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Can the 2022 Yankees’ offense make baseball history?

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Can the 2022 Yankees’ offense make baseball history?

Town Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

The New York Yankees‘offense is a juggernaut.

In 2021, the Yanks won 92 games and earned a wild-card berth because of their pitching. Last year’s club finished a measly 19th in MLB in runs scored and had only two players – Giancarlo Stanton spirit Aaron Judge – post above-average hitting numbers over the full season. That offensive ineptitude reared its head at the worst possible time, as the Yankees bowed out of the postseason against the Red Sox in the AL Wild-Card Game.

As a result, there was legitimate concern heading into this season about whether the Bronx Bombers would … well … bomb. A healthy Judge and a healthy Stanton were locks to rake, sure, but the supporting cast had a mountain of questions.

Could Anthony Rizzo repeat his productive post-trade performance in a full year? Would DJ LeMahieu spirit Gleyber Torres bounce back after lackluster seasons? Could Joey Gallo overcome an avalanche of strikeouts? How much juice did new addition Josh Donaldson have left?

Well, six weeks into the 2022 season, the Yankees’ offense has destroyed all expectations by destroying all baseballs. Small-sample caveats aside, Judge and Stanton have been two of the best hitters in baseball, while the rest of the lineup (except for the catchers) has been remarkably productive.

The supporting cast has more homers than 11 other big-league teams. With those Judge and Stanton blasts, the club leads baseball in home runs and is first in the American League in runs scored per game.

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But when you pop open the hood, the numbers are even more impressive. The Yankees’ offense hasn’t just been good; it has been historically good. And while injuries and a larger sample should push things back toward equilibrium, there’s reason to believe the Yankees have actually been quite unlucky so far in 2022. Somehow, there’s more in the tank here, and this offense is only getting started.

The Yankees’ team 123 OPS + isn’t just tops in the league right now. It’s also on par with the single greatest lineup by OPS + in baseball history, the 2017 Houston Astros. That’s right, folks: If the 2022 Yankees keep hitting at this pace – there are reasons they might and reasons they might not; more on that later – they’d tie the can-banging Astros for the best single-season team OPS + in the integration era.

Let’s quickly explain the difference between OPS + and OPS: OPS is ISLANDn Base Plus Slugging, which measures how often a batter gets on base plus how many bases he accumulates when he reaches base. It’s a basic but solid stat that goes beyond batting average by incorporating a player’s power output and patience at the plate.

OPS + pushes it a step further by taking into account 1) the league run-scoring environment and 2) stadium park factors. It then normalizes the measure onto a simple scale in which 100 is league average.

Understanding the bones of OPS + is crucial to understanding why the Yankees’ offense this season is even better than meets the eye. The team’s .749 OPS is not an eye-popping number; it’s not the best in baseball this season (the Phillies are at .750).

But when you consider that Yankee Stadium, despite the short porch in right, grades out as a pitcher-friendly yard and that the deadened baseball has created an extremely low run-scoring environment in MLB this season, the Yankees’ offense (in an admittedly small, 35-game sample) goes from great to historically elite.

A big part of that offensive success is attributable to the one and only Aaron Judge. Sure, the new baseballs do not fly as far, but that seems to have had less of a negative impact on Judge, who usually hits his big flies well beyond the fence. Through 142 plate appearances, Judge has a 194 OPS +, fourth in baseball behind only Manny Machado, Mike Trout spirit Angels breakout slugger Taylor Ward.

Also, Judge’s 12 homers lead the league and put him on pace to finish with more than 40. The Detroit Tigers currently have 18 homers as a team.

Judge turned down a massive contract extension from the Yankees just before Opening Day, essentially betting on himself to turn in a superb 2022 and cash in during free agency. In the early going, he has done exactly that. If he stays healthy, this could very well be Judge’s best season since his 2017 breakout.

Meanwhile, Giancarlo Stanton is still Giancarlo Stanton: a ton of strikeouts, not a lot of walks, and whenever he makes contact, the baseball shoots into the sky like a bat out of hell. Nobody hits the ball harder than Stanton, and despite his tendency to swing and miss, he’s still a dynamic hitter.

With Stanton now in his fifth year with the Yankees, it’s unlikely that he will ever return to his supersonic 2017 season, in which he bashed 59 homers, but he has settled into a solid All-Star-level player. Not too shabby.

Beyond those two, the biggest surprise for New York has been Anthony Rizzo. After being traded from the Cubs last summer, Rizzo re-signed in the Bronx as a free agent.

So far in 2022, he has been outstanding, smashing 10 homers to go with a 153 OPS +. The short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium has become Rizzo’s new best friend, as the lefty is taking full advantage.

But as I said, the Yankees have actually been unlucky so far this season. xwOBA, which stands for Expected Weighted On-Base Average, is a complicated stat that sounds like a Star Wars character, but it does a great job accounting for quality of contact. Essentially, xwOBA uses Statcast batted ball data to determine how well a player or a team should be hitting, based on how hard they’re hitting the ball and how often they’re hitting it hard.

The Yankees have the second-largest gap in baseball between their wOBA and their xWOBA, which means they’ve been notably unlucky. Their hard-hit balls are turning into outs more often than those of any other team except the White Sox. Baseball is a game of enormous chance, but over the course of a season, outcomes tend to return toward expected output, which is good news for the Yankees.

On the flip side, so far the club has been really fortunate in avoiding injuries. That likely will not last. The natural wear and tear of the long MLB season eventually impacts every team. When the Yankees’ time comes, and regulars are forced to spend time on the injured list, the team will be forced to call on replacements, who will almost surely bring down the overall offensive numbers. That’s normal.

But when you consider how relatively unlucky the club has been compared to how hard they’s hitting the ball, there’s a decent chance the Yanks can continue their historic offensive pace.

Only time will tell if this offense is a flash in the pan or truly one of the best lineups we’ve ever seen, but so far, the numbers indicate that the Bronx Bombers are, indeed, back.

Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.


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