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Category: Players Page 1 of 27

The bullpen: A great stable of arms [2021 Season Preview]

Newbie Darren O’Day sure knew how to endear himself to a fanbase, huh? There clearly was some intent in that comment early this month. As you may recall, Rays’ manager Kevin Cash touted his stable of guys who throw 98 last year in response to the beef the Yankees and Rays had. It sounded a bit threatening after Aroldis Chapman threw some chin music to Mike Brosseau. Granted, the Rays got the last laugh. It’s a new year though, and this bullpen is clearly pretty good, as O’Day said.

The locks

Although Aroldis Chapman‘s high octane fastball is no longer unique among his peers, he’s still one of the league’s best closers. He’ll continue to blow his upper-90s heat by hitters in 2021, but that might not be his only big threat anymore. Sure, his slider has been effective at times in the past, but this year, Chapman plans to incorporate the splitter he teased last season. It’s looked pretty nasty in camp.

As tantalizing as that split looks, there’s one ultimate goal for Chapman this season: to record the clinching out of the World Series rather than end his year like the previous two postseasons. One last note: Chapman will serve a two-game suspension to start the season as a result of this aforementioned incident against the Rays last season.

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The Deep and Talented Outfield [2021 Season Preview]

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The Unquestioned Left Fielder

I hope that it feels as good to read that as it did to write it.

After three years of bouncing between the majors, the minors, and the injured list, Clint Frazier became a fixture in the middle of the Yankees lineup last August. It may have only happened because of injuries and under-performance by others — but it happened nevertheless, and it was fantastic. Frazier hit .267/.394/.511 (149 wRC+) with 8 home runs in 160 PA and played elite defense in right field. What more could you ask for?

Sure, there are caveats aplenty given the very nature of the 2020 season. There were bizarre performances throughout the majors, good and bad and everything in between, and that wasn’t solely the result of a significantly shortened season. That said, Frazier was a top prospect for several years for a reason, and he’ll be 26 for the vast majority of this season; that means there are plenty of reasons to buy in, too.

So what’re the projections thinking?

SystemPAHRAVG/OBP/SLG (+)DefenseWAR
PECOTA50720.234/.321/.429 (104 DRC+)0.71.5
ZiPS47421.242/.325/.463 (106 wRC+)-8.21.2
Steamer52522.246/.324/.449 (103 wRC+)-9.71.0

PECOTA seems to think that Frazier’s a good defender now, that’s pretty neat. The rest? Not so much.

I find it rather interesting that all three systems are essentially ignoring 2020 entirely. His career slash line heading into 2020 was .254/.308/.463 (100 wRC+) with 16 HR in 429 PA. With the exception of an elevated walk rate, that’s really not that far off from the above chart. And I’m not buying it.

In my decidedly non-algorithmic opinion, I think a reasonable baseline for Frazier would essentially match his career to-date (which is conveniently exactly 162 games). That line? .258/.331/.475 (113 wRC+) with 24 HR in 589 PA. And I’d bet the over.

Now here’s hoping he stops running into walls.

The Magnificent Middle Infield [2021 Season Preview]

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The Keystone King

Yankees fans everywhere exhaled a collective sigh of relief on the morning of January 15. On that day, which will hopefully not live in infamy, represented the end of a too-long tango between the team’s front office and DJ LeMahieu, when the 32-year-old re-signed for 6-years and $90 million. The idea of an offense without LeMahieu – who led the team in batting average, on-base percentage, wRC+, and WAR over the last two years – was the baseball equivalent of existential dread, so the news of his return may well have been the best possible news for Yankees fans this off-season.

LeMahieu’s excellence in pinstripes cannot be overstated, either. He’s 12th in the majors in fWAR since the beginning of 2019, sandwiched between Ronald Acuña Jr. and JT Realtmuto. His 146 wRC+ is 10th, just behind reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger. And his .336 batting average, passé as it may be, is the best in the business. LeMahieu has been nothing short of elite in pinstripes, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

Speaking of, let’s check-in on the projection systems:

SystemPAHRAVG/OBP/SLG (+)WAR
PECOTA64419.295/.360/.450 (122 DRC+)4.6
ZiPS59818.306/.357/.463 (117 wRC+)4.2
Steamer68321.294/.353/.453 (114 wRC+)3.8

All three projection systems are essentially splitting the difference between LeMahieu’s last season in Colorado (87 wRC+) and his first season in the Bronx (135 wRC+), and I’m not all that surprised. After all, he’s 32 and has more than four times as many plate appearances in Colorado. And, given that 2020 was heavily abbreviated, his back-to-back career years involve just 871 PA. I would be at least a bit disappointed in any of those lines – though, all three would be rock solid.

That said: I’m betting the over.

Starting pitching: Significant depth and prospects in the pipeline [2021 Season Preview]

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If you read my piece on the Yankees’ pitching depth last week, you know that the team is pretty deep in starting pitching. Sure, some of those pitchers have their warts, but there are also a number of viable options to pitch out of the rotation. Pitchers break — they always do — so it’s best to have a lot of them. By midsummer, the Yanks may have nearly a dozen major league caliber starters. Yes, some far better than others, but that’s a lot of insurance.

Today, it’s time to preview the organization’s starters. Not just those who’ll see major league time, either. Like my catcher preview or Dom’s corner infield breakdown, I’ll dive into the starters down the rungs of the minors.

A formidable front four

It’s awfully exciting to have a full season of Gerrit Cole ahead of us. In that sense, he still feels like a new addition to this team. I know we saw him for 12 regular season and 3 postseason starts in 2020, but there’s nothing quite like having a bona fide ace for 30-plus starts and 200 innings. And that’s what we can expect from Gerrit this season: a workhorse who could easily win the American League Cy Young award.

If there’s any uncertainty regarding Cole in 2021, it’s his battery mate. As you know, Kyle Higashioka became Cole’s personal catcher by last September. Cole had better numbers with Higgy behind the plate, and given Gary Sánchez’s struggles offensively, it was an easy decision at the time. This year, the Yankees are hoping to pair Cole and Sánchez, and understandably so. Ideally, the two mesh and Gary mashes once again.

After Cole is when folks start getting nervous, which I can understand. What’s a soon-to-be 35 year-old Corey Kluber going to look like after two injury-riddled seasons? How will Jameson Taillon rebound from his second Tommy John surgery? Will Jordan Montgomery‘s results catch up to his peripherals? And so it goes. No, this isn’t a rotation for the risk-averse. But at the same time, how many other big league rotations are full of sure things?

A Modest Defense of Giancarlo Stanton’s Contract

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I am not sure when it happened, but at some point in time Giancarlo Stanton became the most popular in-house target for the ire of Yankees fans everywhere. It may have been when he took his first circuitous route in left field, or when he struggled against the Red Sox in the 2018 ALDS, or when he spent April, May, and most of June on the injured list in 2019 – but it has been the case for at least two years or so.

And I’m here to say that’s mostly unfair.

But first, allow me to get this out of the way: Stanton’s seemingly magnetic attraction to the injured list is incredibly frustrating. He missed 181 of the Yankees 222 games over the last two seasons with a variety of injuries, and that’s seriously detrimental to the team. If Stanton is going to live up to his contract, he is going to have to stay on the field. That’s a given.

It is at this point that I am going to lose many of you, though, with this simple statement: Stanton’s on-field performance has merited his salary.

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