5 Players, Stats and Trends That Explain MLB’s Best Team

You expect things to go well for the New York Yankees. If hope springs eternal, so does envy – especially among the 29 other fans. In recent years, however, the Yankees have repeatedly encountered their own obstacles and their own form of frustration.

Their playoff exits under Aaron Boone were devastating. Their offseason choices under legendary GM Brian Cashman ranged from typical Yankee comedy to what some would call a more restrained, holistic approach and others called half-measures. Their expectations remained the same: Win the World Series. And it hasn’t happened in a while.

However, just as the mortality was creeping in, along came the club of 2022. This team is playing so well it’s defying expectations – delighting the Bronx and demoralizing the AL East. Halfway through the season, 81 games in, the Yankees are 58-23. If you did the quick math, yes, he’s on pace for 116 wins which would tie the all-time record.

Everything seems to be going well for the Yankees. For them to keep that pace – hell, to keep anything close to that pace – it takes everything to keep going right. That’s far from a given, so it’s worth looking at the biggest reasons the Yankees have put together a historic first half and whether they’re likely to hold true.

Reason No. 1: Aaron Judge

Let’s get the pun out of the way: Yes, Judge is by far the biggest reason for the Yankees’ success. He has a multi-year contract after turning down an extension offer this spring. Choose an impressive feat. His 29 homers are MLB-leading and put him on track to chase the single-season homer record held by Roger Maris (61) who still represents the Yankees and the American League.

On the more surprising side of the ledger, he has taken on more defensive responsibility, starting more than half his games at center and holding his own. Add it all up and Judge is fully in the mix for an AL MVP award and to post one of the best individual seasons in baseball.

Will be continued; No one bet against his strength, that’s for sure. Statcast’s metrics show that Judge is more consistently hitting balls that consistently turn into homers because, you know. The challenge for Judge will be to stay patient and work his walks as pitchers become even more intentional. That, and staying healthy.

Aaron Judge is winning games with huge hits and the Yankees are on pace to challenge MLB's all-time hitting record.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Aaron Judge is winning games with huge hits and the Yankees are on pace to challenge MLB’s all-time hitting record. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Reason No. 2: Loads of healthy ligaments and muscles

Ah yes, the soft tissue issues that plagued New York in recent seasons have mostly disappeared. After missing more days than any other team to leg injuries — hamstrings, calves, knees — from 2018 to 2020, and suffering enough in 2021 as well, the Yankees are one of the healthiest teams this season. The hitters who have received the most appearances, in order, are Judge, Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres. That’s exactly how Cashman and company would have planned it.

Then there is the initial rotation. Luis Severino entered 2022 having started three games since 2018. Jameson Taillon missed 2020. Nestor Cortes … had 16 career MLB starts in his career. And yet, along with Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery, they have each made at least 14 starts. The Yankees are the only team in the majors with five such players. This not only speaks of health, but also of efficiency.

Will be continued; Well, probably not so. Chances are a starter or two will need to skip a start or rest at some point. Injuries are just a reality of a long season. The good news is that the Yankees appear to have solid backup pitching waiting in the wings, including JP Sears, who has given up one run in 15 1/3 innings in the majors this year. Waiver wire treasure Matt Carpenter is the best depth piece on the offensive end, but expect some additions on that front at the trade deadline.

Reason No. 3: Whatever happens to baseballs

Whether it’s luck, strategy or sheer force, the Yankees have been especially well-equipped to mash up a baseball that has contributed to the depressed offense around the league. While the ball’s liveliness seemed to wax and wane with the heat and humidity, the Yankees’ bats remain hot all year.

Part of that undoubtedly comes from the short terraces of Yankee Stadium and the unusually powerful sluggers in the Yankees lineup. If a change on the ball takes, say, 5 feet off a ball, it’s less likely to affect exit velocity monsters like Judge and Stanton.

However, they differ from the home runs per fly ball metric, which measures what it sounds like. Usually, it gives you a little glimpse into how well someone is hitting the ball, as well as a reality check on how lucky they might be. Likely because of the ball, only 40 of the 147 hitters with 200 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons have a higher HR/FB this season than in 2021. But five Yankees — the five mainstays in the lineup with the most bats — are among the top 13 up-and-comers.

Will be continued; It’s safe to say the Yankees are getting a more than healthy dose of power and good luck. Especially in the summer months when every park swells and the ball flies more freely, the Yankees will likely have a less pronounced advantage.

Reason No. 4: Jose Trevino

The Yankees entered the season with no apparent advantage behind the plate. Their offseason maneuvers shipped Gary Sanchez and shunned a class of stars, including Carlos Correa, in favor of defense-first plans at shortstop and catcher. Jose Trevino came into the spring as the third catcher in the picture, behind Kyle Higashioka and trade acquisition Ben Rortvedt, but the 29-year-old who played an extraordinary 89 games for the Rangers in 2021 earned the job and the spotlight.

First, he has the defense: Trevino ranks as the best framer in baseball by both Baseball Prospectus and Statcast calculations.

Turns out, Trevino has always had a penchant for contact, running better than average even while recording low streaks in sporadic playing time. This season he’s maintained that, scoring just 15% of the time, and occasionally added some pulling power. His seven homers have already nearly doubled his career total and have often come in big spots. In Win Probability Added, which measures contributions as they move the needle through a game, Trevino beats out stars like Nolan Arenado and Pete Alonso.

Between his importance to the pitching staff’s success and his timely hitting, Trevino might be the most important Yankee under 6-foot-4.

Will be continued; The framing excellence should continue unabated. His contact skills also look pretty solid. He probably won’t keep slugging homers in his absolute prime all year, but he considers the Yankees’ bet on elite defense a winner.

Reason No. 5: A pitching staff that wins while losing

The Yankees’ 10 wins are a sign of a resilient team and a charming season, but they also speak to increasingly scarce depth. You know about the magic of closer Clay Holmes and perhaps the ability to evaluate and develop that keeps the Yankees’ coffers filled. But the unsung heroes of many a walk-off and come-from-behind victory are the pitchers who dutifully kept the other side at bay while trailing.

Entering Tuesday’s games, the Yankees had thrown 171 innings while trailing and posted an incredible 2.16 ERA. Most teams simply don’t have enough faith in their starters to let them keep rolling after falling behind, they don’t have strong enough relievers to throw quality arms while losing – part of the reason so many MLB games have gotten out of hand with the position players eventually take over the blowouts. The next best team, the Dodgers, have a 3.24 ERA when trailing.

Will be continued; It’s partly a health issue. The Yankees have gotten a lot of time out of pitchers like Taillon and Montgomery, even when the run support hasn’t been strong. They have gotten quality innings from relievers up and down the roster. Keeping the talent level high affects their consistent ability to threaten late.

Right now, they’re firing on all cylinders, churning out All-Star caliber performers in a dizzying array of positions. Even in the seventh inning of a game they lose. So when you say the Yankees are never out of the game, it’s true. It’s just not all because of Aaron Judge and his merry band of muscle raiders.

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