Prior to the 2021 season, the Yankees were a trendy World Series pick and favored by nearly every projection system to be one of the best teams in the American League. Their lineup was supposed to marauder AL pitching just as it did last season. In early June, they’re barely above .500, nowhere near first place in the division. There’s a long way to go, but to this point, they’re one of the biggest disappointments in MLB so far.
The problem isn’t hard to spot. In 2020, they led the AL with 5.25 runs per game. This season, they’re dead last with 3.69 despite very few personnel changes. With the exception of Aaron Judge, it’s fair to say that every single Yankee position player has failed to meet expectations.
The season is more than two months old. It’s time to face the fact that some of the players the Yankees counted on simply aren’t very good right now. They don’t have the luxury of waiting around much longer to see if they’ll pull out of it.
Hang Up the Spikes
This is painful to write, but it’s time to move on from Brett Gardner. At 37 years old in his 14th season with the team, he’s become an automatic out. His on-base and slugging percentages both look like batting averages from his heyday. His .284 expecting slugging percentage is dead last in MLB among qualified hitters. He’s clearly overmatched in nearly every plate appearance and has only ten hits beyond the infield all year.
Less emotionally, Rougned Odor has been another black hole in the lineup. Despite a few clutch moments, his 75 wRC+ is unacceptable. This shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s one of the only Yankees playing to the back of his baseball card, which in his case isn’t a good thing. After all, there’s a reason the moribund Texas Rangers cut him.
The reason Gardner and Odor have played so much is that the club has very few other options. With Aaron Hicks likely out for the rest of the year, the only other true center fielder on the 40-man roster is Estevan Florial. We would all love to see what he can do at the major league level, but he’s currently not hitting much better than Gardner in triple-A. They can’t rush his development and disrupt his potential.
The regular second baseman should be DJ LeMahieu, who has also underperformed, but he’s been needed at first base because of the miasma of ineffective options at that position. The recently called up Chris Gittens is really their fourth first base option. One could argue for more playing time for Tyler Wade because of his speed and defense, but he also can’t hit at all. He’s not much of an upgrade over Odor.
Young and Restless
Three of the youngest Yankee hitters who have shined brightly in the recent past have played dimly in 2021. Their everyday outfield often consists of both Clint Frazier and Miguel Andújar. Neither is inspiring defensively and their bats have been ice cold. Frazier still hits the ball hard and maintains a very healthy walk rate, but his line drive rate has plummeted while his ground balls and popups have skyrocketed. Andújar crushed 47 doubles and 27 home runs in 2018, but this year has managed only four extra-base hits in 80 plate appearances. He has yet to draw a walk even once!
Gleyber Torres is the best of the younger players. He has picked up his performance lately, slashing .345/.403/.491 since May 19. With only three home runs though, he won’t come close to the 38 bombs he smashed in 2019. Nevertheless, the Yankees ought to consider batting him first or second in the lineup given his high on-base percentage.
Torres will be fine. Frazier and Andújar aren’t going anywhere because their value is too low to trade right now and the team has more pressing matters to deal with on the trade market: CF and 1B/2B. No one will come for their jobs from the IL or Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They just need to simply play better baseball.
By no means are the aforementioned players the only problems with the Yankee lineup. LeMahieu hasn’t hit this poorly since his Colorado Rockies days. Giancarlo Stanton carried the team singlehandedly in the weeks before his injury, but since his May 28 return, he has looked overmatched. Gio Urshela and the Gary Sánchez/Kyle Higashioka catching tandem have been merely average. Luke Voit hasn’t been healthy all year.
There are no reinforcements waiting their turn in the minors. There are only three minor league position players on the 40-man roster. Florial might see some extended playing time in center field in the near future, but he’s probably not ready to jumpstart the lineup. Mike Ford was recently demoted, and frankly, we’ve seen enough of him. Oswald Peraza is raking… at high-A Hudson Valley. He won’t factor into the team’s 2021 plans at all.
It’s just about trade season, and the Yankees need to speed up their timeline. There are simply too many nearly guaranteed oh-fers in the lineup every day. Brian Cashman has to take drastic measures and look for outside help before they fall too far off the pace in the AL East.