How the Yankees won 103 games despite the most injuries in MLB history
The 2019 New York Yankees sustained the most injuries in a single season in Major League Baseball history. They also won 103 games, capturing the American League East flag and skipping into the playoffs with incredible resilience. Now we are contemplating a deep postseason run against all physiological odds, because these Replacement Level Bombers are unlike anything we have ever seen before.
How is it possible, many analysts ask, that a team designed around the twin terrors of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton has still managed to compete despite getting only 120 games from that duo? In 2019, Judge and Stanton contributed 30 home runs and 68 RBI between them. The Yankees reasonably hoped for double that from both of them. Bridging the chasm should have been impossible.
However, secretly, the Yankees never were designed around Judge and Stanton. Not really. Sure, the media adored that narrative, milking every drop from the bash brothers’ storyline, but gone are the days of George Steinbrenner demanding top-heavy rosters laden with declining stars. Brian Cashman is in charge now. Things are run a little differently in the Bronx.
Why Brian Cashman values depth and flexibility when building the Yankees’ roster
Since convincing Hal Steinbrenner to embrace his innovative philosophies in 2016, Cashman has rebuilt the Yankees from their technical core out onto the field. Major investments have been made in analytics, psychosocial teaching and minor league development, as the Yankees look to exploit their financial advantages in areas that fall outside baseball’s revenue-sharing infrastructure. These are the cyborg Yankees, winning through a critical mass of marginal gains rather than by brute force. They are not a one-trick pony anymore.
Depth and flexibility are central to Cashman’s vision, inculcated through every department in the organisation. The New York Yankees adhere to the cone principle of sustainable efficiency, hoarding genius at the zenith but supporting those crucial pieces with a broad, scalable foundation.
That is the secret behind their success in 2019. Brian Cashman planned for this rather than reacting to it. Winter scheming prevented summer panic. Such is the underappreciated skill of the guy, and such is the inevitable resurgence of Yankee mystique.
How the 2019 Yankees set an MLB record for most injuries in a season
This season, the Yankees saw 29 different players land on the injured list. They beat the 2016 Dodgers – who had 28 - in that dubious category. The Yankees lost 2,246 man games to the injured list, 35% more San Diego, the next most-injured team. Cashman was forced to use the injured list on 36 different occasions during the regular season, relying on unproven kids and unheralded scrubs to maintain competitive balance.
Aside from the volume of injuries sustained by the 2019 Yankees, the nature of those absences is also astounding. Stanton struggled with bicep, shoulder and knee problems, playing in just 18 games. Judge was hampered by an oblique strain, missing two months of action. Aaron Hicks returned from a lower back ailment only to require Tommy John surgery for a separate elbow issue. Not to mention Luis Severino’s rotator cuff inflammation, Gary Sanchez’ left calf strain or Dellin Betances’ right shoulder impingement.
The 2019 Yankees became a tale of band aids, crutches and cortisone shots. However, built in a blueprint of tensile strength rather than individual dominance, Cashman’s team was also defined by extraordinary acts of heroism from decidedly ordinary backups.
Overlooked guys like Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin, Mike Tauchman, Luke Voit and Mike Ford embodied a resounding Next Man Up mantra as the Yankees maintained an impressive pace. They illustrated the value of contingency planning on a nightly basis in the Bronx, keeping the Bombers in contention.
The unheralded backups who kept the 2019 Yankees alive
A fine defender, Urshela has never previously been able to put it all together on offence. Well, he did this year, hitting .314 with a .355 OBP, 21 home runs and 74 RBI while spelling Miguel Andújar at third base.
A colossal first baseman, Voit was discarded by St Louis amid floundering potential. However, trusted by Yankees manager Aaron Boone, he found a home in New York, mashing 21 homers to complement a .378 OBP. In short, he was a juggernaut. If Cashman could create his ideal Yankee, Voit would be the result.
A Quadruple-A outfielder with Colorado, Tauchman was acquired in a nondescript trade that gained little attention. He then produced 3.6 WAR for the Yankees, helping to bridge the void left by Judge and Stanton for vast swathes of the campaign. Jeff Bridich joined the long list of general managers fleeced by that rascal in the Bronx, and Tauchman was a big hit with Yankees fans all summer long.
Yet even as a conveyor belt of workmanlike grinders with names like Higashioka, Valera and Romine kept the New York Yankees in contention, three core pieces managed to stay on the field to hold it all together. Without DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner, this thing would be over already. They were simply that impactful. They were simply that good.
How LeMahieu, Torres and Gardner saved the 2019 Yankees
Signed to a bargain two-year contract worth $24 million, LeMahieu quickly became the visionary leader of this team. Sure, Judge is the emotional captain and the overarching embodiment of this new-age approach, but nobody has mastered the obsessive ethos of competition more than LeMahieu. In 2019, he hit .327 with a .375 OBP, 26 home runs, 102 RBI, 197 hits and stellar defence at second base. Rarely have I seen a more hardworking professional. DJ is the consummate baseball player.
An uber prospect who debuted spectacularly last year, Torres morphed into a superstar in 2019, aged just 22. With infectious panache, the toolsy Venezuelan launched 38 home runs, a remarkable total for a middle infielder, and contributed 90 RBI. Playing in 144 games, his influence grew throughout the season, backed by a .278/.337/.535 slash line. Few teams in baseball have such a transformative talent at their disposal. Gleyber is the game’s next great star.
Then we have Brett Gardner, the longest tenured Yankee still on the roster. Gardy was drafted by the Yankees in 2005 and he debuted in 2008. He played at the old Yankee Stadium and won a World Series in the new building. He has seen it all in those hallowed pinstripes, emerging from the hybrid rebuild somehow intact. This season, aged 35, he posted career-best totals in home runs and RBI, contributing with heart and hustle to yet another playoff drive. It has been cool to watch Brett’s resurgence.
Can the Yankees win the 2019 World Series?
All season long, people have dismissed these Yankees, predicting their implosion amid mounting injuries to key cogs and influential leaders. All season long, this team has found a way to dig deeper, reach further, and find some obscure kid with a pulse who comes alive as if by magic on River Avenue. All season long, we have waited for the pixie dust to run out, and all season long, it has not.
Accordingly, as the calendar flips to October, we arrive at that most familiar of situations: the New York Yankees staring down the field, daring everybody else to beat them. Time will tell if they can go all the way, writing a sweet conclusion to this most remarkable ballad.
Yet no matter what happens from here, just remember that these injured Yankees had no right to be here. That they are still in contention for a world championship speaks volumes about the health of a rekindled powerhouse. That they are still alive is nothing short of miraculous.