The Yankees’ up-and-down season ended with a thud and that’s how this 2021 report card hits the principal’s desk, too. Double Secret Probation, anyone, for a Yankees team that persevered but ultimately was an enormous disappointment?
Sure, there were some bright spots — Aaron Judge is one of the game’s truly great players, Giancarlo Stanton is again a force. But there was so much underperformance on a roster stuffed with big names, no matter the injuries or COVID-19 problems.
And, in the last game of the season, Gerrit Cole — the ace they’ve long craved to make themselves crapshoot-proof in the postseason — stunk, getting only six outs in the AL Wild Card flop against the Red Sox.
Now the Yankees face thorny questions. There’ll be speculation about Aaron Boone’s job — his contract is up. Brian Cashman’s vision has not delivered a World Series berth since 2009. How do the Yanks fix an offense that sometimes was best at running into dopey outs on the bases and hitting into double plays?
But first, one final autopsy. It’s Report Card time.
Sánchez delivered 23 home runs, third-most among MLB catchers, but his defensive woes continue despite diligent work. He’s never forged a bond with Cole, so he didn’t even start the AL Wild Card Game and the offense-needy Yankees had an inferior bat — backup Kyle Higashioka — in the lineup. Seems so long ago that Sánchez destroyed the Red Sox in a playoff game at Fenway with two homers.
A lost year for a good hitter. Injuries were a part of that and the presence of new toy Anthony Rizzo curtailed his playing time, too. But when he played, he wasn’t as dangerous as he’s been in the past — he hit half as many homers (11) as he did in 2020 in exactly the same number of at-bats (213).
Definitely helped a righty-heavy lineup when he arrived and boosted the defense on a not-so-great glove team, too. His .768 OPS after joining the Yanks in a trade was above-average and his homer in the Wild Card Game was a rare Yankee highlight on that dark evening.
Maybe it was unreasonable to expect him to duplicate his first two remarkable seasons with the Yankees, but his OPS dropped 300 points! He hit 10 homers (same as 2020) in 100 more games. Still, losing him at the end to a sports hernia hurt — he was missed in the Wild Card Game.
For a guy who once hit 38 homers, he certainly makes a lot of soft contact. His average exit velocity of 87.1 miles per hour was tied for 213th among qualified hitters, according to MLB’s Statcast. He had the lowest hard-hit percentage of his career, and he lost his job at shortstop after not performing there defensively. A late surge helped some numbers a tad, but he might be at a career crossroads.
His plunge into the opposing dugout on the final day of the regular season could’ve been an anthemic play, had the Yanks gone on an October run. His offensive numbers fell, like so many other Yankees, but defense remains a key part of his game and he took over at shortstop for Torres.
The Supporting Cast
Ideally, Rougned Odor wouldn’t have played as much as he did and he struggled offensively, though he contributed 15 home runs, too. Until the final day of the season, he hadn’t had a hit since Sept. 1. Tyler Wade proved a useful bench piece, leading MLB with 12 runs scored as a pinch-runner and also stealing 17 bases in 23 tries. Andrew Velazquez is a solid shortstop glove.
He played the second-most games (148) he ever has, so we got a long look at how great he is, offensively and defensively. He was fourth in the AL in OPS (.916), tied for fifth in homers (39) and was eighth in the AL in bWAR. He led MLB in hard-hit rate (57.9%) and average exit velocity (95.8 mph). He was 14th in MLB in average with runners in scoring position (.331) on a team that was terrible in that regard. Not exactly a news flash: He’s by far their best player.
The master of the Three True Outcomes, Gallo hit 38 homers, led MLB with 213 strikeouts, and topped the AL with 111 walks. He’s also a talented defensive outfielder and helped with lineup balance. But he batted .160 with the Yanks and whiffed 88 times in just 188 at-bats.
Overall, the numbers were not phenomenal (.222 average, .689 OPS), but he reached base in 28 of his final 32 starts, not including three whiffs in the Wild Card Game. A solid June (.885 OPS) and August (.815) helped buoy the Yanks.
No one is carping that Stanton is a Yankee problem now, not after a monster Wild Card Game (3-for-4, homer) and a big year. He seemed to evolve this year, becoming more complete as a hitter and not just mashing mistakes. He hit 35 home runs, was ninth in the AL in OPS-plus (136) and was second to Judge in MLB in average exit velocity (95.1). And he proved he can still play the outfield at times, too.
He’s a contender for the AL Cy Young Award who led the AL in wins (16) and K/BB ratio (5.9), was third in ERA (3.23), second in WHIP (1.059), and second in strikeouts (243). But like a schoolkid who flubs the big end-of-term project, Cole is graded down for his terrible performance in the AL Wild Card Game when the Yankees needed him most. Will we ever know how much his ailing hamstring contributed? Probably not. But if it was a major factor, maybe he shouldn’t have pitched. Now he has to repair his rep as an ace, regardless of how shiny the season numbers are.
Emerged as a reliable starter with a 3.83 ERA and 9.3 K/9 innings and delivered the second-most innings on the staff (157.1). Future could be bright.
Nestor Cortes, Jr.
Nasty Nestor might not throw triple-digits or look the part, but he fashioned a 2.90 ERA in 22 games (14 starts). Seems like he’s good for the soul, too. Just ask Bronxie.
AL Pitcher of the Month in July gave the Yanks an important 3.1 scoreless innings on the final day of the season to help them clinch, all while nursing an ankle issue. Overall, threw 144 innings, third on the team, and had a 4.30 ERA. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2019.
Injuries interrupted his comeback year, but he was 5-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 16 starts and provided a big highlight — his May no-hitter.
Sure, he was third in the AL with 30 saves and had 97 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. But there was way too much angst in his appearances. He walked 38 and gave up 1.4 homers per nine innings. Sure looked unconfident a lot, and it’s fair to wonder if his blips extend into 2022.
He was reliable, as usual, giving up only 57 hits in 83.2 innings and he was 10-7 with a 3.12 ERA. But he allowed so many homers — 1.5 per nine innings.
Are we looking at a future closer here? Dynamite stuff led to a 2.17 ERA in 70.2 innings. He had 22 scoreless outings of two-plus innings, second-most in MLB.
The steal of the trade deadline, he soared up the bullpen trust chart with his sinker with electric movement and recorded a 1.61 ERA in 25 games with the Yanks.
The Supporting Cast
Lucas Luetge surprised to become a key bullpen contributor, recording a 2.74 ERA in 72.1 innings. Wandy Peralta had a 2.95 ERA and delivered scoreless relief 32 times in 46 Yankee outings. Luis Severino returned late in the season for four scoreless relief outings, not allowing a run until the Wild Card Game. Mike King showed big promise in 63.1 innings with a 3.55 ERA.
Boone had the guts to bump Gleyber Torres off short and didn’t lose the player or have the move cause a clubhouse ruckus. He deserves some credit for the Yanks getting up off the floor after suffering an endless stream of gut-punch losses. He’s only the second manager ever to reach the postseason in each of his first four seasons on the job. But he’s also the leader of a club that has disappointed repeatedly. And no manager of a team that has done that should say stuff like “Teams have closed the gap on us” after getting thrashed in a do-or-die postseason game. What gap?
He remade the bullpen on the fly and it worked. Getting Holmes was a masterstroke. He traded for Gallo and Rizzo at the deadline, adding lefty balance to a lineup that desperately needed it. But maybe that lefty balance should’ve been there all year and that goes back to not addressing it properly last winter. That’s Cashman’s domain. They sure could use some athleticism, too. There’s plenty here to add to and reshape in hopes of becoming the juggernaut the Yanks keep touting. But it hasn’t worked to the ultimate goal yet and Cashman, among plenty others, bears responsibility.
If we’re grading by the Jeterian “championship or failure” rubric, well, it’s an F. That kind of nonsense is throwing red meat to a howling mob, though. Can’t be an F if they made the postseason, which they did for the fifth consecutive year and 23rd in the last 27. But expectations were high and they disappointed. The Yankees’ vaunted offense averaged 4.39 runs, worse than the awful Washington Nationals, who gave up at the trade deadline and lost 97 games. No AL playoff team averaged fewer. Points for grinding through injuries, etc., yeah, but the Yankees have a lot of improving to do.
Source: Yahoo Sports