Yankees may look completely different with MLB’s cheating crackdown: Sherman

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The Yankees needed a reset, and the Commissioner’s Office is offering one.

By changing enforcement standards on sticky substances with the season already in progress, MLB is providing a forum for offenses to improve. Simply, since word came out of the June 3 ownership meetings that the league was about to institute greater scrutiny and penalties on this matter, spin rate is down sport-wide and scoring is up.

Teams were hitting .236 with a .707 OPS through June 2 while averaging 4.4 runs per game. It was .246/.729 and 4.6 runs since and prior to Wednesday’s action.

The Yankees have been among the biggest beneficiaries. Their pre-June 3 slash line was .218/.317/.372 for a .689 OPS and 3.8 runs per game. In the next 10 games, it was .265/.319/.476 for a .795 OPS and 4.7 runs per game.

The apt comparison is probably those latter stats to the 2020 Yankees — .247/.342/.447 for a .789 OPS and 5.3 runs per game. The Yankees suddenly are getting the power-heavy (18 homers in those 10 games) offense they anticipated.

However, as bad as the lineup was, the Yankees were 31-25 through June 2, then 3-7 in their next 10 despite the uptick in offensive output. That is because their offense has been helped less than their pitching has been harmed. The Yankees’ surprising pitching success might have been held together on dreams and, um, glue.

The Yankees had the majors’ second-best ERA (3.16) through June 2 to go along with a slash line against of .211/.278/.359 compared to the fourth worst ERA (6.04) since with a .293/.340/.456 slash line.

It is a small sample, less than two weeks. Maybe it is coincidence or a familiar in-season offensive jump with warmer weather. But it is hard to ignore what seems cause and effect for the sport and the Yankees. They essentially changed their identity 180 degrees two months into the season. As one NL GM told me: “We are playing two seasons this year. We are playing pre- and post-substance. I have no idea who will be effective or how. We have no answers yet.”

The actual step-up in enforcement of illegal sticky substances goes into effect Monday. At that point there will be wide inspection of pitchers in every game and 10-game suspensions for violators. But there’s early signs that many pitchers are weaning themselves off of the pasty concoctions and, with it, the spin that helps ride on fastballs and what one AL manager called “Wiffle Ball” breaks.

If this ultimately boosts the win total, it will be because the Yankees derive their identity and, thus, confidence from their power bats. Thus, if they hit, perhaps — as it often has in the recent past — that will camouflage other shortcomings.

This particularly needs to be true at home. The Yankees have mainly been on the road since June 3. They began Wednesday with the same record (17-16) in The Bronx as away. In 33 home games versus 33 road games, the Yanks had 11 fewer homers and 60 fewer OPS points. No surprise then that the Yankees’ current .515 winning percentage at Yankee Stadium would be their lowest since 1992 — their last overall losing season.

In making the playoffs each year from 2017-20, the Yankees had an MLB-best .668 home winning percentage, hitting 53 more home homers than any club. Their unathletic/righty-saturated lineup plays as less problematic when using opposite-field power to capitalize on the short dimensions in right field in a way they have yet to this season.

The Yankees won more than 70 percent of their home games in 2019-20, hitting an MLB-best 210 homers — 30 more homers than any other AL team. The path to the playoffs could necessitate them playing at that 70 percent win level over their final 58 Bronx games — roughly 41-17.

Is that record possible with what the new sticky enforcement could mean for their offense? Or impossible because of what it could mean to their pitching? Especially when there is no certainty they are getting Corey Kluber or Luis Severino back any time soon (if at all). Or that Jameson Taillon was among the few Yankee pitchers not even enjoying pre-June 3 success and that he has thrown 53 ¹/₃ innings — 16 more than 2019-20 combined. And that Domingo German, after not pitching in 2020, is at 65 innings. And that Taillon and German endured their worst stats coinciding with attention on the sticky matter.

In what very well could be a tale of two seasons, this might be the best of times for the Yankees’ offense — and the worst for their pitching.

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