The Yankees are coming off a massively disappointing 2023 season — missing the playoffs for the first time in years and barely finishing above .500 with an 82-80 record.
Most fans predicted around 100 wins before the season began — NY won 99 last year and have won between 91 and 103 games since 2017 (sans the Covid-interrupted seasons).
They started off well, but injuries to Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Nestor Cortes, and Carlos Rodon ultimately sank them — a bad July turned into a horrible August with a Titanic-like 9-game losing streak.
They finished in a flurry — the hottest MLB team in September with a 20-12 record after August 27th — but it was too little too late.
What went right — what went wrong — and what’s next.
In this 1st of 3 part article, what went right:
What Went Right
The Yankee season was a 3-part play:
- NY was 38-28 on June 10th, 8.5 games behind Tampa, 3 behind Baltimore, but leading a Wild Card spot.
- NY went 24-40 in the middle of the season to go 62-68 on August 27, 19 games behind 1st place Baltimore, and 11 games behind a Wild Card.
- NY went 20-12 from August 28th to the end of the season, missing a Wild Card by 7 games.
Here’s how Part 1 and Part 3 happened:
1. Gerrit Cole Wins Cy Young Award
Gerrit Cole went 15-4 2.63 and could have easily been 21-3 2.63 — that is the kind of year he had (and the lack of support he had). He led the American League in ERA, WHIP, winning %, starts, innings, and least-hits-per-9-innings.
He did all that despite leading the league in least support: according to Katie Sharp on Sept 15, “Cole had 13 starts with 2 runs or fewer allowed and 5+ IP and didn’t get the win this season. That’s the most in MLB.”
He will win his first Cy Young Award as he is the far-and-away leader in the American League.
2. Aaron Judge Great Year Despite Missing 2 Months
Aaron Judge, Team Captain, fresh off the massive contract extension — lived up to every bit of it — with a torrid start and terrific finish. Unfortunately, he made a spectacular catch against the gate wall in Los Angeles Dodger Stadium in June and broke his toe — for which he missed 2 months or 54 games — exactly 1/3 the season.
Without Judge, and with an Anthony Rizzo who was playing with a concussion which was unknown at the time — the Yanks plummeted — in a year where batting averages were so low — 2 hitters made the difference.
Judge’s final slash line: 37-75-.267 (.406, 1,019 OPS, 4.5 WAR) in only 367 at bats (458 plate appearances). Judge finished 4th in the American League in homers despite missing 1/3 the season.
3. Gleyber Played Like All Star
Gleyber Torres played like an All Star all year. He slashed 25-68-.273 (.347 OBP, .800 OPS, 2.9 WAR). Amongst 2nd basemen in the American LEague, Gleyber was:
- 2nd in Batting Average
- 3rd in HRs
- 3rd in OPS
- 3rd in WAR
He made 15 errors for a .975 fielding pct — finishing 5th in the AL.
4. Yankee Bullpen Was Terrific
The Yankee bullpen was tremendous for most of the year. Yes Clay Holmes blew some games during a bad stretch — including the horrible blown 7-3 lead in the 9th vs Miami that kicked off the 9-game losing streak — but he regained form in September and was mostly filthy lights out.
The set up crew was at times spectacular, with Wandy Peralta, Ian Hamilton (a fantastic surprise, 3-2 2.64), Tommy Kahnle (1-3 2.66), Michael King (before he became a starter), Jhony Brito, Nick Ramirez (a surprise — 1-2 2.66), Jimmy Cordero (another surprise, 3-2 3.86), and late in the season Keynan Middleton (acquired at trade deadline), and Greg Weissert (0-0 4.05).
Ron Marinaccio was a key part of the bullpen early on, but midway through the season started experiencing wildness which cost some games and had him sent back and forth to the minors.
5. Volpe Good
Anthony Volpe had a pretty good rookie season, showing to be a slick-fielding shortstop with quick wrists who hits with power to all fields. He needs to improve his batting average.
He slashed 21-60-.209 (.283 OBP) — in a year of historically low batting averages.
All year long manager Aaron Boone said Volpe was playing a Gold Glove shortstop. Volpe finished with 17 errors and a .970 fielding percentage — 8th in the AL — but showed good range. Volpe led the American League in dWAR with a 2.4.
Volpe’s overall WAR was 3.2 — higher than Gleyber Torres‘.
6. Wells Looks GOOD
Maybe the most exciting thing that happened all season occurred in September, when Austin Wells was promoted to the big club. Wells has been considered a top prospect coming up — a good-hitting catcher.
What we saw was a pretty decent defensive catcher, and good game-calling catcher, who looks like a really good hitting catcher as well.
He oddly reminds me of Thurman Munson — with an upright stance (albeit from the left side) and power to all fields; he is a double to the opposite field waiting to happen. He can also pull the ball into the right field seats and makes a lot of contact for a guy with power.
The pitchers all said he is super communicative with them (as Munson was). Wells even has the Munson mustache.
Wells went 3 for 4 with 2 doubles on the last day of the season to finish with a slash line of 4-13-.229 (.257 OBP).
7. The Martian Excites
And talking about exciting rookies — Jasson Dominguez got a quick promotion through AA and AAA to the big club for September 1st — and boy did he excite.
He showed off a compact power swing, ripping pitches with authority for homers, and good defensive skills in center. Within a week he was the talk of baseball, with the Yankees tweeting Martian memes. He slashed 4-7-.258 (.303 OBP, .980 OPS) in 33 at bats and then just like that it was reported he had a torn UCL and would require surgery — which will keep him out the next 9 to 10 months.
So we have to wait.
8. King Looks Like Elite Starter
King was great all year in a middle inning 3+ inning relief role. When Yankee starters went down in August, King asked to join the starting staff, and excelled.
He finished 4-8 2.75 with 6 saves on the year. He was 1-4 as a hard-luck starter, with 4 no decisions. King appeared in 49 games, starting 9 games and finishing 10 games.
9. Schmidt Becomes Good Starter
Another terrific development was Clarke Schmidt — who finally attained his high-level prospect status and became a pretty good starting pitcher. He won a job as a starter in Spring training and was Horrible the first few months of the season — then came into his own starting in June.
Schmidt finished 9-9 4.64 but pitched a lot better than that. He was 1-4 6.30 on May 15th, but went 8-5 4.08 after May 15th.
10. Brito & Vasquez Good
IT was a year when the Yankees pulled good starting pitchers out of their ass — or back pocket. Jhony Brito — who excelled last year in AA and AAA (11-4 2.96 combined) and looked good this year in Spring Training — made the staff at the beginning of the season with injuries to Luis Severino and later Nestor Cortes — and looked really good.
Brito has a live fastball and moxie on the mound; he struck out a lot of guys. He also looked really bad at times — a game against Minnesota in July was the most memorable, where the Twins scored 12 runs in the 1st inning.
Brito started off the season using his 2-seam sinker fastball to great effect, then as the league caught up to that (and Brito was sent down to AAA), he started using his 4-seam fastball more to set up the sinker and his other pitches.
When King went into the starting staff, Brito took his place as a 3+ inning reliever and did fantastically in the role. Brito finished 9-7 4.28, striking out 72 in 90 innings, with 82 hits allowed.
And then there was Randy Vasquez — who looked good in Spring training but got hit in AAA — yet the Yankees liked what they saw and kept bringing him up to the big club for starts throughout the season. Vasquez went 3-8 4.59 at Scranton this year, but 2-2 2.87 with the Yanks!
He is very athletic and confident on the mound with a live fastball.
11. German’s Perfect Game
And then there is Domingo German, who simply pitched a Perfect Game this year — on June 28 vs Oakland — to even his record at 5-5 4.54 at the time.
And then of course — a month later German was gone — suspended by the Yanks for the alcoholic outburst — one of the things that went wrong — covered in Part 2 of this series.
11. Florial Looked Good!
A minor point. But another surprise was Estevan Florial looking good in September!
Florial was an orphan child for the Yankees all season — the Yankees DFA’d him on April 1st — putting him on waivers since he was out of minor league options. But he went unclaimed so reported to AAA Scranton. He then proceeded to rip up AAA pitching all season — slashing a 28-79-.284 (.380 OBP) — but everyone was getting talked about and getting called up except him!
Finally NY called him up in mid September after The Martian went down — and after NY had dedicated September to playing ‘the kids’ — and Florial excelled. He looked patient at the plate — working a lot of counts; walking, and making contact. He wasn’t the big whiff machine we’d seen in earlier call ups.
Florial also played a nice centerfield and is of course a tremendous athlete with raw speed and power. He slashed a 0-8-.230 (.324 OBP) which was better than it looks. Florial played his part in the 20-12 finish by NY.
Next: Part 2 — What Went WRONG
Next: what went WRONG.