The start to the 2021 season has been one the Yankees would like to forget. Going into Tuesday, the Yankees were 14-14 with a -9 run differential and 134 games to play.
However, they’ve looked much better as of late, going 7-3 in their last 10 before the off day.
As expected, the Yankees have had a mixed bag of positive and negative results so far this season.
Here’s what you need to take away from the first 28 games of the season. (This was written before the start of the Astros series).
Let’s start with one of the good aspects, follow that with one of the worrisome happenings, and then finish on a high note.
Gerrit Cole’s Dominant Start
Gerrit Cole has been on an absolute roll to start the season. Over his first six starts, the Yankees ace has tossed 37.2 innings while registering a 1.43 ERA (0.48 FIP), 62 strikeouts and only three (!!!) walks. He’s been unhittable. Cole is one of the premier pitchers in MLB, and so far this year he has been a man on a mission.
The right-hander has made made a tangible change to his pitching repertoire this season, increasing his changeup usage greatly. In his first year in the Bronx, Cole threw his changeup only 5.6% of the time. This year, his changeup usage is up to 15.4%.
With the addition of the changeup, it gives Cole a legitimate fifth offering, making him that much more unpredictable.
Pitching coach Matt Blake has seemingly played a role here.
The Yankees pitching staff has made a major adjustment as a whole by throwing changeups more often, and the numbers speak for themselves. Could this change in philosophy help Cole capture his first Cy Young award?
Should we worry about DJ LeMahieu’s pull-happy approach?
When the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu to a six-year, $90 million contract, the Yankees were paying him to be the engine that makes the offense go, which is what he’s been the last two years. So far in 2021, however, that has not been the case. When LeMahieu is at his best, he’s hitting the ball up the middle or to right-center field. Until his recent stretch of success, he has been rolling over pitches at an alarming rate.
The deeper red represents where the balls have been hit most often this year, while the blue represents the less commonly hit locations.
According to Baseball Savant, his peripherals have also been much more pedestrian this season, too, which isn’t a great sign.
This could be a major concern moving forward. LeMahieu’s appeal comes from his contact rate and ability to spray the ball all over the field. He hits the ball on the nose from line-to-line and it’s a very different skill set from the Aaron Judge’s and Giancarlo Stanton’s of the world.
The Yankees need that change of pace in this do-or-die lineup.
Jonathan Loaisiga’s ascension to a potential high-leverage reliever
The Yankees bullpen has been nothing short of fantastic to begin the season and one of the driving forces of it all has been the development of Jonathan Loaisiga. The Yankees right-hander has been lights out. Over 16.1 innings pitched, he has a 1.10 ERA and 16 strikeouts.
Like Cole, Loaisiga has also increased his changeup usage from 15.2% in 2020 to 25.8% in 2021. He has already thrown more changeups this year (61) than he did last year (60). The changeup has already become second in his pitch pecking order, and it plays off of his electric fastball very well.
Loaisiga has always had an arm the Yankees dreamed on, and they seemed to have found a role for him in the bullpen as a high-leverage guy, one who can overpower hitters and induce weak contact.
It was only a matter of time before the young right-hander finally put it all together.