletics. Expect both hitters and pitchers to boost their numbers once the level of competition drops.


I’d Buy Stock in Anthony Volpe

It’s early. You can’t trust the numbers. Anthony Volpe is hitting an insane .424/.486/.606 with an 18% strikeout rate and three stolen bases to start the season. When fWAR updates tonight, (last night) he’ll be pretty much tied in 2nd place in the major leagues behind Mookie Betts. He’s almost to half of his 2023 2.0 fWAR.


Obviously, his numbers are due to regress. Not counting his three hits on Sunday, here is Volpe’s 2024 Statcast page:




Volpe really is a different hitter than last year. He’s making more contact. He’s hitting the ball less hard. He’s way more disciplined. He looks like a far more confident defender and baserunner. He’s hitting the ball about as hard as in 2023, but almost never “barreling” the ball, or hitting at the combination of exit velocity and launch angle that tends to produce extra base hits. Instead, he’s gotten a lot of infield hits and walks. Statcast thinks that he’s been super lucky on batted balls.


I’m not going to argue with Statcast’s xwOBA, other than to mention that his xwOBA is right up there with Judge and Soto for best on the team thanks to tough pitching. I think we’re seeing a real improvement in his approach. His strike zone ability looks great. I wonder if we’ll see a lot more barreling when he doesn’t have to eke out hits against Framber Valdez, Zac Gallen and Kevin Gausman.


We Might Be in the Worst Case Scenario For Giancarlo Stanton

Let me offer you three scenarios for Giancarlo Stanton. In Scenario One Stanton returns to his pre-2022 Yankee form, hitting something like .250/.350/.500. In Scenario Two, Stanton bottoms out, hitting worse than even his 2023 levels. In Scenario Three, Stanton returns to his diminished but playable 2022 level, when he hit .211/.297/.462 with 31 home runs

Obviously, Scenario One would be great. Stanton would return to being one of the best DHs in the league, and a force alongside the other top Yankee hitters. But, I think I’d prefer Scenario Two to Three


2022 Stanton was a below average baseball player, less valuable than 2022 Josh Donaldson. Yet, by virtue of his contract, reputation and loud skills, Stanton spent most of 2022 getting regular playing time in the middle of the lineup. I’m worried that Scenario Three Stanton in 2024 ends up playing way too much in way too important of a spot.


Stanton has struck out in 15 of his 33 plate appearances and walked just once. That’s really, really, really bad. His .531 slugging percentage is not sustainable without making a ton more contract. He deserves a longer leash to prove himself, but so far it feels like we’re seeing his skills decline even further.


But, if Stanton were really bad, the Yankees would cut bait on him sooner. Trent Grisham would start a lot more. Jasson Dominguez might return as a DH before he is ready to play the outfield. Jon Berti and DJ LeMahieu might play more. Maybe Everson Pereira’s hot start earns him a May promotion. They would move on sooner.


Instead, I feel like Stanton’s big home runs bought him a ton more runway than he deserves. I hope that I’m wrong, and that he can keep the hot streak going. But, I think it’s more likely that Stanton doesn’t play enough to be valuable but plays just well enough to keep the hope alive.


Loaisiga’s Injury

I feel so awful for Jonathan Loaisiga. We may never see him again in a Yankees uniform. I hope he gets healthy, gets paid, and returns to dominate as a major league relief pitcher. We’ll always have his crazy 2021 season:



Loaisgia’s loss opens up a big hole in the Yankee bullpen. The Yankees had to go with Dennis Santana in a medium-leverage spot yesterday. Tommy Kahnle should be ready to come off the IL soon. They badly need another high leverage righty.


I wonder if the pitch clock is a culprit. The MLBPA is blaming 2024’s huge surge of pitcher elbow injuries on the shortened pitch clock. The Yankees have been luckier than some other teams so far, but anyone could be the next casualty.


I really wonder if we’re getting close to the point where pitchers and coaches give up a little performance in return for health. I’d prefer a 3.50 ERA Loaisiga who can stay on the field to a 2.50 ERA flamethrower who can’t. I bet he would prefer the former as well.


Hitters Are Struggling Everywhere

I listened to the Sterling/Walden broadcast while driving to my eclipse site on Sunday. They dwelled on how little contact either team made during the game. There was a lot of three true outcomes (plus HBP) action, but not a lot of kinetic action on balls in play.


And they are correct! After reversing the pro-pitching trends last year, the average major league hitter is hitting just .241/.319/.388 so far in 2024, with a 23% strikeout rate and 9% walk rate. While batters will improve a bit when the weather heats up, the current average looks eerily like the 2022 line. That’s bad news for anyone who likes exciting baseball. We need more contact, right away. I wonder if MLB starts thinking about some of the more aggressive rules changes, like an automatic strike zone or lowering the mound. It’s bad right now.

3 Comments


Lamb Herman
Lamb Herman
Apr 10

Because of Loaisgia's departure, the Yankee bullpen now has a significant void. The Yankees were forced to use Dennis Santana in a position that had a medium level of leverage yesterday. snow rider 3d

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Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Apr 08

Regarding Giancarlo Stanton. I am obviously rooting for Stanton Scenario #1. But keep in mind, EVERY slugger in baseball, including Juan Soto and Aaron Judge, and elsewhere in the league, Rafael Devers, Mike Trout, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr are going to go through major slumps at several points in the season, so we can expect Stanton to do the same. The idea of a "stacked lineup" is that one slugger gets hot while the others are cold, and then when the one that is hot cools off, one of the cold ones suddenly gets hot. That is how it usually works when a lineup has multiple sluggers. Rarely are two or more sluggers red hot at the same time, alt…

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fuster
Apr 08

I really wonder if we’re getting close to the point where pitchers and coaches give up a little performance in return for health.


not more than a snowball's chance of that.

there is no shortage of relief pitchers. new ones are coming up each and every season

and they are relatively inexpensive

the new kids in the pen are certain to be the ones who damn the torpedoes and go full speed and spin.

kids, in the main, think that they'll avoid the calamities that fall on others.

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