Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Yankees Devil Magic

This season, the New York Yankees have been decimated by injuries. Aaron Judge has missed a lot of time. Giancarlo Stanton has 38 PA. Greg Bird is out, again. Miguel Andujar is out for the year. Gary Sanchez is currently on his second IL stint. And that’s just the position players, without getting into their pitching injuries. So, they are in last place, right? Surely no team could survive this. Wait, what? They have the best record in the AL? WTF? How is this possible? It’s possible because they’ve been getting out of this world performances out of journeymen and players no one has ever heard of.

Exhibit A: Mike Tauchman

Tauchman is a 28 year old who had only gotten enough time in the bigs to get a nice 69 plate appearances between two seasons with Colorado. In those plate appearances he hit .153/.265/.203 with a 17 wRC+, and zero home runs. Even in the minor leagues Tauchman was barely considered a prospect. The Yankees acquired Tauchman for Phillip Diehl in one of those random organizational depth for organizational depth trades that almost never come back to mean anything. So, against all odds, Tauchman has been very good in 2019, batting .299/.371/.563 with a 143 wRC+. He doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for leaderboards, but if he did he would have the same wRC+ as Xander Bogaerts, and just below Freddie Freeman, so that’s some good company to be keeping. Is it a small sample fluke, an average player who just happens to be on am amazing heater right now, or something else? The Statcast data seems to think that it’s not quite what it seems, given his .322 xwOBA, compared to his actual .393 wOBA, so his quality of contact isn’t necessarily living up to the results on the field. What is the truth? Probably somewhere in the middle. It’s completely plausible that he’s just a Ryan Ludwick style late bloomer.

Exhibit B: Gio Urshela

Urshela is a bit of a different case than Tauchman, as he had 499 plate appearances as a sub-replacement player, slashing .225/.274/.315 with a wRC+ of 57 before this season and -0.7 fWAR. When he was traded from Cleveland to Toronto it was for the immortal player to be named later or cash considerations. There are no reports I can find stating that there was a player to be named so he was just traded for cash, and then traded again, to the Yankees, also for just cash. So, of course the Yankees took a guy off the scrap heap and he became a positive contributor to a top team. Urshela has a wRC+ of 129 and has been worth 1.8 fWAR. Statcast data seems to agree, as his wOBA and his xwOBA are only .003 apart, so he’s been hitting the ball hard, and often. Of all players with at least 200 plate appearances, Urshela is 49th in hard hit percentage, which is higher than for instance, Mike TroutMax MuncyPeter AlonsoMatt Chapman, and Alex Bregman. Which, of course, is not to say that he’s better than those players, but it shows that he’s hitting the crap out of the ball. The Yankees might have a guy here who can be their third baseman for quite awhile, as he’s under team control until after the 2023 season.

Exhibit C: Cameron Maybin

Bit of a different animal here, as we know what Maybin is. It seems like he’s been around since 1976, so color me surprised that he’s only 32. Maybin has a career OPS of .698 and a 94 wRC+, and this is over more than 1000 games. He’s been around, doing his thing, and you’ve pretty much known what you were going to get. You were going to get a player who could play a competent center field, (although now starting to age, he’s been playing in the corners this year) which is valuable in itself, be a slightly below average hitter, and he could steal a bag or 30 in a season. So after getting some of that magic Yankee dust sprinkled on him, he’s got an .904 OPS and a 140 wRC+, over 165 plate appearances. Is it real? Well…probably not, but maybe. Maybin is one of the guys who have embraced the “launch angle revolution,” raising his launch angle to 12.4° from a Statcast era career mark of 4.7°. This has led to more hard contact, as his percentage of “barrels” is 10.5%, compared to 4.1% and 3.3% in the two previous seasons. It stands to reason that’s there’s more than enough data to suggest Maybin will turn back into what he’s always been, but you never know anymore.

It isn’t unreasonable to suggest that these three guys, not just these guys, but it’s a large part of it, have saved the Yankees season. No one expected to see DJ LeMahieu to leave Coors Field and then go off on a career year, but it happened. Brett Gardner is having a good year when it looked like he was starting to decline in 2018. Gleyber Torres is probably going to develop into an MVP-type player, and he’s pretty darn good now, and they have that amazing bullpen, which helps mask the shortcomings on the starting pitching front. Aaron Judge is back, and Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez will be soon. These three players have really helped the Yankees this year, but in a playoff series vs. the Astros it’s probably not optimal that all these guys will be playing regularly, but even if Tauchman and/or Maybin get pushed to a bench role come playoff time, it’s not a bad thing to have a guy like that on your bench.