By Chris O’Connor
July 27, 2022
Every once in a while, I like to check in on individual player statistics to see what changes they have made to their games that might differ from previous years. In no particular order, here is one surprising statistic for every position player (with at least one hundred plate appearances). Additional statistics may be included for context, but these are what Yankees’ hitters are doing differently this year.
D.J. LeMahieu: He currently has a career-high walk rate (13.7%) and career low strikeout rate (12.4%). Plate discipline is my favorite way to evaluate a hitter and LeMahieu has taken a huge step forward in this way in 2022. That walk rate is in the 96th percentile league wide and is driven by him swinging at a career low 38.9% of pitches. A less aggressive approach at the plate seems to have done wonders for D.J., who is having a terrific year with a 135 WRC+ and 3.1 fWAR.
Aaron Judge: Judge is pulling the ball 46.7% of the time which, aside from the shortened 2020, would easily represent a career high. Has this contributed to Judge finally chasing 60 home runs? Many attribute the fact that Judge has not exceeded 40 home runs in a single season since 2017 to health, but even extrapolating his 2018-2019 stats to 162 games, he was in the ~40 home run range rather than the 52 that he hit as a rookie. And in 2021, when he played in 148 games, he hit just 39 home runs. It seems like Judge has made a conscious effort to get out in front of the ball and do his most damage to the pull side, which has clearly paid dividends in his potential MVP season.
Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo currently has a career-high in both launch angle (18.4 degrees) and barrel rate (10.5%). Rizzo seems to have shifted his offensive profile to sacrifice batting average in favor of chasing the long ball, and so far it is working. He is elevating the ball more, hitting it on the ground less, and despite a career low batting average of .221, his 22 home runs through 90 games would have him on pace for a career-high 37 per 150 games. He has not hit more than 30 home runs since 2018, so this home run surge would be a pretty big step up from recent years. And, due to the relatively deadened balls and the fact that he is not hitting the ball any harder than past years, it seems pretty clear that his increased launch angle has led to this increase.
Giancarlo Stanton: Stanton currently has a career low .240 BABIP. With Stanton’s statistical profile, there are hardly any significant deviations from his past years. I found it interesting that a guy who has a hard hit rate and average exit velocity in the 98th and 99th percentile, respectively, could be hitting into such poor luck. His career BABIP is .316 and has been in the ~.330 range for the past few years, so this seems more like bad luck than anything else. He has just 6 doubles (and no triples) through 80 games, so even though he has clearly lost speed from his prime, I expect more of his line drives to find holes in the defense and his overall numbers to rise moving forward.
Gleyber Torres: He is hitting the ball significantly harder than he ever has: his average exit velocity and hard rate hit are in the 84th and 77th percentile, respectively, after running in the 15th and 26th percentile last season. In his career, neither of those numbers have ever ranked higher than the 48th percentile. It is hard for me to say how exactly he has made this improvement, but I did find this interesting: he is swinging at the first pitch far more than he ever has. His first pitch swing percentage, which has never been higher than 36.5% and fell to the mid-20’s in 2020 and 2021, is at 42.6% in 2022. Gleyber should clearly continue whatever he is doing because this has been a major bounce-back season for him that has restored his status as a Juan Soto trade chip (just kidding).
Josh Donaldson: His chase rate, which has never been higher than 26.6% since he became a full-time regular in 2013, is at 33.9%. In what looks like the complete opposite of D.J. LeMahieu, Donaldson’s plate discipline seems to have deserted him. Sure, he’s not hitting the ball as hard as he has in past years and his power has been sapped seemingly overnight. But I think the root of Donaldson’s offensive issues in 2022 stem from his lack of plate discipline. He is chasing more, walking less, and striking out more, which leaves him with significantly less margin for error when he does make contact. That is why, despite the recent hot streak before the All-Star break, I am less bullish on Donaldson’s prospects moving forward than others.
Jose Trevino: He leads all catchers in Statcast framing runs, Defensive Runs Saved, and both Fangraphs’ Framing score and overall Defensive score. Trevino had a defense-first reputation prior to the trade to the Yankees and he has more than held up his end of the bargain on that end. Trevino has been so unbelievable defensively to the point where anything he provides on offense is a bonus. I am, however, a little worried that some offensive regression is inevitable as he is outperforming virtually all of his expected statistics. Still: with a 108 WRC+, 2.7 fWAR, and considering both the success of the Yankees pitching staff with Trevino and the dearth of catching talent across the majors, one could argue that he has been one of the most valuable players in all of baseball this season. He has plenty of room to tail off offensively to still provide significant value for the rest of the season.
IKF: Among 24 qualified shortstops, IKF ranks tied for 6th with 6 DRS, tied for 18th with -2 OAA, and 12th with 1.7 UZR/150. This is not necessarily surprising, but IKF’s defense at short is supposed to be his calling card. There have been little changes to his offensive profile: he does not walk or strike out much and he hits for a decent average with little power. But a shortstop with no home runs and a 82 WRC+ has to be great at the position to have value, and the metrics are all over the place with IKF. This was the case last year as well: DRS loved him, OAA really disliked his defense, and UZR/150 thought he was about league-average. By my own eye test, I do not see it with his defense. He is quick but seems to lack arm strength. Though not many options are available at the trade deadline, the Yankees should be looking to make a change at the position sooner rather than later.
Aaron Hicks: Hicks has -3 DRS, 0 OAA, and -15.5 UZR/150 innings in 395 innings in center field but 3 DRS, 2 OAA, and 7.8 UZR/150 in 261.2 innings in left field. Everyone knows what Hicks is at the plate: he is about a league-average hitter (104 OPS+ since the start of 2019) who walks a lot and gets on base but without a ton of power or ability to hit for average. His defense in center has been slipping for years to the point that he is well below-average there, which has forced Aaron Judge to play much more in center than the Yankees would like. His defense in left has been much better, but his bat in a corner outfield spot would leave much to be desired.
Joey Gallo: His average exit velocity, which has never been below the 85th percentile, is in just the 36th percentile league wide. This comes despite a hard hit rate in the 89th percentile. This tells me that he has become even more boom or bust than ever. He is still striking out a ton and frequently hits the ball hard, but too often when he does make contact, it is just an easy popup for the defense. Indeed, his infield fly rate has jumped to 16.2% after having never been above 11.9% in his career. Gallo’s time with the Yankees seems to be in its final days, which would be the best for everybody involved.
Matt Carpenter: His chase rate is just 17.0% which is below his career average of 18.9% and well below the league average of 28.4% There are almost too many Carpenter stats to count: career high in swing rate, pull rate, barrel rate, launch angle, hard-hit rate, and average exit velocity; lowest strikeout rate since 2018; lowest ground ball rate of his career. But what I love about what Carpenter has done is marry his newfound aggressive approach and revamped swing with continued excellent plate discipline. He is swinging more so than ever before and making the best contact of his career, but he has not done so with a reckless approach that sacrifices anything but swinging at the right pitches. Thus, his walk rate of 13.2% is right around his career average of 13.4% and his strikeout rate of 23.7% is his lowest since 2018.
Kyle Higashioka: Among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, the negative .054 difference between his xwOBA (.301) and his wOBA (.247) is third-largest in the majors.. He is obviously not as bad as the 58 WRC+ that he has put up, and he should not underperform his expected statistics as dramatically moving forward, but this has been a disappointing season for Higgy. Many had him penciled in as the Yankees primary catcher before the emergence of Jose Trevino, but even with his exponential defense behind the plate, it looks like the time has passed for the 32 year-old to ever be the Yankees catcher.
Marwin Gonzalez: Gonzalez has joined the fly-ball revolution in his first season with the Yankees with a career high in average launch angle (19.2 degrees) and a career low in ground ball rate (33.2%). Those numbers are clear outliers from his career 11.1 degree launch angle and 46.1% ground ball rate. It has not led to much power with just 3 home runs and a .365 slugging percentage, but an 88 WRC+ and 0.5 fWAR through 128 plate appearances is fine for a versatile bench piece.