Studs and Duds of the Season’s First Half
Studs and Duds of the Season’s First Half
By Chris O’Connor
July 16, 2021
As the Yankees sit at 46-43 entering the second half, this season has definitely had its fair share of ups and downs. I wanted to take a look at a few guys who have been solid this year and a few who have disappointed.
5 Studs (in no particular order):
Aaron Judge has been the best position player on the Yankees thus far, and it is not particularly close. He easily leads all Yankees hitters in both fWAR and bWAR. He has slashed .282/.375/.526 with 21 home runs and a WRC+ of 147. Best of all, he has played in 84 games, just behind DJ LeMahieu for the team lead. It can be argued that he has actually been one of the more unlucky players on the team: his .441 xWOBA is second in the big leagues and well above his actual .386 figure. If he goes on one of his trademark hot streaks, which the statistics suggest he may, he can play his way into MVP consideration.
2. Gerrit Cole:
Aside from a brief rough stretch following the crackdown on foreign substances, Cole has been fantastic this year. He is 9-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 18 starts and his 3.3 fWAR is third in the American League. The one complaint I have is that some of his rough starts have come in important divisional games against the Rays and Red Sox, but his first half was punctuated by one of the greatest pitching performances that I have ever seen with a complete-game shutout over the Houston Astros. As he learns to pitch without the use of foreign substances, I expect him to fully recover from his rough stretch. If the Yankees do end up making the playoffs, they have a clear cut ace to lead the way.
3. Jonathan Loaisiga:
Loaisiga has been the team’s breakout reliever of 2021. In 47 innings, he is 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA and 1.6 fWAR. He consistently induces very weak contact: he allows the fourth lowest rate of hard-hit balls among all pitchers and the 10th lowest average exit velocity. He does not strike out many hitters, particularly for a guy who consistently throws 97+, but compensates by allowing a high percentage of ground balls. Important for a reliever, he ranks second on the team in Win Probability Added, demonstrating that he has indeed been clutch this year.
4. Nestor Cortes:
Where did he come from? Cortes, of course, spent 2019 with the Yankees but pitched very poorly and was with Seattle in 2020. Seemingly out of nowhere, he has been excellent in 2021. In 25.2 innings, he has a 1.05 ERA and has a strikeout rate of 31%, easily a career high. Like Loaisiga, he has induced a ton of soft contact; his hard-hit rate allowed is just 28.8%. Despite the low workload, he ranks behind only Loaisiga and Chad Green in WPA among relievers.
5. Gary Sanchez:
Sanchez has bounced back from a very rough first few weeks of the season. On the start of play on May 10th, he was hitting .174/.337/.319 with 3 home runs in 22 games. It really looked like his time with the Yankees was coming to an end as Aaron Boone essentially stated that Higgy would get the bulk of the playing time. Sanchez, however, got hot. In the 47 games since he hit rock bottom, he is hitting with .236/.324/.526 with 12 home runs and a 126 WRC+. Gary Sanchez obviously has not been great this year. His catching, while improved, is still below-average and his bat will always be inconsistent and streaky. However, he has shown the ability to carry an offense when he gets hot, and that is invaluable for a catcher. I would not say that he has played his way back into the Yankees long term plans, but he has been one of their better hitters during a disappointing first half.
5 Duds (in no particular order):
I wrote more at length about Gleyber Torres’ struggles a few weeks ago, but the gist is simple: his power has evaporated over the past two seasons. After hitting 62 home runs across 2018-2019, he has just 6 home runs in 117 games across 2020-2021. His .308 slugging percentage is third-lowest among qualified batters this year. While he has had a few clutch hits, he has by and large been one of the worst hitters in the league. Very disappointing considering his high preseason expectations.
2. Clint Frazier:
Speaking of disappointing, Clint Frazier has failed to seize the opportunity that he has waited so long for. He appeared to have a stronghold on the starting left field spot after a great 2020, but he has regressed both offensively and defensively to the point of being one of the worst overall players in the majors. He is slashing .186/.317/.317 with 5 homers in 66 games. His -0.8 fWAR is fifth worst in the league. He has become nearly unplayable, and it is no surprise that the Yankees are reported to be actively seeking another outfielder.
3. Miguel Andujar:
Similar to Frazier, Miguel Andujar has failed to capitalize on finally receiving extended playing time. While his defense in left field has been, in my opinion, better than expected, that is more due to the low expectations rather than actual impressive performance. Like Fraizer, he has been below replacement level with a .245/.284/.383 slash line and 6 home runs in 45 games. By Win Probability Added, he has been the 11th worst hitter in the majors this season because he has been truly terrible in the clutch. He has really hurt the Yankees this year.
4. Aroldis Chapman:
Chapman got off to such a great start this year, but it has been well documented how poorly he has pitched over the last few weeks. His ERA is up to 4.55 on the season and he is walking nearly 7 batters per nine innings. The Yankees need Chappy to right the ship if they want to have any shot at making a run this year.
5. Aaron Hicks:
Hicks played in just 32 games before being ruled out for the year with a wrist injury. He was just plain bad with 4 home runs and a .194/.294/.333 slash line. His listing on here, however, may be more for Brian Cashman and the front office. While everyone expected Hicks to be productive this year, his health is always in question due to his extensive injury history. The Yankees did not have a backup plan for center field, unless one considers 37 year-old Brett Gardner a good backup. Yankees center fielders this year have combined for -1.0 bWAR, fifth worst in the majors. If they trade for someone like Joey Gallo, they might have to move Aaron Judge to center, which is not ideal. The Yankees lack of center field depth has been exposed, which is something that was definitely foreseeable.