Lost in the era of advanced stats and metrics is just how much a particular player has the ability to drive a team to success. Back in the 1970s, Reggie Jackson fashioned himself that type of player when he dubbed himself
“The Straw That Stirs the Drink.” While he has since denied the remark took place, it should go without question Reggie held himself in a certain esteem.
In New York, we see how Yoenis Cespedes has received similar accolades to the ones Reggie purportedly bestowed upon himself. By and large, Cespedes was given credit for the Mets going from a team just three games over .500 to a team who went all the way to the World Series.
In recent years, Cespedes has been noticeably absent from the Mets lineup due to a number of injuries. Whatever the reason, when Cespedes is out of the lineup, the team does not win. For example, this year, the Mets are 20-16 in games Cespedes is in the starting lineup, and they are 36-55 when he is out of it.
Cespedes’ last game of the season, and his last game for quite a while, was the Mets July 20th victory against the Yankees. In that game, he would homer in the Mets 7-5 victory.
Like Cespedes, Aaron Judge would DH that day, and like Cespedes, we have seen Judge has had a real impact upon the Yankees when he is in the lineup. His effect on the team this year has been more pronounced than expected.
Before going down with a wrist injury, the Yankees were 64-33 (.660) in the games Judge was in the starting lineup. More important to the Yankees being an incredible 31 games over .500 in the lineup was the fact the team was just 4.5 games back of the Red Sox, and they were 4.5 games up in the Wild Card standings.
Since Judge went down with a wrist injury, the Yankees have not been the same team.
Since losing Judge, the Yankees are 14-11 (.560). More important than the record is the Yankees getting swept in a four game series in Boston which has all but ended their hopes of winning the AL East. That leaves the Yankees fighting for the Wild Card.
While the Yankees are holding tight to the Wild Card with effectively the same lead, they are no longer in as good a position. Oakland is charging hard, and despite an a negative run differential, the Mariners just won’t go away.
It is way too soon for Yankee fans to panic. After all, Fangraphs puts the Yankees chances of making the postseason at 99.0 percent. Of course, this means they could find themselves facing Oakland or Houston in a winner-take-all game.
This means the Yankees will either face an Oakland team which is the only team in baseball with a bullpen that can rival the Yankees bullpen. Worse yet, they could find themselves facing Yankee killers Justin Verlander or Dallas Keuchel in the Wild Card Game.
Ultimately, the Yankees find themselves in this spot because they are just not the same team without Judge.
Sure, there are plenty of other reasons for the Yankees recent “struggles.” Luis Severino has struggled. Greg Bird has struggled mightily. Brett Garnder is in a slump, and Didi Gregorius has not been the same player since May and that was before his injury.
And yet, here we are less than a year later seeing just how much the Yankees success is driven by Judge. Without him, they are a good, but not great team. With him, they are among the best in baseball.
The odd thing was it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A Yankee team which was just one game away from the World Series added the National League MVP in Giancarlo Stanton. Gleyber Torres was called-up, and he has been better than anyone could imagine. Same goes for Miguel Andujar. Moreover, the team is guided by Aaron Boone, who was supposed to be able to get the Yankees to be a better team than the one previously led by Joe Girardi.
So far, Judge has missed a month, and indications seem to be he will not be back until September. Who knows how much longer it will take for him to feel either 100 percent or to get back in a groove.
If Judge is not ready to play this postseason, it’s difficult to see how the Yankees can repeat their magical run from last postseason let alone win the 28th World Series in their fabled history.