Yankees’ recent scoring woes: Is it a blip or a bigger issue?

The most famous faces at the Yankees dugout watching a game anxiously at Yankee Stadium on April 23, 2023.

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When starter Sonny Gray struggled during his time in New York, the Yankees ultimately decided to part ways with him. However, in Monday’s game against his ex-team, Gray put on a dominant performance, holding the Yankees’ strong batting lineup scoreless for seven innings.

Aaron Hicks‘ attempted bunt for a hit in the third inning failed to make a dent in Gray’s pitching. The Yankees couldn’t seem to get anything going against their former teammate and suffered a 6-1 loss to the Twins. The game serves as a reminder that baseball can be unpredictable, and even struggling players can turn things around with the right team and circumstances.

“We’ve got to try to jump out early on teams, score early, and put the pressure on them,” Yankees captain Aaron Judge said. “Right now, we’re kind of taking a while getting into the game, feeling it, and not doing the job. We’ve got to jump on them early, and that starts tomorrow.”

In their last four games, the Yankees have only managed to score six runs, and they narrowly avoided their first shutout loss of the year thanks to a surge in the ninth inning. Gray dominated his former team, with a remarkable eight strikeouts and just three hits allowed and drove home the point of how unreliable was the Yankees offense.

A downcast manager Aaron Boone tried to put a brave face. He said, “we’ve got to find a way to do a little better than all that.”

With $57.7 million of the Yankees’ 2023 payroll failing to produce any offensive results, it begs the question: Is their current scoring slump a fleeting phase or a deeper, more concerning issue?

Yankees’ downhill performance

With 4.23 runs scored per game through Sunday, the Yankees are 10th out of 15 American League teams. They are ninth in on-base percentage (.307), ninth in average (.227), and eighth in OPS (.706).

They have scored three runs or less eight times in their last ten games. Because the same players led the league in runs scored, home runs, and walks last season, the Yankees still consider their offense to be among the best.

They believe that since there are 162 games throughout the season, their cream will rise. Perhaps, but athletes age, experience bad seasons, and sustain injuries.

The Yankees must consider themselves extremely fortunate that they are just six games behind the 19-3 Rays in the AL East standings rather than 10 or 12. Given the minuscule sample size of their performance thus far this season, the Yankees’ offense has consistently been below average to terrible.

“We still won decent amount lately,” catcher Kyle Higashioka said.

He is correct, but a reasonable amount is insufficient given how the Rays are performing.

After 19 games in 2018, the Red Sox had a record of 17-2, while the Yankees fell 7 ½ games behind in April. Despite their efforts, the Yankees were unable to catch up for the remainder of the season. The Red Sox went on to win 108 games and defeated the Yankees in the Division Series en route to capturing the World Series championship.

“It’s a long season,” rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe said. “I feel like if we just continue doing what we’re doing, everything else will come around. We’re definitely not panicking, but we’re just going to keep working.”

Volpe was apparently feeling pretty good about his new squad, but he was completely mistaken. The Yankees can’t count on their pitching staff coming to the rescue all season if they keep playing the way they have been.

Aaron Judge is at Yankees dugout and fans are looking at him.

After a hot start, most of that small group faded away. This included Stanton, Cordero, Judge, and Gleyber Torres. Since Rizzo’s back hasn’t given out yet, the Yankees should count their blessings.

“There’s been a lot of things here these first few weeks that have been challenging for us,” Boone said. “We’ve got to score more than we have here lately and part of it is we’re banged up. We’ve got to find ways. Right now, we’re struggling to roll out a crooked number.”

In the first half of last season, the Yankees scored 4.88 runs per game on average. Even with Aaron Judge having a field day, there were just 4.02 runs in the second half. Other than Judge, the Yankees had a post-All-Star 2022 batting line of.232/.291/.360. That is awful.

Where are the Yankees offensive heroes

The Yankees failed to score more than three runs on Sunday for the eighth time in their last ten games. They are 20th out of 30 teams in the early going of this season, averaging 4.23 runs per game. Other offensive Yankees players include:

Judge’s offensive performance in the previous season was nothing short of exceptional. As the reigning AL MVP, he recorded a slash line of .311/.425/.686, with a staggering 211 OPS+, the highest by any qualified hitter in a 162-game season since Barry Bonds in 2004 (who had a 263 OPS+). Furthermore, Judge set a new American League single-season record by hitting 62 home runs. This type of season is a rarity that only occurs once in a generation.

Judge’s slash line of .244/.344/.500 along with six home runs and 31 strikeouts (fifth most in baseball) is impressive, but he hasn’t quite lived up to his reputation as the most dangerous hitter in the game this season. Currently in a slump of 5 for 37 (.135) hits, Judge’s lack of hitting has been detrimental to the Yankees’ offense, as much of their production relies on him.

It’s unlikely that Judge will replicate his outstanding performance from 2022 in the current season. Although he has been a top performer throughout his career, this year has been his weakest. In 2021, Judge’s slash line was .287/.373/.544, earning him fourth place in the AL MVP vote. Nevertheless, it’s only a matter of time before Judge returns to form, as his struggles are temporary. Until then, the Yankees may have trouble producing runs.

The rookies are playing like rookies

Anthony Volpe looks unhappy during the game that ended in Yankees loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, Apr 23, 2023.
Corey Sipkin/ NYP

The Yankees passed on signing a top free agent shortstop the past two offseasons, instead giving the reigns to No. 1 prospect Anthony Volpe who ultimately prevailed in spring training against No. 2 prospect Oswald Peraza. They’re both playing presently (with Peraza at third base) due to injury.

In addition, excellent utility guy Oswaldo Cabrera now plays left field most of the time. Cabrera was no longer considered a rookie as of the 2023 season, despite having only 171 big league at-bats under his belt. All three of these first-year players are still finding their footing at the professional level, and they make up a third of the starting lineup.

Cabrera (in left field) and Peraza (3rd base) have both played well defensively in new positions, and Volpe’s recent play has been considerably better than his overall slash line indicates. On Sunday, his streak of reaching base safely in consecutive games at 10 was interrupted. During that time, he hit .265 (9-for-34) with two home runs and eight walks (.405%). Because to this, Volpe is now batting first in the order.

“We’re starting to see those at-bats where it’s just like, he’s a load up there,” Boone told reporters, including the New York Post, after Volpe went 2 for 4 with a walk and a steal last Wednesday. “Because he doesn’t chase, makes them work, really stings some balls. Got behind in some counts and battles his way back.”

For young batters to succeed in the big leagues, they frequently require time—sometimes even an entire season or two. Even Mike Trout has before been dropped to Triple-A. All three players, Cabrera, Peraza, and Volpe, are well-liked and have promising futures with the Yankees. However, none of the three has had much success at the bat thus far except the last ten games of Volpe’s career.

The Yankees act of balancing

The Yankees must perform a tricky balancing act. Although Judge and Gerrit Cole are now in their 30s, and New York’s best opportunity to win a World Series is with those two in their prime, they are committed to the young players and must deal with the growing pains. How long do you wait for the kids to settle in? Does their prime align with the rest of the cores? It’s a fair question.

Volpe’s track record in the minors shows that it takes him three to four weeks to get up to a new level, and we’ve started to see those changes in the last week or so. His bat discipline is very good (his walk rate is in the top 20 in MLB), and he runs the bases like a wild animal. Volpe has never been caught stealing a base, and he is always jumping around to get pitchers’ attention. The best is yet to come for them.

But right now, all three are still trying to figure things out in the show, and they’ve been a drag on the attack as a whole. There are three starting spots in question. They may need a few dozen plate appearances before they can help. Some prospects don’t work out right away, and these three haven’t. 

The Yankees miss the depth

Willie Calhoun was assigned as the No. 5 player in New York’s lineup on Saturday afternoon, and Franchy Cordero was the No. 6 player. Reader, that is a Big Problem. With all due credit to Calhoun and Cordero, who have hit a combined .169/.217/.385 this year, they are not expected to bat in the middle of the order for a team that thinks it can win the World Series, even if they are hurt.

The Yankees signed Calhoun to a minor-league deal over the winter, and they signed Cordero the day before Opening Day because the Baltimore Orioles, who are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East, thought he wasn’t worth a roster spot. This bench gives the Yankees no other options besides what they put in their starting lineup:

Now that Peraza is in the big leagues, the Yankees don’t have any clear answers or even band-aids in Triple-A. Jake Bauers, a journeyman, has had a great start in Triple-A (.333/.479/.860 with eight home runs), so he might do better than Calhoun or Cordero. But that’s not really a good answer. That’s like throwing something at the wall and hoping it sticks.

Bader and Stanton have been on the injured list before, and the Yankees’ lack of good backups — again, they signed Cordero to fill out the bench the day before Opening Day — is a flaw in the way they put together their team. After the second half of last year, the attack didn’t get any upgrades or high-end depth adds, and it shows.

How can the Yankees get better at running the bases?

Right now, the Yankees can only do nothing but wait. Wait for Judge to go on his expected hot run, let the kids get used to the game, and let Bader and Stanton get healthy. In April, there are no free agents to sign, and trades that matter are rarely made. The very bad Oakland Athletics would probably move Seth Brown and/or Ramón Laureano, but they are both on the sick list, so forget that.

Yankees Aaron Judge and Aaron Boone look on as their offense fail against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on April 23, 2023.

When you play your best, you’re never as good as you look, and when you play your worst, you’re never as bad as you look. New York’s attack is at its worst right now. Before this 10-game slump, this same team averaged 5.08 runs per game in its first 12 games. Somewhere in the middle is where the real Yankees are. In sports, there are peaks and valleys, and the Yankees are currently in a valley. The red flag is that this valley looks a lot like the valley where the team ended last year.

Are injuries only to blame?

After only two weeks on the field, Giancarlo Stanton went down with another injury and won’t be back until six weeks. Harrison Bader has yet to fully recover from the injuries he sustained during spring training. Talk of a rebound season for Josh Donaldson ended when he went on the disabled list six games into the season, and he hasn’t returned yet due to a setback.

Injuries are a fact of life for all 30 MLB teams, including the Yankees, who currently have three players on the injured list. The Yankees are missing three regular position players in addition to Rodón, Severino, and certain relievers:

The Yankees have had some injuries, but that’s something every club has to be ready for. Only Stanton can be counted on to be an above-average hitter among the three. Before his injury, he had a 113 OPS+ in 13 games, during which he hit three doubles and four home runs. Without a doubt, losing Stanton weakens the starting lineup. Bader’s five home runs in the postseason were an anomaly after he hit.250/.295/.356 in the regular season while playing through a foot ailment. Is this his new normal? If so, perhaps he’ll return as Trout 2.0. Bader has a proven track record of being an elite defender but a below-average hitter. In what ways does he contribute to the offense?

At this point in time, the Yankees would be better off offensively without Donaldson. Before landing on the disabled list, he went 2 for 16 (.125), and after June 1 of last year, he hit.216/.292/.359 in nearly 400 plate appearances. Against right-handed pitchers specifically, he hit an unplayable.198/.275/.326. For about a year now, Donaldson, who is already 37 years old, has looked like a hitter on the decline.

It’s a big loss to lose Stanton for six weeks. Stanton is still capable of being a game-changing bat, but the Yankees shouldn’t be shocked that he spent significant time (approximately 40% of games from 2019-22) on the disabled list.

Their healthy starters, including their captain, have failed to live up to expectations, with Anthony Rizzo as the lone exception. Aaron Judge has been productive so far this season, hitting six home runs and driving in eleven runs in just twenty-one games, but his .244 average took a hit after he went 0-for-4 in Sunday’s 5-1 defeat to the Blue Jays.

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are with Yankees staff at their spring training camp in Tampa, Florida.

After this many games, Judge hasn’t had a batting average this low since 2016, his pre-rookie year. He opened up the game by hitting like he did in 2022, when he blasted 62 home runs and nearly won the Triple Crown.In his first 11 games, he hit.341 with four home runs, but in his past 11, he has hit.135.

The Yankees can only sit tight for the time being. Wait for the kids to settle in, wait for Bader and Stanton to get healthy, and wait for the inevitable Judge hot streak. No free agents are available, and significant trades are rarely completed in April. Before this current 10-game skid, this is the same team that scored 5.08 runs per game on average in its first 12 contests. True New Yorkers can be found in the middle. Sport is full of ups and downs, and the Yankees are currently in one of the latter.

“It’s only April. Onward and upward,” Boone said Sunday. “We start a tough road trip (this week). Overall, I think we are playing really well while we are hoping and waiting for the guys to get back. But it has allowed other guys to step up, and they have done that. We just have to keep pushing right now when it’s tough, and keep grinding away offensively.”

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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One thought on “Yankees’ recent scoring woes: Is it a blip or a bigger issue?

  1. The Yankees are playing like they always have for the last 10 years, depending on the long ball, when that fails, they’re toast. The are not able to string three or four hits together. Couple this with their strong pitching giving homers like it’s Christmas and there’s Gleybor, just when you think he’s back on it, whiff another 4 at bats that leave scratching your head. Let not forget about his defensive miscue specifically today which permitted that runner to get to second. To third on bunt and relief pitchers not consistently doing the job. Somebody has got to go!

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