The 2020 season was about as disappointing for the New York Yankees as it could have possibly been, but it’s time to shake it off.
Show me a New York Yankees fan who’s happy right now, and I’ll show you a fan who hasn’t yet accepted reality.
Now that we’ve had the weekend to recover, we can accept the cold, hard truth. The Yankees didn’t win the World Series this year. A pandemic-shortened 60-game season allowed little margin for error even with an expanded postseason field. For the first time in baseball’s existence, it seemed every game mattered.
And though New York made it as far as a deciding Game 5 in the Division Series, it wasn’t enough. The Tampa Bay Rays came through when it mattered and are now playing for a spot in the World Series.
The New York Yankees, on the other hand, did not get the job done. It’s hard to say it outright, but the 2020 season was a failure regardless of circumstances. Injuries plagued the roster again and a 5-15 slump followed by a 2-6 finish made life tough for the Bronx Bombers. All too often did the team look tired and defeated before the first pitch was even thrown.
It doesn’t matter that New York dispatched the Cleveland Indians’ superior pitching in the Wild Card. Against Tampa Bay, save for Games 1 and 4, the team looked almost lifeless.
All that’s really left to do is lick our wounds and look forward to the 2021 season. If the offseason goes off without a hitch, it could finally be the year the New York faithful have craved every year since 2009.
Addressing the bats
First things first, this isn’t going to be an article full of trade suggestions. If you were expecting me to say the New York Yankees should trade Gio Urshela for Nolan Arenado’s massive contract, the kitchen sink, a Big Mac, and an Indiana Jones vintage pinball machine, trust me. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if that’s your end goal in reading this.
Truth be told, the Yankee lineup was pretty solid this year and no players should be on the chopping block. The team led the American League in runs scored and ranked fourth in all of MLB. New York also ranked fifth in home runs, fourth in RBI, and fifth with a .789 OPS.
Unfortunately, bad luck reared its head. The Yankees ranked 21st in MLB with a .280 BABIP and 14th with a .247 team batting average. It’s quite an interesting contrast, especially since New York was a Top Five team in both wOBA and WRC+. Yet, according to Statcast, the Yankees ranked just 13th in barrel rate (Barrel%) with a modest mark of 7.7%.
It snowballs from there. Per FanGraphs, New York ranked 14th in line-drive rate (LD%), 21st in flyball rate (FB%), but 10th in groundball rate (GB%). Those aren’t ideal positions for a team whose bread and butter is power.
And how did it all happen? Well, Aaron Judge got off to another hot start before getting injured, coming back, then getting injured again before coming back with awful timing. Giancarlo Stanton missed over a month with injuries. AL batting champ DJ LeMahieu hit .281 in the playoffs but clearly wasn’t himself.
Next year, these are the numbers the New York Yankees need to avoid.
Where’s the pitching?
Cole was solid to the tune of going 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 12 starts, but that was basically it. Everyone else from the rotation to the bullpen was streaky and New York’s 4.35 team ERA ranked 14th in the majors.
It didn’t help that when it came to stranding baserunners, the New York Yankees were mostly average. They ranked 15th in baseball in stranding just 71.1% of baserunners, whereas the Rays ranked second with an eye-popping mark of 77.2%. Additionally, the Yankee pitching staff’s FB% (37.1%) was ninth-worst in MLB, and its home run-to-flyball ratio tied for sixth-worst (16%).
And above all else, New York’s pitching staff was banged up. James Paxton was never himself after offseason back surgery and hurt his elbow right as he was getting into a groove. Jordan Montgomery had some growing pains in his full return from Tommy John surgery. Deivi Garcia showed he has what it takes, but still has a long way to go.
Not even the usually reliable bullpen could get it done, ranking 16th with a 4.51 ERA compared to ninth with a 4.08 mark in 2019. Losing Tommy Kahnle to Tommy John surgery proved a devastating loss.
Long story short, though the New York Yankees were elite in some areas of the game, 2020 was a very average year across the board.
What comes next?
Now, fans and experts alike will autopsy the Yankees’ season to see if the squad can bounce back and return to top form. The short answer is yes. The New York Yankees will absolutely be back full force in 2021.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to still be done. Masahiro Tanaka and LeMahieu’s respective free agencies need to be addressed. Both should also be re-signed, but that’s another story for another time.
And the lineup isn’t in trouble either. Judge and Stanton can hopefully (finally) stay healthy and become the new Bash Brothers. Gary Sanchez isn’t getting traded, but should be on a short leash. Aaron Boone isn’t going anywhere despite shaky bullpen management.
This was not the 2020 season anyone wanted. The COVID-19 pandemic forced players and fans alike to make serious sacrifices. Some, like Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, couldn’t play after being infected with the virus.
In a full, 162-game season, the New York Yankees likely would have overcome a major rough patch to bounce back. Instead, they went cold too late and suffered an early exit. Fans’ disappointment is entirely justified. 2020 has been rough in both life and baseball.
But now, let’s shake it off and look to run the table in 2021.