Fall From Bliss: The 2022 Yankees and Their Shortcomings
Before the All-Star break, the 2022 New York Yankees were the best team in baseball. Every time the men in pinstripes took the field, the pieces fit together. The Yanks had everything going for them. The emergence of Nestor Cortes helped solidify a strong pitching staff, and MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge anchored down a great offense. The Yankees even sent 6 guys to the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. An impressive 64-28 record was well deserved from this team.
After the mid-summer classic, however, the Yankees spiraled out of control. Some surface-level statistics pointing to a skid are a team wRC+ at 95, a slugging percentage of .374, and a batting average of .221. The Yanks have also hit 53 home runs since 7/21/22; 21 of those have come from Aaron Judge. Having around 40% of home runs come from a single player is probably the least sustainable thing you could ever have as a team. The once-mighty Yankees find themselves struggling to put together wins. September baseball has taken full effect, leaving many Yankees fans nervous for the postseason. A 15.5-game lead at the top of the AL for the Yanks has fallen to just 5. The Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles have all had better second halves than the Yankees. Being in the most competitive division in baseball, this New York squad has to figure something out fast in order to avoid mockery from baseball fans for years to come.
As a bit of a preface, it is definitely worth mentioning that the Yankees have suffered bad injury luck. According to MLB.com, their bullpen has taken the biggest hit, with 9 players from the relief staff on the IL as of 9/6/22. Anthony Rizzo is headed to the IL with chronic headaches and a doctor’s order to rest. This article's main focus is this injury factor and the overall underperformance of the Bronx Bombers.
Giancarlo Stanton was a monster in the batter’s box for the first half of the season. His stats were exceptional, giving Yankee fans some extremely exciting moments. The deadly combination of Judge and Stanton was finally being utilized to its fullest. Stanton’s 24 home runs and 128 wRC+ on the same team as 5 other all-star players were everything Yankees management could’ve asked for. He even landed the All-Star MVP award after sending a ball into orbit off of resident cat fan Tony Gonsolin. Watching Stanton play was a treat, as he had several multi-home-run games and continued to absolutely tear covers off of baseballs with his top-notch power. Unfortunately, on July 24th, Stanton injured his Achilles tendon. His stint on the Injured List saw him miss an entire month of baseball. Making his return on August 25th, Stanton was not the same player he was in the first half, a common theme for most Yankee players in 2022. Since August 25th, Stanton has produced a measly .105/.209/.105 with a -2 wRC+. Stanton’s second half featured zero home runs with just 4 hits in 43 plate appearances. This type of production is not normal for Stanton. This is a brutal drop-off for the once-prominent slugger, as his injury has seemingly made him a different human. This struggle is not all sour, however. Baseball fans know Stanton and his tendency to get red-hot in the later months of the season, especially in October. With the Yankees at a 100% chance of making the playoffs according to FanGraphs, Bronx baseball fans can only hope Stanton finds his swing again and gets back to his first-half self when their postseason time arrives.
This year’s trade deadline has seen some of the most disappointing results in recent history. Frankie Montas being shipped off to New York was supposed to be a move to bolster the already-prominent rotation the Yankees had developed. Unfortunately for Montas, his performance has been incredibly disappointing. In the first half of the season, Montas was a diamond in the very rough Oakland Athletics organization. Before the season even started, fans of the game knew that Montas would be shipped off. The Yankees won the battle for Montas, but that battle may have not been worth fighting. First-half Montas was great, sporting impressive stats like a 2.76 ERA, 9.36 strikeouts per 9 innings, and a 45.9% ground ball rate. His 2-7 record was screaming at contending teams to swoop in and save him from the poverty in Oakland. After being acquired by the Yankees, Montas shaved his beard, but more importantly, he was excited to contribute to the team with the best record in the MLB. Sadly, Montas brought with him some of the bad ju-ju that haunted the A’s. Since August 1st, Montas has a 5.87 ERA, a 7.92 K/9, and a 4.55 FIP (3.22 in the first half). His first start with his new team left Yankees fans with a very sour taste in their mouths. Montas, facing the Cardinals, surrendered 6 earned runs and 3 walks in 3 innings. Frankie, possibly a victim of the negative side of a change of scenery, is having one of the worst stretches of his career. Certainly, the Yankees are underwhelmed. Montas is a highly-regarded arm in today’s game, but moving from the Bay Area to New York City is never easy, especially when considering how ruthless Yankees fans have been known to be. These factors probably put a lot of pressure on Frankie. Things for him have been looking up lately, however. His last start on September 4th saw him pitch 5 innings of shutout ball against the Rays. Montas’ biggest test lies ahead of him. Postseason baseball will be his chance to prove if he can take the spotlight of Yankee Stadium.
Clay Holmes had a wicked first half out of the Yankees’ bullpen. Turning on a Yankees game and seeing Holmes pitch made thousands of fans glad that they gave up baseball in little league. Clay has a devastating sinker that touches 100 mph regularly. That pitch, combined with a knee-buckling sweeping slider, made opposing hitters nervous to step in the box against this guy. A 1.31 ERA with an 82.7% ground ball rate in 41.1 innings was absurd for a reliever in the first half. Holmes went an entire half of a baseball schedule without allowing a single home run and racked up 16 saves. With Aroldis Chapman’s tragic regression, Holmes stepped up and became a lock for the best reliever in the American league. This success could not carry over into the second half, though, as the injury bug bit Holmes, not even giving him cool powers like Spider-Man. An injury to his back sent Holmes to the IL, but his performance post-All-Star break wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. His August 12th outing featured just 1 out, two walks, and an earned run before being pulled. That was just the highlight of Holmes’ second-half struggles. Since July 21st, Holmes has a 6.17 ERA and a much worse 58.1% ground ball rate in only 11.2 innings. This version of Clay Holmes only adds to the long list of underwhelming Yankees players in 2022. Clay is seemingly back to full health, but a ton of the bullpen is still on the Injured List. Yankees management hopes that what’s left of the ‘pen can figure out how to replicate its success from the 1st half.
The 2022 Yankees team is not performing how they want to. Fans were left optimistic after this team drew comparisons to the 1998 Yankee team (114-48). The 2022 team’s first-half performance had them on pace to be the best squad in baseball. Injuries and underperformance by trade acquisitions were the twist of the knife for this team. The season is sprinting towards its conclusion. Every other team in the AL East, except for the Red Sox, is gunning for the Yanks. If the Rays end up winning the division after being 15.5 games back, that blown lead will be the worst since Cleveland’s in the 2016 World Series. Aaron Judge can only take this team so far. Baseball is the world’s best team sport. An individual performance, even at the caliber of Judge’s, can not carry a struggling team to the promised land of a World Series title. This may be the Yankees’ last chance to have Judge’s talents, as rumors of Judge leaving after this season have become more and more prevalent. If the Bronx Bombers can’t find a way to win the American League pennant, Judge could consider leaving in search of a mega contract. September and October will be extremely exciting times for fans of baseball, but intense and anxious for Yankees fans as they watch their team try to win their division and navigate through the craziness of the postseason.
"Giancarlo Stanton" via Keith Allison licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0