The New York Yankees currently host a 5–5 record on the season, but their issues appear to be very similar to the 2021 campaign. General manager Brian Cashman made it clear that the team needed to upgrade the shortstop position, but after the first 10 games of the regular season, there is no sign of improvement, despite trading for Isiah Kiner-Falefa from the Minnesota Twins.
Kiner-Falefa was a priority for Cashman, who believed his contact-hitting and better defensive traits would translate to above-average shortstop play, but he’s been replaced on multiple occasions this season due to inefficiency.
The expectation was that Gleyber Torres would move back to second base, despite DJ LeMahieu being a far better player at the position. LeMahieu has moved around the infield, being used as a super-utility man to supplement a myriad of issues. However, field manager Aaron Boone has called upon Torres to play shortstop multiple times this season, already making two appearances at the position over four innings.
The more interesting shift has been pinch-hitting Kiner-Falefa in big moments, which the Yankees hoped they could avoid considering his .271 batting average last season.
From an objective standpoint, the shortstop position remains a significant problem, and the Yankees missed out on an opportunity to land Carlos Correa on a short-term deal, having signed with the Twins this off-season. By most accounts, Cashman struck out on multiple fronts, failing to upgrade SS and going into the season without an extension for Aaron judge.
There’s a legitimate question to be asking regarding Torres and his value to the team, given he’s hitting .161 this year with one homer over 36 play appearances. Of course, the season is young, but Torres struggled similarly with his power last year, hitting just nine homers over 127 games compared to 38 over 144 in 2019. Looking at his slugging metrics, Torres’s wOBA sits at just .247 this year, a career-low. His barrel percentage is down 1.1% compared to 2019, despite his exit velocity increasing.
The analytics simply don’t tell the full story with Torres, who may be facing mental hurdles rather than physical and fundamental ones.
However, Kiner-Falefa is a whole different ball game, considering he’s barely effective as a power hitter. In fact, he recorded a 1.8% barrel rate last year and hit just 28.6% in the hard-hit percentage category. With a measly exit velocity of just 85.5 mph, the Yankees shouldn’t expect Kiner-Falefa to be an impact player in the home run category but rather to get on base frequently and provide RISP.
The issue is that neither Falefa nor Torres have shown the consistency and production the Yankees desperately need. Both have dropped to the back-end of the batting order, a section that has plagued the team’s offense to start the year.