After a disappointing season where the New York Yankees failed to reach the postseason in a World Series window, Aaron Judge has begun voicing his desire to get involved in the team’s offseason plans. While it’s uncertain to what extent, the newly-appointed captain made comments regarding potential conversations he’ll have with owner Hal Steinbrenner in the near future.
“I’m excited to build off of what we got here. And if we can add a couple more pieces down the road this winter, then we’ll be in a good spot.”– Aaron Judge, via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com
Bryan Hoch also added that Aaron Judge apparently had been in talks with Hal during the season, indicating that these offseason conversations were pre-meditated rather than just spur of the moment. In recent weeks, Aaron Judge has become far more outspoken regarding his desire to make improvements, commenting on their approach changes and roster needs. With this offseason likely being one of the most important for the franchise in a while, it’s clear that change is imminent.
Where Will the Yankees Make the Most Changes?
The Yankees have always done one thing well, and that’s hit home runs. Their pursuit of the long ball isn’t surprising, with the best offenses in the sport being home run-reliant in the modern era. Similar to the way air-raid and pass-first offenses have dominated the NFL and three-point shooting has become a must in the NBA, the home run has become baseball’s efficiency darling for scoring. That being said, the Yankees have oftentimes been great at hitting HRs and solid at the other aspects of offense, which allowed them to finish second last year in Runs Scored, but 2023 has been different.
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First, the team has hit fewer HRs than it did last season, ranking ninth in HRs (219), a far cry from their league-best 254 in 2022, but that’s not the only regression they experienced. As previously stated, the Yankees thrived on hitting a lot of HRs while having a good enough average and making good enough base running decisions, as the 2022 team was 15th in average (.241) and 21st in BsR (-5.7). But in 2023, they’ve bottomed out in both departments. Their average sits at .227, the second-worst mark only ahead of the lowly Athletics, and their -13.6 BsR is tied with Miami for the second-worst mark in the sport as well.
Their walk rate only dropped from 10% to 9.3% from 2022 to 2023, but their OBP dropped from the fifth-best mark in baseball (.325) to the fourth-worst (.304), and that’s due to the role average plays in OBP. Batting average tells an incomplete story of one’s offensive contributions, and teams value it less today than they did 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that modern information and thinking prefers a lower average. Hitting for a lower average hurts your wRC+ and OPS assuming other variables such as walk-rate and Isolated Power remain constant.
Judge mentioned a shift away from the HR-centric approach in 2022, and while they likely had good intentions with this shift, manager Aaron Boone commented last postseason that chasing contact too much can lead to worse swing decisions. This checks out with their first-half swing decisions, finishing 12th in O-Swing% (Chase Rate) and 23rd in Z-Swing%, whereas last year’s team stuck to an extremely patient and passive approach that allowed them to reach base at a higher frequency.
It’s something Aaron Judge could bring up in the offseason, and that’s finding a philosophy that works alongside personnel for the team to execute their game plan. The 2022 Yankees wanted to hit HRs and work walks, and so they acquired players that allowed them to do those things. The 2023 team wanted to be more contact-oriented and athletic, but they didn’t acquire the personnel to accomplish those goals. Instead, hitters who excelled in more power-centric roles deviated from their approach, leading to frustrating results and a season to forget.
The players and front office seem to want a more collaborative process, which could result in better communication and more buy-in with their philosophies. It’s been well-documented that there will be a third-party audit evaluating the organization in October, but it’s all hands on deck when it comes to improving the Yankees’ baseball operations.