The New York Yankees relied on their outfield to be key offensive weapons but now that they have disappeared, issues from top-to-bottom are being exposed.
In the first half of the regular season, the New York Yankees‘ outfield was easily the most valuable in baseball.
Thanks to the borderline asinine production from Aaron Judge, a borderline All-Star in Aaron Hicks and steady output from Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, it’s hard to come up with a better unit. In fact, it’s impossible.
Entering the All-Star break, New York’s outfield ranked first in overall WAR (10.7), first in OPS (.897) and second in wRC+ (137) among Major League teams and posted an overall slash line of .281/.379/.519. With that, there was no surprise that the Yankees ranked third in baseball with 477 runs scored.
Throw in the reigning gold glove winner in Gardner and some stellar plays out in right by Judge, there’s little doubt that the outfield was a major reason why the Yankees got off to a 38-23 start to the 2017 season.
Since that start, however, New York has posted a 32-39 record. That’s enough to drop them from four games above the Boston Red Sox for the AL East lead to now 5.5 games back. To make matters worse, the Yankees own the first Wild Card spot by one game and are just two games away from being on the outside looking in.
Starting pitching has held its own. The bullpen, notwithstanding the struggles by Aroldis Chapman, is still in the top half of baseball in terms of ERA (3.93) since that stellar start. The offense, however, is posting the tenth-worst wRC+ (91) in the Majors over that same span. That’s thanks to, in large part, the depression in outfield production.
Since the All-Star break, the Yankee outfield has combined for a .219/.320/.370 slash line with the fifth-worst wRC+ (83) in the Majors. Their OPS has dropped by a whopping 23.08 percent from baseball’s best to baseball’s third-worst.
Just like the Yankees on August 31 look compared to the Yankees on June 12, we have a classic case of Jekyll and Hyde. Two polar opposites to one unit. As of right now, they’re going to need Hicks and Judge to tap into the success they experienced before the All-Star break.
It’s not even because they’re outfielders and that’s the end of the story. Judge’s patience and consistency in the first half was on an astronomical level. He was on his way to win the MVP while now, as a significant middle-of-the-order bat, is perhaps the least valuable player since.
Hicks, who made everyone forget about the poor start to his Yankees’ career, has gone 16-for-78 (.205) since returning from the disabled list on August 10 going from reliable switch-hitter to fourth outfielder-like — much like he was in 2016. Potential spark-plug Clint Frazier‘s return is not imminent. These names have to improve.
If the downward trend of the outfield continues, the standings will reflect it. Again, just two games separate the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, who are currently on the outside of the two Wild Card spots looking in. There’s a likelihood that the lead will diminish to nothing if the unit that turned the 2017 New York Yankees into the surprise of the year can’t recapture the magic.