With Injuries to Stanton, Judge and LeMahieu, Yankees’ Depth Will Again Be Testedon August 17, 2020 at 4:15 pm

With Injuries to Stanton, Judge and LeMahieu, Yankees’ Depth Will Again Be Tested

Just past the one-third mark of the abbreviated 2020 season, the Yankees have been steamrolling opponents to the point of compiling the American League’s second-best record (15-6) thanks largely to a league-best offense, but as with last year, they’re having a hard time keeping their regulars healthy. Earlier this past week, they lost Giancarlo Stanton to a hamstring strain, and within a 48-hour span this past weekend, they placed both Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu on the Injured List as well, that at a time when the pair collectively occupied the AL leads in the three slash stats. As with last year, when shortstop Gleyber Torres was the only member of the expected starting lineup to avoid landing on the IL at some point, the team’s depth is getting quite a test, but there’s no guarantee that they can replicate the strong performances that kept them afloat in 2019.

Stanton, who after being limited to just 18 games last season due to strains in his left biceps, left shoulder, and right knee — not to mention a right quad strain suffered during the AL Division Series — would have begun this season on the IL as well due to a right calf strain, had it opened on schedule. The delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic worked in his favor, and he began the shortened 2020 campaign with a bang, mashing an Opening Day home run off the NationalsMax Scherzer in his first plate appearance, then following up with an major league-high 483-foot shot off Eric Fedde two days later. For a short while, he remained healthy and productive, serving as the designated hitter in 14 of the team’s first 15 games and batting .293/.453/.585 (182 wRC+) with three homers, but he left the second game of the Yankees’ August 8 doubleheader with what was soon diagnosed as a Grade 1 left hamstring strain, an injury that is expected to sideline him for 3-4 weeks.

It’s a frustrating turn of events for the 30-year-old slugger, who has lost significant time to injuries in four out of the past six seasons, though Stanton did play 159 games in 2017 with the Marlins and 158 in ’18 with the Yankees. “I’m hurting for him,” manager Aaron Boone told reporters at the time. “I know what he’s done to be here. His play speaks for itself. Hopefully it’s something that doesn’t end up keeping him down too long.”

Judge, who is off to a .290/.343/.758 start while leading the AL in slugging percentage and home runs (nine, now tied with Mike Trout) and ranking third in wRC+ (191), was lifted from Tuesday’s game against the Rays in the sixth inning, just after hitting the last of those homers. Boone said he wanted to get the slugger off his feet after four straight games on the turf at Tropicana Field, but he hasn’t played since due to what was initially described as “lower body tightness” and has since been diagnosed as a mild calf strain.

Per MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, Judge said before Sunday’s game that he feels “100 percent,” “begged” the Yankees to give him a few days off rather than placing him on the IL, and planned to resume swinging a bat on Monday. More from NorthJersey.com’s Robert Aitken Jr.:

“This is the best I’ve felt in a while, so that’s why I’m pretty frustrated for what’s a couple of day thing,” said Judge. “Working with the staff, it’s more precautionary to miss one week than push through it and miss 3-4 weeks.”

And via the New York Times‘ James Wagner:

This is the third season in a row Judge has gone on the IL; he played just 112 games in 2018 due to a chip fracture in his right wrist, and 102 games last year due to an oblique strain. Like Stanton, he would have begun the 2020 season on the IL as well, recovering from a stress fracture in his right first rib that was traceable back to an attempted catch last September 18 but wasn’t diagnosed until February. It wasn’t until early July that he began taking live batting practice. As I noted a couple of weeks ago amid his burst of home runs, the fact that he’s been pulling the ball again has been viewed as evidence that he’s fully healthy. That condition didn’t appear to last for very long, but thankfully, his latest injury does appear to be minor.

While their recent histories made injuries to the two sluggers feel somewhat inevitable, the loss of LeMahieu — whose 145 games and 655 plate appearances led the Yankees last year — came as a surprise. Batting in the fourth inning of Saturday’s game against the Red Sox’s Nathan Eovaldi, he took an awkward swing, sprained his left thumb, and departed in the sixth inning, before he could bat again.

Boone said that LeMahieu told him the injury felt similar to when he suffered a fracture of a small bone in the same thumb in May 2018, while with the Rockies; he missed 18 days that year, and scuffled after returning. X-rays taken at Yankee Stadium were negative, but he was sent for further imaging, and the team will get a second opinion from a hand specialist.

LeMahieu’s injury comes at a time when he, too, is red hot, batting .411/.456/.534 with the AL’s top batting average and on-base percentage, and the seventh-best wRC+ (175). Though he won the NL batting title in 2016 with the Rockies, his park-adjusted stats outside that season were unremarkable, and his home/road splits not pretty, but he proved to be a quite a surprise upon donning the pinstripes, batting .327/.375/.518 with career highs of 197 hits, 26 homers, 102 RBI, 136 wRC+, and 5.4 WAR; for his trouble he made the AL All-Star team, and finished second in the batting race and fourth in the MVP voting.

Exceptional depth can help the Yankees cover for the losses of Stanton and Judge. Mike Tauchman, a 29-year-old lefty who has played all three outfield positions, has picked up where he left off last year upon being acquired — some would say stolen — from the Rockies in March; in 296 PA, he batted .277/.361/.504 (128 wRC+) with 13 homers and 2.6 WAR. Through Sunday, he’s hitting .357/.413/.476 in 46 PA, though he has yet to homer. Clint Frazier, a 25-year-old righty who homered 12 times and hit .267/.317/.489 in 246 PA last year, joined the team after beginning the season at their alternate training site in Scranton. He made his presence felt immediately, clubbing a home run off the BravesHuascar Ynoa in his first plate appearance of the season on Wednesday and finishing a triple short of the cycle:

[embedded content]

Who was that masked man? On Saturday, Frazier went 3-for-3 with five RBI, three of them via a home run off Eovaldi; through 16 PA, he’s hitting .533/.563/1.133.

Also figuring into the mix in the absences of Stanton and Judge is Mike Ford, a 27-year-old lefty who last year hit .259/.350/.559 with 12 homers in 163 PA, helping the team to offset the loss of Luke Voit. Voit’s back and playing well (.267/.333/.533, 5 HR), and so Ford had been limited to four starts at first base before the DH slot opened up, and he’s showing signs of coming around. Though he’s hitting just .194/.231/.417 through 39 PA, he homered off Chris Mazza and drove in three of the Yankees’ four runs on Sunday night as they completed their sweep of the Red Sox.

LeMahieu is more difficult to replace. Last year, thanks to the sudden emergence of Gio Urshela‘s offensive ability, the Yankees were able to use the three-time Gold Glove winner as a multiposition regular; with Didi Gregorius recovering from Tommy John surgery and Torres temporarily returning to shortstop, LeMahieu made 66 starts at second base, plus another 47 at third base, and 28 at first base. With Gregorius having departed for the Phillies in free agency, Torres is now the full-time shortstop, and LeMahieu had started 18 of the team’s first 19 games at second base before getting hurt.

Tyler Wade, a 25-year-old former fourth-round pick, has started the Yankees’ other two games at the keystone, but his bat has never lived up to the frequent Ben Zobrist comparisons with which the Yankees have long saddled him; he owns a career .199/.270/.297 line through 261 PA, and last year hit just .245/.330/.362 in 108 PA. Thairo Estrada, a 24-year-old prospect who made 10 starts at second base last year plus another six at shortstop and left field, is also an option. A 40 Future Value prospect (down from 45 circa 2018, when he needed two surgeries in the wake of a gunshot wound suffered in a robbery in his native Venezuela), he has hit .269/.310/.448 through 72 PA. At the very least, Estrada has the stronger projection of the pair (.252/.295/.379 versus .229/.293/.335).

One other option the Yankees could explore would be to move Urshela, whose defensive metrics at third base have tended to lag behind his penchant for spectacular plays (-2.5 UZR and 1 DRS last year, 5.7 UZR and -2 DRS career) to second, where he’s played a total of 10 games professionally (five in the majors, back in 2017). That would open up a spot for Miguel Andujar, who was recalled to fill LeMahieu’s roster spot. The 25-year-old Andujar clubbed 27 homers as a rookie in 2018, but lost most of last year to a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and has gone back and forth between New York and Scranton this season. His defense at third base in 2018 was so bad (-16.0 UZR, -21 DRS) that the team has had him learn left field, but a shuffle in the infield might be the best way for him to get a stretch of consistent playing time, and the 28-man expanded roster makes it easier to replace him with a better glove man in the late innings.

With good scouting and good luck, general manager Brian Cashman has cultivated exceptional depth on the Yankees’ roster, giving them a multitude of options when players get injured. Even so, that doesn’t guarantee that the team’s supersubs will continue to replicate the stellar production of the players they’ll replace. In a shortened season and a tight AL East race, there’s a lot riding on the returns of those stars.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *