Now that I’ve had close to 48 hours to decompress, I’m in a better position to reflect upon what was the Yankees’ 2022 season. Needless to say, a comprehensive review and analysis would be far too expansive for this space, but I do want to go a little further than the “hot takes” we’re used to from the sports media and social media crowds.
For starters, the Yankees’ 2022 season was a very good season. If you feel that 99 wins in an insanely tough division, an AL Division Series win and a loss to the league’s best team in the ALCS is not a good season I have some advice for you: As someone who spends a good deal of time making arguments, that would be an impossible argument to make.
It was inarguably a good season, but that comes with a couple of caveats…
The season won’t be remembered for being a very good one, even by those among us who acknowledge the overall success. I don’t want to speak for you, dear reader, but I’m sure I’m not alone in saying the memories of the organization inexplicably sticking with Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson when there were clearly better options available, and Aaron Boone’s morphing into late-era Joe Girardi, with a proclivity to always choose the low man on the bullpen totem pole in key spots – again, when better options were available – will stick in our minds far longer than the 99 wins.
This brings us to caveat number one: It was a good season but it clearly could (should?) have been better. We’ll never know if Oswald Peraza at shortstop and Oswaldo Cabrera at third base (which would allow an offensive threat to be inserted in the lineup in LF and/or DH) on a regular basis would have made a difference in the ALCS, but it was obvious to all involved that IKF and Donaldson were part of the problem.
We’ll never know if Boone sticking with a good starting pitcher or going to Jonathan Loáisiga, Wandy Peralta, or Clay Holmes in critical spots instead of going to lesser bullpen options would have made a difference either. But baseball fans have known for years (and Yankee fans can confirm from watching Joe Girardi manage) that not using your best arms in key mid/late-inning situations rarely works out – and Boone tried it multiple times anyway – and failed.
Secondly, the “good, but could have been better” end-of-season descriptor is what I call the Cashman special. I’ve written extensively about Cashman’s two-and-a-half-decade tenure before, so there’s no need to rehash completely, but I’m not giving him credit for inheriting a roster built by his predecessors for his early success, nor am I crediting him with the 2009 ring which was purchased by the Steinbrenners. Every other year of his 25-year tenure has essentially been the same:
The Yankees have a good season, but have their season ended (by and large) by a better roster that was built by a better GM. James Click, Matt Silverman, Dave Dombrowski, Jeff Luhnow, Ben Cherington, Alex Anthopolous, and Jon Daniels all built teams that outperformed the Yankees in either the regular or postseason (or both in the cases of Click, Silverman, Dombrowski, Luhnow, and Cherington) since the ’09 title and all but Dombrowski did it with fewer financial resources.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll be nice to Brian and not get into the extent to which Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman completely outclassed him in the previous decade.
What needs to change ongoing? That’s too long to cover here, but as you’d imagine I’d smile if I never saw Cashman again and I’d shed no tears if a new GM wanted a new manager.
That said, let’s talk about what was NOT the problem.
The problem was not (insert screaming sports radio caller voice or ALL CAPS from social media experts) that the Yankees rely on “analytics” and “nerds” too much. They just had their pinstripes handed to them over 162 games and a playoff series by a team that relies on data as much as any other team, if not more.
It wasn’t that the Yankees were “too home run dependent”. The Astros are 7-0 in the postseason, have scored 75% of their runs on the long ball, and their three-time batting champion is hitting .094 while striking out in 31% of his plate appearances during the playoffs. Let’s not forget that Houston was also without Michael Brantley, a great hitter with a very high contact rate.
Also let’s not forget that in the ALDS, the high-contact Cleveland Guardians averaged only 2.8 runs per game in the ALDS, despite being historically lucky*. (*The 2021 White Sox had 10 base hits on balls batted under 80 mph in the ALDS – a then-MLB record. The 2022 Guardians had 17 – seventeen- such hits.)
Sometimes you’re the victim of a small sample size like a playoff series, and sometimes you just get beat by a better team – both of those were likely factors in the Yanks’ ALCS loss. Often disappointment can be assuaged by those realities.
Unless that’s the case every season, as it has been for a long time under Brian Cashman.
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