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Grading the Yankees: Hitters

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge draws

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge draws a walk against Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Shane Baz during the first inning of an MLB baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Every big-league team — from those finishing first to those out of contention by Memorial Day — has its ups and downs. The 2021 Yankees stood out more than most in the streakiness department, the result of an offense that didn’t come close, other than a few exceptions, to meeting preseason expectations. Hitting coach Marcus Thames and assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere paid for that with their jobs, though they were simply implementing the overall organizational philosophy when it comes to hitting, so it remains to be seen what will change.

Here is a hitter-by-hitter look at how most of the group graded out, in one writer’s view, followed by the pitchers:

C Gary Sanchez D+

After a miserable 2020 in which Sanchez surrendered everyday catching duties to Kyle Higashioka in the postseason, Sanchez essentially saw the same thing happen in 2021. Sanchez, who hit .204 this season (though with 23 homers) has steadily improved defensively, but because that doesn’t fit much of the narrative surrounding him, that’s something he generally isn’t given credit for. Regardless, this grade is based strictly on offense, and Sanchez wasn’t close to the hitter the Yankees needed him to be.

C Kyle Higashioka D+

After a bit of a hot start, Higashioka at the plate settled into what most rival scouts and talent evaluators have long thought he would be if given prolonged playing time: a player who would struggle offensively as pitchers made their adjustments. Higashioka, still his usual solid and at times spectacular self defensively, hit .181 with 10 homers and a .635 OPS in 67 games.

1B Luke Voit D+

Voit battled knee issues almost from the time he reported for spring training in February and had surgery on his left knee to repair a meniscus tear in late March that delayed his season debut until May 11. Voit, who created unwanted headlines with some of his comments after the acquisition of Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline, hit .239 with 11 homers and a .764 OPS in 68 games. A candidate to be dealt this winter.

1B Anthony Rizzo B-

After a blistering start as a Yankee, Rizzo never was quite the same offensively after returning from the COVID-19 injured list, hitting .249 with eight homers and a .768 OPS in 49 games. With some uncertainty at first base, reaching some kind of deal with the free agent can’t be ruled out.

2B/3B/1B DJ LeMahieu C-

LeMahieu, like many of his teammates, never got it going consistently at the plate. Hs performance — hitting .268 with 10 homers and a .711 OPS in 150 games — contributed to the Yankees’ season-long offensive struggles as much as anyone’s.

SS/2B Gleyber Torres D

Torres and LeMahieu are 1a and 1b — and interchangeable at that — when it comes to biggest disappointments on offense. Torres, though only 24, seems to be trending in the wrong direction after hitting .259 with nine homers and a .697 OPS in 127 games.

3B/SS Gio Urshela B-

An OK year from Urshela, who battled a hamstring issue much of the season’s second half and ended up hitting .267 with 14 homers and 18 doubles in 116 games.

2B/3B Rougned Odor C-

Odor, like his close friend and former teammate with the Rangers, Joey Gallo, was pretty much the same player with the Yankees that he was in Texas. Odor, whose energy and enthusiasm made him an instant hit with his new Yankees teammates, hit .202 with 15 homers in 102 games in which he struck out 100 times.

INF/OF Tyler Wade C+

The speed dynamic on the bases brought by Wade was especially apparent during the July-August stretch when the Yankees won 35 of 46 games. The versatile Wade ended up with a .268/.354/.323 slash line in 103 games and went 17-for-23 in stolen bases.

OF Aaron Judge A

Judge turned in an MVP-caliber season, his best in pinstripes since his breakout rookie season of 2017. The difference? Judge, who appeared in 148 games — that in itself was a victory, given the injury issues that limited him in 2018, ’19 and ’20 — is a far more polished and complete hitter than the version that won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2017. If not for the 2021 seasons put forth by Shohei Ohtani and Vlad Guerrero Jr., Judge, who hit .287 with 39 homers, 98 RBIs and a .916 OPS, very much would have been in the thick of the MVP discussion.

OF Giancarlo Stanton A-

Stanton, on thin ice with the fan base seemingly from the time he arrived before the 2018 season, turned in his best overall season with the Yankees, hitting .273 with 35 homers, 97 RBIs and an .870 OPS in 139 games. In his scorching final two months — he hit .305 with 19 homers, 51 RBIs and a . 984 OPS in 54 games from Aug. 3-Oct. 3 — he carried the offense on many a night.

OF Brett Gardner C

The Yankees saw the 38-year-old Gardner, brought back shortly before the start of spring training, as a reserve, but he ended up playing in 140 games because of various injuries to outfielders. He ended up with a .222/.327/.362 slash line, but because he rarely gave at-bats away, he was a player the opposition hated seeing at the plate in the late innings.

OF Joey Gallo D

The amiable Gallo, a feast-or-famine hitter from the time he debuted with the Rangers in 2015, was the exact same feast-or-famine hitter with the Yankees. He vastly improved the Yankees defensively, but again, the grading here is solely based on offense. The outfielder never got it going with the Yankees, hitting .160 with 13 homers and a .707 OPS in 58 games in which he struck out 88 times.

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