As I sit here trying to summarize the feeling of watching the Yankees slowly meet their demise in the Wild Card game to the Boston Red Sox it is easy to pinpoint the fatal flaws from the 2021 season.
More comprehensive thoughts on these topics will be put out there in the coming weeks, but these are the reasons the Yankees, American League favorites going into the 2021 season, have been eliminated earlier than they have in recent years.
First of all is the team just did not score enough, and that was clear when looking at the lineup in the Wild Card game. Is there anyone who was confident in the lineup producing below Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup? Him and Aaron Judge dragged this team kicking and screaming to even get to this game. That is impressive on its own and something that should be appreciated about this season, but it is not a recipe for a championship team.
Three key infield players regressed at the plate this season in Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, and Gio Urshela. Torres is the biggest disappointment, as he was a highly touted prospect and was looking to be a cornerstone player for the team for a long time. He is not a lost cause, but it was not a good year for him.
It could be argued that the reason for LeMahieu and Urshela’s regression is that the league strayed away from the juiced balls that were used in 2019 and 2020. LeMahieu’s two best seasons by far were in 2019 and 2020 with the juiced ball and a short porch, this season he produced right in line with his numbers in Colorado. That is not bad, but you want more from someone that is paid $90 million over six years.
Urshela’s two best years were in the same time, and he is someone who was never thought highly for his bat before coming to the Yankees. Like LeMahieu he still is not a bad player either. But the regression from those two definitely goes into the Yankees not being as good a team as they have been in past years.
Given that the Yankees have had three players in the infield disappoint, a goal of the offseason should be a revamping of sorts. There is an obvious need at shortstop after Torres got moved to second. As discussed before, there are a ton of good options there and the Yankees would be wise to spend on one. Anthony Rizzo is a free agent and while still a quality player, is not anywhere near what he used to be in his prime with the Cubs and is already into his early 30s. Luke Voit has not been able to stay healthy.
There should be aggressive moves made to change the look of this infield in the offseason. Just signing a shortstop alone would improve, but ideally there should be two new starters in the infield in 2022. There is no justification to running back this same group again. It has not worked.
The Yankees look to have a solid outfield going into 2022, but that was not the case for much of the 2021 season. Before Stanton was playing the outfield and before the trade for Joey Gallo there was not much there outside of Judge. Clint Frazier got a ton of playing time and was a big disappointment. Miguel Andujar was also getting meaningful time. Gallo disappointed after arriving as well. Even though with Gallo’s track record shows to expect a good season next year when he has a full year in New York, he did not live up to expectations in 2021.
Lastly the Yankees seemed to take an attitude of having a lot of rest days, or as many fans call them, “punt days.” This would be talked about when the Yankees had such a bad record in the last games of series, especially early on in the season. Some of those getaway day lineups were frustrating to see as a fan, and the bullpen usage at times from Aaron Boone also played into the perception that the Yankees were not taking the regular season seriously.
To many it seemed that for far too long that this team operated as if it was a given that they would win 100 games and make the playoffs. At the end of the season they made it by one game, but there were so many blown games this year and when one more win would have made the Wild Card game a home game it is frustrating looking back at all those instances when the season is now over.
More fans believe there should be a change in philosophy than not. Some cite the analytics. Whether they should be used, how they are being used or how they are being implemented. Looking around the league there are teams that have lapped the Yankees in how they operate, and they are all highly analytical. Those teams include the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants. Two of those teams are division rivals, and the Toronto Blue Jays are on an upward trend as well.
There is not a better example of what proper use of analytics can do for a team than what has gone on with the Giants this year. Their new front office has them embraced analytics more than they ever have before. They went from a team that was on a downward trend with older players before the change to having the best record in baseball.
It is not going to get any easier to win the division next year for the Yankees. It is not impossible by any means, but it will take significant changes. Whatever those teams are doing better, the Yankees need to figure out what it is and how to combat that. After the Yankees lost in 2017 to the Astros, most would have bet a significant amount that the team would have won a World Series by 2021. This is a clear example that there needs to be a change in the approach the organization takes.
There is no reason to blow the thing up and there is still a way for the Yankees to be a very good team in 2022, but it needs to be a very eventful offseason or there will not be much of a reason to expect a different result than what has happened in recent years.
Photo: Charles Krupa/AP