Yankees’ Dillon Lawson transformation includes unreal turnaround from one star
The 2022 New York Yankees, as the end of July approaches, feel like an historically great team with a few pressing injury concerns that must be addressed at the trade deadline. Occasionally, the offense hasn’t shown up to its full capacity, with rallies gutted by under-performers like Joey Gallo and Kyle Higashioka, but overall, the lineup has delivered in a way that 2021’s group rarely did.
Since a slow-as-molasses 7-6 start that was reminiscent of their doldrums from last season, the Yankees have rebounded to post an MLB-leading offensive WAR, wOBA, and wRC+, edging out the powerhouse Dodgers in every category, even after a recent slump. The ins and outs of the day-to-day might not always go favorably, but the Yankees have built a foundation for themselves that always hints a rebound is around the corner.
That is thanks, in large part, to hitting coach Dillon Lawson, called up from the minors last season to install his philosophy: “Hit Strikes Hard”. It sounds simplistic — and, like everything in baseball, it is simplistic at its core. Often, though, that’s what MLB hitters who’ve grown bogged down in statistical analyses need. A series of gentle reminders to attack strikes — and to do so early in the count, rather than seeking an eventual walk that may never come — has changed the Yankees’ operation for the better.
Things might not have looked like a finished product in April, but as August approaches, the Yankees’ lineup has stopped chasing bad pitches, and has almost uniformly zeroed in on taking only strong swings at pitches in the zone.
That transformation is evident throughout the order, as four Yankees comprise the top 10 most improved swingers list, in terms of decreasing chase rate, between April and July 2022. Atop the list? Giancarlo Stanton, whose massive turnaround in selectivity has allowed him to continue drilling homers while his average has plummeted somewhat.
Yankees have stopped chasing since April thanks to Dillon Lawson
DJ LeMahieu (who’s silently back up to a .388 OBP), Gleyber Torres and … Isiah Kiner-Falefa?! The three other notable Yankee breakouts this year! Alright!
Stanton’s season, as a whole, has been a bit uneven. He paired a streak-tastic .301/.388/.616 May with 7 homers alongside months of .176 and .156 (still, with 13 homers combined) in June and July. Sadly, that downward trend pairs with a calf injury the slugger suffered at the end of May. It’s especially encouraging, though, that even as his health suffered, he didn’t abandon his newly-formed good habits. Therefore, the power has remained stable as Stanton’s other abilities have lagged.
No need to only give Stanton his flowers, though. Again, it’s the entire positional roster, which represents a drastic departure from April, when the team-wide chase rate looked similar to past experience.
From fifth-worst in the game to absolutely elite in a three-month span, and their record reflects it.
While pitching coach Matt Blake gets the publicity — and righty so! — Lawson also revolutionized things on the other side of the ball. There are no guarantees in October, but hopefully, with the right tweaks, the team with the best infrastructure takes home the hardware this fall, and attacks elite October pitching with the same ferocity as they displayed in May, June and July.