The season is officially over, and even though the results weren’t what we expected, we still keep writing about the Yankees. With 2018 now approaching, we wanted to share with you our fondest memories of 2017.
Watching Judge in 2016 was painful. His K% neared 50 and he slashed .179/.263/.345 over 27 games. Watching him, I convinced myself that he wasn’t terribly intimidating at the plate.
But once 2017 turned the corner, that obviously changed. Some of Judge’s 2016 hits showed his potential, but the beginning of 2017 was a best-case scenario for Yankees fans.
For a stat-friendly baseball fan, his year-long dominance of MLB.com’s Statcast leaderboards made me marvel. Judge’s excellence culminated at the Home Run Derby, where he ousted his opponents seemingly effortlessly.
His second-half strikeout uptick and frequent slumps were inevitable. While Judge tailed off a bit, it seems as if he’s the next Yankees superstar. I think he already is.
I would just like to point out how insanely fortunate Yankee fans should feel to have Didi Gregorius. Replacing Derek Jeter in New York felt like such an impossible task, and failure seemed inevitable no matter who got the gig. They put that burden on a 25-year-old part-time player with a .243/.313/.366 career batting line who had never appeared on a BP Top 101 prospect list. Didi proceeded to put up back-to-back 2-WARP seasons in New York, and then broke out even further this year with 25 homers (most ever by a Yankee shortstop) and 4.3 WARP, making him one of the better shortstops in a league chock-full of elite talent at the position.
That should be enough for anyone, but Didi’s contributions go so far beyond just what he does on the field. From his silly YES commercials and Instagram art exhibits to his Toe-Night Show interviews and beloved, emoji-fueled game recap tweets, Didi has managed to succeed Jeter as more than just the guy who stands between second and third base. He personifies all of the fun and personality that emanates from this team. Judge might be the new face of the Yankees, but Didi is the heart.
As far as pleasant surprises go, Aaron Hicks has to rank at or near the top for the 2017 season. Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Starlin Castro all place highly on that list as well, but all were also projected to be significant contributors, or at least see significant playing time, going into the year. Hicks, on the other hand, was fresh off of a .217/.281/.336 season in his first go-round in pinstripes after being acquired for positional glut casualty John Ryan Murphy. With Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Judge already on the roster, and Clint Frazier and others coming up quickly behind, Hicks was an afterthought at best and potential 2017-18 offseason non-tender in many scenarios.
Instead, Hicks blossomed into arguably the second-best player on the roster. On a rate basis, only Judge was worth more wins per game than Hicks by both FanGraphs’ and Baseball-Reference’s measures. His Baseball Prospectus WARP was heavily deflated by a poor showing in FRAA, but both UZR and DRS loved his defense, as did the eye-test. Before the season started, I wrote an article about how there was some offensive upside because of his plate discipline numbers and poor batted ball luck, but I’m not sure I even believed what I was saying. And I definitely didn’t expect a .266/.372/.475 line with a 67/51 K/BB ratio. Extrapolated over 162 games, Hicks was worth over 6 fWAR, and over 7 bWAR.
The good news doesn’t stop there, however. This was just Hicks’ age-27 season, and he’s under team control for affordable rates for the next two years as well. Gardner and Ellsbury aren’t getting any younger, and Hicks projects to be a strong contributor in the outfield for the foreseeable future.
There were a lot of fun moments and storylines during the 2017 season but the April 28 game against Baltimore was my choice for favorite moment. It had everything: a horrible pitching performance by CC Sabathia, Jacoby Ellsbury’s first grand slam, and an improbable 14-11 comeback from a 9-1 and an 11-4 deficit.
I attended the game back in 2006 when the Texas Rangers opened up to a 9-0 lead on the Yankees and watched as the Yankees clawed their way back into the game ultimately winning on a Jorge Posada walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth off Akinori Otsuka.
This year’s version of that game found the Yankees down 9-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Yankees would score three runs to make it a more respectable 9-4 but then Bryan Mitchell would surrender two more runs on a Jonathan Schoop single in the top of the seventh and the Orioles went up 11-4.
Most people watching the game figured it was over and rightly so. Usually, when a team is leading 11-4 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning it’s pretty much a done deal but not on that night. Former Yankee Vidal Nuno would load the bases for Jacoby Ellsbury and he sent his 2-1 offering into the right-field stands pulling the Yankees to within three runs.
After three clean half innings for Jonathan Holder, Darren O’Day, and Tyler Clippard, the Orioles brought in Brad Bach to close the game and well, he didn’t. He surrendered a walk to Chase Headley who advanced to third when the next batter, Matt Holliday, hit a single. Ellsbury hit into a force, scoring Headley to make it 11-9—Holliday was out at second. Starlin Castro hit the first pitch he saw from Brach into the left seats to tie the game. Brach would finish the inning without allowing any more runs and the game would head into extras.
After Aroldis Chapman pitched a scoreless top of the 10th, Jayson Aquino came in for the Orioles and walked both Aaron Hicks and Kyle Higashioka to start the inning. He retired Headley for the first out and Holliday stepped into the box. Aquino threw an 80 mph changeup that got too much of the plate and Holliday deposited it into the Yankees’ bullpen. The Yankees won the game 14-11 and it was the first glimpse of what was to come. It showed everyone, Yankees fans and the rest of baseball that the Yankees were a team that would keep fighting to the end.
Stacey Gotsulias – Editor-in-Chief
Like many, I wasn’t expecting the Yankees to reach the postseason and, if they did, I certainly didn’t peg them to reach Game 7 of the ALCS. Yet here we are. And, we almost weren’t here. My favorite moment was how the Yankees started to put pressure on the Red Sox going into the final week of the season. Down in the AL East by three games with seven to play, you just had the feeling that the Yankees could overcome the odds and head for a meeting with the Houston Astros in the ALDS.
Those first three games were tense! They took the final game against the Royals – were Judge happened to break Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record – and the final two against the Tampa Bay Rays. The pressure was on the Red Sox to also sweep the Toronto Blue Jays in Fenway. And then it almost came to happen. Houston was set to visit Fenway for four more games while the Yankees closed things out against the same Blue Jays.
Boston lost the first two games and the Yankees took the first two to put the division lead at one. On Saturday, with Chris Sale on the mound in Fenway and looking very unlike him, the Red Sox managed to eek out one final victory to seal the division and force the Yankees to accept hosting the Wild Card game. The Yankees managed to sweep the Jays and, had it not been for the Red Sox offense, the story would have been different.
Many said that baseball was practically over going into the final week. But that division chase kept me on my seat til the end.