3 Yankees who need to step up after tough start to 2024 season

MLB: New York Yankees at Cleveland Guardians
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are off to a fantastic start to the 2024 season, currently sitting 12–4 on the year and hosting the best record in baseball. They enjoy a 2.5-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East, but they have a difficult series coming up against the Toronto Blue Jays, who currently rank in last place but have a few quality playmakers and have won four of their previous six.

With that in mind, the Yankees need to start firing on all cylinders, and they have a few players who need to step up, notably in the infield.

Three Yankees Who Need to Step Up:

1.) Anthony Rizzo

At first glance, starting first baseman Anthony Rizzo isn’t having a bad start to his year, but his glove has been problematic, and that is unusual for the form of Gold Glover.

Over 16 games, Rizzo is hitting .274/.357/.355, including one homer and seven RBIs, with a 20% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate. He’s hosting 115 wRC+, meaning he’s 15% better than the average MLB hitter, a number that he would like to keep improving on over the next few months.

In terms of his slugging metrics, Rizzo hosts a 33.3% hard-hit rate and hasn’t barreled ball this year with a 0.0% barrel percentage. His average velocity has dropped significantly to 86.6 mph, and he has a career-low launch angle of 13.9°.

Ultimately, Rizzo is showing signs of regression with age, and while he could still be shaking off the rust after ending his 2023 season prematurely due to concussion symptoms, the Yankees are hoping for more.

Defensively, he has a .969 percentage, 0 defense runs saved, and -1 out above average over 145.2 innings. This is unusual for a player known for his ability to scoop balls out of the dirt and make difficult plays look easy. However, he made two errors against the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday, which played a big part in the Yankees’ 8–7 defeat.

2.) Gleyber Torres

Another infielder trending in the wrong direction is Gleyber Torres, a 27-year-old former All-Star who is in the final year of arbitration and looking for a big payday.

Torres was recently moved off the lead-off spot and pushed to the bottom half of the order, and for good reason. Over 16 games, he’s hitting just .203/.297/.234, failing to hit a home run but recording two RBIs and three stolen bases. His 20% strikeout rate isn’t anything to write home about, and he’s earned a 10.7% walk rate, which would be the second-highest in his career.

The problem is, Torres is struggling to make damage contract contact, hosting a career low 31.4% hard hit rate and barreling just one ball good for a 2% barrel of percentage.

Torres is one of the Yankees’ key offensive pieces and is coming off one of his best campaigns in 2023, so they need him to step up offensively. His production will work wonders for the middle of the Yankees batting order, but that’s not the only area where he needs improvement.

Torres has been a liability defensively this year, with a .968 fielding percentage over 143 innings. He’s made two errors and has -1 defensive run saved.

In Sunday’s loss, Torres failed to gather a slow ground ball cleanly, which allowed a runner to score from third base to tie the game. Immediately after, the Guardians scored the winning run on a sac fly, so Torres will certainly want that one back. Eventually, he should start to heat up, but for now, the Yankees are patiently waiting.

3.) Nestor Cortes

Aside from one fantastic start last week against the Miami Marlins, Nestor Cortes has been disappointing for the most part.

Over 22 innings, Cortes hosts a 4.50 ERA, including a career-low 7.77 strikeouts per nine, a 68.8% left-on-base rate, and a 28.8% ground ball rate. He’s not walking many batters or giving up an astronomical number of homers, but he’s simply not seeing his normal consistency. On Sunday, he pitched only four innings, giving up five hits and four earned runs, including two homers.

Cortes is having trouble creating weak contact with his four-seam fastball and cutter. His four-seamer generates a .268 batting average against with a .463 slugging rate, indicating opposing batters are taking full advantage. Hitters are batting .250 against his cutter, and while his sweeper and change-up have been fantastic, his fast-ball production has simply been eratic.

Cortes is still trying to shake off the rust after a shoulder injury derailed his 2023 season, so the Yankees are giving him plenty of slack, but they need him to step up in Gerrit Cole’s absence.

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