The New York Yankees might be ahead of schedule. In a year where the team was thought to be rebuilding, the Yankees have jumped out to the best record in baseball.
Sure, it’s still early, but it’s tough to pick apart the team’s success. At 21-9, the Yankees are the only team left with single-digit losses. While three other clubs also have 21 wins, the Yankees’ .700 winning percentage is the best in the game. The team’s +58 run differential is also tops in the league.
Everything is coming up Yankees right now. But if you needed more proof of that, check out how they finished Monday’s 10-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
With a runner on first, Tommy Layne actually got Billy Hamilton to ground into a game-ending double play. While a normal double play isn’t usually all that exciting, consider the batter here. Hamilton is considered the fastest player in the majors. He’s stolen nearly 60 bases in each of the past three seasons.
Making matters even more impressive is the fact that Hamilton’s ninth-inning double play was actually his second of the game.
That was the first time in Billy Hamilton’s career that he grounded into a double play more than once in a game. #Reds
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) May 9, 2017
Coming into Monday’s game, Hamilton had only grounded into 11 double plays over 1,685 career plate appearances. Considering they managed that feat a night after beating the defending champion Chicago Cubs in a marathon 18 inning game, it’s fair to say the Yankees can do no wrong right now.
It’s not just lucky instances like that fueling the team’s success, though. New York has the best offense in baseball according to wRC+, an advanced stat that measures offensive performance. The club entered Monday’s game with a league-leading 128 wRC+, just edging out both the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, who sit at 121.
Aaron Judge has been the big story, blasting 13 home runs in 117 plate appearances, but he’s far from the only Yankee who is completely mashing the ball right now. Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro are both hitting over .333, Chase Headley and Matt Holliday have experienced offensive resurgences at the plate and Brett Gardner has turned himself into a power hitter. Over the last nine games, Gardner has hit six home runs.
Even the team’s subs are producing. Austin Romine hit an acceptable .281/.314/.406 while filling in for Gary Sanchez. Ronald Torreyes hit .311 while Didi Gregorius recovered from a shoulder injury. Both Sanchez and Gregorius are back now, giving the team and even deeper lineup and an improved defense.
The bullpen has also been excellent. Yankees relievers have combined for a 2.65 ERA thus far, which ranks fourth. And if you prefer advanced stats over ERA, the team’s 2.69 FIP ranks third, and indicates much of what they’ve done thus far hasn’t been a fluke.
Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are clear standouts, but the team has also received exceptional work from Adam Warren, Jonathan Holder and Tyler Clippard. Chapman’s 3.00 ERA is actually the highest of that group. Of the nine relievers the Yankees have used this season, seven have averaged at least a strikeout per inning. Some of the relatively unknown names might be due for regression, but the bullpen has been fantastic thus far.
That’s going to be crucial, because the one place the Yankees seem vulnerable is the rotation. Even then, it’s tough to be too critical. The Yankees starters have combined for a 4.03 ERA thus far, which ranks 13th. The team’s 4.11 FIP ranks 12th.
Luis Severino and Michael Pineda look much-improved thus far. Both players have struck out at least 10 batters per nine innings and have done a fantastic job limiting walks. Jordan Montgomery has performed surprisingly well through his first five starts, posting a 3.81 ERA.
Masahiro Tanaka has struggled thus far, with a 4.36 ERA over seven starts, but there’s no reason to think that will continue. If he can get back on track, that will be a significant boost.
It should also offset some of CC Sabathia’s struggles. The 36-year-old has a 5.45 ERA over six starts. His age and gradual decline over the past few seasons make him a pretty big concern moving forward.
Still, having a dominant bullpen can make up for that. Manager Joe Girardi can pull his starters earlier knowing his bullpen can get the job done late.
The scary thing is: This is all happening earlier than expected. Aside from Chapman and Holliday, the team didn’t make any major free-agent acquisitions this winter. After selling off parts last July, it was assumed the Yankees would continue to focus on rebuilding early this year, call up their next batch of prospects in September and make a playoff push in 2018.
That may no longer be the case. The Yankees already look like legitimate contenders, and they’ve been able to accomplish that without shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Clint Frazier. Torres ranked as the No. 5 overall prospect on Baseball America’s list. Frazier clocked in at No. 39. Both players are expected to make their major-league debuts at some point this season.
That puts the team in an interesting spot. If the Yankees can keep this up into June or July, do they continue with the youth movement, or do they make a big move to try and win now? There’s plenty to be excited about in the farm system, but Jose Quintana would look pretty good in that rotation.
It’s a good problem to have. After a brief misstep, the Yankees are already back on top. And while their current success has been defined by a recommitment to the farm system, this team can also spend more money than almost anyone else.
Hope you enjoyed it while you could, Yankees haters, because the Evil Empire might already be back.
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