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Room for Improvement: Gleyber Torres

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After 2019, everything was looking up for Gleyber Torres. He surprisingly clubbed 38 home runs on the way to a .358 wOBA and 124 wRC+. While we may not have expected him to repeat that power output, we definitely expected him to do a little more than he did in 2020. 

His total production wasn’t bad (106 wRC+) and he improved his walk rate substantially (13.6%), but his power dropped significantly (3 HR, .125 ISO). He did show last year that he can be an average hitter without power, but I think we all want to see him SLG at least .400, right? Power is an obvious area for improvement for Torres, but it’s ground well covered. Both Derek and I examined this last summer. Instead, let’s take a look at the other side of the ball, where Torres’ potential improvement could be even bigger for the Yankees if he gets back to a higher level of power. 

Room for Improvement: Corey Kluber

Corey Kluber is a great example of the Yankees’ predominant offseason strategy this year – marquee names with risk and high upside, but at a bargain.  The Yankees picked up Kluber on a one-year, $11 million deal. His pedigree can’t be overstated: he is a two-time Cy Young Award winner, finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting in five straight seasons (2014-18), a three-time All-Star, and at his peak was a reliable innings-eater, averaging 218 innings per season during that five-year stretch. He has consistently outpaced his peers, putting up a career 135 ERA+, and was one of the most feared pitchers in the American League throughout much of the last decade.

2o19 and 2020, however, were lost years for Kluber, as he was plagued by injuries and threw only 35.2 and 1 inning(s), respectively. Therefore, I will preface this piece by saying that it’s difficult to pinpoint where, exactly, room for improvement lies in a 35-year-old pitcher who has functionally not pitched in two years, but who was absolutely elite last time he did (the last time Kluber pitched a full season, he went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA and finished third in Cy Young voting). Obviously, Kluber’s biggest “room for improvement” coming into 2021 can be boiled down to “throw more than one inning this year.” If he can do that, however, the Yankees have reason to believe that 2021 Corey Kluber will still be a productive addition to a question mark-heavy rotation.

Room for Improvement: Deivi García

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Deivi García burst onto the major league scene last year as a 21 year old, making his long-awaited debut for prospect nerds like me. In 6 starts and 34.1 innings, he pitched to a 4.98 ERA and 4.15 FIP striking out 22.6 percent of batters faced while walking 4.1 percent.

For such a young player, García’s debut was impressive. And he’s still a top prospect, so there is much to be excited about. Deivi is known for his deadly fastball-curveball combination which confuses batters because it looks like this:

That’s the effect of a rising fastball combined with a curveball averaging nearly 2,700 RPM of spin. Although Deivi’s fastball spin rate and velocity are unremarkable – both rank in the 30th percentile of all major leaguers, the pitch plays up because of an elite active spin rate. 94.2% of García’s fastball spin is considered “active” which means it directly contributes to counteracting gravity and appearing to rise. That is how although Deivi typically throws in the low 90s, he gets swings and misses like this:

So, how can Deivi García improve this year to catapult himself from the back-end of the rotation into a rotation mainstay?

Room for Improvement: Aaron Hicks

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Aaron Hicks, a former top prospect now entering his age-31 season, is either considered a Yankees success story or a bust, depending on who you ask. When he came over from Minnesota in 2016, his career numbers were lackluster at best, with an 81 OPS+, a .306 OBP, and a strikeout rate of over 20 percent.  Since putting on pinstripes, the New York fanbase has seen flashes of Hicks’ potential.  After a mediocre 2016 campaign, Hicks turned it around in 2017 and 2018. His strikeout numbers dipped, he OPS’d .838 over the course of those two seasons, hit a career-high 27 home runs in 2018, and even earned a down-ballot MVP vote that same year.

2019, however, was an injury plagued, mostly disappointing season for Hicks, and after the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign Yankees fans are left wondering who the “real Aaron Hicks” is and what to expect from him as the 2021 season begins.  A few things stand out as areas to watch, including health, on-base skill, and producing competitive outcomes on balls in play.

Room for Improvement: Jordan Montgomery

In one important way, 2020 was a runaway success for Jordan Montgomery. After pitching just 31.1 innings between 2018-2019 thanks to Tommy John Surgery, Monty got back on the bump in 2020 and threw 44 innings for the Yankees across ten starts.

Despite an ugly 5.11 ERA, he managed some great peripherals: 3.87 FIP (85 FIP-); 24.4% K; 4.7% BB; 42.9% GB. According to Statcast, he was in the 95th and 88th percentiles, respectively, for exit velocity (84.6) and hard contact rate (29.9) against.

Even that ERA is perhaps a touch misleading. He had two really awful starts: a 4 inning, 5 run clunker against the Phillies in August and a 0.2 inning, 4 run nightmare of a start against Tampa in September.

Health alone would’ve made 2020 successful for Montgomery, but there were also results that made it so as well. Like everyone, though, he could still stand to improve in 2021, specifically in two areas: line drives and length.

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