The New York Yankees had a mixed bag in their first month of the season. They went 15-14, good enough to go above .500 but they are fourth in the American League East Division. For Yankee standards, a 15-14 month is a failure. In the grand scheme of things, it’s alright. It’s something to be concerned about but nothing to hit the panic button.
The saying in baseball is that you can’t win a pennant in the first month of the season but you can certainly lose one. So far, the Yankees, while disappointing, have done neither.
After one month which was a rollercoaster, there were some interesting storylines. So, how stood out for the Yankees 29 games into the 2023 baseball season?
Yankees Storylines from April
Cole Has Carried the Yankees Thus Far
The biggest bright spot has been Gerrit Cole. The Yankees are arguably a last-place team without him. With him, they are a competitive one. The team can count on their ace to put together a strong start every five games and give them a viable chance to win.
Through six starts, Cole looks like a Cy Young-caliber pitcher. He’s pitched 40.2 innings and allowed only five runs while tossing 44 strikeouts. For the analytics folks, he’s allowing only a .207 expected Batting Average (xBA), a .310 expected Slugging Percentage, and a .212 Weighted On-Base Average (WOBA). It all indicates that he allows minimal contact, minimal hard contact, and minimal baserunners. It also helps that Cole isn’t allowing runs when he is on the mound, allowing the Yankees to win low-scoring games.
What stands out is how he is beating opponents this year. He’s leaned into his fastball, throwing the pitch 56.3% of the time, a career-high. His fastball is arguably the best pitch in baseball this year and it blows by opposing hitters, making him elite. Along with the heat, Cole mixes in three other pitches to keep batters guessing and allow his main pitch to be dominant.
The Yankees have been a .500 team but Cole has been keeping them at that mark. His dominant stuff has kept the team competitive. If the Yankees start to heat up in the upcoming months, Cole will suddenly be an integral part of a juggernaut. His elite stuff is here to stay and it might make him the best in baseball by the end of the year.
Injuries Will Derail the Lineup
The Yankees lineup looks like it was built to fail. This would seem like a wild thing to say a few weeks ago but now that it’s in shambles, it’s understandable. The Yankees’ batting order looks depleted even with Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, the two of their best power hitters. They have been scoring only 4.00 runs per game, well below the league average and the worst in their division. The power outage is a big reason why.
The lineup was too reliant on Judge and Stanton. With both out, the lineup looks hapless. Only three active batters have an OPS+ over 100 and opposing pitchers can cruise through the back half of the lineup. To make matters worse, the Yankees have to replace a giant in their lineup as Judge’s injury looks like it will sideline him for quite some time.
Prior to tonight’s game, the Yankees made the following roster moves:
• Placed OF Aaron Judge on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to 4/28) with a right hip strain.
• Recalled INF/OF Franchy Cordero (#33) from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 1, 2023
The Yankees don’t have an immediate solution for the absence of both Judge and Stanton, putting them in a hole to start the year. They can hope that they both return to the lineup but there isn’t another plan in store. Sure, they can try to acquire another bat but it’s hard to buy in at this point in the season. Likewise, they can hope Harrison Bader’s return provides a spark but he’s a contact hitter. The Yankees have a power outage that needs to be solved or they might fall in the divisional race in the coming weeks.
Volpe is Here to Stay
There was an optimistic hope in Spring Training that Anthony Volpe would make the Opening Day lineup. After he impressed in the spring, he made the starting lineup and all eyes were on the young and promising shortstop. Would he be the next Derek Jeter? What about Phil Rizzuto or Frank Cossetti? Yes, these are dated names but the Yankees’ success is tied closely to their reliable shortstops.
Through one month, Volpe has struggled at the plate. He is a contact hitter but has been unlucky in his plate appearances, with only 20 hits and 31 total bases. His slash line is more underwhelming as he’s slashing a mere .217/.333/.337 with a 90 OPS+. That said, he’s made the case to stay through the rest of the season.
Volpe is making good contact and reliably putting the ball in play in a lineup that hasn’t done that. The times he’s gotten on base, he’s made opponents pay with his best attribute. He’s stolen eight bases and has yet to be caught, making his speed a difference in the lineup. Moreover. Volpe has been an elite fielder at the shortstop position and has consistently fielded the position well. Despite the growing pains, he’s shown that he’ll be a pivotal part of the Yankees for the rest of the year.
Yankees Pitching Staff Need Reinforcements
Carlos Rodon was the top free agent signing this offseason but has yet to throw a pitch for the Yankees this season. The rotation has dealt with injuries and outside of Cole and Nestor Cortes, there aren’t many viable options. The Yankees entered the season with a questionable rotation and a bet on their top starters to remain healthy. That bet has not worked out so far.
Sure rookie Jhony Brito has shown flashes, making the case to remain in the majors. Likewise, Domingo German has put together a few strong starts. However, the bottom line is that this rotation isn’t built to compete. They can hope for some players to return, notably Rodon but they need extra arms to compete in the division. At the trade deadline, it will be the thing they pursue to keep them competitive.
Torres is Becoming a Regular
A bright spot from a rough month has been the resurgence of Gleyber Torres. The right-handed bat entered the season as the odd man out. With a crowded infield, it looked like Torres would be on the bench all season, especially with his decline at the plate. In April, he was one of the best hitters on the Yankees.
Torres slashed .245/.357/.426 with four home runs and 40 total bases. His ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field has stood out as he’s getting base hits and keeping the line moving. While Torres has been caught stealing four times, he’s shown off his speed in the first month, stealing five bases and providing a burst on the basepaths for an otherwise slow lineup.
The 26-year-old had a rocky start to his Yankees’ tenure. However, this season he’s finally establishing himself as an everyday player. An added bonus is that Torres can be a powerful bat in the middle of a potent lineup, especially when Judge and Stanton return from injury.
Other Notes on the Yankees’ First Month
Anthony Rizzo had a strong month, slashing .282/.370/.476 with five home runs and a team-high 47 total bases. He also leads the everyday players with a 1.0 WAR, with only Cole having a higher WAR through one month (surprise). In a struggling lineup, Rizzo’s been the saving grace for the Yankees.
Stanton’s return to the lineup might give the spark that the Yankees need. When he played in the first few weeks, he was far and beyond the best hitter in the lineup and the team had a successful start to the season. One player doesn’t make all the difference but Stanton’s injury directly correlated with the team’s drop off and they need him back.
The season is far from over. In a 162-game season, the Yankees have played 29 games. While they haven’t looked all that impressive in a division that has, they remain alive in the American League. Fortunately, aside for the Tampa Bay Rays, no team has taken off in the first month, and the Yankees are one good stretch away from returning to the top of the standings.
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