And once again, as in so many recent seasons, the team is remaining afloat because of capable play from their seemingly endless supply of “next men up,” as the phrase around here goes.
The Yanks are eight games over .500 and just won a series against the Texas Rangers, one of the best teams in the league. Without Judge, Carlos Rodon and, for long stretches, Harrison Bader — or much production of late from veterans like D.J. LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton — they are in playoff position and poised to grow stronger once they’re whole.
If you’re seeking to understand why the Yankees haven’t posted a losing season since the final year of George H.W. Bush’s presidency, here is a useful avenue to look down: the collaboration between the pro scouting and analytics in signing the right depth players.
Over the past half-decade, Luke Voit, Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela, Rougned Odor, Cameron Maybin, Tim Locastro and others have emerged and, to varying degrees, contributed when the Yankees’ stars have suffered injuries or underperformed. This year, it’s the same story with different names: Jake Bauers, Willie Calhoun and especially, Billy McKinney.
Every offseason, all pro scouting departments have the same pile of minor league free agents and potential non-roster invitees to spring training from which to choose. So why do the Yankees so consistently pick the right players?
Team officials from both the scouting and analytics sides persistently credit one another for collaboration. That’s not to say that there aren’t analysts who are too dogmatic, or scouts who are not quite open enough, or that everyone feels equally heard at all times. But the overall culture under GM Brian Cashman is one of trying to break down those siloes.
This is a group in which Cashman’s top evaluator, former infielder Tim Naehring, is fluent in data and tech, and his top analyst, assistant GM Michael Fishman, talks regularly with famed scout Omar Minaya.
The head of the pro scouting department, Matt Daley, is a former MLB pitcher, not a Harvard grad or rocket scientist, and is fully literate in analytics. Cashman has looked for hybrid types like Daley ever since current Mets GM Billy Eppler founded this version of the department in 2005.
Daley has been in charge since early 2019, the season when the arrivals of Urshela, Tauchman and Maybin birthed the “next man up” catchphrase.
This past offseason, it was Bauers, McKinney, Calhoun and Franchy Cordero whose names stood near the top of the Yankees’ board at their positions.
The team had target scouting reports — reports on the players identified as particular targets — on Bauers from Naehring and Jay Darnell, another of Cashman’s top baseball people. Naehring spends much of his time scouting the Yankees’ own farm system, and Bauers had been in the organization since June. After the season, he was a free agent and needed to be re-signed.
Scout Dennis Twombley filed the favorable target report on McKinney, who spent last season in the Oakland system. Twombley is another respected evaluator, so the New York office had trusted qualitative reports on both Bauers and McKinney. The analysts could dig in to provide a recommendation through their lens.
Calhoun had been on the radar of Yankees scouts for several years, as had Cordero.
McKinney has been the most productive of the group, posting a .950 OPS with four home runs and playing solid defense. Bauers’ numbers have dipped a bit lately, but the team believes that his power is real.
Cordero contributed a few key home runs before fading. And Calhoun contributed several clutch hits before hitting the IL himself this week with a quad strain.
Is their success sustainable? The answer varies by the player but actually isn’t the main point. It’s the job of depth to hold it down while the big boys are gone. And it’s the job of rank-and-file in the Yankees organization to identify the correct minor league free agents.
This might be the least sexy way to contend for a championship, but it’s among the most crucial.
Winning teams need quality depth almost as much as they need stars. It’s hard to make the playoffs without a roster that combines both.