The best Yankees teams have always featured iconic sluggers throughout the lineup. As witnessed in their 15-7 route of the White Sox on Thursday, New York still has plenty of power, especially if it can get Josh Donaldson's bat going.
But this offseason, the 24-8 Yankees, baseball's best team entering the weekend, pivoted to place more of a premium on run prevention. They traded bat for glove. They moved catcher and longtime defensive liability Gary Sanchez to Minnesota in a deal that brought back Isiah Kiner-Falefa, an upgrade defensively at shortstop, which moved Gleyber Torres to second base and a utility role. The Yankees converted 69.8% of in-play, batted balls into outs last season. That rate is up to 71.2% this season. They're splitting catcher innings between Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka, who are about twice as valuable defensively as Sanchez per inning over the course of their careers, according to FanGraphs' runs saved values.
So while there was little doubt the Yankees' fielding would be better as their focus shifted to pitching and defense, big questions about their starting pitching remained. Well, the Yankees' arms are answering those questions with flying colors to date, and such staffs have historically led to pennants and World Series trophies in the Bronx.
The Yankees currently have a 76 ERA-, second to only the Dodgers. If they maintain that performance over a full season, the mark would be the second-best over a campaign in club history, sandwiched between 1939 (74 ERA-) and 1927 (80) World Series championship teams, and their best since their 1998 World Series-winning club.
Why ERA-? The measure adjusts for ballpark and run-environment factors for each year, better enabling us to compare seasons and eras. An ERA- of 100 equates to league-average pitching. Lower is better.
The Yankees' 10 best teams in ERA- all reached the World Series, and six won titles. The current staff helped New York to its best start to a season since 2003, another campaign in which it reached the World Series. The 2022 Yankees lead the majors in pitching WAR (5.2).
While many expected the Yankees to be far better defensively, this level of pitching success is a surprise. Is it sustainable?
Even staff ace Gerrit Cole, who the Yankees outbid the market for with a record deal in December 2019, had questions about how he'd perform entering the season.
Last year, Cole's second half wasn't as good as his first half, after MLB began policing and enforcing sticky substance use in the middle of the season. He posted a 2.68 ERA (28.6% strikeout rate) in the first half of 2021, and a 4.14 mark (26.5% strikeout rate) in the second as his spin rate declined.
Luis Severino entered this year coming back from Tommy John surgery. Jameson Taillon was up and down last year in his first year back from returning from Tommy John a second time. And the two lefties on the staff, Jordan Montgomery and Nestor Cortes, were very good but their track record was spotty.