Yankees Thoughts: Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo over Miguel Andujar?

Andujar requests trade after being sent down so Hicks and Gallo can play

The Yankees swept the Angels and then swept the Tigers. They have won six straight, haven’t lost in June and have a seven-game lead in the loss column in the AL East.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The Yankees once again did what they need to do against a soft part of their schedule with back-to-back sweeps and six straight wins over the Angels and Tigers. The Angels suck, having lost 11 straight to fall a game below .500 and nine games in the loss column behind the Astros in the AL West. The Tigers are flat-out awful at 12 games under .500 with a minus-64 run differential and the worst offense in the majors.

With this latest six-game winning streak, the Yankees have maintained having the best record in baseball. At 39-15, they are on pace to win 117 games and can play under-.500 baseball for the rest of the season and still win 92 games, which is what their win total was set at prior to the season. They will blow past that number even if Aaron Boone takes his ridiculous load management strategy to an unforeseen level for the entire second half.

2. Since the start of the Angels series, the worst start the Yankees received was Jordan Montgomery’s on Sunday against the Tigers: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. When the worst start you get in two series is two earned runs over 6 1/3 innings, it’s easy to see why the Yankees have been so good this season.

The Yankees are where they are for four reasons: the starting pitching, three relievers, Aaron Judge and some other bats at various times. All five starters have No. 1-like numbers; Clay Holmes, Michael King and Clarke Schmidt have been dominant; Aaron Judge is the AL MVP, and every everyday hitter other than Aaron Hicks and Kyle Higashioka has helped win at least one game for the team at some point. (Even Joey Gallo had a big two-run home run on Sunday to tie that game at 2.)

3. Even with his game-tying home run on Sunday, Gallo is still a big problem, as are Hicks and Higashioka. The trio is extremely fortunate the Yankees are off to one of the best starts in franchise history through exactly one-third of the season because if the Yankees didn’t have the separation they have in the AL East, the Stadium boo birds would be even louder for them than they already are, which seems impossible.

There are Yankees fans who are unwilling to discuss the fact there are days when the team has four players in the lineup who are below league average in Gallo, Hicks, Higashioka and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. These fans think that since team is winning, why change anything. You change things to make sure the team keeps winning. Being in first place on June 6 is great, but the goal is to be in first place on October 6. The Yankees won’t see teams like the Tigers, Orioles or Royals in October. (Or even the Angels at this rate.) No other October team will boast three players with sub-.600 OPS and four with a sub-.650 OPS. No other team will be giving up one third of their outs in playoff games to less-than-replacement-level bats.

4. The Yankees had a helpful bat on their roster as recently as a few days ago before they decided to once again send down Miguel Andujar. This poor decision by the Yankees was the result of past poor decisions by the Yankees, and resulted in Andujar asking to be traded.

I’m happy Andujar requested to be traded. He’s getting screwed from receiving a major-league salary and major-league service time since he’s a major-league player being forced to play in Triple-A because of bad contracts, bad trades and money owed. That bad contract and money owed would be the Hicks extension and that bad trade would be the one for Gallo.

5. The Yankees’ regrettable decision to extend Hicks has backfired into a worst-case scenario. Since the moment Hicks received that extension he has been either injured or unproductive. But because he’s under contract for this season … and next season … and the season after … and the season after that … and then will be bought out the season after that … he’s not going anywhere.

Hicks’ offensive metrics are abysmal. He’s in the 18th percentile for average exit velocity and the second percentile of barrel percentage. That means 98 percent of players in Major League Baseball square up pitches better than Hicks, and yet, he was the planned everyday center fielder for the 2022 Yankees.

Hicks’ 2021 season was cut short due to needing wrist surgery and other players who have had the same operation on the sheath of their wrist claimed mentioned needing a full year for power to return. So Hicks has a built-in excuse for 2022, like he did in 2020 and 2021 coming off a back injury and elbow surgery. I’m sure he will suffer another injury in 2022 to use as a built-in excuse for 2023 and keep his roster spot safe since that’s what he seems to do

Hicks does two things well: he doesn’t chase pitches (94th percentile) and he walks (96th percentile). But his walks number is misleading as Hicks goes to the plate looking to walk and praying to not have to swing. His entire goal in the box is that the pitcher will throw four pitches outside the zone wildly enough that he won’t have to swing. He’s not going to battle in an at-bat and foul off tough pitches to draw a walk. He’s either going to walk because the pitcher has control issues or he’s going to strike out or weakly put the ball in play.

The thing is, Hicks’ power isn’t necessarily the problem. It’s not like he’s barreling the ball and it’s just dying because of a lack of power. He’s simply not barreling the ball (again 98 percent of the league is barreling the ball better than him).

On Friday, Hicks drove in his first run in 19 days and 46 plate appearances. It was his third RBI in over a month. On Sunday, Hicks produced hit latest 0-for-game with an 0-for-4 and a strikeout. Through one-third of the season, the player who went out of his way to state his goal for 2022 was to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases, is about as close to accomplishing that goal as I am, as Hicks has one more home run than I do this season. He also has one more double than me this season.

I have referred to Hicks as the worst player in Major League Baseball and relative to his contract, his salary, his everyday playing status and the team he plays for, he truly is the worst player in the majors. No other true contender has a player as bad as Hicks in their everyday lineup. But somehow not only is he consistently in the lineup, he has been used as the leadoff hitter in 22 percent of the Yankees’ games. Yes, please give the most possible at-bats on the team to a player that has the same amount of home runs and doubles as Kevin Plawecki.

6. Gallo has been put in a position to get the least amount of possible at-bats on the team. The Yankees traded four prospects at last year’s deadline for one-and-a-half years of Gallo to get Gold Glove defense in the field and the three true outcomes (strikeout, walk and home run) at the plate. They are now getting shaky defense in the outfield and mostly one outcome at the plate (strikeout) and have relegated to being their everyday 9-hitter. In that role, he bats behind Hicks, Kiner-Falefa and at times Higashioka. This is the same player who was penciled in as the team’s 2-hitter upon becoming a Yankee.

Because of what the Yankees gave up for Gallo, they are going to try to salvage this season with him in hopes he can be a productive player for them or good enough that they can trade him at the deadline and actually get back a living, breathing player in return. He’s not going anywhere for at least another two months, and likely isn’t going anywhere then either.

Gallo hit a two-run home run on Sunday. It was his sixth home run of the season and first in exactly three weeks. It also allowed him to pass Hicks in RBIs, as Gallo now has nine and Hicks has eight.

7. The situations with Hicks and Gallo have resulted in Andujar back in Scranton where he has absolutely nothing left to prove as his bat is wasting away in meaningless games. I hope his request is granted and he gets an everyday opportunity somewhere else, while the Yankees continue to employ and play two near-automatic outs.

Between now and the postseason, the Yankees have two things to worry about: health and upgrading the lineup.

There’s not much they can do from a health perspective other than pray for good health. All of the unnecessary rest, planned days off and load management isn’t going to keep them healthy, so this is out of their control. They can upgrade the lineup and they need to. They can’t think they are going to run

An upgraded lineup means more runs and more runs means less close games and less close games mean less Boone. If the Yankees aren’t going to outhit and outscore their own manager, they are going to have a really tough time winning come October. As we saw on Sunday (which we see at least once a series it seems like), when Boone has to get involved in games, the Yankees’ chances of winning drastically decline.

8. In the series finale against the Tigers, the Yankees led 3-2 entering the eighth. Clarke Schmidt had come on in the seventh and preserved the Yankees’ lead and would start the eighth as well. After allowing a leadoff double, Schmidt got the first out of the inning on a flyout. The Tigers had the tying run at second with one out and the heart of their order due up.

Schmidt had thrown 24 pitches in the game. In the last week, he had made one appearance, throwing 25 pitches. Aside from Holmes and King, he has been the Yankees’ only other trustworthy reliever. As a right-hander with three righties due up in Jonathan Schoop, Miguel Cabrera and Javier Baez, Boone had three legitimate options to choose from. He could keep Schmidt in, or he could replace Schmidt with King or he could go to Holmes for a five-out save. (The third option of using Holmes for five outs was never going to be a true option, but it was still one of only three logical, sensible choices.)

So which option did Boone choose? None of them. He instead relieved Schmidt and brought in Miguel Castro, arguably the least trustworthy and effective option in the Yankees’ bullpen.

9. If a move was going to be made (which it didn’t have to be), the move was to go to King. Prior to Sunday, this was King’s recent usage:

May 22: Not used
May 23: Not used
May 24: 21 pitches
May 25: Not used
May 26: Not used
May 27: Not used
May 28: 20 pitches
May 29: Not used
May 30: Day off
May 31: Not used
June 1: Day off
June 2: Not used in either game of doubleheader
June 3: Not used
June 4: 7 pitches

In the previous 14 days and 13 games, King had been used three times, throwing 48 pitches. Boone’s decision to not go to King made me think King was unavailable because of an injury since that’s how little sense it made to not use him.

Sure enough, Castro coughed up the lead and by the time he was done, the Tigers led 4-3. Fortunately, the Tigers turned into the Tigers in the bottom of the eighth and gifted the Yankees a run to tie the game.

When the game went to the 10th inning, King was brought in. So he was available to pitch. Boone would rather use King in the 10th inning of a 4-4 game than in the eighth inning of a game the Yankees lead by one run with the opponent’s 2-3-4 hitters coming up.

In actuality, what Boone did was try to steal the remaining two outs of the eighth inning with Castro. He would never admit it, but what he was hoping was that Castro could get him through the eighth and maybe the Yankees would tack on some insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth and he could avoid using King and Holmes and give them yet another day off followed by the team’s scheduled day off on Monday. Either that or he was hoping Castro would get through the eighth and he could use King in the ninth to close out the game, even though the situation in the eighth (runner in scoring position with 2-3-4 due up) was the more crucial situation and needed the better reliever. Whatever his thinking was, it was idiotic and nearly cost the Yankees the game and would have if not for the Tigers’ error-filled eighth.

10. After health, Boone remains the Yankees’ biggest threat to a championship. It’s moves like the one on Sunday in which he chooses the wrong pitcher, or manages for the future and a situation that may never arise, or his obsession with letting a pitcher stay in one (or even two or three) batters too long before recognizing the severity of a given situation that could ruin the Yankees’ season yet again. His in-game management is atrocious and has not progressed the slightest in now five years on the job.

The Yankees need more wins like Friday when they just destroyed the Tigers (13-0), or like Saturday (3-0) when the starting pitching was so good, the ball can just be handed to King and then Holmes and the win is secure. Games like those two are Boone-proof. He doesn’t have to do anything other than sit on his perch, obnoxiously chew his gum and adjust his oversized watch.

Unfortunately, those games rarely happen come October. In October, Boone will play a big role in the result of nearly every game, and no matter how many games the Yankees win during the regular season, the idea of that is what will keep me anxious until this season and every season he manages ends.

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