Anthony Volpe’s unique survival trait keeps him afloat against oversized expectations

Billy McKinney is with Anthony Volpe after hitting a homer against Texas at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 2023.

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Rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe has displayed a familiar cycle of swinging and missing in his first 78 games. However, as doubts arise about his performance, he consistently finds a way to regain his stride making a rebound impressively.

It seems that Anthony is under mounting expectations from a Yankees shortstop. However, it is not uncommon, especially when he is compared with a legend like Derek Jeter.

The similarities between Anthony Volpe and Jeter have been extensively discussed, with both being local talents aspiring to play shortstop for the Yankees and fulfilling their childhood aspirations. However, the beginning of the rookie’s career has been far from a fairytale or storybook narrative because of undue expectations.

Expectations from Anthony Volpe are high from Day 1

The day after Anthony Volpe was announced as the New York Yankees’ starting shortstop, he received a surprise that perfectly represented the significance of the moment. Inside an office at the New York Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, Florida, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gave the phone to Anthony Volpe. On the other end of the line was none other than Derek Jeter.

Jeter’s legendary status as a shortstop for the Yankees made it incredibly challenging for anyone who came after him to fill his shoes. He achieved near-impossible feats in The Bronx, including being a near-unanimous Hall of Famer, a five-time World Series champion, a 14-time All-Star, and earning the revered title of “The Captain.”

However, Jeter advised Anthony Volpe to embrace the high expectations that come with being a Yankees shortstop, all the while reminding him to find joy in the journey. Even three months after that memorable phone call from his childhood idol, Anthony Volpe finds himself unable to contain his wide grin.

The rookie described the experience as an incredible and goosebumps-inducing moment, expressing his admiration for the Yankees’ strong sense of family and the rich legacy that the players before him have established. Anthony Volpe emphasized that the warm welcome he received from Derek Jeter and the entire organization highlights the exceptional nature of the Yankees and their commitment to preserving their special legacy.

Anthony Volpe hit a two-run homer against the Dodgers on June 5, 2023, to ensure victory for the Yankees in LA.

Anthony Volpe’s performance still stands out

Anthony Volpe’s performance so far at the plate has statistically placed him among the weakest hitters in Major League Baseball. Currently, his batting average stands at .195, his on-base percentage at.275, and his slugging percentage at.362. 

Additionally, he has struck out in 31 percent of his at-bats. Out of 157 qualified MLB hitters, Anthony Volpe ranks near the bottom, being fourth-to-last in batting average, fifth-to-last in on-base percentage, and possessing the ninth-worst OPS.

Despite the overall metrics not showing remarkable results, Anthony Volpe’s performance stands out in certain aspects. He is the first rookie for the Yankees since Alfonso Soriano in 2001 to achieve at least 10 home runs and 15 stolen bases. 

Anthony Volpe is keeping up a pace that could allow him to surpass 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, a feat only six rookies have accomplished this millennium. Last season, Kansas City’s Bobby Witt achieved a 20/20 record, but his offensive productivity, measured by wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), was only slightly above average. Currently, Volpe holds a wRC+ of 76.

MONTHGAMES PLAYEDAVGOBPSLGOPSK%BB%WRC+
April28.217.333.337.67028.7%14.8%94
May28.174.216.376.59231.9%4.3%57
June20.196.286.375.66131.7%11.1%80

When it comes to Anthony Volpe’s defensive performance, the advanced metrics present a mixed picture. Among 21 qualified shortstops, he is ranked sixth in defensive runs saved, fifteenth in ultimate zone rating, and seventeenth in outs above average. However, according to Statcast, his arm strength is rated as the ninth weakest among shortstops.

Anthony Volpe’s difficulties are accentuated by the strong performance of Oswald Peraza, who was initially expected to be the starting shortstop for the team. Peraza has been excelling in Triple-A, boasting a batting average of.292, an on-base percentage of.360, and a slugging percentage of.563 for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team. 

Anthony Volpe, Rizzo, Aaron Judge, and Cortes celebrates after the rokkie shortstop Volpe drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in against the Orioles on May 23, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.

Yankees fervently back Anthony Volpe

Despite this, the Yankees’ management, including Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, and Aaron Boone, have consistently emphasized that sending Anthony Volpe to the minor leagues to regain his hitting form has not been a topic of discussion.

Since facing the Mets two weeks ago, Anthony Volpe has made adjustments to his mechanics. One notable change is adopting a more closed stance to prevent his front hip from opening too much. This alteration addresses a noticeable flaw in Volpe’s swing that had persisted for months, causing an uppercut motion and worsening his issue with swing-and-miss.

According to Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson, the primary objective they are working on is ensuring Anthony Volpe stays connected to the ball. While significant attention was given to his front hip, the focus was primarily on how it influenced his bat path. Before the Boston series on June 9, there was a meeting where they presented the rookie with an analysis of what was occurring and the reasons behind it. They recognized that Anthony Volpe was attempting to compensate for certain issues, and the outcomes of weak fly balls to the opposite field and ground balls to the pull side were the result of various factors rather than what one might initially assume.

The hitting coach explained that they worked on addressing the base of Volpe’s swing, his setup, and how he approached the balls. The main objective was to keep his hips more closed as he moved forward, rather than opening up and striding away from the ball. The coach stated that their goal was to accomplish this and make adjustments in these areas.

After making the necessary changes to his swing, Volpe has achieved a batting record of 8 hits out of 31 at-bats, resulting in an OPS of .862. This improvement gives hope that his adjustment could be the key to turning his season around. 

According to Anthony Volpe, his new stance has enabled him to cover a wider range of pitches on the outer part of the plate, recognize opposing pitchers’ deliveries more quickly, and refrain from swinging at pitches outside the strike zone.

Throughout the span of 11 games with the modified stance, he has achieved a batting average of.258 and an impressive on-base percentage of .378. Although he continues to struggle with consistent contact, his ability to draw has compensated for this challenge. Despite his frequent strikeouts, the Yankees are willing to accept this drawback as long as Volpe continues to deliver solid overall results.

Anthony Volpe is showcasing a smart, small-ball skill in the Yankees' win against the Rays at Yankee Stadium on May 13, 2023.
Paul Bereswill/ NYP

A work in progress

Anthony Volpe is still a work in progress as he continues to develop at the major-league level. He didn’t spend much time in Triple-A, with only 99 plate appearances there last season. At 22 years old, he acknowledges that the most significant adjustment for him in transitioning from the minor leagues is the constant adaptation of opposing pitchers’ strategies to attack him.

According to Anthony Volpe, he hasn’t consistently fulfilled the expectations he had for himself at the beginning of the season. Finding the best way to organize and process the vast amount of information that the team’s hitting coaches and outside sources provide is one area he mentioned working on. During a dinner with fellow Yankees prospect Austin Wells, while watching old videos of his minor-league performances at his house, Anthony Volpe made a decision to modify his stance. Following that dinner, he approached the Yankees’ hitting coaches to seek their opinions on the proposed adjustment.

Throughout the process, the hitting coaches have consistently provided guidance and made efforts to maintain the rookie’s confidence at its peak, recognizing that when a player loses faith in their abilities, it becomes exceedingly difficult to perform effectively at the plate.

Lawson emphasizes the Yankees’ unwavering belief in Anthony Volpe’s potential despite the scrutiny a young player like him faces in the major leagues. The challenges experienced this year are seen as temporary obstacles rather than definitive setbacks.

The Yankees contend that Anthony Volpe’s struggles at the plate and sporadic defensive errors are not the result of him being under a lot of pressure as the team’s shortstop. They point out that the same pressure negatively affected Isiah Kiner-Falefa last season.

According to Kiner-Falefa, the shortstop position holds immense importance for baseball fans due to Jeter’s influence. It’s a position where players are expected to perform well and achieve impressive statistics. If a player falls short of reaching that level, it can have significant implications, considering the position’s importance within the team and the city. Kiner-Falefa believes that aspiring shortstops should strive to match Jeter’s accomplishments, as that’s the standard set for the role.

But Anthony Volpe remarked that he avoids getting concerned about his individual statistics. He observed in his minor league experience that some teammates allowed their numbers to affect the team negatively. Therefore, he focuses on disregarding what the stat sheet says. However, it’s important to acknowledge the numbers because they play a role in evaluating a player’s performance. While occasional winning plays have their significance, the overall picture cannot be ignored.

Anthony Volpe is batting and stealing a base at Yankee Stadium in his first season, 2023.

Unique survivability of the rookie

Whenever it appears that Anthony Volpe is struggling, he manages to regain his form. During Sunday’s game, Anthony Volpe faced Nathan Eovaldi of the Texas team and swung forcefully, resulting in two strikeouts. These strikeouts brought his total to 11 in his last 24 plate appearances.

However, during his third at-bat, he chose to disregard any lingering frustration from his previous two attempts. In the eighth inning, Anthony Volpe faced reliever John King and successfully hit a double to left field on a 2-0 count. This hit played a crucial role in initiating a three-run rally for the team.

Manager Aaron Boone commented on Anthony Volpe’s performance after the Yankees’ win, highlighting his consistent display of the right mindset regardless of the circumstances. He also emphasized the importance of he being able to handle past events and the significance of focusing on the next play.

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