(Aaron Judge in the batting cage this past July – Photo by Jason Schott)
The Yankees’ offense in their 100-win regular season showed signs of being one of the greatest offenses in team history.
They hit a franchise-record 267 home runs, with five players hitting 27 or more homers, including 38 from Giancarlo Stanton to lead the team in his first year in pinstripes.
The downside was that, while they hit for power, they struck out too much, as exhibited by Giancarlo Stanton’s 211 K’s, and hit 4-for-26 with runners in scoring position in the ALDS loss to Boston.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone addressed the media on Friday at Yankee Stadium and addressed all the issues around the offense and gave assessments of their sluggers.
Boone said of the inconsistency with the Yankees’ offense in terms of power and aspects of the game like getting hits with runners on base, “It seemed like they never evened out…I think during the season they were pretty comparable if you look across the board. In a short series (five-game ALDS, which was won by Boston in four), look…that’s the reality and the harshness sometimes of postseason baseball is, you know, the teams that come up with those big hits or come up with the big extra-base hit or home run with runners on base in a big spot, those are oftentimes the games you win and move on. I would say, you know, I know cause you guys ask me all the time about the reliance on the home run and you know I’ve bristled at it sometimes – it doesn’t mean we’re not searching for the perfect offense, the best we can be.
“I think sometimes, you know, there’s the perception that in a situation you can pull a single out of your pocket with runners in scoring position and it happens – it’s not that simple, and guys are trying to have those at-bats. So, with that said, we’re always striving to be the best, most complete offense we can be.
“We were a very good offense overall this year. We can absolutely get better, and I wouldn’t say we were the best offense in the game. Where are things we can improve? Being better, tougher outs situationally, even being better controlling the strike zone. Those are all things that we need to continue to work on, continue to improve on if we are going to be the best we can absolutely be.”
Boone said of the Yankees having the type of hitters that can be tougher outs, “Sure. I think we have the people to be an absolute elite offense. We had some guys that had outstanding seasons, some guys that had probably years that were down for them personally, but I think overall we absolutely had the pieces to be an elite offense in so many different ways.
“Now, it’s on them, it’s on me, it’s on us as coaches to continue to improve to get to that level that we feel like we can reach. I feel like we’re so close to that, but we all have to get a little bit better if we’re going to get ultimately to where we want to go, and that’s to bring another championship home.”
In his first year in pinstripes, Stanton led the Yankees with 38 home runs and 100 RBI. He hit .266 with a .343 on-base percentage, and a .509 slugging percentage. While acknowledging the transition from Miami to New York and all that goes along with that (such as switching leagues and the pressure of playing for a competitive team that is the most-examined in the sport), his numbers were down considerably from the 59 home runs and 132 RBI, with a slash line of .281/.376/631 he had in 2017, when he was the National League Most Valuable Player.
Stanton struck out a career-high 211 times this season, well up from the 163 he had in 2017, and 41 more than his prior career-high of 170 in 2014.
In the playoffs, Stanton hit a moon shot down the left-field line in the Wild Card Game, but in the ALDS, he went 4-for-18 with no extra-base hits, HR, RBI, or walks, and six strikeouts.
Stanton’s performance in the ALDS was epitomized by his strikeout in the ninth inning of Game Four in the midst of a Yankees rally against Boston closer Craig Kimbrel that ultimately fell short in a 4-3 loss. That at-bat drew comparisons to Alex Rodriguez’s troubles in the playoffs.
Boone said of Stanton’s first year in The Bronx, “I wouldn’t say jitters. I would say, first of all, you know, I think you guys have been covering him and seeing how he was able to handle and navigate the ups and downs that came with the season and came with being such a high-profile player. I come away just so impressed and an admiration for who he is and the way he handled things, the pro that he was all the time.
“Certainly, there were some ups-and-downs, you know, I think a contributing factor in that is being a high-profile guy, National League MVP, switching leagues now all of a sudden, all that comes with now walking into a market like this, and playing for the New York Yankees, learning, even though it’s different now obviously than it was 20, 30 years ago when guys didn’t change teams as much and there wasn’t interleague play and all that – it’s still new, it’s still a new division, and I think one thing Giancarlo has shown, and the evidence would bare it out over his career, the more he sees a pitcher, the more success he has. He really is able to, from experience, eventually have success.
“I think coming in next year, without having to meet the organization, meet new teammates, get accustomed to playing in a new organization, all that goes with being Giancarlo Stanton in New York, I think it will be a much more normal situation for him and I think he’ll be now in a situation where he’s facing guys that he’s now experienced and I think he’ll benefit from that and I think I would expect for him to, even though did have a very strong year for us, 38 homers, kind of surviving a really tough start to the season, he was massively productive for us.
“I think it’s reasonable to think that he’ll be even more productive as he comes in here next year as a second-year player, kind of much more comfortable from the get-go.”
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez had a tough season on offense and behind the plate.
Sanchez hit .186 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI in 89 games in the regular season, as he missed two months in the second half of the season with a groin injury.
Boone stuck with Sanchez in the playoffs, and Sanchez rewarded him with two big home runs in Game 2 of the ALDS, a 6-2 Yankees win, at Fenway Park. However, that did not translate to the rest of the series, in which he had just three hits in 15 at-bats, with one walk and five strikeouts in the four-game series.
“I think in a lot of ways, I’m all in and believe in the player,” Boone said of Sanchez’s season and what can be done moving forward. “I think Gary is going to absolutely realize his potential and, as tough as this year was at times for him, there’s no doubt in my mind that he will benefit from all that he went through this year, and I believe we were seeing the strides that we were pouring into all year and hoping we would start to see, and I think by even this last series, the last at-bat (when he hit one to the warning track with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALDS), which I thought was a championship-caliber at-bat, he was getting to that point. Unfortunately, it ended, and we don’t get to continue to see him.
“This offseason, the work continues for him, and he knows that, and I think the end result is we’re going to be talking about a very polished, elite-level player, and I think this year, and some of the struggles that he went through, we’ll look back on as a contributing factor to that, because I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned this year from my standpoint, certainly from Gary’s standpoint, and how he continues to grow at such an important position for us.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Yankees’ season was the performance of first baseman Luke Voit, who the Yankees acquired from St. Louis for left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve in late July.
Voit was a solid performer from the start, and took over the starting spot at first base by late August. In 39 games with the Yankees, he had 14 home runs and 33 RBI, and became a cult hero almost immediately.
Chants of “Luuuuuuuke!” became common at The Stadium, especially when he had a big two-run triple in the Wild Card Game, which gave the Yankees a 5-0 lead at the time on their way to a 7-2 win over Oakland.
In the ALDS against Boston, he had three hits in 13 at-bats, with two RBI and he showed improved plate discipline, as he worked out four walks and struck out just four times.
Boone said of Voit possibly being named the starting first baseman going into spring training, “Well, he certainly came over here and kind of was given that opportunity and took it and kicked the door in. It’s hard to argue with what he was able to do down the stretch for us, really on a very consistent level for us as far as the at-bat quality went. So, we’re very excited about the player that we got.
“We’ll see the offseason unfolds, but right now, he grabbed that job. There’s no question about that, but there’s all kinds of things that can transpire over the winter and on into spring training, so I’m sure there will continue to be competition on all kinds of levels, but he certainly, with all that he was able to accomplish for us down the stretch, has a leg up on those kinds of things.”
The player who edged out at first base by Voit was Greg Bird, who was regarded as one of the “Baby Bombers” that the Yankees were going to build around, but he couldn’t get it going in 2018.
Bird has been plagued by injuries ever since he came to the major leagues in 2015, and a foot injury kept him out for the start of this season.
In 82 games this season, Bird hit .199 (54-272) with 11 home runs and 38 RBI.
Boone said of Bird going from being a non-factor at the end of this season to becoming a top talent again, “Well, the one thing with Greg that I certainly never lost and I don’t think anyone in the organization is, we’ve seen him be an impact player at times in his career. So, this year, in a lot of ways, is a little bit of a lost season for him. Obviously, starting out being hurt again and having to have surgery, that was a tough blow, and I think in some ways, probably never got all the way back physically to where I think he’ll even be next year, so I think there’s a realistic chance that he comes into spring training next year physically in a really good place with a chance to have a normal off-season of training and getting his body how he wants it and, hopefully, the results from that will follow.
“He’ll have his opportunities, and we’ve never lost sight of the fact that we know this guy, when he’s right, can really hit, and hopefully, he’ll come in physically, mentally, everything ready to go, and take advantage of the opportunities that he’ll get.”