Reviewing the Yankees’ 2021 Projections: ZiPS

If it feels incredibly early to start thinking about 2021 projections, that’s because it is. Last year, we started this series in January. This year, we get an early start merely as a result of the ZiPS projections for the Yankees last week. It just so happens that the Yankees were on the early end of FanGraphs’ release schedule this time around. Of course, the roster will change by spring training. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t peek at how things stand right now.

The graphic adds up to +49 WAR. That’s a 97 to 99 win team, keeping in mind that a replacement level club is said to win between 48 and 50 games. Adding up the WAR is incredibly dumb far more often than not, and I must say that calling the current Yankees club a near-100 win team seems like a stretch. That’s without DJ LeMahieu, Masahiro Tanaka, and James Paxton, after all. I guess it speaks to this team’s high-end talent.

Similar to last year, I’m going to call out some notable projections. Ones that I think sell the player short, ones that are too aggressive for my taste, ones that feel just right, and some surprises. Let’s get to it:

Betting the over

Hitter: Gio Urshela has hit .310/.358/.523 (133 OPS+) with 27 homers in 650 plate appearances since joining the Yankees. ZiPS, however, doesn’t seem quite ready to fully buy in on the 29 year-old third baseman. The system projects a triple-slash of .283/.331/.459 (110 OPS+) and 18 homers in 508 plate appearances. A good offensive projection, but I presume that ZiPS is scarred by Urshela’s pre-Yankees offensive performance. Urshela might regress a little bit, but there’s nothing that indicates him taking as big of a step back as ZiPS estimates. Not only have Urshela’s results been good, but he’s made mechnical adjustments and is a Statcast darling. This is an easy over for me.

Pitcher: Zack Britton had another excellent season out of the Yankees’ bullpen in 2020. Britton’s posted a 1.90 ERA and 3.47 FIP in 80 1/3 innings dating back to 2019, but ZiPS is lukewarm on the lefty. It projects Britton to record a 3.72 ERA and 3.79 FIP. Clearly, the system expects his ERA to catch up to his FIP. That said, Britton tends to be a bit of an anomaly when comparing his ERA and FIP. He doesn’t rack up high strikeout totals and walks more batters than one would like, which is a concern in a vacuum. But Britton’s elite groundball rate and emerging breaking ball makes me confident the southpaw will dominate again in 2021.

Betting the under

Hitter: I have to go with Mike Tauchman here. ZiPS pegs the outfielder to hit .260/.339/.426 (105 OPS+). Look, Tauchman was terrific in 2019, but he was thoroughly exposed in 2020 and hit for no power (83 OPS+, .063 isolated power). Opponents blew fastballs right by Tauchman all season, offering the pitch type nearly 64 percent of the time. Tauchman responded with a .189 batting average and .264 slugging percentage against fastballs. Considering his age (30) and previous power struggles in Colorado’s farm system, 2019 feels like an exception to the rule for Tauchman.

Pitcher: ZiPS really likes Michael King. Now, a 4.64 ERA and 4.55 FIP in 108 2/3 frames isn’t anything special, but it’s just slightly below league average per ZiPS. Meanwhile, King owns a 7.22 ERA and 4.94 FIP in 28 2/3 career big league innings through 2020. I know King has put up some gaudy numbers in the minors, but his pitching elbow’s stress reaction in 2019 and no big league success to date concerns me. Especially when facing hitters a second time through the lineup, an area he’s really struggled. I just can’t get on the league average-ish bandwagon for King just yet.

Push

Hitter: Aaron Judge’s .255/.367/.536 (139 OPS+) is the team’s top hitting projection (just edging Giancarlo Stanton’s 138 OPS+), and it feels just about right. Not just because of the numbers, but also because of the playing time. ZiPS gives Judge 499 plate appearances in 2021, which unfortunately, seems about right. He hasn’t eclipsed 500 trips to the plate since his rookie season, when he had 678. Now, in terms of the numbers, Judge owns a 142 OPS+ since 2019, so this projection seems pretty reasonable on a rate basis.

He agrees, I guess.

Pitcher: Any time you get a prime Greg Maddux comp from ZiPS, you’re doing something right. Granted, you wouldn’t mistake Maddux for Gerrit Cole in terms of pitching styles, but a projected 139 ERA+ and 5.1 WAR in 32 starts. I was actually tempted to take the over on this forecast as it has Cole with a 3.21 ERA and 3.14 FIP, but it’s hard to ask for much more.

Biggest Surprises

Hitter: Remember how much ZiPS loved Gleyber Torres last year? Not only did it expect him to hit 41 homers in a full 2020 campaign, but it also projected 223 homers in total through 2024. This time around, ZiPS gives Torres a 33 home run total in 2021, a big power dip. Now, the OPS+ projection of 136 is exactly the same as his pre-season 2020 projection, but it’s the shift in how it views his power that I find surprising. I know Gleyber struggled to hit homers this season, but I didn’t expect ZiPS to weigh 160 plate appearances so heavily. Still, a .284/.364/.526 forecast is nothing to sneeze at. That said, ZiPS loathes Torres’s glove, another indicator that he probably shouldn’t be a shortstop.

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Pitcher: 40-man roster addition candidate Addison Russ has a big fan in ZiPS. The righty reliever acquired from Philly for David Hale over the summer is eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and if ZiPS is any indication, he should be protected. The system projects Russ for a 3.79 ERA and 3.74 FIP in 57 innings, with a strong 28.8 percent strikeout rate to boot. This is a better projection than Britton, Luis Cessa, and Jonathan Loaisiga, among other Yankees relievers. Yeah, didn’t expect that.

Personal Favorites

Hitter: ZiPS still loves Giancarlo Stanton despite the array of injuries over the past two seasons. He’s projected to hit .250/.347/.558 (138 OPS+) and swat 38 homers in 527 opportunities in 2021, which would be nothing short of terrific. Injuries have sidelined Stanton for much of 2019 and 2020, so I’m pleasantly surprised to see his playing time still projected that high. It’s likely because ZiPS has him as a DH, which I assume helps. I’m ready for Stanton to go off and remind everyone how good he is (kinda like what he did this postseason), so this projection speaks to me.

Pitcher: I can’t wait to see Luis Severino back on the mound. If ZiPS is any indication, the righty will be a huge boost to the Yankees’ rotation upon return from Tommy John surgery rehab mid-2021. The system forecasts a 3.64 ERA and 3.70 FIP in 19 starts. That’s rather exciting considering that Severino missed nearly all of 2019 due to injury before needing surgery this spring.

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3 Comments

  1. DanGer

    I doubt we’ll see prime Severino before 2022. He’s due back mid-season and TJS pitchers struggle with control at first.

    Torres’ power will be fine. He hit 24 in 123 games as a 21yo rookie. His first 2 years he averaged 38 HR per 162 games. I’m not about to freak out over 42 games in COVID-land.

    Also strange that Miggy Two Bag isn’t even considered a bench player. Can’t wait for him to come out and mash next year.

  2. dzb

    Slightly off topic, but I see that MLBTR mentions Sanchez as a non-tender candidate. That seems crazy to me. I cannot see the team totally cutting ties, regardless of his salary projection through arbitration.

    • MikeD

      It is silly. At worst, the Yankees would sign him and then trade him. They’re not going to non-tender him and watch the Red Sox sign him, or the Rays, etc. to see him become a change-or-scenery guy and crush 40 HRs for a key opposition team. At minimum, they’d control his landing spot. Beyond that, Sanchez is going nowhere. He may not be the starting catcher for game one of the 2021 season since Cole will be pitching, but he will be the Yankees starting catcher next year. MLBTR also has DJLM signing with Toronto at a reasonable contract, one that the Yankees would easily top. They traditionally have done a good job predicting arbitration salaries, but I wouldn’t put much faith in their other predictions.

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