Beginning as soon as next week, the Yankees Injured List (IL) will begin to shrink with the return of players pronounced “ready” to play…not so fast though.
While the Yankees Injured List (IL) has reached epic proportions in 2019, last season fans will recall that key players also missed ample amounts of playing time. While highly anticipated, their return to the lineup often turned out to be as disappointing and frustrating as when they were forced to call in sick.
Last season, Aaron Judge missed the entire month of August and a good portion of September when he was hit on the wrist by a pitched ball. On his return to the return to the regular lineup, Judge hit .220 in 13 games, with one home run and an inauspicious OPS of .675, well below the mark of .937 during his first half of the season.
Similarly, Gary Sanchez, out with injuries, appeared in only three games during all of July and August. His return to the lineup in September produced a .179 batting average with a strikeout rate of one out of every three at-bats.
In both cases, the argument can be made that the Yankees were better off without either player in the lineup, especially during the stretch run when the Red Sox expanded their lead over the Yankees to a season-ending eight games.
Yes, but a lineup with a profile of Judge and Sanchez in it certainly gives opposing pitchers and managers more to think about – and the argument goes on.
As The Yankees IL Shrinks, Will Wins Rise
So, while the impending return of Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez sometime next week, or even sooner, and with Aaron Hicks to follow shortly thereafter, looks good on paper and gives the Yankees a decided “lift”, it might be best if the plans for the parade down Broadway didn’t begin just yet.
Baseball is a game of confidence, routine, and repetition. Rehab achieves none of these. In fact, rehab often squashes the soul of an athlete who is used to being active and in daily competition. Take all that away for a few weeks and it’s almost like starting from square one again.
Giancarlo Stanton has 15 total plate appearances this season. He has not appeared in a game since the Yankees third game of the season. Likewise, while having missed only a few weeks, Gary Sanchez was just climbing back from the woes of a .192 batting average on April 6 with six hits in his last 14 at-bats before he went on the Yankees IL.
Aaron Hicks, when he returns in May, will do so having played in only three Spring Training games, with no appearances during the regular season. Talk about starting over…
On the flip side, Miguel Andujar looks like he hasn’t lost a beat based on that “sound” coming off his bat in this video:
Pitchers, more than position players, can be more easily weaned into playing shape when they return from injuries. CC Sabathia, while not on a pitch count, has been limited to four or five innings in both of his starts since returning last week, even though he has been brilliant in both.
Conversely, a position player plays or he doesn’t play. Limiting Stanton, for instance, to two at-bats in each of his first five games does little, and perhaps would even harm his timing, when really you wish is he could get six at-bats in each game to speed up the process.
Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all those returning from the Yankees IL come out of the gate as Sabathia has? It could happen, but precedent says it won’t play out that way.
All of which eventually will increase (not decrease) the pressure on Aaron Boone to come up with a winning lineup every night. Adding to Boone’s dilemma will be the fate of the replacement players who have taken on a load of keeping the Yankees head above water.
What will Boone, for instance, do with Clint Frazier, who has excelled as the Yankees DH when Stanton returns? And what of Tyler Wade, Mike Tauchman, and Mike Ford? It’s the business of baseball, of course, and Brian Cashman will do whatever he needs to in order to give the Yankees their best chance to win.
In sum, the picture will not automatically get more clear when the Yankees IL begins to shrink. In fact, as we’ve seen, it could easily get cloudier – at least for a stretch of 10-15 games for each player as they return.
For fans who’haven’t had the pleasure, the featured image at the top of the page (and right) belongs to long-time Yankees fan and Yankee Stadium stalwart, Freddie Schuman, who is known for his frying pans, homemade signs, and a favorite for Yankees fans of all ages. He passed on in 2010 and this column is dedicated to him.