Three Burning Questions (Pt. 3)
by Cary Greene
June 4, 2022
On these pages, I have been answering some "burning questions" this week.
First I answered, Are the 2022 Yankees a mirage?
Next I looked at the second burning question on many Yankee fan’s minds - Is the bullpen imploding?
In today’s final installment, I’ll answer the other burning question, one that might impact moves Brian Cashman may make as the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline looms.
Is the Yankee offense still too right-handed?
AS of the writing of this post (earlier this week), the Yankee offense is very close to being the most prolific home run hitting team in baseball, trailing only the Brewers. The Yankees have hit 67 dingers to date this season, so they’re tied with the Angles a mere two home runs off the pace. The Yankees 109 OPS+ is also tied with the Cardinals for fifth place in MLB, so the offense is actually doing very well this season on the whole. The Yankees have also cut down quite a bit on hitting into double-plays and they’re running the bases a bit better than last year.
I’d venture to say that hitting home runs isn’t hurting the offense. That said, I’ve uncovered a real, honest-to-goodness festering problem that’s absolutely the main problem with this year’s bunch. The Yankees absolutely do struggle against strong right-handed pitching and opposing managers totally game plan around this glaring weakness.
69% of pitchers who face the Yankees this year are right-handed and teams are increasingly countering the Yankees with right-handed relievers as games progress. This is limiting the Yankees' big-innings and there’s not much the Yankees can do about it because they only have four batters who can hit righties to save their lives.
The Yankees team batting average of only .238 against righties is 16th in baseball and their OPS is only .711 - but that’s 11th in MLB so at first glance, improving against right-handed pitching certainly does look like an area the Yankees may want to focus on, whereas many teams might want to emphasize this as well. Right-handed pitching is very tough on many team’s lineups.
Conversely, the Yankees hit only .235 against lefties with an OPS only marginally better, coming in at .739 which is 9th in MLB. If we peel back the onion, we can isolate which Yankees not only struggle the most against right-handed pitching, but who are also killing the Yankees because they’re getting way too many at-bats vs righties.
League Average OPS this year is .696, which is down from last year’s average of .728 in what the 2022 season thus far can only be called, “the year of the pitcher.” In order, Aaron Judge, Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Rizzo are the Yankees only above average batters against righties. That’s a huge problem.
Miguel Andujar, Jose Trevino, Marwin Gonzalez and Kyle Higashioka don’t play much against righties, so while they all struggle to varying degrees against righties, Boone is thus far limiting their opportunities to hurt the team against righties.
But clearly (and in order) Joey Gallo, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, DJ LeMahieu (surprisingly) and Aaron Hicks are the players who are killing the offense against righties.
Brian Cashman ought to look for some solutions for this problem instead of allowing it to persist. If we consider internal options, Estevan Florial hits .259 with a .799 OPS against righties and Ender Inciarte hits .283 with a .735 OPS against those dreaded righties. The Yankees happen to need help in the outfield. Both of these players are outfielders at AAA.
With Stanton currently shelved, the Yankees have placed their faith recently in Miguel Andujar and though he’s had limited at-bats season to date, he does hit .290 with a career .794 OPS so there is a glimmer of hope with Miggy as well, but beyond that, the Yankees have a real problem with Gallo-Falefa-Torres-LeMahieu and Hicks in the lineup constantly against all this right-handed pitching teams are throwing the Yankees way.
Hopefully, Brain Cashman catches on to this trend I’m pointing out as it sure would help the team if he could bring in some batters who can handle all the righties opponents are countering the Yankees with. The recent addition of Matt Carpenter may help in this department as over his career, he’s hit .267 against righties with an .838 OPS. Realistically, Boone could use Carpenter as a DH more, which might decrease LeMahieu’s at-bats against righties and that could be a good thing.
Every attempt should be made to minimize Aaron Hicks' at-bats vs righties for the foreseeable future as well and playing Andujar instead of Gallo in left-field may help as well. Still, the Yankees need some better options in the outfield. I’m convinced it may be time to promote both Florial and Inciarte.
We have just under two months until the trade deadline. Now is the time to act but we all know the Yankees will likely stick with Gallo and Hicks and give them every opportunity to break out. I say it’s time to consider cutting-bait with both players. Until a few trades can be made, the Yankees ought to look internally to kick start the offense.
There’s been a ton of SSTN noise surrounding Andrew Benintendi, who is crushing righties to the tune of a .344 average and an .860 OPS this season, but who even knows if Kansas City would want to trade him. He is in his walk-year, so perhaps as the deadline approaches and KC gets further and further out of contention, they may possibly want to make a few trades to help them build for the future.
Several other players are out there and Brian Cashman really needs to look at this as he attempts to put a more balanced roster in place – something he’s absolutely failing at and has failed at for some time now.
I’ve put together my short list of players I’d like to see Cashman inquire about and hopefully, he can land one or more of them. The way I see it, beefing up the Yankees ability to handle right-handed pitching should really be the positional priority as the deadline approaches. Here’s my list:
Andrew Benintendi, mentioned above and also, KC’s young shortstop Bobby Witt Jr should be of interest. Whitt is currently hitting .276 with an .847 OPS against righties.
Austin Hays of the Orioles checks all the boxes - he’s currently hitting .362 against righties with a .966 OPS.
Obviously the would-be-super-expensive-to-trade-for Juan Soto is out there and he’s of course super against righties.
The Reds center fielder, Tyler Naquin is on a one-year deal and he’s hitting .277 with an .863 OPS against righties this year. He’d make a lot of sense.
Josh Bell of the Nationals is also crushing righties and has a .315 average to go with an .860 OPS. He’d make an excellent DH if the Yankees could commit to getting Giancarlo Stanton back into the outfield more regularly - but with the inflamed ankle, that may be problematic.
Seattle's awesome shortstop J.P. Crawford, who recently signed a 5-year $51 million contract might also be worth making a dazzling offer on, as he rakes righties as well.
Gary Sanchez of the Twins is killing righties this year also, hitting .275 with a .868 OPS I’m sorry to report. Perhaps the Yankees could somehow get him back! (Ok, on that one, I am kidding.)