In a surprise trade deadline move, the Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs in exchange for prospects Alex Vizcaíno and Kevin Alcántara. The Yankees were actively pursuing Trevor Story, but turned to Rizzo once the Rockies decided to keep their shortstop. Luke Voit, the incumbent first baseman, was hurt at the time of the deal but it didn’t seem like he had a weak hold on his job, either (though Voit was involved in trade rumors himself). The Yankees gave Rizzo the gig and let him run with it.
Ultimately, the need for left-handed lineup balance and a low-strikeout hitter made Rizzo a good fit, even if it made for perplexing handling of Voit the rest of the season (a subject to revisit once we publish Voit’s season review). We may see more of Rizzo in pinstripes depending on how free agency goes, but for now, let’s reflect on his second half stint in the Bronx.
Now that the Yankees’ 2021 season is behind us, it’s time to bring back our Season Review series. Over the next few months, we’ll drop one or two of these pieces each week. These posts will look back on the given player’s seasonand offer a few takeaways from their performance. This year’s series starts today with Corey Kluber.
The Yankees signed two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to a one-year contract for the 2021 season with the hope that he’d rediscover some semblance of his former self. The righty was hurt for most of 2019 and 2020, but rehabbed with Yankees’ employee Eric Cressey, who undoubtedly gave the organization a vote of confidence in Kluber. In the end, there were some flashes of brilliance, but as a whole, the gamble did not work out as hoped.
It was easy to dream on Kluber reverting to his old self, which would have created perhaps the best one-two punch in the majors alongside Gerrit Cole. That dream started to look like a reality, particularly when he tossed a no-hitter against the Rangers. It was simply too good to be true, though. Kluber suffered a shoulder injury not long after and didn’t resurface again until the very end of the season.
No Kluber for a few months didn’t wind up being a big problem for this year’s team, at least. The pitching staff was great. Rather, the offense was the real downfall. Still, it’s hard not to wonder how things could have been different if the Yankees turned to someone other than Kluber in the offseason to bolster the rotation.
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.
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.
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?
.234/.321/.429 (104 DRC+)
.242/.325/.463 (106 wRC+)
.246/.324/.449 (103 wRC+)
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.
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:
.295/.360/.450 (122 DRC+)
.306/.357/.463 (117 wRC+)
.294/.353/.453 (114 wRC+)
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.