A baseball detective delving into what was wrong with the New York teams would not find just one single failure.
Nevertheless, the clues do lead to specific core failings: The Mets had a pitching problem and the Yankees a hitting one.
The Mets were 27-4 in the first half when they simply produced a six-inning start. Mind you, not a quality start. Just a starter covering six innings. It enabled the Mets to better protect an overworked, underwhelming bullpen.
The problem is they had just 31 starts covering six innings, which ranked as the 23rd-most in the majors. That was tied with the Yankees, who were better equipped to handle shorter starts because their pitching program — from acquisition to development to deployment — had produced so many bullpen success stories. However, even the Yankees pen has seemed to fade with overuse lately.
Still, the Yankees’ main issue was on offense, particularly after Aaron Judge injured his right big toe on June 3. Judge had long served as human camouflage for all that was wrong around him. Think about Steve Carell leaving “The Office.” The show carried on, but it just wasn’t the same. Judge’s disappearance exposed the feebleness of what was around him.
Overall, the pitching was strong enough that if they just hit more, the Yankees would be in a comfortable playoff position. They were 40-11 at the break simply when scoring four or more runs. The .784 winning percentage was fifth-best in the majors, but the 51 times reaching four or more runs was only the 18th-most.
So for this week’s version of “Roster stuff maybe only I care about,” I wondered if we could go to the root of the cause. Basically, could we take a look at all of the teams’ original signings to see how the Mets have done with pitching and how the Yankees have done with hitting?
Original signings are tricky because, for example, the Yankees did a lot of the development of players such as Michael King and Gleyber Torres. But the Yankees obtained both players in trades from the organizations that signed them to their initial professional contracts — the Marlins and Cubs, respectively.
What we are drilling down on here are the players the New York clubs drafted, signed internationally or signed as undrafted free agents (think: Mike Ford for the Yankees and Grant Hartwig for the Mets).
The Yankees completed the first half with 47 players who signed their original pro contracts with the organization and appeared in the majors in 2023. The Mets had 39.
Here is one view of the best 26-man rosters that each club could form. I leave it up to you to decide who would win a seven-game series:
C: Francisco Alvarez
1B: Pete Alonso
2B: Andres Gimenez
SS: Amed Rosario
3B: Brett Baty
LF: Jarred Kelenic
CF: Brandon Nimmo
RF: Jeff McNeil
DH: Michael Conforto
Bench: Wilmer Flores, Luis Guillorme, Tomas Nido, Dominic Smith
Rotation: Jacob deGrom, Seth Lugo, Tylor Megill, David Peterson, Kodai Senga
Closer: Paul Sewald
Bullpen: Michael Fulmer, Hartwig, Colin Holderman, Steven Matz, Collin McHugh, Rafael Montero, Domingo Tapia
C: Kyle Higashioka
1B: Mike Ford
2B: Thairo Estrada
SS: Jorge Mateo
3B: Anthony Volpe
LF: Ezequiel Duran
CF: Aaron Judge
RF: Rob Refsnyder
DH: Josh Smith
Bench: Oswaldo Cabrera, Jake Cave, Gary Sanchez, Tyler Wade
Rotation: Nestor Cortes, Jordan Montgomery, Clarke Schmidt, Randy Vazquez, Garrett Whitlock
Closer: David Robertson
Bullpen: John Brebbia, Giovanny Gallegos, Tommy Kahnle, Ron Marinaccio, Elvis Peguero, Trevor Stephan, Hayden Wesnewski
There is a lot to say about both rosters, but let’s delve into the areas that are most negatively impacting the 2023 teams.
Four of the 13 pitchers listed for the Mets are still with the club, and, of those, only the high-priced buy of Kodai Senga is working out. The regressions of Megill and Peterson have been instrumental in the Mets’ underachievement this season. The Mets let Lugo go in free agency after never giving him a full chance as a starter. Lugo signed a two-year, $15 million pact with the Padres, but the second year is a $7.5 million player option that Lugo has pitched well enough to decide not to pick up. In 13 starts, Lugo had a 3.78 ERA.
Of all the homegrown pitchers on this team who have left the Mets, only Fulmer (the Yoenis Cespedes trade) brought a return that truly helped the club. If the Mets could go back and undo the Holderman/Daniel Vogelbach trade from the 2022 trade deadline, they would. Holderman represents the kind of optional/capable reliever that Billy Eppler obtained in bulk in the offseason with too little to show for the maneuvering.
That I put deGrom on the team, though he made just six starts before needing elbow surgery, reflects the lack of options. The choice could have been Matz, who has pitched poorly as a starter for the Cardinals. Jose Quintana, who was signed out of Colombia by the Mets in 2006, is due to make his first start of this season on Thursday.
One area in which the Mets have had success is drafting lefty hitters in the first round: Nimmo (13th overall pick), Smith (11th), Conforto (10th), Kelenic (6th) and Baty (12th). For a team that plays with a short right-field porch, the Yankees have failed to find quality lefty bats in the draft. But, to be fair, all of those Mets were taken with a top-13 pick. The Yankees have not had a top-13 pick since selecting Matt Drews in 1993 with the No. 13 pick.
Still, the lack of offensive oomph the Yankees have found in the draft in particular is stark. There is Judge and then … probably now Volpe? After him … Refsnyder or Higashioka? The Yankees have had better success internationally, but there is no Ronald Acuña Jr., Wander Franco or Juan Soto here. The best of the current group is probably Estrada, whose contract the Yankees sold to the Giants for nothing in return early in the 2021 season, or Duran, the most costly piece (so far) moved as part of the ill-fated Joey Gallo deal.
You will note Sanchez on the bench doing Sanchez things in 2023, mainly for the Padres: He is homering in 5.87 percent of his plate appearances (right at his career norm), striking out 24.8 percent of the time and hitting .189.
His fall, along with Miguel Andujar (who had 33 plate appearances with the Pirates before being demoted), represents lost opportunity from the recent past. It seems to be playing out again with Cabrera, who has plummeted this year after such a promising rookie debut in 2022, and Estevan Florial, who no longer is even on the 40-man roster. Will Oswald Peraza, called up to replace the injured Josh Donaldson, show he belongs as a regular major leaguer?
Whose career do you got?
They all arrived during their age-22 seasons in 2010. They all are in their age-35 seasons now. And they all are having excellent seasons: Kenley Jansen made the AL All-Star team, Craig Kimbrel the NL All-Star team and Aroldis Chapman is back to averaging nearly 100 mph with his fastball and already was traded from the Royals into a playoff chase with the Rangers.
At the All-Star break, Chapman ranked fifth in Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement for relievers, Jansen was 17th and Kimbrel 28th. It is a revival, in particular, for Chapman, who went AWOL on the Yankees and was left off their postseason roster last year to conclude a career-worst season and Kimbrel, who was left off the Dodgers’ postseason roster based strictly on performance.
Jansen has never really had a poor season. Kimbrel’s highs were probably the highest. Chapman at his peak likely was the most fearsome.
They have been jockeying for close to 15 years now to be the preeminent reliever of this era, and the similarities remain stark.
Jansen had appeared in 798 games (through the All-Star break), Kimbrel 748 and Chapman 701. Among the 262 pitchers who had appeared in at least 500 career games in relief, Chapman ranked first in strikeouts per nine innings (14.8), Kimbrel second (14.3) and Jansen third (12.9). In ERA, Kimbrel was third (2.37), Chapman fifth (2.46) and Jansen sixth (2.49).
Kimbrel has been bad in the playoffs, Chapman has given up three of the biggest homers in postseason history (though also he helped the Cubs win the 2016 World Series) and Jansen was not good when the Dodgers lost the World Series in 2017 to the Astros (yep, that series has other layers) and he was ousted as the postseason closer in 2020 as the Dodgers were on their way to their first championship since 1988.
The Red Sox received a lot of industry criticism when they signed Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract — plus another $15.4 million in posting fees to Orix Buffaloes, his team in Japan. It was not hard to find executives who felt the Red Sox paid twice as much as Yoshida was worth, namely because there were questions about his ability to play defensively.
And his defense is subpar.
But his offense is terrific, a key element in why the Red Sox completed the weekend as wild-card contenders at six games over .500. Yoshida was hitting .315 with 11 homers, 58 RBIs and just 38 strikeouts against 27 walks. Say what you want about his defense, but his lefty bat sure would have looked good in the Yankees’ anemic lineup.
Yoshida is barging his way into consideration to get somewhere on the Rookie of the Year ballot. But it is a tough year. Texas All-Star third baseman Josh Jung has been the front-runner. Baltimore third baseman Gunnar Henderson and reliever Yennier Cano will be under consideration, as will Houston starter Hunter Brown with others such as Volpe, Angels shortstop Zach Neto and Cleveland starters Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee on the periphery.
Got my attention
It is not just that the Yankees have been bad since Judge went down. It is that the rest of the AL East has been good.
The Yankees were 15-19 since losing Judge (through the weekend). The Rays were 19-17. The three best records in the AL in that time frame belong to the Orioles (21-13), Blue Jays (21-14) and Red Sox (20-15).
I wonder what it would be like to go out for a night on the town in New York with Josh Donaldson and Daniel Vogelbach.
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