Key Stats for Each Yankee Starter
Key Stats for Each Yankee Starter
By Chris O’Connor
May 11, 2021
*All stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant
While there are still 128 games left on the Yankees schedule, I wanted to take a look at a noteworthy statistic for each Yankee hitter so far in 2021. The specific statistic(s) that I chose for each player is purely subjective but I did want to focus mostly on year-to-year changes in the more advanced stats due to the fact that they are more stable than traditional stats with the season only 34 games in. Pitchers will come later in the week.
DJ LeMahieu: His swing rate has declined from 44.1% to 39%. LeMahieu is swinging at a significantly less number of pitches relative to last year, almost all of which is due to swinging less at pitches outside of the strike zone. However, his strikeout rate has nearly doubled due to a 7% decrease in his contact rate in pitches in the strike zone.
Giancarlo Stanton: G’s swing rate has jumped significantly from 35.9% in 2020 to 48.6% this year. Stanton is clearly being more aggressive this year and this has helped him post the highest hard-hit rate of his and the second-lowest strikeout rate of his career (behind his 59-homer 2017). I really like this approach from Stanton, a subpar two-strike hitter who can really benefit from jumping on pitches early in the count and let the more patient hitters in the lineup wear out pitchers.
Aaron Judge: While his slash line is just .245/.352/.473, his expected slash line (based on exit velocity and launch angle) is .298/.407/.561. Judge has been one of the most unlucky hitters in the sport despite a terrific 134 WRC+ and should see huge improvements simply by keeping the same approach. Judge remains, in my opinion, a top-5 player in the game when healthy.
Gio Urshela: Gio’s ground ball rate has ballooned to a career-high 50.6% after a rate of close to 40% in each of the past two seasons. This is due to an average launch angle that has more than halved. While this is not a great change to be had, it has not stopped Gio from raking: his .287/.342/.455 slash line has helped the Yankees manage an early-season hitting funk and his 125 WRC+ ranks ninth among all third baseman.
Gleyber Torres: His average exit velocity has cratered to 84.9 mph; that ranks in the bottom 5% of the league. Much of this is due to a popup rate of 11.8% after a rate of just 2.4% last year, so he is just getting under a lot of pitches. Torres has never really hit the ball that hard and has never had a great batted ball profile, so while his advanced stats do not paint a picture of someone who will rebound, I think he can outperform his profile like he has in the past because he is a very talented hitter. I believe that his first home run on Sunday will begin a stretch where he begins to look like himself.
Aaron Hicks: There is really nothing fluky about his batted ball profile, nor is there any huge year-to-year change. His walk rate has gone significantly down (from 19.4% to 11.4%), a definite concern because that was his major draw as a hitter. On the positive side, his defensive metrics are much improved: his UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating/150 games) has bounced back to about average after it fell off in 2020 and his Outs Above Average score ranks 20th in the league after he was 143rd last year.
Clint Frazier: I covered Frazier’s slow start here, as the quick version is that he rarely swings the bat anymore. My stat here is that he ranks in the bottom 10 in the entire league with -0.6 fWAR. I chose WAR only for Frazier because it is an all-encompassing statistic. Frazier has been pretty terrible in every aspect of the game. He has a WRC+ of 69, with his exit velocity, hard hit rate, and pull rate all being among the bottom quarter percentile of the league. He ranks dead last in the entire league in OAA and his UZR/150 is fourth-worst among outfielders with at least 100 innings. Very, very disappointing start both offensively and defensively for a breakout candidate entering the season.
Mike Ford: Ford has the fifth-lowest swing rate in the league among players with at least 40 plate appearances (Clint Frazier is 10th-lowest). I anticipate Ford having a very small role on the team with Luke Voit set to return on Tuesday and Ford’s tremendous struggles over the past two years.
Kyle Higashioka: Among 41 catchers with at least 100 innings behind the plate, Higgy ranks 6th in framing score. Even if he is not quite on Sanchez’s level in throwing out baserunners, his decisive edge in framing makes the defensive comparison null. If Higgy can be just an average offensive catcher (which he has more than done so far), Sanchez will quickly be relegated to spot starts to give Higgy some rest.
Gary Sanchez: Sanchez once again has a terrific batted ball profile that suggests he has been unlucky, but that has been the case for years. Similarly to how I believe that Gleyber is a good enough hitter that he can sustainably outperform his expected stats, I believe the inverse is true with Gary. With regards to his fielding, Sanchez ranks 35th among those 41 catchers in framing. With his bat proving no longer capable of making up for his defensive limitations, it is easy to see why the Yankees have benched him. It is looking to be a sad ending for what once was a very promising Yankees career.
Rougned Odor: Another Yankee who’s playing time will be reduced in the wake of Voit’s return, Odor has not been great with the team. He has, however, had a few big hits. Despite just a .164 batting average, he ranks fourth on the team in clutch score (behind Gleyber Torres, Kyle Higashioka, and Aaron Judge).
Brett Gardner: Gardy has really struggled thus far with nothing in his advanced stats profile suggesting a turnaround. He and Tyler Wade are in a virtual tie atop the Yankees in sprint speed, so perhaps Gardy can still hold value as a late-inning defensive/baserunning replacement. He also provides veteran leadership in the clubhouse as the last link to the 2009 championship team.