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Yankees Banking on Bounce Back Seasons From Several Hitters

By Sal Maiorana

February 2024

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Sal Maiorana, a friend of the site, shares some of his thoughts on the Yankees.


For honest, unfiltered analysis on the New York Yankees, you can subscribe to Sal Maiorana's free Pinstripe People Newsletter at https://salmaiorana.beehiiv.com/subscribe.

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Brian Cashman made the one move many of us expected in the offseason - trading for outfielder/hitting phenom Juan Soto. 


It’s funny, I never felt like the Yankees were going to sign free agent Japanese pitching phenom Yoshinobu Yamamoto even though they lobbed $300 million at him, and as we eventually found out, he never really wanted to sign with anyone besides the Dodgers, and their $325 million got the job done.


But I always had high confidence that Soto was going to wind up in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium is a perfect place for Soto to put up huge numbers in his final season before he reaches free agency, and if he does so, he could be in line for a $500 million contract.


He’ll be pretty motivated to excel so I’m sure he was hoping the Yankees and Padres could make the deal work. For the Yankees, it cost them a few potentially valuable pitching assets (most prominently Michael King and Drew Thorpe) for what might turn out to be a one-year rental, but it’s a move they were willing to make because they always believe they’re all in, all the time.


Beyond that, however, the only potentially meaningful additions Cashman made to a Yankee lineup that was one of the worst in MLB in 2023 was trading more pitching for outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Red Sox, and getting glove-first outfielder Trent Grisham from the Padres as part of the Soto deal. That’s it. 


Sure, Soto is a tremendous player and one of the elite hitters in the game, and Verdugo should be a sizeable upgrade in left field over the laughable menagerie of players the Yankees used there last season - Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, Billy McKinney, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Everson Pereira. But unless the Yankees still have a few moves left to make between now and Opening Day in Houston, it looks like they are running it back in 2024 with last year’s disappointing crew, all of which is now one year older. 


Will it be good enough to win the AL East? I have my doubts, but if the answers to the following questions wind up being positive, then yes, the Yankees will certainly have a chance to rebound from their ugly 82-80 record in 2023.


Will Giancarlo Stanton’s weight loss revive his career?

Cashman and the ever-optimistic Aaron Boone have been gushing about the new-look Stanton who spent the offseason trying to get trimmer in the hope that playing at a lighter weight would prevent some of the lower body injuries that have plagued him.


“He’s always been one of the most feared hitters in the game,” Cashman said. “He’s looking forward to getting back to that.”


OK, I seriously doubt Stanton will ever be the feared hitter he once was. He has been putrid for two years and the more likely reality is that in between stints on the injured list he will continue to hit some breathtaking home runs, but will also drive us nuts many more times than not. 


Stanton hit .191 last year, .200 with runners in scoring position, and if there was one statistic that illuminated just how feeble he was in 2023, he worked the count to 2-0 and/or 3-1 in just 23 at bats. And in what are considered to be the best hitters’ counts, he managed only four hits.


I have zero faith that Stanton will be a difference maker in 2023. He’s way past his prime, and I can’t see how losing weight is going to make his hole-filled swing any better. If he weighs less, does that mean he’ll stop swinging at breaking balls a foot outside the zone? 


Can Anthony Rizzo get back to his early 2023 production?

Rizzo will be 35 years old in August and you have to wonder how much he has left. He got off to a great start in 2023 when he slashed .304 average/.376 on base/.505 slugging with an OPS of .880 in the first 53 games, but it was that damn 53rd game that ruined the rest of his year.


He banged his head against the hip of San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. on a pickoff throw and though the Yankees didn’t figure it out for two months, he suffered a concussion. Of course it didn’t help that Rizzo tried to be a tough guy and play through it even though he later admitted that he didn’t feel right.


In any event, over the next two months he was one of the worst offensive players in MLB as he slashed .172/.271/.225 with an OPS of .496. In his final 46 games he hit one home run and had nine RBI. Rizzo, who remains a top notch fielder, says he’s fully recovered and ready to go, but I think it’s fair that we have some trepidation regarding what Rizzo will produce this season. 


The analytics people don’t believe in him as the projections for his 2024 numbers are poor. Now, I don’t take projections too seriously because that’s all they are, numbers-based guesses that don’t factor in so many human element factors, but just for context, here’s what they are for Rizzo: A slash line of .238/.332/.428, an OPS of .760 with 19 homers and 54 RBI. If that happens, that’s not great, folks.


Will Anthony Volpe alter his plate approach?

Volpe won the shortstop job fair and square over Oswald Peraza last spring, and to the Yankees credit, they kept him there all season and lived with his rookie ups and downs. That was the right move because they needed to see if he could be the long-term solution at that important position. 


I’m not comparing the two, but that’s what the Yankees did with Derek Jeter in his rookie 1996 season even though some thought he might not be ready for it. Obviously, Jeter was more than ready. Volpe, well, the jury is still out.


He won the AL Gold Glove award which kind of stunned me because while he was a good shortstop, he certainly didn’t blow me away with his glove, his arm or his range. His 17 errors were fourth-most in MLB. I guess it wasn’t a great year for shortstops. Volpe will be fine in the field, but he has to improve as a hitter.


Forget about the 21 home runs he hit last year. I don’t care about him hitting home runs because the Yankees have plenty of other guys to take care of that. They need Volpe to become an on-base machine so that he can use his speed to steal bases and put pressure on the defense, not to mention being a “duck on the pond” as we old guys used to say, to be driven home. That’s where his value will be in this offense.


Last year was rough as he hit .209 with a .283 on-base. Of the 135 qualifying batting leaders last season, Volpe’s .283 on-base ranked 134th, ahead of only Javy Baez’s awful .267. Take away his home runs and Volpe scored only 41 runs, and because he was on base so infrequently, he stole only 24 bases. That number could easily jump into the 40s or 50s because when he steals, he usually makes it (he was caught only five times).


Volpe could be a perfect leadoff hitter in the future if he just stops swinging for the fences, uses the whole field, and raises his on-base percentage by 75-100 points.


Can D.J. LeMahieu build on his second-half turnaround?

LeMahieu is the top candidate to be the leadoff hitter because, quite frankly, the Yankees don’t have any other suitable option. Volpe certainly won’t get the chance until he proves he can get on base; Gleyber Torres had the second-best on-base percentage (.347) behind Aaron Judge, but Boone probably wants him hitting in the middle of the order because of his power; and the same goes for Soto who is an on-base machine (his .410 on-base ranked fifth in MLB) but because of his slugging is better suited to bat second or third.


That leaves LeMahieu, and there are questions. He hit a career-worst .243 in 2023, and his .327 on-base was his fourth-worst since he became a regular starter with the Rockies in 2013. 

The Yankees have to hope that the LeMahieu they saw in the second half of 2023 is the one they’ll have in 2024. In the first half last year, he was pretty terrible with a slash line of .220/.285/.357 for an OPS of .643. But in the second half, for whatever reason he got back on track under the tutelage of new hitting coach Sean Casey (who is not returning in 2024). 


Casey preached a gap-to-gap approach (I wish Volpe had listened) which is how LeMahieu has always hit, and it began to work again. He slashed .273/.377/.432 for an OPS of .809 so if that continues, then LeMahieu will work fine at the top of the order and Volpe can hit ninth and hopefully be a good man to turn the lineup over.


Which Alex Verdugo will the Yankees get?

There were a bunch of Yankee fans who didn’t like this acquisition, but I think it has a chance to be a really good one. I understand that Verdugo has been a bit of a lightning rod for criticism during his seven MLB seasons - mainly the belief has been that he isn’t a great clubhouse guy. 


But Verdugo can hit, and what do the Yankees need more than that? His career slash line is .281/.337/.428 for an OPS of .765. That production last year would have made Verdugo a top three offensive performer if he was wearing pinstripes. He doesn’t bring a lot of power, but again, as I said earlier regarding Volpe, the Yankees have that area covered. 


If LeMahieu struggles, Verdugo might be an option in the leadoff spot, something he did in 80 games last season for the Red Sox, hitting .280/.331/461 with only a 13.1 strikeout rate which was fifth-lowest among all leadoff hitters with at least 250 plate appearances.


If Verdugo can get on base and be the average-level fielder that he’s been throughout his career, he’s going to help the Yankees so much more than all those stiffs they paraded out in left field last season. And I also think in a clubhouse filled with veterans, led by Judge, I don’t think he’ll have the stones to stir up trouble.

13 comments

13 comentarios


Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
21 feb

ONE MORE THING: I mentioned the name Anthony Rendon in my last comment. I know the Yankees need a good Third Baseman. But I beg Cashman....Please....please....please....please.....do NOT trade for Rendon! He makes Josh Donaldson seem like a saint! And he makes Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton's contracts seem like "good" contracts in comparison to his contract with the Angels! After being a very good hitter with Washington (he still HATED baseball when he played there according to his teammate Jonathan Papelbon) for multiple seasons, he has not only been a mediocre (or worse) hitter with the Angels, but he has been injured a lot more than he has played, he wants to shorten the season to only half its …

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Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
21 feb

There are 3 major reasons why the Yankees will be a much better hitting team this season.


Reason # 1: James Rowson. He was the Minor League Hitting Instructor for the Yankees and he worked extensively with Aaron Judge when he was on the way up. He became Rowson's best success story. Gary Sanchez was another one of Rowson's pupils. When he came up, he was a major power threat in the lineup and remained that way for several seasons before his hitting declined (as a Yankee, although he came back to form in San Diego). Greg Bird dominated minor league pitching the same way Judge did as he rocketed up the Yankee farm system, making an initial great…


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jjw49
21 feb

If Stanton can maintain his health and give the Yankees 20-25HR then the Yankees will be a problem for many teams this year given their improved lineup!

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Alan B.
Alan B.
21 feb

My problem is that Dillon Lawson's personal pick (not a Cashman pick) for his Asst HC here, is still here. Why? But the good thing is that both Rowson & Roessler are here from Day 1. No one is clueless, or playing catchup coming in mid season.


I thought that DJ was either still hurt or didn't trust his foot. Then MLBN dud a segment supported by video of the same thing on about June 18. Anyone think it was an accident that after DJ going back ro Colorado he starts hitting? I don't. He found medical people who he trusted.


Hopefully Stanton's training regimen does do something to drastically give him better flexibility, especially in his hips. Hopefully it's…


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Melfman1
Melfman1
22 feb
Contestando a

Ughhh… here we go again.

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Melfman1
Melfman1
21 feb

I am of the opinion that Stanton is a lost cause at this stage of his career, since his pitch recognition has been lost. He reminds me of A-Rod’s last season before being released/retiring. Every once in a while he guesses fastball location correctly and mashes one out of the park. More often than not, he guesses wrong and his swing is a foot away from the ball. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he is the roster casualty mid-season when Dominguez is ready to be activated.


Maybe I’m foolish, but I have much higher optimism when it comes to Rizzo and DJ. Rizzo has never been a .300 hitter, but I could see him getting back to .25…


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Melfman1
Melfman1
22 feb
Contestando a

Weight loss/conditioning won’t change his pitch recognition issues. Maybe a tweaked swing/approach will, but I’m skeptical. Fingers crossed 🤞🏻

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