Unpacking the Yankees’ Three Week Nosedive

On August 17, the New York Yankees finished up a 6-3 victory against the Boston Red Sox and extended their win streak to six games. The team was 16-6 on the season and had the best record in baseball. They then commenced a seven-game losing streak on their way to a three week stretch during which the club went 5-14, bringing its season mark to 21-20. In a 162-game season, 19 games is less than 12% of the season, but this year, it represents nearly a third of the season and nearly half of the team’s games played thus far. With just 19 games left to go, another 5-14 stretch would push the Yankees out of the playoffs. While that scenario isn’t likely — our Playoff Odds have the Yankees at 89% odds entering games today — it’s worth exploring what’s gone wrong and whether we can expect it to continue.

To take a broad view, here are the Yankees’ major-league ranks with the season split between their good and bad stretches:

Yankees’ Major League Ranks
Through 8/17 127 1st 1.2 15th 1.2 9th
8/18-9/7 80 25th 1.4 14th -1.4 30th
Overall 106 12th 2.5 16th 0 24th

The offense and relief pitching have fallen off a cliff while the starting pitching has remained middle of the pack. It’s fair to say that the rotation should be better, but it has been about as effective during the free fall as it was when things were going well. Gerrit Cole has had a run of bad starts and James Paxton has been dinged up; Michael King has had one good start and one bad one during this stretch, while Jordan Montgomery has had some clunkers, too. Still, Masahiro Tanaka has pitched well and Deivi García and J.A. Happ have turned in some decent starts. The rotation has underperformed expectations the entire season (Yankees starters ranked first on our preseason Positional Power Rankings), but they’ve been more average than bad pretty consistently. Given that the Yankees have had four doubleheaders in the last three weeks, the rotation has arguably held up pretty well. If Paxton were healthy and Cole was pitching as expected, the rotation would be one of the best in baseball. That they aren’t is hurting the team, but it’s hardly the sole source of New York’s troubles.

First, let’s take a look at the hitting:

Yankees’ Batters Through 8/17
Name PA wRC+ WAR
Gleyber Torres 81 95 0
DJ LeMahieu 79 175 0.9
Gio Urshela 78 133 0.8
Aaron Hicks 71 139 0.6
Gary Sánchez 71 57 -0.1
Luke Voit 70 157 0.6
Aaron Judge 68 188 1
Brett Gardner 58 86 0
Giancarlo Stanton 54 180 0.5
Mike Tauchman 47 141 0.3
Top 10 Hitters (by PA) 677 134 4.6

Through mid-August, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sánchez, and Brett Gardner were struggling a bit while everybody else played incredibly well. Cumulatively, the entire team was playing at an All-Star level. Here’s what’s happened since then:

Yankees’ Batters Since 8/18
Name PA wRC+ WAR
Luke Voit 80 159 0.7
Clint Frazier 67 119 0.3
Aaron Hicks 66 86 0.1
Brett Gardner 54 52 -0.2
DJ LeMahieu 47 113 0.1
Mike Tauchman 45 20 -0.5
Gary Sánchez 43 60 0
Gio Urshela 42 135 0.4
Tyler Wade 42 23 -0.1
Mike Ford 41 8 -0.4
Top 10 Hitters (by PA) 527 85 0.4

The bottom line is bad, but let’s first look at the list of players. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Torres have been subbed out for Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade and Mike Ford. Frazier has hit credibly, but Wade and Ford have been awful. Add in more poor hitting from Gardner along with Aaron Hicks and Michael Tauchman slumping, and there’s only so much Luke Voit and Gio Urshela can do. If Tauchman, Wade, and Ford were hitting like average big leaguers, or if Stanton, Judge, and Torres were still in the lineup and putting up just average lines, the Yankees’ top 10 players by plate appearance would be putting up a 105 wRC+. Sánchez and Gardner have certainly struggled all season, but the Yankees’ offense is missing its top-three projected batters, which is having a much bigger impact, particularly compared to the start of the season.

And it isn’t just Stanton, Judge, and Torres who are missing from the list; DJ LeMahieu has missed time as well. While the Yankees had seven players averaging more than three plate appearances per game through August 17, just three have meet that mark since. That the Yankees’ offense is down isn’t a big surprise. On August 17, Jay Jaffe wrote about the team’s injuries and noted that its depth was about to get tested. That piece went up before Torres missed two weeks with quad and hamstring issues. The Yankees’ got by with their depth last season, but some of their saviors from last year, like Urshela and Tauchman, were already receiving decent playing time, while Tauchman has struggled and Ford has been unable to repeat last year’s performance. Wade isn’t performing that far off expectations. The team just doesn’t have as much depth among its position players as it did a year ago.

As for the bullpen, I think we can skip the beginning of the year numbers, but I’ll note that Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, and Zack Britton were all performing very well, and the team was succeeding despite not having Aroldis Chapman for much of the early going. Here’s how things have gone over the last three weeks, including only the bullpen’s significant contributors based on innings and the leverage index when they enter games:

Yankees’ Relievers Since 8/18
Luis Cessa 10.1 1.11 1.74 3.54 0.2
Jonathan Holder 8.2 1.21 1.04 3.84 0.1
Chad Green 6.1 1.72 11.37 10.26 -0.5
Adam Ottavino 4.1 1.61 20.77 8.46 -0.2
Aroldis Chapman 4 2.61 6.75 10.15 -0.4
Zack Britton 3.2 1.45 7.36 5.33 0
Minimum 3 IP, gmLI of 1.00

Chapman has come back, but hasn’t had many opportunities and hasn’t performed well when he has. Green has had five good outings and three poor ones. Britton missed time with injury. Ottavino has had three good outings mixed with three bad ones. Any team getting poor performance out of their best four relievers is going to have a hard time getting outs at the end of games. Ottavino, Chapman, and Green have combined to blow seven save situations after doing so just 12 in total all of last year. That’s a little extreme, and not something we can expect going forward.

The Yankees are in a terrible stretch of baseball, and having such a stretch in a season that’s only 60 games long has probably cost them the division. It probably won’t keep costing them in terms of a playoff berth, but this bad stretch has been a total team effort. Their ace isn’t pitching like one. The team’s three best hitters are missing from the lineup, while others have struggled to step up. The best arms in their bullpen aren’t getting results commensurate with their talent or careers to date. All of that has come together for a very bad three weeks. The team can’t afford to have another three weeks like their last three, but we can probably expect the performance to tick up, particularly in the lineup and the bullpen. The Yankees only have to go .500 the rest of the way to make the playoffs, and then hope they’re healthy once they’re there.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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3 years ago

The Yankees will most likely make the playoffs. But that roster they were rolling out there for a while was quite bad. Fortunately now they have Torres and DJ back, but there were days there when they had Gardner and Ford and Tauchman all in the first 4 hitters. Their relief pitchers should be good, I would chalk that mostly up to variance. I get that the projections like their starting pitchers a bit more than I do, but there isn’t really a ton to like there currently unless some of their rookies pitch up to (Yankees fans) expectations. Happ was never going to be good, Paxtons velocity was down, Montgomery is their current 3 starter and he shouldn’t be more than depth or 5th starter at MLB level. The Cole signing not working out was something you could see coming. Giving up all this money to a pitcher who just magically added all this spin when he went to Houston seemed like a bad idea, no? Other pitchers had similar spin rate spikes in Houston, and he was openly accused of cheating by Bauer who was his former college teammate.

I don’t get why they didn’t do anything at the trade deadline. To me it sort of seemed like they just assumed they didn’t have to make any upgrades, and didn’t want to deplete their already light minor league system. Issue is they already pushed all in for the coming years, so if not now, when? How could they look at that rotation and not realize it needs some help?

Can you imagine if three weeks ago someone told you that the Mariners were only 2 games back of the Yankees for the 8th playoff spot? The good news for Yankees fans is they basically control their own destiny, as they play the the teams they are battling for the 2nd spot in AL East, and the WC 12 of their last 18 games.

Willians Astu-stu-studillomember
3 years ago
Reply to  carter

I’m not sure what you’re trying to say about Cole. Do you think that the Yankees don’t have pine tar?

3 years ago

More that they haven’t optimized whatever it is Cole did/does.