SSTN Not The Weekly Mailbag: An Optimist Finds Pessimism and Fighting Misconceptions
By Andy Singer
Week after week, I look in the SSTN Mailbag and select questions for inclusion in each Friday’s post. As the season has dragged on, and the Yankees show fewer signs of snapping out of their season-long slump, the questions I read have become more pessimistic and more depressing. And that’s okay! What it has done is forced me to re-examine my own assumptions and preconceived notions about this team and how I write about them. As I looked in the SSTNReadermail@gmail.com inbox for this week’s mailbag, the questions were fewer, but altogether reflected deserved malaise and disappointment with the Yankees as they stand today. Rather than answer those questions directly (but please, keep sending your questions as the regular mailbag will return next week), I wanted to dig into the random assortment of Yankee topics that have been swirling in my head for months, because in a roundabout way, many of those thoughts are adequate responses to the questions I received (shout out to Jeff B., Al, and Bryan for your questions this week).
Some of you may have noticed that my analytical posts, typically weekly features, have been fewer this season. Throughout this season, I have begun well over a dozen posts digging into both analytics and mechanical observations about both individual players and the team as a whole, only to leave the majority unfinished. Some of that is due to the demands of day-to-day life getting in the way of completely cogent thought about the Yankees, but there has been something else that has prevented me from producing fully formed thoughts in writing. With great frequency, I’ve noted that I am the token optimist about this year’s team here at SSTN. I have believed in those convictions, but there’s been a tiny voice in the back of my head producing doubt about much of what I’ve started writing. Not all of my writing is optimistic, but I’ve wondered if my inherent optimism has clouded my analysis of elements of this team. Among the bucket of topics that fall into this category:
I have believed in Gleyber Torres despite the fact that his struggles date back to the beginning of 2020. I started writing an article examining his defense at SS in detail, noting that when playing the position straight up or shifted towards 2B, he is an average-to-plus defender in the aggregate, but the worst fielding SS in baseball when shifted towards 3B. In essentials, the point of the post was going to be that Torres could stick at SS if the offense returns and the Yankees get smarter with how he’s shifted. Unfortunately, that post seemed pointless as I watch Gleyber refuse to change his approach at the plate.
In April, I had begun writing a post about Frazier’s continued strides in the plate discipline department, but that fizzled when I watched Frazier consistently fall behind in counts and change his mechanics seemingly daily in an attempt to find something at the plate.
I have been basically the lone Aaron Hicks defender at SSTN. I started writing about Hicks’ turnaround at the plate…and then he got hurt, again.
I have wanted to dig into Miguel Andujar’s offensive projection, but the consistent inconsistency of his free-swinging profile makes that difficult.
I’ve been writing about sticky substances on the baseball since late 2018, so I have been planning (and will likely still write, in all fairness) a post about the effect of MLB’s crackdown on the Yankees, but the broader effect of the public argument between players and MLB and the manner in which enforcement has been enacted just makes me upset as a baseball fan.
That’s a taste of some of the posts I’ve shelved for one reason or another, but there’s been a theme to why each of those posts have either been delayed or canceled: questioning my inherent optimism, general disappointment about the fact that everything that could go wrong for this Yankees roster went wrong, and general dread and fatigue about the manner in which MLB is managing the sport. I’ll admit, as much as baseball is one of the things that can always keep me going, baseball at the Major League level and the Yankees has depressed me somewhat lately. Pessimism can do that!
However, some of what my recent introspection has helped me realize is that I don’t think my previous optimism was ill-founded, nor do I think it clouded my ability to analyze baseball. Sometimes, even the best laid plans and projections go astray. At the end of the day, the game is not played on a computer. That doesn’t make projections and probabilities any less valuable, but it does mean that introspection and analysis when those projections miss the mark is warranted. I’m firmly in that boat, and I’m sure Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankee front office and scouting department is right there with the rest of us.
The Yankees, their front office, their scouting department, their coaching staff, their players, and particularly their ownership deserve much of the negativity that has been thrown their way this season. However, that doesn’t mean that all of the arguments levied are valid. Through my own internal debate, I remain steadfastly solid on the following:
The Yankees’ goal is to be the best organization in baseball at blending traditional scouting with analytics and emerging performance sciences. I have written that before, and numerous scouts and baseball insiders have credited the Yankee organization, and particularly Brian Cashman, for being among the best at that. It’s really easy to scapegoat analytics for the disaster that has been the 2021 Yankees, but I still do not buy into the arguments made by nameless “MLB Scouts” who so boldly provide anonymous quotes to the NY Post and the Daily News about the Yankees’ over-reliance on analytics. We have seen evidence time and time again of how the Yankees blend analytics with scouting to help their players get better outcomes (see: Gio Urshela, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier in 2020, fixing Gary Sanchez this year, developing fringe prospects like Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green, etc.). All of the aforementioned players required analytics to pinpoint gaps, scouting to identify how those gaps occurred mechanically, and coaching to remedy the problems. The Yankees didn’t suddenly stop doing those things in 2021, so any suggestion to the contrary falls flat in my mind. For all I had an issue with at Hal Steinbrenner’s press conference yesterday, he reiterated his commitment to blending analytics with traditional scouting, and I expected nothing less.
Much has been made of the Yankees commitment to hitting for power over contact. I too want the Yankees to make more contact. However, have we looked around baseball? Batting averages are historically low, and have been trending down for years. Logically, that means multiple hits are more difficult to string together than they have ever been in the modern game. Logic alone dictates that making the most of what little contact you do make with homers and doubles increase your run expectancy. I’m sure Brian Cashman wants more lineup balance with speed and contact to set-up Jude, Voit, Stanton, and Sanchez for more impactful homers and doubles. That’s the point of signing DJ LeMahieu. Yes, the back end of that contract isn’t good, but Cashman was trying to win a championship in 2021 and 2022.
Do any of us really think that Cashman wanted a rotation made up of Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, and reclamation projects? He did the best he could with the budget he was given. Some of those bets may still pay off, if the Yankees can go on a run in July.
The lineup has under-performed, but I think it’s wrong to say that the players and coaches don’t care. This is their livelihood; players like Judge, Voit, Sanchez, Torres, and Urshela are playing for their next contracts. Trust me, they’re as embarrassed as anyone about what’s happened this season. Any suggestion otherwise doesn’t make sense.
This team still can turn it around. It’s not going to be easy, but there is enough talent to make it happen. The Yankees, if everyone plays to the back of their baseball cards, can play .600+ ball the rest of the way.
I’m re-energized despite what I’ve seen thus far. I’m ready to jump back in, win or lose, and I’m ready to trust my eyes and my mind. In the coming weeks, you’ll start to see some more analysis from me, because the Yankees are still worth watching. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”