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It’s better to be lucky than good: Which Yankee hitters have been lucky?

The most exciting part about this Yankees season has arguably been the replacement Yankees and how they have admirably filled in for injured star after injured star. It seems like every day we’re out here spreading the gospel of Gio Urshela the Happiest Fella or the Sockman or #KillaCam. And with good reason –  they’ve all been killing it and the Yankees wouldn’t be the best team in baseball without them.

Unfortunately, whenever a bunch of fill-ins do well, we inevitably wonder about the luck factor. Are guys getting lucky, or have they made sustainable changes that have helped them? In the three cases above, all of them have made swing adjustments over the years and have had huge success with them. Here’s a list of articles breaking down those changes:

So the question then becomes, are these changes for real? And what can we expect moving forward? To answer this question, we’re going to look at a stat called wOBA – xwOBA. I know, I know, more Statcast alphabet soup, but bear with me because this is pretty cool.

Let’s start with wOBA. That stands for “weighted on base average” and is basically a stat which tells you how good a player has been on offense. What I like about wOBA is that different types of hits are worth more: there is a hierarchy that starts with HR, then triple, double, single, walk. That way, credit is given to players for their power and extra-base production, in a way that’s not accounted for by batting average and OBP. The following table from FanGraphs tells you what range of wOBA is considered poor, good, and great:

League average for 2019 is .311, and anything over .340 is considered above average.

xwOBA stands for “expected weighted on-base average” and is the Statcast way of telling us what a player’s wOBA should be based on his batted ball data. For example, when Aaron Judge hits a 110 mph line drive right at Yasiel Puig, wOBA records it as an out whereas xwOBA says it should have been a hit. xwOBA relies on launch angle, exit velocity, and sometimes sprint speed to tell us what should have happened, and more importantly, what we can expect moving forward.

So, wOBA – xwOBA can tell us how lucky a player has gotten. If his wOBA is significantly higher than his xwOBA, he has been lucky and we can expect some regression moving forward. Likewise, if his xwOBA is higher than his wOBA, he is getting unlucky and we can expect more production to come. Now, let’s get to the players.

Mike Tauchman

wOBA – xwOBA = .386 -.324 = .062

Unfortunately, the Sockman is getting lucky. His actual wOBA is between great to excellent, but his xwOBA is about league average. I’m enjoying the run as much as we all are, but we should not expect it to continue forever. Hopefully Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks get healthy soon before the Sockman has to go with bare feet (sorry for the awful pun).

Brett Gardner

wOBA – xwOBA = .347 – .309 = .038

Brett Gardner is having an incredible season, with above-average production and no fewer than 1700 viral moments which the season would feel empty without. Sadly, his expected metrics are below average, and I would caution fans who think Gardy can sustain this type of production as he continues to age. Give the man one-year deals as long as he wants, because he means more to this team than his production, but he is best served as a 4th outfielder if possible.

Cameron Maybin

wOBA – xwOBA = .389 – .352 = .037

KillaCam is also getting lucky, but his luck takes him from great to almost great. His swing changes look legit and I am here for it. Also, as a fellow hug lover, I can’t help but root for the guy. Speaking of, don’t forget to buy your Hug SZN shirts, which will be available soon in our Fan Shop!

Gio Urshela

wOBA – xwOBA = .399 – .379 = .020

Lol, this is hilarious. No, Gio Urshela isn’t excellent, he’s merely great. And for a 27-year-old journeyman, I’ll take that every day of the week. I wrote two weeks ago about how Gio is legit, and he is. Sure, he’s getting a bit lucky, but when your expected production is still between great and excellent, you’re doing a hell of a lot right, and I expect his rise to continue.

On the flip side, two of the Yankees premier sluggers have been unlucky so far this year:

Gary Sanchez

wOBA – xwOBA = .345 – .370 = -.025

Sanchez is the poster boy for getting unlucky, and last year he led the league in this unfortunate metric. He has still been above average this year, but the metrics say he should have great results. He has been turning it on lately, and let’s hope that continues. The discrepancy for Sanchez exists because he hits so many damn hard ground balls into the shift. He has been going oppo more often and with power, so the best is yet to come for Sanchez this season. The Kraken is being unleashed, and the league is not ready for it.

Aaron Judge

wOBA – xwOBA = .362 – .401 = -.039

This is incredible. Everything about Aaron Judge is incredible. An xwOBA of .401 is above excellent and just ludicrous. This difference is the second highest in the AL, meaning Judge is the second-most unlucky player in the whole league. Even with an oblique injury and an inability to pull home runs, Aaron Judge should still be excellent. The dude has an exit velo of over 96 mph, and nobody else is even above at 95 mph. He is a god among men, and we are all lucky to witness him play. The dude will be fine, and when that positive regression kicks in, as Ken Singleton would say, “LOOKOUT!”

Concluding Thoughts

In general, the guys with higher exit velos are more likely to have higher xwOBA than wOBA, which is why Sanchez and Judge are frequently here. Hopefully that regression kicks in for them soon, and they can dominate the league. Personally, I’m glad the guys getting unlucky are the team’s best hitters, because if they get results in line with their metrics moving forward, it’ll be hard as hell to stop this team. As for the other guys, you hope they can keep it up and the #Replacefor28 happens. Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.

You can contact Rohan on Twitter @rohanarcot2