Welcome to Yankees Year in Review. This is the second of four parts looking at each position group for the Yankees. Up next, the infield.
The Yankees opening day infield looked like this:
By season’s end, Didi Gregorius and Gary Sánchez were the only opening day infielders to also start in the American League
Divisional Series. There were many reasons: injuries, trades and possibly some service time manipulation.
Billy McKinney was injured early on, leading to the call-up of Miguel Andújar as Aaron Boone shifted players around. Gleyber Torres would be called up 21 days later to play second base, replacing the struggling combination of Tyler Wade and Neil Walker. Neither Andújar nor Torres would be sent back down to the minors.
Torres and Andújar are both American League Rookie of the Year candidates for 2018. Andújar hit 27 home runs while Torres hit 24 dingers. Torres struck out 25% to Andújar’s 16% but Torres walked 8.7% while Andújar drew a walk only 4.1% of the time. Torres played out of position at second, as a natural shortstop but fared well. Andújar on the other hand, played an extremely poor defensively, forcing Boone to substitute him out for better defenders late in games (Adeiny Hechavarria would assume this role in September and in the playoffs). Both look like the foundation for the infield in the long term.
Tyler Austin initially received playing time at first base with yet another injury to Greg Bird. However, even when Bird returned, neither seized their opportunity. Austin struck out 40.2% of his time as a Yankee and Bird batted below the Mendoza line in 82 games following his ankle surgery. Austin would be sent down until he was traded to Minnesota for Lance Lynn at the trade deadline. Bird would play sporadically with Walker at first.
You may remember a trade deadline deal involving Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos with a player named Luke Voit being sent back to the Yankees. He of one arm bench presses, posted an ISO (slugging minus batting average) of .358 and a wRC+ of 194, with 14 home runs in only 39 games. He was worth 1.9 fWAR, more than Bird, Walker and Austin’s combined fWAR total. He will not be a free agent until 2024.
Eventually, opening day third baseman Brandon Drury would be traded in the J.A. Happ deal. He had been toiling in AAA following his bout of migraines. Drury played well at AAA but was blocked by Torres and Andújar at second and third, leading to his departure.
Gary Sánchez struggled in a myriad of ways. He struggled at the plate, partially due to a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .197, despite posting an exit velocity and barrel% in line with his career averages. Sánchez would also struggle with injuries, limiting his play time but allowing Austin Romine to have consistent time as a starter. Romine put together his best year and highest home run total and fWAR total.
Didi Gregorius had his best year as a Yankee despite being limited to 134 games with injuries. He hit 27 home runs, stole 10 bases and was worth 4.6 fWAR, buoyed by stellar defense. Now, it is worth noting that Gregorius hit 10 of his 27 home runs in March and April. Gregorius, while improved, still has some struggles against lefties, where he had a wRC+ of 107 versus 126 wRC+ against righties.
Even with all the above, it seems like the Yankees have their infield settled for the next couple of years. Everyone is under team control at least until 2020 and the production is there. I am not exaggerating when I say that every starting infielder could hit 30 home runs in a season, especially since this is three years in a row of Gregorius hitting 20+ home runs. That could be 150 home runs from the infield alone.
One slight problem is that Gregorius underwent Tommy John on his throwing arm and will miss at least the first few months of 2019. Yes, that does complicate my 30 home run per infielder prediction. Does this mean the Yankees go after Manny Machado?
Should they go after Machado regardless of Gregorius’ health and ship Andújar as part of a package for a pitcher while placing a superior defender in Machado at third? Again, I think many teams would be envious to have the problems the Yankees currently have.
For argument’s sake, say the Yankees opt-out of the Machado sweepstakes (SNY has reported this but seriously, who really knows anything?). They can move Torres to his natural position in the meantime and call up Tyler Wade to be the starting second baseman. Sure, there’s less offense overall since Wade has never hit above .200 in the majors but the defense will remain strong.
A full season of Voit at first is exciting, even if expectations need to be tempered because there is no way he repeats the 39 game stretch he had in 2018. If Sánchez can find come closer to his 2017 performance, then maybe there will be less focus on his hustle and framing deficiencies. Sánchez was still worth nearly 2.0 fWAR even with his injuries and weakened bat.
Much like the outfield, this is a position group that is built to perform offensively and defensively. It should be a big part of the Yankees’ World Series ambitions the next few years. Expect to see an infield of at least Sánchez, Torres, Andújar, and Voit for the next few years.
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