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Why Yankees Injuries May Be a Blessing in Disguise

The 2019 New York Yankees have been bitten by the injury bug all year, but yet continue to find success. Which begs the question, are all the injuries indeed a blessing in disguise?

On Opening Day, March 28th, if you had been told that the New York Yankees would be 32-17 throughout their first 49 games, you’d probably believe it. However, if you were told the same thing on April 20, 2019, the day when Yankees superstar slugger Aaron Judge was sidelined with a left oblique strain, adding him to a long list of Yankees on the injured list, you’d probably laugh in disbelieve.

Well believe it or not, here we are. Throughout the 2019 season, the Yankees have been decimated by injuries. Crucial pieces like Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks have missed time. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, are still on the Injured List. Worst of all, last year’s rookie sensation Miguel Andujar will miss the entire season with right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. It’s hard to find a team in recent history that has been bitten by the injury bug as hard as the Yankees have this season.

Against all logic and odds however, after a rough 5-8 start to the season, the Yankees have gone 27-9 in their last 36 games. New York currently stands in first place in the AL East. They have the third best record in the American League and fourth best in all of Major League Baseball. What the Yankees are currently doing with such an injury-riddled roster is nothing short of remarkable.

Which begs the question; Are the Yankees injuries indeed a blessing in disguise? Believe it or not, it is in some ways. Now of course you never want to wish injury on any player in any sport. And you certainly don’t want to claim that any player getting hurt is a good thing in any way, shape, or form. But it still needs to be said that the Yankees are benefiting in some ways from so much of their roster being out.

Next Man Up

First, foremost, and most obviously, the Yankees injuries have forced other players on their roster to step up, both regulars and newcomers. This has, in the process, helped their development. Gleyber Torres is building off his impressive rookie campaign from last season. Gary Sanchez is starting to mount a campaign for AL Comeback Player of the Year. Luke Voit is proving that last season was no fluke. DJ LeMahieu is proving to be one of the Yankees best signings in a long time. Domingo German has emerged as a pitcher who could be an ace in the rotation.

By far the biggest surprise has been third-baseman Giovanny Urshela. The Yankees first acquired Gio from the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations last August. Urshela was always known to be a plus defender at third base, but could never put it all together at the plate. Well in 38 games this year, Urshela has set the baseball world on fire. He’s currently hitting for a slash line of .333 BA, .383 OBP, .470 SLG, for a .853 OPS.

Most of all, he’s gotten multiple big hits for the Yankees, such as his game-tying home run at home against the Seattle Mariners on May 7, and his game-winning hit against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 17. The pickup of Gio Ushela has been the latest example of Brian Cashman and the Yankees ability to find hidden diamonds in the rough.

More Balanced Lineup

Second and more importantly, the Yankees injuries have ultimately opened the door for them to fix a big problem that plagued them throughout most of 2018, as well as the beginning of 2019. That was their one dimensional offense. Last season, the Yankees were way too reliant on the home run. Their game plan offensively pretty much every game was to draw walks and hit home runs. There wasn’t nearly enough contact hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, and way too many strikeouts.

In 2018, the Yankees hit 267 home runs, the most ever by a team in a single season. They also had 625 walks, the third most in the majors. However, as a team the Yankees hit just .249, 16th in all of the MLB, and hit just .253 with runners in scoring position, 12th in the MLB. The Yankees had the 16th most hits in the majors with 1374 and struck out 1421 times, ninth most in the majors. That’s a total of 47 more strikeouts than hits.

This one-dimensional lineup bit the Yankees big time in the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox. Multiple times when the Yankees had runners in scoring position, they failed to capitalize and often struck out. As important as power hitting and drawing walks are in today’s MLB, you need contact and clutch hitting just as much, especially in the postseason.

Now in 2019, the Yankees have their two biggest power bats sidelined in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Aaron Boone and company know their current lineup’s power is severely compromised. Therefore, the Yankees were forced to perfect the thing they were looking to perfect. That is hitting for more contact, striking out less, and capitalizing on scoring opportunities.

So far, you can definitely see that the adjustments the Yankees have made offensively have been working. Throughout their first 48 games, over a quarter of the season, the Yankees have been hitting .257 as team. That’s fifth best in the majors. New York has also only struck out 414 times, 20th in the majors. Most of all, the Yankees are hitting .272 with runners in scoring position, the fifth best in all of the MLB. All three are major improvements in crucial areas that the Bronx Bombers struggled in last year.

Is This Sustainable?

This is what we have to ask ourselves. Had all the Yankees power hitters stayed healthy, would they have made all of these adjustments? Or would they have continued to be the same home run, walk, and strikeout team they were last year? Back on April 3, the Yankees sixth game of the season, they set a franchise record 18 strikeouts in a single game in a 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

Personally, I still believe the Yankees would have figured it out and made the adjustments they have currently made anyway. They stressed all throughout spring training how that was one of the things they were striving for offensively. However, losing all of their power hitters has naturally made the Yankees a more contact hitting lineup. This has made the adjustment phase much easier for the Bronx Bombers.

The rest Yankees injured hitters will eventually come back, most notably Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Didi Gregorius. And rightfully so, as it’s outlandish to believe that the Yankees will continue their hot play without those key players. However, when they do come back, will the Yankees revert back to their all or nothing ways?

The answer is, probably not. First and foremost, when the Yankees get both their slugging outfielders back, those being Judge & Stanton, the odd men out will likely be Cameron Maybin, Brett Gardner, and Clint Frazier, none of whom are particularly high contact hitters, at least at this point in their careers. The place where the Yankees have the most contact hitting is in their infield. Even then, Didi Gregorius is a high contact, low strikeout hitter himself. Furthermore, with how versatile DJ LeMahieu is in the infield with his Gold Glove defense, there’s little reason to doubt that Aaron Boone will be able to get all of his guys playing time.

A month ago in April, when the Yankees began to be severely hurt by the injury bug, it was all doom and gloom in the Bronx. Understandably so as things weren’t looking good. Now in May, with the Yankees rolling, we can now see the positives that have come from all the injuries. It has forced other guys to step up and take a major step in their development as young baseball players.

But most of all, it has helped them master key skills that they failed to master last year. Those are hitting for contact, striking out less, and getting big hits with runners in scoring position. Best of all, when the Yankees get back to being fully healthy, they’ll have a chance to mesh their power hitting with the small ball that they’ve played to create a perfectly balanced lineup. And if the Yankees can do just that, they’ll have an excellent chance of bringing their 28th World Series championship home to the Bronx this October.

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