Once upon a time, a powerhouse in the Bronx dominated the opposition to such a degree that it was on pace to challenge the single-season record for wins. But a funny thing happened on the way to the record books: the power went out, and over the course of a few weeks, the team did an about-face, suddenly turning into one of the league’s doormats. Such is the saga of the 2022 Yankees.
It was just over two months ago, on June 20, when I noted in this space that the Yankees’ 49–17 record (.742 winning percentage) was the majors’ best start since the 2001 Mariners went 52–14 on their way to 116 wins; only a half-dozen other teams, including the 1998 Yankees, had won 49 or more of their first 66 games. I additionally noted that even with a 48–48 record the rest of the way, the Yankees would finish with 97 wins. Since that point, they’ve gone just 26–31, and their pace over 162 games has dropped to 99 wins:
Those jagged little peaks reflect the fact that until Sunday’s victory against the Blue Jays and Monday’s win over the Mets, the Yankees hadn’t won two games in a row since July 29–30, and they still haven’t won a series since then, or put together a winning streak longer than three games since June 26–29. But for all of that, the team is still four wins better than last year’s squad at the same juncture (71–52).
A 99-win season would rate as impressive by just about any other standard, but with regards to these Yankees, it not only reads as a disappointment given the arc of their season, but it also highlights the vulnerabilities that may yet again prevent them from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009. That drought is approaching their 1982–95 one and has already exceeded their ’65–75 one; for all of their wealth in terms of both money and prospects, they’ve been unable to break through.
To rewind a bit, the Yankees were still in lofty company at the 84-game mark (through July 8), playing at a 118-win pace. Only one team since 1920 had outdone them:
Best Record Through First 84 Decisions
|Team||Season||W||L||Win%||Final W||Final L||Final Win%||Result|
Ties excluded, so in some cases, record is through 85 games.
Since then, however, the Yankees are 14–25 (.359), ahead of only the Marlins (13–27, .325), Nationals (11–26, .297) and Tigers (11–29, .275) in terms of winning percentage. That’s despite outscoring the opposition during that span, 178–175, which only adds to the sense of squandered opportunity. Beyond that, the Yankees are 11–20 (.355) since the All-Star break and 6–14 (.300) since the start of August. Their AL East lead, which was 12 games as of June 18 and a season-high 15.5 games as of July 8, is down to eight, though neither the Blue Jays (15–12 in the second half) nor the Rays (15–14) have seized the opportunity to take an even bigger bite out of their advantage.
What’s more, where they once owned the majors’ best record, the Yankees can’t even claim to have the best record of a New York team now, as the Mets are 79–45 and have taken two out of three in the season series so far. More importantly, the Yankees are now three games behind the Astros (78–45) for the best record in the AL, meaning that they’ve slipped into the second seed. Functionally, that’s not a huge deal, in that they would still have a first-round bye under the new playoff format, but they would no longer have home-field advantage in an ALCS against the Astros, who beat them in both 2017 and ’19 while owning that advantage.
A combination of factors has helped to send the Yankees into this funk. Injuries to Luis Severino and Michael King began destabilizing the pitching staff as far back as mid-July, with the more recent injuries of Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Carpenter cutting into the offense as well. The acquisitions of Andrew Benintendi, Frankie Montas, Lou Trivino, and Scott Effross ahead of the August 2 trade deadline made sense, but the two bigger-named players have been underwhelming, and while dealing away Joey Gallo was clearly the right move, the case for trading Jordan Montgomery was shakier.
Furthermore, while the Yankees are 23–18 in one-run games overall, they’ve lost 11 of 16 dating back to July 9, with five of those losses via walk-offs. That situation has magnified their bullpen woes (and manager Aaron Boone’s handling of the unit), which now include the loss of setup man-turned-closer Clay Holmes to lower back spasms. And since the deadline, the offense has dried up; over an 11-game span from August 9 to 20, the Yankees went 2–9 and scored just 21 runs, were held scoreless four times, and hit a pathetic .178/.246/.271. After Saturday’s game, Boone vented his frustration during his postgame press conference:
— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) August 20, 2022
Prior to Sunday’s game (a sweep-preventing win over the Blue Jays), the YES Network showed this graphic:
— Pinstripe Strong (@PinstripeStrong) August 20, 2022
It all adds up to a feeling that the sky is falling, and nowhere does that feel more apparent than the flailing offense. Though the first half, the Yankees scored 5.40 runs per game, slugged .445, and hit for a 123 wRC+ overall, all major league bests, with their .331 on-base percentage the AL’s best as well. Since then, they’ve slipped to 3.87 runs per game, with a .226/.303/.388 (100 wRC+) line. Aaron Judge has put up insane numbers in that span (.330/.474/.783, 14 HR, 250 wRC+), but even so, his nine-game drought without a homer — one that ended with Monday night’s blast off Max Scherzer — has dropped his chances of reaching 62 from 21.3% to 12.9%, per Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS model, in less than three weeks.
Among the other Yankees, DJ LeMahieu (132 wRC+), Anthony Rizzo (121), and Jose Trevino (111) have all been productive in the second half, but Josh Donaldson (89) and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (80) have been lousy. Donaldson has actually hit just .211/.275/.366 (83 wRC+) dating back to his Tim Anderson comments in late May, when he discovered he had fewer friends in the Yankees’ clubhouse than he thought. Meanwhile, Gleyber Torres (47 wRC+ since the break) and Aaron Hicks (27) have been downright dreadful. Benintendi, whom the Yankees acquired from the Royals on July 28 in order to diversify the offense with a left-handed, contact-centric presence, hit just .192/.302/.301 in 87 PA through his first 21 games before a pair of 2-for-3 games with critical extra-base hits on Sunday and Monday. He hit a game-winning two-run homer off the Blue Jays’ Adam Cimber, ending a 50-game homerless drought dating back to June 20, and added an RBI double (and also an RBI single) against Scherzer on Monday.
With more than half the lineup struggling, the losses of Stanton to Achilles tendinitis and Carpenter to a broken left foot have been felt acutely. The former, who has hit for a 128 wRC+ this year, last played on July 23 but will finally return later this week; the latter, who returned from baseball oblivion to hit for an incredible 218 wRC+ with 15 homers in just 154 PA before fouling a pitch off his foot on August 8, is likely out until late September. Oh, and if you’re wondering about Gallo, who hit just .159/.282/339 (83 wRC+) before being shipped to the Dodgers, he’s at .267/.371/.667 (185 wRC+) with three homers in 35 PA since being relocated; surely he’ll send a postcard to Michael Kay sooner or later.
As for the pitching, early in the season, the starting five of Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Jameson Taillon, Severino, and Montgomery was humming along. From May 22 through June 5, that group lasted at least six innings in 14 out of 15 games, pitching to a 0.85 ERA, and through the first half, the rotation ranked second in the AL in ERA (3.20) and third in FIP (3.67). But in the second half, they’ve sunk to 13th in ERA (4.73) and seventh in FIP (3.85), with every starter except Cortes taking a significant step backwards since the break:
Yankees Rotation Splits
As noted above, the loss of Severino looms large. After pitching just 24 innings total from 2019 to ’21 due to a variety of injuries, including Tommy John surgery, he was putting together a very solid season; from May 16 to July 6, he lasted at least six innings in eight out of nine starts, delivering a 2.60 ERA and 3.41 FIP in 55.1 innings. He left his July 13 start after two innings with what was later diagnosed as a strained latissimus dorsi and has been replaced by the more contact-oriented Germán, who himself had spent the season up to that point rehabbing a bout of shoulder impingement. Even with Germán yielding just one earned run in three of his last four starts (including Monday night opposite Scherzer), the exchange has been a downgrade, and the Yankees appear to have added insult to injury by placing Severino on the 60-day IL without notice, meaning that he won’t be back until at least September 13.
Cole’s peripherals are actually stronger than they were before the break, but the Yankees have won just one of his six second-half starts thanks to a few innings where he’s let things spiral out of control. After shutting out the Royals through four innings on July 29, he yielded five two-out runs in the fifth to a team that hadn’t scored in 31 consecutive frames, though the Yankees came from behind to win, 11–5. In his next start on August 3, he failed to retire any of the first five Mariners he faced and wound up yielding six runs and three homers in the first inning en route to a 7–3 loss. After a pair of strong outings — one run allowed in 13 innings against the Mariners and Rays, both of whom shut out the Yankees and won nonetheless — he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Blue Jays on Saturday, then allowed five runs, including two via a double by light-hitting Jackie Bradley Jr.; the Yankees lost that one as well.
Montas, who was acquired along with Trivino on August 1 in exchange for a four-player package, has made three starts since the deal, two of them duds. Meanwhile, Montgomery — who was traded for the injured Harrison Bader, who has yet to be activated in the hope of shoring up the center field situation — has posted a 0.35 ERA and 1.71 FIP in four starts for St. Louis, including a one-hit shutout of the Cubs on Monday night. Oops.
Through all of this, one factor worth noting is that through the first half, the Yankees’ defense helped to limit the pitchers to a .260 BABIP, in a virtual tie with the Astros for the AL lead. That number is up to .286 (seventh in the league) in the second half, though some of it is just better contact by hitters; via Statcast, the starters’ xwOBAcon allowed has risen from .357 before the break to .370 since.
The bullpen has taken its share of hits as well. After posting a 2.80 ERA (second in the league) and 3.06 FIP (first) in the first half, the unit has declined to a 3.31 ERA (sixth) and 4.13 FIP (13th). Their strikeout rate has dropped from 25.2% to 22%, and their walk rate has risen from 9.2% to 10.9% — nearly a five-point swing in terms of strikeout-walk differential. The losses of Chad Green to Tommy John surgery and King to a fractured elbow have stung; the latter had pitched brilliantly out of the pen, posting a 2.29 ERA and 2.24 FIP in 51 innings before suffering his season-ending injury on July 22. Even after not pitching for a month, he’s still third on the staff with 1.7 WAR, behind only Cole (3.1) and Cortes (2.6).
At the back of the bullpen, Aroldis Chapman came out of the gate strong, with 10.1 shutout innings from Opening Day through May 9, but was then scored upon in five straight outings before landing on the injured list due to Achilles tendinitis, which sidelined him for nearly six weeks. With a 4.70 ERA and 4.78 FIP, he still hasn’t regained Boone’s trust. Holmes took over closer duties in Chapman’s absence and converted 14 out of his first 15 save chances (and notched a couple earlier in the year as well), compiling a 0.46 ERA and 1.77 FIP through July 9. But over the next five weeks he went 1-for-4 in saves, not including the July 12 game against Cincinnati where he failed to retire any of the five batters he faced and was charged with four runs and the loss; between that meltdown and August 17, when the Yankees put him on the IL with back spasms, he was rocked for a 10.24 ERA. With Boone playing matchups, the only saves recorded by the team were by Clarke Schmidt (two) and Effross (one), with Jonathan Loáisiga adding one on Monday night. Loáisiga, a trusted setup man last year, has managed just a 5.76 ERA and missed time due to shoulder inflammation.
Perhaps the Yankees have been spoiled by their early-season resilience. Through their first 84 games, they had 10 blown saves (not just ninth-inning ones) but came back to win six times. In their 39 games since, they have eight blown saves (including two on July 9, when they frittered away a game at Fenway Park) but have recovered to win just once.
It’s not as though this is a bad team or one lacking for bright spots, including Judge’s MVP-caliber campaign, Trevino’s much-needed upgrade at catcher, the continued emergence of Cortes, the rebound of LeMahieu, the rejuvenation of Carpenter, and so on. In Bader (whom the team is hoping will return from plantar fasciitis in September) and Zack Britton (who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery), not to mention Severino, Stanton, and Carpenter, the Yankees may still get significant reinforcements over the next few weeks. But until they resume winning series and steamrolling lesser teams, their glass is going to look half-empty.