July 14, 2020

Process (Mostly) Sound; Results To Follow

There are a million and one excuses for the Yankees’ sluggish start.

It doesn’t help that Greg Bird, Brandon Drury, CC Sabathia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and, up until today, Aaron Hicks have been on the disabled list. It doesn’t help that Giancarlo Stanton has struck out in nearly half of his at-bats or that Gary Sanchez has yet to draw a walk. It doesn’t help that Jordan Montgomery still looks like he will battle to get through five innings per start, Masahiro Tanaka will be prone to “one of those” starts every now and then, and that Luis Severino is the only starter to average six innings per start during the first three turns through the rotation.

So, the Yankees are 6-7 to start the season. They just lost two of three in Boston, but the early going is hardly a disaster. Treading water in April isn’t a problem. Despite the injuries, really terrible weather, and some heartbreaking extra-inning losses, 6 wins in 13 games isn’t all that bad.

One of the most used phrases in sports today is “Trust the Process”. Cubs Manager Joe Maddon has used that phrase for every team he has managed. Maddon preaches that if a team and its individual players do the sound, proper thing, the results will take care of themselves. Results may not be immediate, but if the process is sound, the results will eventually come. Despite the mediocre start, most of the Yankees’ process looks quite sound.
Offensively, the Yankees are producing, despite being nearly no-hit by Rick Porcello in the finale of the series against the first place Red Sox.

Their 69 runs scored ranks second in the American League. The team that is “supposed” to break home run records has hit 16, fourth best in the American League. Those results statistics are good; the process stats are even better. The club’s 11.2 percent walk rate is the American League leader. And, despite Stanton’s gargantuan strikeout rate, the club’s strikeout rate of 22 percent is seventh lowest in the American League. With an excellent team approach at the plate and a .425 slugging percentage (5th best), the Yankees’ offense projects to do much more than what they are producing right now.

The pitching side has been promising as well, despite the fact that the team ERA of 4.54 is fifth highest in the league. The staff’s 28.5 percent strikeout rate is second best while its 8.8 percent walk rate is fifth best in the league.

Breaking it down further, the rotation, despite its inability to give consistent length early on, ranks third in strikeout percentage, fifth in walk percentage, and sixth in eliciting swings and misses with pitches thrown for strikes. The bullpen is even more impressive as it leads the league in strikeout rate and swings and misses with pitches thrown for strikes and seventh in walk rate.
Despite those great peripherals, the Yankees’ team ERA is 4.54, fifth highest in the league. That result is quite poor, but the stat that measures process, FIP, shows that the Yankees’ hurlers are performing quite well. The overall FIP of 3.50 is the fourth best in the American League. The translation is that the pitchers are performing quite well thus far, especially the bullpen as their 3.25 FIP is second best.

Process-wise, the Yankees offense, and its bullpen are performing as they would project. The results, over the course of 162 games, should get better than the first 13 games indicate. It is common to hear that “it’s early” because, well, it is, indeed, early. But, early performance should show a solid process. The offense and the pitching staff show the solid process. When some of their players get back from the disabled list, there is even more of an expectation of better results.

There is, however, one troubling area for the Yankees. The main reason for the big difference between ERA and FIP is the defense. While the +1 defensive runs saved is near average, the Yankees have made 13 errors during its first 13 games. Much of that has come from third base as the Yankees have committed five errors at the hot corner in the early going. The defense should tighten up a bit with Aaron Hicks coming back to join Brett Gardner to shore up the outfield. But, the Yankees now have the young, raw Andujar as their third baseman. Of all components of the team, it is the defense that is most troublesome as it is clearly sabotaging the results of the pitching staff.

The final area that looks sloppy is baserunning. While much of this is anecdotal and more of an “eye” thing, Fangraphs does have the BsR statistic, which the site defines as a statistic, “that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other baserunning plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average.” According to BsR, the Yankees are the fourth worst American League team with a minus-1.3.

It is early. The record is mediocre, but it has not left the Yankees with a big deficit to overcome. More importantly, the key parts of the Yankees are functioning as advertised. The offense is patient and powerful. The bullpen misses quite a few bats. The rotation is performing similarly to last season. The results aren’t there yet, but the process strongly indicates they will be soon.