The Yankees enter the second half with the second best winning percentage in baseball. The only problem for them, though, is the team with the best winning percentage is in their same division. Despite being 4.5 games out of first, the Yankees could find themselves in one of the greatest divisional shootouts in history. Heading into the trade deadline, the team is largely what we expected going into the season: a powerful lineup, a lockdown bullpen, and a good rotation that is clearly the weakest area of the club. Whether or not the Yankees decide to address those strengths and weaknesses over the next 12 days, all three parts will be addressed in this edition of the stats preview.
Bronx Bats Still Bombing: Going into the season, this version of the Yankees was heralded as the team that could break the MLB team record for home runs in a season. They currently have seven players with double digit home runs, trailing only the Dodgers, who have eight such players (or nine depending on how you want to factor in Machado). While none of the approximately 157 Yankees who were talked about this spring as having the potential to produce a 50 home run season are currently on pace to do so (Judge is on pace for 43), the team as a whole is still on track to break the record. With 161 home runs in their first 95 games, the Yankees would finish with 275 four-baggers over the full season if they are able to continue at the same clip. The 1997 Mariners set the record at 264, so there is a pretty good chance the Yankees will eclipse that mark this year.
A.J.’s Alterations: The night and day results before and after A.J. Cole’s arrival in New York are astounding. In parts of four seasons with Washington, Cole carried a 5.32 ERA with an 8.3 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9. In 18 2/3 innings with New York, he has an 0.48 ERA with an 11.6 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. While he was used mostly in a starting role for the Nationals, the Yankees have used him exclusively as a reliever. Like many failed starters (although it is possible Cole returns to a rotation at some point in his career), Cole’s stuff has played up in the pen. His fastball velocity has averaged 94.4 mph with the Yankees, up from 92-93 with the Nationals the last three seasons. Each of his pitches have also seen an increase in whiff rate, a further indication of his bullpen role benefiting his repertoire. Perhaps the most significant change, though, is his use of the slider. Like many Yankee pitchers over the last few seasons, Cole has dramatically decreased the usage of his fastball in lieu of his breaking pitches. The slider in particular has generated swings and misses at a 21.6% rate with New York, the best of all his pitches. He has thrown the pitch 46.4% of the time, up from 27.9% in Washington. The two changes seem simple enough, but they have paid huge dividends thus far for Cole and the Yankees. Several Mets hitters have fared well against right handed sliders this year, with Brandon Nimmo, Wilmer Flores, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jose Reyes all hitting .300 or better on the pitch.
Rotation Reboot? While the other New York team’s bullpen has continued to be one of the league’s best, the questions centering on the traded deadline are once again about the starting pitching. Outside of Luis Severino, the only Yankee starter with more than ten starts and an ERA under 4.50 is C.C. Sabathia, whom FIP (4.55) and DRA (5.05) both see as a likely regression candidate. While the Yankees have enough prospect capital to try to pry away one of the Mets’ starters, let’s not go there when we don’t have to. Outside of an unexpected entrant into the starting pitching trade market, though, the other options for the Yankees are not overly exciting. Instead, they may hope for second half improvements from Domingo German, Masahiro Tanaka, and Sonny Gray, all of who have ERAs worse than their DRAs.
The Good: The Yankees are one of two teams with five position players with 2+ WARP. The other is the Cubs. (The Mets just have Brandon Nimmo).
The Bad: Neil Walker has been abysmal at the plate with a -7.6 VORP, ninth worst in the majors.
The Ugly: The Yankees are on pace to be the best team by record (106 wins) not to win their division since divisions were first used in 1969. They would be only the second Wild Card team with 100+ wins (2001 Athletics) and the first such team to play in the wild card game.
As stated earlier, the Mets had just one position player with 2+ WARP before the All-Star break, tied for the second worst in MLB. The Padres were the only team with no such players. They had three pitchers eclipse 2+ WARP, though, which was tied for the most in the NL with the Dodgers. The only two teams with more such players were Houston and Cleveland.
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