Now that the New York Yankees have officially played a meaningful baseball game in 2018 what have we learned?
That Giancarlo guy is pretty good…
Giancarlo Stanton made his New York Yankees debut in incredible fashion, absolutely mashing two home runs and leading the team to its first win of the season. The best part though? The first home run Stanton hit was the hardest hit ball to the opposite field ever tracked by Statcast. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s a pretty fantastic first at-bat for his new team.
The opposite-field approach doesn’t really matter much when he’s squaring the ball up like that but it’s great to see that he wants to take full advantage of the short porch in right field in the Bronx. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of this in 2018.
Is Brett Gardner due for a surprisingly successful year?
As most Yankee fans are starting to accept, Brett Gardner is nearing the end of his career. Some fans have even gone so far as to say that this will be Gardner’s last year and that Clint Frazier is ready to take over in left field.
Apparently, the longest-tenured Yankee didn’t get that message. Gardner homered late in the game off of reliever Danny Barnes, but that actually may have been his weakest hit of the day. He rocketed two line drives that likely would have been standup doubles had they not been hit right at Justin Smoak.
We all know what kind of power the team is going to get from Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez but could Gardner be the spark plug that truly unlocks this team’s offensive capabilities?
Luis Severino is still pitching like an Ace
In 2017, Luis Severino finally had his breakout season. He threw nearly 200 innings in the regular season for the first time in his career, with a 2.98 ERA and well over 200 strikeouts. He had a K/9 of over 10 and his performance earned him a spot on the All-Star team as well as third place in Cy Young voting.
Fans are eager to see if he can replicate that success in the 2018 season and judging by his first outing, he may actually exceed those numbers. His fastball has the same zip that it always has, but his secondary pitches look much improved. At times during the game, Severino appeared to take some velocity off of his slider, leading to a deeper, later drop. His changeup has also improved dramatically, although we have yet to see it used at a high volume outside of Spring Training.
The most important thing that I believe Severino showed on Thursday, however, is that he isn’t trying to strike everybody out. He’s trying to pitch for bad contact rather than strikeouts, an effective way to keep his pitch count down and allow him to go deeper into games and not wear down too quickly following a full season in which he threw the most innings of his career.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that the young ace was able to keep his emotions about being the Opening Day starter in check, as emotion got the best of him when he was selected as the 2017 Wild Card game starter.
If Severino can build off of his strong first start, we may be mentioning him as the clear cut Cy Young winner by the end of 2018.
Neil Walker’s versatility is the key to the right side of the infield
The right side of the infield had been a huge point of discussion all offseason. When Starlin Castro was dealt in the trade for Giancarlo Stanton, a second base battle opened up between Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, and Ronald Torreyes. The signing of Neil Walker effectively locked up the everyday second base job.
But then Greg Bird got injured.
Now, Walker’s ability to play both second and first as well as his ability to switch hit has afforded manager Aaron Boone and interesting opportunity to platoon Tyler Wade, a left handed batter and ultra-utility fielder, and Tyler Austin, a right-handed batter and natural first baseman. We saw it played out in the very first game when Wade was subbed into the game for Austin after it was determined the Yankees would mostly be seeing righties out of the Toronto bullpen.
This versatility will play an enormous role for the team until Bird is able to return to the field, while also giving two promising prospects the chance to prove themselves by playing at the big league level on an every day basis.
Chad Green is still a stud
Chad Green has quickly shot up the charts as a fan favorite in the Bronx after his breakout season in 2017 following a conversion to the bullpen. While he came into Spring Training told he should prepare to compete for a starting job, he quickly returned to the bullpen where he seemed to be even more dominant than he was during the 2017 regular season.
Green got his first action of 2018 on Opening Day, going 1.1 innings and striking out three batters while allowing no hits and no walks.
While Yankee fans are glad to see that Green is still going to be a force out of the bullpen, it still has yet to be seen how often Aaron Boone will utilize him and in what capacity. In 2017 Joe Girardi actively tried not to use him on back to back days but let him pitch multiple innings as a swingman in high leverage situations.
In my opinion, Boone would be wise to slowly increase how many times Green is utilized and how many innings he is throwing early in the season to monitor how quickly his arm can bounce back after more time to acclimate to his new role.
Is Dellin Betances still a question mark?
Dellin Betances has been one of the strangest cases of a pitcher who has the tools to be the most dominant arm in the game but hasn’t been able to find consistency. In 2017, Betances pitched his way onto the All-Star team before having a complete collapse in the second half of the season. He completely lost command of his fastball and started throwing a “get me over” slider just to find strikes. Once hitters realized this, they started drawing walks and destroying mistakes.
Betances pitched an inning in the first game of the year and gave up a home run to the very first batter he saw and then managed to get the next three out. This outing left a lot of Yankee fans wondering whether we are going to see early 2017 or late 2017 Dellin Betances this year.
As much as I want Betances to return to his role as the stud eighth inning guy, I think his inconsistent command is going to be a persistent problem that likely results in him losing his late game innings to guys like David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle while Chad Green pitches in the high leverage swingman spots. It’s possible that we could even see Betances traded to a team like the New York Mets that needs backend relief at the trade deadline and is willing to take the risk that he doesn’t have his best stuff anymore.
How good is this team going to be?
If Opening Day is any indication, the 2018 Yankees could be even better than most baseball analysts have predicted.
The rest of the starting rotation has yet to be seen, but the offensive certainly lived up to the hype in the first game and Luis Severino looked even stronger than he did in 2017.
The bullpen is poised to be one of the most dominant in the sport again with a perfect mix of fixed-role relievers and high leverage swingmen. If the rest of the starting rotation can at the very least match their 2017 production, the Yankees could be looking at a 100 win season and a deep playoff run.
As of Opening Day 2018, consider the Death Star fully operational.