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[2020 Season Preview] The NL East Competition

Yesterday, I previewed the Yankees’ intra-division opponents for this coming season. As noted there, those games will make up two-thirds of the 2020 schedule. The remainder of the 60-game slate will take place against the ballclubs previewed today from the NL East. Let’s dive in.

Washington Nationals

I hereby declare Juan Soto “Future Yankee Juan Soto”.

Last year’s World Series champions lost arguably its best player, Anthony Rendon, over the winter. Still, Washington has a very talented club led by an elite starting rotation and young positional talent like Future Yankee Juan Soto and Trea Turner. The NL East is pretty deep, so it’s not going to be easy for the Nationals to make the postseason, let alone repeat as champions. I don’t think it’d shock anyone if they came out on top of their division, though.

Health

Center fielder Victor Robles and pitchers Roenis Elias and Wander Suero have undisclosed injuries, though it sounds like Robles will be ready to play at the start of the season. Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross opted out. Washington has no other injuries at the moment.

Biggest Strength

It doesn’t get much better than Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin atop of the rotation. Similar to their World Series run last October, the Nats will go as far as that trio takes them. The Yankees will have the treat of facing that trio this weekend, by the way.

Biggest Question

Is Carter Kiemboom ready to fill the Rendon’s void? Hard to imagine that he’ll approximate anything close to Rendon’s production, especially in his rookie season. Nonetheless, perhaps a breakout from Victor Robles in center field can help alleviate the loss of Rendon.

When we’ll see them

Right away. The Yankees and Nationals open the season in Washington, DC on Thursday. It’s a three game series and the only time the two sides will face each other in 2020.

Atlanta Braves

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The Nats may have won the World Series last year, but I have to admit that I forgot that they were the runner-up to the Braves in the NL East in 2019. It probably doesn’t help that Atlanta had such an ugly finish to its season. Not only did they blow a 2-1 series lead in the Division Series to the Cardinals, but they did so in ugly fashion. The Braves had the lead late in Game 4 only to lose in extras and got humiliated in Game 5. In turn, Atlanta didn’t do much in the offseason to get better. Yes, they added Marcell Ozuna, but they also lost Josh Donaldson in free agency. A division title is certainly in reach again, but the Braves did nothing to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Health

Peter O’Brien (undisclosed), Pete Kozma (COVID-19), and Will Smith (COVID-19) are currently unavailable. Freddie Freeman and Touki Toussaint were recently cleared to return after battling the virus. Nick Markakis and Félix Hernández opted out. On the injury front, Cole Hamels (triceps tendinitis) Jeremy Walker (shoulder impingement) are also shelved for the time being.

Biggest Strength

Even with the newly added Smith and Hamels not around (yet), the Braves have a good group on the mound. It’s more of a deep pitching staff versus a top heavy one. Not only do they already have a solid rotation even without Hamels around, but they also have top prospect Ian Anderson in waiting. The bullpen is solid too: once Smith returns, he’ll join Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Luke Jackson, and Chris Martin in relief.

Biggest Question

Freddie Freeman’s well-being following his recovery from COVID-19 has to be a big concern. Atlanta has a really good lineup on paper with him alongside Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, and Ozuna, but I can’t help but wonder about Freeman over the stretch run. Not having him and his career 137 wRC+ at full strength in the lineup would be a huge blow. We don’t know yet how (or if) he’ll experience long-term affects from the virus, but it’s certainly something that will remain a lingering question until he proves otherwise. Most importantly, it’s a relief that he’s healthy after feeling so sick that he prayed for his life.

When we’ll see them

The Yankees will host the Braves on August 11th and 12th. They’ll also head down to Atlanta for another two-game series a couple of weeks later on the 25th and 26th.

New York Mets

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The Mets had the National League’s second-best winning percentage after the All-Star break last season, seemingly positioning themselves for a postseason run in 2020. But the offseason into traditional spring training wasn’t exactly smooth for the Yankees’ crosstown rivals.

After firing Mickey Callaway and hiring Carlos Beltrán, the club had to part ways with Beltrán in the fallout of the Astros’ cheating scandal. Luis Rojas is now at the helm. Things didn’t end there, by the way. Team sale rumors have hovered since the winter. Speaking of the winter, the Mets didn’t necessarily make any needle-moving additions to the roster while also losing Zack Wheeler (free agency) and Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery). Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha will fill in the rotation. The one move with a potential big pay-off is Dellin Betances (sigh). The lack of reinforcements following a strong finish to last year will make it tough for them to eclipse the Nationals, Braves, and potentially the Phillies.

Health

Two relievers — Brad Brach and Jared Hughes — haven’t reported yet for undisclosed reasons. We already know that Syndergaard is done for the season, as mentioned earlier. Lastly, Jed Lowrie has played with a massive knee brace during Summer Camp, though how effective and healthy he actually is remains a big question.

Biggest Strength

The Mets shouldn’t have much trouble scoring runs this season. Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil make for a formidable trio among many other talented hitters in the lineup. The universal designated hiter will really help them out considering how many DH-types the Mets have. JD Davis, Dom Smith, and Yoenis Cespedes could all see some time there and lengthen the club’s lineup.

Biggest Question

Even without Thor or Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman make for an excellent one-two punch at the top of the rotation. But after that, the rest of the rotation and bullpen is questionable. Steven Matz, Porcello, and Wacha isn’t a great way to round out the rotation, and the options in the minors thereafter aren’t too exciting. Now, there’s plenty of upside on the relief side of things, especially if Betances regains his velocity and Edwin Díaz reverts to his Seattle form. Those two things are far from certain though. Overall, there’s a lot of volatility on the pitching side of things.

When we’ll see them

There’ll be two subway series toward the end of August. One from the 21st through 23rd at Citi Field and another at home from the 28th through the 30th.

Philadelphia Phillies

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There are a couple of familiar faces in the City of Brotherly Love this year. New manager Joe Girardi and Didi Gregorius are a couple of the Phillies’ big additions over the winter (along with Wheeler, as mentioned in the Mets’ section). These moves, followed by the addition of Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto a year ago, represent a recent trend for Philadelphia unlike their divisional competitors. The club has actually tried to improve externally and push itself back into postseason play. They finished .500 last season, but could make a push for the division crown in 2020.

Health

Relievers Ranger Suarez and Austin Davis are away from the team for undisclosed reasons. Two other bullpen arms, Seranthony Dominguez (elbow discomfort) is on the 45-day injured list and ex-Yankee David Robertson (Tommy John surgery) won’t pitch this season.

Biggest Strength

This is one of the deeper lineups in the league. In addition to the aforementioned Harper, Realmuto, and Didi, the Phils also have Andrew McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins, Jay Bruce, and Jean Segura as regulars. At some point soon, top prospect Alec Bohm could be penciled in at the hot corner as well.

Biggest Question

There’s a lot of name value in the Phillies’ rotation: Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Jake Arrieta. But Nola had a bit of a down season last year while Arrieta hasn’t been same since he left the Cubs after 2017. Even with some lingering concerns about Nola and Arrieta, the bigger worry has to be Philly’s bullpen. Right now, Hector Neris (the closer) is the team’s best reliever, which doesn’t say much. The team’s highest-upside reliever, Dominguez, may not pitch this season. Unfortunately for Girardi, there’s not too much to work with in relief, and it could be the team’s downfall in 2020.

When we’ll see them

The Yanks and Phils will play back-to-back home-and-home series next week. Two games in Philly starting Monday and another two at Yankee Stadium on the 29th and 30th.

Miami Marlins

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Health

Outfielders Lewis Brinson and Matt Joyce aren’t around for undisclosed reasons, though Brinson reportedly has worked out at Miami’s alternate training site over the past few days.

Biggest Strength

Nope, not gonna try here. If we were talking the farm system and not the big league squad, it’d be a different story. There’s actually some promise there. Which leads to the next section…

Biggest Question

When will the organization’s top prospects get a chance? There’s a ton of upside in the system, from starter Sixto Sánchez to shortstop Jazz Chisholm to outfielders JJ Bleday and Jesús Sánchez, though not everyone is quite major league ready. Bleday was just drafted last year, so we can probably count him out. But both Sixto and Jesús Sánchez could see some time in the majors this year. Chisholm isn’t too far away either. Until any of these players see time with the Marlins, there won’t be too much to watch this team for.

When we’ll see them

Just once: the final series of the regular season. The Marlins come to the Bronx for a three-game set beginning September 25th. Assuming the Marlins are absolutely toast by then, the Yankees should close the year on a high note.


This is a pretty tough interleague assignment for the Yankees. It would have been nice to see Miami earlier in the year, but those are the breaks. Any of the four non-Marlins clubs could make the playoffs this season which speaks to the depth of this group. There’s no question that the Yankees are better than all of these teams, but these will be difficult matchups nonetheless.

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[2020 Season Preview] The AL East Competition

Ready or not, regular season baseball is coming this week. The Yankees open with an interleague series against the Nationals on Thursday, but the majority of the Bombers’ slate will be against its AL East divisional rivals. Bobby gave a good rundown of the schedule here, but the gist is: 40 games vs. intradivision rivals, which I’ll preview today. The other 20 come against NL East opponents to be previewed later this week.

It’s been a while since we’ve written any season preview posts. I did write the catch up article at the end of June, but our player-specific pieces have been dormant since March. We won’t get to wrap up our player previews at this point, but today, we give you a roundup of the AL East. Let’s get to it.

Tampa Bay Rays

Lol. via Marc Topkin

With apologies to Steven, now is not the time to respect the Rays. To be clear, Tampa Bay is a good team and almost certainly the Yankees’ toughest divisional competition this season. However, the Rays didn’t actively do anything to significantly close the gap with the Yankees. The only thing that actually might shrink the difference is COVID-19, as absurd as that statement is. With fewer games comes more variance, and thus a better chance for the Rays to finally do something better than the Wild Card.

For an offseason refresher, here is Tampa Bay’s winter review.

Health

Considering the state of the world, it makes the most sense to address the Rays’ health first (I’ll do this for each team). The Rays have just one player currently on the injured list confirmed to test positive for COVID-19 (Austin Meadows). Others, like Randy Arozarena and Yonny Chirinos are currently on the shelf too for undisclosed reasons, though you can infer what’s going on there. There is one more “traditional” injury to note: oft-hurt prospect Brent Honeywell had an elbow procedure and likely won’t pitch this year.

Biggest strength:

Pitching is the one area the Rays can go toe-to-toe with just about any other team in the league. Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow make for a stellar trio atop the rotation. The bullpen features last year’s breakout fireman, Nick Anderson, alongside Diego Castillo, José Alvarado, and more.

Biggest question:

I think the number one concern for Tampa Bay is its offense, which looks pretty mediocre. The Rays were 16th in runs scored last year, subtracted arguably its best hitter (Tommy Pham) and may not have Meadows at the start of the year. Tampa Bay does have a number of options to replace Pham’s offense (Hunter Renfroe, José Martínez, and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo). None, however, look like certain upgrades to an offense that really needs a big lift.

Boston Red Sox

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Make no bones about it: the Red Sox are worse than last year. The organization traded away its best player (Mookie Betts) and lost its best pitcher (Chris Sale) to Tommy John surgery. It’s hard to imagine them as much of a threat this season, especially with an incredibly thin pitching staff. Still, the team’s offense could be good enough to outslug some teams even with Betts around anymore.

For an offseason refresher, here is Boston’s winter review.

Health

Eduardo Rodríguez and Darwinzon Hernández are sidelined because of positive coronavirus tests. E-Rod would have been the team’s opening day starter whereas Hernández is a prospect who should still see some time in Boston’s bullpen this year. Aside from COVID-19 related health issues, the Red Sox also won’t have newbie Colin McHugh for opening day whose still working to return from an offseason elbow procedure. The aforementioned Sale is done for the year. Lastly, the only other player I haven’t yet mentioned is Dustin Pedroia, who’s hardly played since 2017 because of serious knee injuries. Don’t expect to see him anytime soon.

Biggest strength:

Even without Betts, Boston’s offense is still going to be pretty good. JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers are a force in the middle of the lineup and certainly can win games for the Sox on their own. PECOTA projects Boston to score 307 runs this year, which isn’t far behind its 318 run projection for the Yankees.

Biggest question:

The Red Sox’ starting pitching looks pretty bad. It was stretched thin last season, but rather than try to patch things up, Boston’s big addition was Martín Pérez. He joins Nate Eovaldi and Rodríguez at the top of the rotation, though the latter may miss a start or two to start the season. Eovaldi and Rodríguez are two solid mid-rotation arms, but if the rest of your starters are filled out virtual no names, you’re in trouble.

Toronto Blue Jays

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It’s not a matter of if, but when, the Blue Jays will be a threat. We all know about the young studs the lineup already features. The pitching hasn’t come together just yet, but the front office certainly tried to patch things up over the winter, particularly with the Hyun-Jin Ryu signing. On paper, it’s pretty safe to assume that the Yankees and Rays are better teams, but who knows what can happen in a 60 game sprint. Granted, things could be a bit tougher on the Jays since the team won’t play in its home city all season. This is a team that certainly can wreak some havoc, but they’ll also have to show some extra resiliency.

For an offseason refresher, here is Toronto’s winter review.

Health

There are a number of Blue Jays on the injured list for…undisclosed reasons. Infielder Brandon Drury, outfielder Jonathan Davis, and pitchers Elvis Luciano, Hector Perez, and Wilmer Font make up this bunch. Other injuries include newly acquired starter Chase Anderson, whose strained oblique will keep him out of the rotation in the early going. Reliever Yennsy Díaz is also out with a strained lat.

Biggest strength:

Toronto can stack up with the best of ’em in terms of raw talent on the position player side. From Vlad Guerrero Jr. to Bo Bichette to Lourdes Gurriel (among others!), the Blue Jays lineup boasts a load of offensive potential. Whether or not those hitters are ready to live up to their billing in 2020 remains to be seen, but it’s certainly better to have the underlying talent than not. The lineup is a threat to become a force at a moment’s notice.

Biggest question:

This became pretty obvious over the last few days, no? Where are the Jays going to play? Canada doesn’t want them, and understandably so given how the United States has handled this pandemic. The season starts this week and the Blue Jays have no idea where they’ll call home this season. For all intents and purposes, Toronto will play a 60-game road schedule and players won’t be able to ever be fully comfortable. That’s a huge disadvantage.

Before this news broke, I was going to use this section to talk about Nate Pearson’s debut date. He’s one of baseball’s top pitching prospects that could be the team’s ace for years to come. How long will the Jays keep him on the sidelines, especially if they are in contention?

Baltimore Orioles

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After a 54-108 record last year, this season’s 60-game slate is merciful. Baltimore is still a long way from contention and will almost certainly finish last in the division this summer. Since the Orioles are going to be the divisional doormat, it’s going to be pivotal for the Yankees to clean up against them.

I didn’t do an offseason review for the Orioles. Not that you missed much!

Health

As far as I can tell, Baltimore actually has no players on the shelf for COVID-19 or undisclosed reasons. The team does have a big void in Trey Mancini, who’s currently undergoing chemotherapy to treat stage 3 colon cancer and won’t play this year. Hopefully the treatment goes well and he can return strong in 2021. In terms of baseball-related injuries, O’s shortstop Richie Martin broke his wrist in an intrasquad game last week. Lastly, staff ace and 2019 breakout John Means is currently dealing with a dead arm.

Biggest strength:

You can’t make me try to find a strength on this club. Sorry.

Biggest question:

Will we see Adley Rutschman? Last year’s number one overall pick is the focal point of Baltimore’s long-term plans. The 22 year-old catcher has spent a little bit of time with the team at Summer Camp, but it’s still a bit difficult to imagine that he’ll actually play for the Birds this season. There’s no question that he’d give fans something to watch for, but considering that the Orioles imported the Astros’ mindset with the hiring of Mike Elias, the organization probably won’t start his service time clock.

Projections

Before we wrap this up, let’s take a glance at a couple of projections for the AL East this year. First, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA:

via Baseball Prospectus

As expected, the shortened season will make this division race relatively tight in PECOTA’s eyes. Still, the system has the Yankees on top by roughly four games, which is actually relatively big given the limited schedule. Only the Dodgers (92.1 percent) have better division title odds than the Yankees this season.

Let’s turn to Fangraphs, which uses ZiPS and Steamer:

via Fangraphs

Things are uncomfortably tight here! The Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox are all within three games of each other. What’s clearer: these projections like the Yankees a bit less than PECOTA does.


As you know, 2020 is far from normal. A lot can go wrong on and off the field this year, and whether or not we actually finish the season isn’t totally certain. But as it stands, the Yankees *should* win this division. They are the best and deepest team from top to bottom. Still, a shortened season can throw a wrench into things, which will make a team like the Rays a bigger threat than under normal circumstances.

Talent aside, there’s a decent chance that the team that stays healthiest will come out on top. And I’m not talking about typical baseball injuries, either. The coronavirus could easily derail any team’s season. It feels weird and gross to say this, but if you consider the Rays the Yankees’ only true competition for the division title, perhaps the Yankees are at a health advantage. The Rays will need a tight ship and good fortune to avoid multiple players going into the COVID-19 protocol considering how quickly Florida’s situation has deteriorated. Meanwhile, New York is in better shape for the time being.

Catching up with where the Yankees left off in March

Baseball is coming back, but the stands will remain like this. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Playing baseball seems pretty reckless right now, but things will move full steam ahead starting this week. The Yankees already announced their initial player pool yesterday, which I broke down here. Most of those players will report to “summer camp” by Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. The rest, i.e. the taxi squad, will head to another location.

Since it’s been a long time since spring training was cut short, now’s a good time to refresh our memories of where the Yankees stand today. But first, let’s run down some of the new rules for this season:

  • Universal designated-hitter
  • 30-man roster for first two weeks of season, followed by 28 players for the next two weeks, and lastly 26 players the rest of the way
  • August 31st trade deadline
  • Postseason eligibility: player must be added to Major League roster by September 15th
  • Teams can have three players on their taxi-squad for road games, one of three must be a catcher
  • Extra-innings will begin with a runner on second base (batter who made final our in previous inning or a pinch runner)
  • 10-day injured list for pitchers and hitters
  • 60-day injured list is now 45-days
  • Separate injured list for players who test positive or have symptoms of COVID-19 with no minimum or maximum days for list

With that out of the way, here’s how the Yankees shape up at the moment.

Aaron Judge could be ready for Opening Day

The saga continues, three months later. Newsday’s Erik Boland reported on the right fielder’s status over the weekend, and while its good news that Judge is hitting off a tee, it’s not as much progress as one might have hoped since March.

As a reminder, Judge suffered a rib stress fracture and collapsed lung late last season, though nobody found out until this spring. His lung is healthy, but his rib is another story. We learned that Judge was set to have a CT scan to check his progress in mid-May, and perhaps another one not long after. However, we’ve been in the dark ever since.

Boland quotes one club insider who said that Judge “didn’t seem to be holding anything back”. That’s good and all, but tee work is still a long ways away from game action. Hopefully, the three week tune up is enough time for him to ramp up from the tee to game-ready. The Yankees really need as much of Judge as possible in this shortened season, so hopefully we get better news when the players report to camp this week. For now though, “could” doesn’t leave me particularly optimistic.

Stanton, Hicks, and Paxton are healthy

In better injury news: Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and James Paxton are healthy.

Stanton, who lost nearly all of 2019 to a myriad of injuries, suffered a calf strain back in February. It’s not new news that Stanton’s ready, though. Manager Aaron Boone said so back in March, as Bobby reminded us in a post a few weeks ago.

Last week, Hicks told the New York Post he’s ready to play. So that’s that. I think we all anticipated this, particularly after seeing how long it took Didi Gregorius to rehab offseason Tommy John surgery last season.

Finally, Paxton’s surgically repaired herniated disc is a non-issue at this point. This is old news, but positive nonetheless. Having a healthy Paxton piggy back Gerrit Cole during the 60 game sprint will be key, especially if the southpaw is as good as he was down the stretch last summer. Remember, the Yankees were undefeated in his final eleven starts of 2019 when he posted a 2.51 ERA. Not only would a repeat performance obviously propel the Yankees, but it would help Paxton land a big contract this winter when he hits free agency.

Domingo Germán’s suspension

The shortened season has guaranteed that the Yankees won’t have Domingo Germán in 2020. The 27 year-old right hander was suspended at the end of 2019 after MLB’s investigated a domestic violence altercation between Germán and his girlfriend.

Entering this year, there were 63 games remaining on his suspension which would have put him on track for a return in June under normal circumstances. Instead, the remainder of his suspension will keep him on the sidelines for all of the regular season and three postseason games should the Yankees make it. I can’t imagine the Yankees bringing him back for the postseason, though.

About JA Happ’s Vesting Option

I doubt that the Yankees want to bring JA Happ back in 2021. Over a full 162 game season, it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the Yankees to prevent his $17 million option from vesting. Was he really going to make 27 starts or throw 165 innings over a full season this year? Probably not. But now, under the terms of the March agreement, things get trickier for the Yankees. Take a look:

Each player signed to a major league contract at the start of the season shall have his salary determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the number of games scheduled (not adjusting for weather-related postponements or cancellations) divided by 162, minus any advanced salary. In the event of an additional interruption or delay, the salary shall be determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the games played by the player’s club divided by 162. Thresholds and amounts for bonuses, escalators and vesting options would be reduced by using the same formula.

In a 60 game schedule, Happ needs to make 10 starts or throw at least 61 1/3 innings to return to the Yankees in 2021. I wouldn’t fret about the innings threshold. However, limiting Happ to just nine starts during that span won’t be so simple. It’ll take an injury or a demotion to the bullpen to fall short. I guess we can’t rule out contraction of COVID-19 either, sadly. What a world we live in.

What if the pandemic interrupts or ends the 60 game season prematurely? Happ’s thresholds would be recalculated based on the amount of games the Yankees play. Since Happ will only need to make one start every six games, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the season ends after just 10 games and Happ’s already made two starts, thereby guaranteeing his 2021 option.

Adam Ottavino seeks a rebound from last posteason [2020 Season Preview]

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It feels a bit weird to churn out another season preview at the moment. As Bobby argued this morning, the beginning of the regular season should be delayed. It absolutely stinks that it’s come to this point — I think we all need something to look forward to given the current events — but postponement looks like the smart move. Better to get a handle on things now than for COVID-19 to cause a midseason stoppage.

Anyway, at some point hopefully not too long from now, Adam Ottavino will trot in from the bullpen for his first regular season appearance. Year one of his three year deal was mostly a success, though he seemingly ran out of steam once the postseason came around. The Brooklyn-native had an excellent 1.90 ERA in 66 1/3 regular season frames, though his high walk rate (14.1 percent) kept his FIP up at a still-good 3.44.

Once October rolled around, Ottavino struggled. Aaron Boone called upon Otto eight times, but the righty only recorded ten outs. Whether it was fatigue or unusual usage (he basically became a ROOGY), the 34 year-old floundered in the playoffs.

Ottavino enters 2020 with a clean slate, though he assuredly wants to get the bad taste of the postseason out of his mouth. There’s little doubt that he’ll be very effective once again, though that doesn’t mean he can’t get better. If he and the Yankees can answer some or all of the following questions, Ottavino can have a better 2020 from wire to wire.

Can he get lefties out?

Aaron Boone changed the way he used Ottavino quite dramatically in the postseason last year. After facing lefties and righties all season, Ottavino became a righty specialist. In retrospect, it made sense. The righty reliever had a 142 tOPS+ against left-handed hitters compared to a 79 tOPS+ against righties. tOPS+, for those unfamiliar, measures a player’s split against their overall performance. That said, his sOPS+ (performance in a split vs. league in same split) was 100 against lefties, making him league average in those situations. Not terrible, but there’s still a huge gap in performance depending on who he faced.

Ottavino’s historically been better against righties, which isn’t a surprise. He’s got a funky delivery, lower arm angle, and an absolutely nasty slider. Those same features also make him a bit easier to see from the left side of the plate.

Good luck with that!

Still, the difference in his performance against either side wasn’t always a stark as 2019. In 2018, Ottavino was terrific against left-handers. He was still better against righties, as evidence by his tOPS+ split of 119/85. However, lefties hit .179/.319/.241 against him in ’18, or a 57 sOPS+. So we know he’s capable.

Here’s the interesting thing: some of the underlying data against left-handed hitters hasn’t changed. Last season, hard hit percentage and exit velocity against are virtually were virtually the same as 2018 against lefties.

However, Ottavino struggled to miss bats against left-handers last season. His whiff percentage and strikeout rate dropped by 6 and 11 percent, respectively.

(Baseball Savant)

As you can see, he became pretty sinker-reliant vs. lefties last season. Perhaps because they had better success against his slider than usual. Which is odd, because his slider has neutralized lefties in recent seasons too:

YearwOBA vs. LHBxwOBA vs. LHB
2019.430.395
2018.274.240
2017.255.222
2016.143.156
2015.110.157

Weird! All prior data suggests that Ottavino can deploy his slider very effectively against lefties, so what gives? It’s hard to say. I’d like to believe it was a fluke, though the xwOBA against suggests otherwise.

Even so, I’d like to see the righty try to re-establish his slider against lefties. It’s unequivocally his best pitch regardless of what side the batter stands, so he should try to avoid shelving it. He’s had plenty of success with it in the past, so it’s not time to give up on the pitch against lefties yet.

Should the Yankees lighten his workload?

If the season is delayed due to COVID-19, this won’t be quite as much of a concern. Nonetheless, as long as the season is still officially a go, let’s look at this as if all 162 games willbe played.

Ottavino pitched a lot last year. He appeared in 73 games, two short of his career-high 75 in his final season with Colorado. That’s not 2004 Paul Quantrill level, but it’s still less than ideal.

The Yankees were able to taper Ottavino’s workload down the stretch last season. Through July 31st, the righty had appeared in 51 of the team’s 107 games, or a 77 appearance pace. From there on out, Ottavino was summoned 22 times, or a 65 appearance pace over a full season. I have to imagine the Yankees would prefer the latter in 2020.

Hopefully, the addition of Gerrit Cole along with the emergence of another multi-inning reliever (Jonathan Loaisiga, please) can reduce some of the pressure the Yankees’ bullpen faces. In 2019, Ottavino and others had no choice but to save the Yankees’ starters from shorter outings. The Bombers may still run into that situation again this year, especially with Luis Severino and James Paxton out for extended periods, but Cole should mitigate that to some degree.

It’s not that the 34 year-old isn’t up to the task of another 70-plus outings, but rather, cutting back would be the smart course of action. Whether or not fatigue was an issue for him come last postseason is up for debate, but he certainly didn’t pitch well.

Will he be able to keep his walk rate in check?

As previously noted, Ottavino finished 2019 with a 14.1 percent walk rate. That’s pretty bad! It was seventh-worst among qualified relievers and 67 percent higher than the league average walk rate. Yet, Ottavino’s control wasn’t bad all season.

(Baseball Savant)

By the second half of last season, the reliever was able to get his walk rate down to a far more reasonable level.

Ottavino will probably never develop good control, but if he can keep his walk rate closer to where he was in the second half of 2019, he’s a better bet going forward. Obvious statement, I know. It’s just that the righty posted a career high 87.8 percent strand rate last season and no prior years really come close. Chances are that rate regresses a bit this season, so limiting baserunners by free pass will help mitigate some of the regression.

Now, with fewer walks also came fewer strikeouts for Ottavino toward the end of last year. His strikeout rates, from April to September, progressed as follows: 31.1, 30, 40.9, 32.6, 27.9, 26.3. Now, I don’t think this has anything to do with Ottavino walking fewer batters. It’s not like Ottavino was throwing more pitches in the strike zone in order to avoid base on balls and thereby giving opponents more pitches to hit. Aside from a 44.4 percent zone rate in June, the righty’s zone rate hovered right around 50 percent all season. It’s just that his whiff rate declined as the season went on, which is a bit peculiar. Again, might want to chalk that up to workload fatigue.

In any event, a lower walk rate doesn’t have to mean fewer strikeouts for number zero. In 2018, Ottavino managed a 11.7 percent walk rate while punching out a career best 36.3 percent of batters faced. Granted, it’s not easy to just go out and match what he did in 2018, but it’s certainly possible. Ottavino can probably get away with another free pass rate similar to 2019’s, but I’d expect his good fortune to lessen a bit in return. It’ll be hard to repeat a 1.90 ERA and 87.8 percent strand rate with another walk percentage north of 14.

2020 Outlook: What They’re Saying

Here is what the projections are saying going into the season:

  • PECOTA (70 IP): 10.9 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 3.46 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 0.7 WARP
  • ZiPS (59 1/3 IP): 12.7 K/9, 5.3 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 3.49 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 0.7 WAR
  • Steamer (68 IP): 11.1 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 4.33 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 0.4 WAR

I don’t think it’s a surprise that the projections are bearish on Ottavino. His walk rate is pretty scary and these systems don’t take that lightly. PECOTA and ZiPS still think his run prevention skills will be solid, albeit not at the level of 2019. Steamer thinks he’ll be pretty lackluster all around.


I think there’s good reason to be optimistic about Ottavino entering this season, whenever it begins. His stuff is still nasty as ever and it looks like the Yankees realized they needed to slow down his usage toward the end of last season. Plus, I’m not ready to write him off against left-handed hitters even though he struggled against them last season. He still has a history of success against them, even if he’s still far better against righties. All told, expect Ottavino to be a key cog in a yet again dominant Yankees bullpen.

Better late than never: Gerrit Cole’s first year in pinstripes [2020 Season Preview]

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There’s been a little bit of doom and gloom so far in Yankees’ camp. The injury bug has bit the team yet again with guys like Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton on the shelf. Yet, this Yankees team is still fantastic. A big reason for that? The team finally reeled in its self proclaimed white whale over the winter: Gerrit Cole.

It’s been a long time coming for Gerrit, of course. He’s been a Yankees fan his entire life, as I’m sure we’ll hear about many times this season. Moreoever, he’s been just out of the Bombers reach on multiple occasions: from passing on signing after the 2008 draft and trade pursuits. Better late than never, of course. Cole is now perhaps the best pitcher in the world, and better yet, he’s on the Yankees.

There are, understandably, quite high expectations for Cole and the Yankees this season. The 29 year-old righty was viewed as the franchise’s missing piece, so now it’s World Series or bust for this year’s club. The path has become a little more difficult given some of the injuries the team has already suffered, but that doesn’t change the ultimate goal. Gerrit will have to play a huge part to get the Yankees back on top.

Fortunately, it shouldn’t be difficult for Cole to deliver what the Yankees need from him. The Yankees can basically set it and forget it: he should be dominant all year long without much help needed. Even though it’s hard to imagine him falling short of expectations statistically, there are still a few storylines worth exploring in his debut year in the Bronx. Let’s get to it.

Is there anything he can improve upon?

The main reason the Yankees brought in Cole is because he’s already great. One of the sport’s best pitchers, in fact. Cole’s not a project like acquisitions past such as Nathan Eovaldi. Nonetheless, Cole didn’t achieve greatness by being complacent. He assuredly is trying to get better. But from my meager perspective, it’s really hard to find something Cole could improve upon.

If you squint though, there is something that Cole could get better at: limiting hard contact and home runs. It’s a little silly to ask this because Cole is already good at these things, but he’s not at elite levels like other facets of his game.

Cole went from allowing 0.85 home runs per nine in 2018 to 1.23 last season. The 2019 number looks a little high at first glance, but considering the hitting environment last season, it’s actually 15 percent lower than league average. That said, Cole’s 2018 mark was 30 percent lower than average. So I guess you can say he’s trending in the wrong direction. And gosh, if his outing against Detroit yesterday tells us anything, it’s only going to get worse!

Please don’t take that seriously.

Anyway, Cole actually improved his Statcast batted ball profile year-over-year. In 2018, his exit velocity and hard hit percentage were in the 25th and 11th percentile, respectively. That’s pretty bad! But last year, he improved to the 66th and 57th percentile in those marks. That makes his home run “spike” peculiar. It certainly seems like he ran into some bad luck: his 16.9 percent home run to fly ball rate was a career high and up from 10 percent a year prior.

There’s also Cole’s new home ballpark to consider compared to Houston. Yankee Stadium is known for its short porch, the namesake for this here blog, but Houston’s pretty darn homer friendly itself. Yet, last year, the Bronx Bombers’ home was 25th in its home run park factor. Meanwhile, Houston was the sixth-most homer friendly park. Seems like an anomaly more than anything for Yankee Stadium, as it was 6th in 2018 while Houston was 12th. In any case, Cole probably won’t benefit (or be hurt much) by the home park move.

From 2013 through 2016, Cole never allowed more than 0.72 homers per nine. The game has changed and so has Cole the pitcher since then, so I don’t expect him to revert to those marks. That said, I’d like to think he’s bound for some regression this season in terms of home runs allowed. Regression isn’t the same as improvement in terms of skill level, but it’s still something that can go in Cole’s favor. So in an indirect way, yes, Cole can get better in 2020.

What can other Yankees learn from Cole?

The Yankees have a new age pitching coach in Matt Blake, but that doesn’t mean Cole’s acumen won’t rub off on the rest of the organization. Even though Cole was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball since high school, it took him a while to unlock his full potential. He had some good years with the Pirates, but it wasn’t until 2018 — his sixth year in the majors — that Cole lived up to his ace potential.

Cole already seems like a very cerebral pitcher and has shown a willingness to be a leader and teacher, which is great news for the rest of the staff. Check this out:

Look, no one is going to throw Cole under the bus in a video like the above. Still, just listen to what some of those other pitchers said. It’s hard not to get excited when you hear one of the Yankees’ top prospects, Clarke Schmidt, glow over Cole’s presence in camp.

I’m happy to rag on the Astros all day, every day, but we have to give them credit for helping Cole get to the next level. Perhaps part of that was getting away from the Pirates’ organization, but still. Cole went from solid mid-rotation starter to ace from 2017 to 2018. The quality of his entire arsenal jumped in transition, particularly spin rates:

(Baseball Savant)

The secret sauce may be pine tar, as Trevor Bauer has insinuated before, but this is a pretty incredible jump from one season to the next. This is the sort of thing that Cole may be able to help other pitchers on the staff with in order to get more out of their repertoires.

Take Jordan Montgomery, for instance. Take spring training radar guns for what they’re worth, but he’s hit 95 on a few occasions in Grapefruit League action. That’s out of character for him. Monty worked in the low 90s pre-Tommy John surgery. Maybe he simply has a fresh arm without a full season’s workload on it since 2017 or maybe Blake unlocked something. But hey, there’s always the possibility that Cole rubbed off on him to some degree.

It’s going to be impossible to quantify what Cole means for other pitchers in the organization, and that’s fine. It certainly seems like the team has taken a big leap forward, especially if you listen to what Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia discussed on a recent episode of R2C2. Cole is certainly a part of that, too. Some of the tricks of the trade that he learned while in Houston can stand to benefit plenty of other Yankees.

How long will it take him to get comfortable with a new catcher?

Sure didn’t take long for some fans to concern troll about Gary Sánchez and Cole’s rapport! Sheesh. As Lindsey tweeted, if this is you, chill out!

Like any new pitcher-catcher battery, it’s going to take time to learn each other’s tendencies. That’s why Gerrit and Gary are working diligently together to do so. I’m sure the same exact thing is happening with Kyle Higashioka and Cole, though the media isn’t going to make a fuss about Higgy’s relationship with Cole because he’s the backup catcher.

Nonetheless, I’m sure there’ll be more pieces down the line about the Cole-Sánchez combination. Likely after a bad start or two for Cole, which is inevitable. Everyone has a bad day at the ballpark from time to time. I’m sure the fact that Martín Maldonado was Cole’s catcher last year won’t help, either. Remember, the Yankees were connected to him in free agency at one point.

Ultimately, the important thing to understand is that it will take time for Cole to get on the same page with Gary and Higgy. And that’s OK! They have all of spring training to do that. Be patient, everyone. And don’t fall for the various tropes and clickbait about Sánchez, who I assure you is very, very good.

2020 Outlook: What they’re saying

Here is what the projections are saying going into the season:

  • PECOTA (200 IP): 13.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.95 HR/9, 2.52 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 5.3 WARP
  • ZiPS (200 IP): 12.6 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 1.22 HR/9, 3.10 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 6.4 WAR
  • Steamer (202 IP): 12.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.24 HR/9, 3.25 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 6.1 WAR

Beautiful. Just beautiful, especially the PECOTA one. In any event, no one really needs the projections to tell us that Cole is going to be arguably the best pitcher in baseball in 2020. We’ve seen it with our very eyes for the past two years. These forecasts just confirm why the Yankees broke the bank to bring in their white whale.


We’re now just under three weeks out from Cole’s official debut in pinstripes: March 26th at Camden Yards. Since it’s against the lowly Orioles, I expect nothing short of a perfect game with 20 strikeouts.

It’s funny how Cole’s debut will come in Baltimore, similar to CC Sabathia’s back in 2009. That one didn’t go so well if you recall. Sabathia was knocked out of the game in the fifth inning after allowing six runs. Nonetheless, the rest of 2009 worked out pretty well for Sabathia and the Yankees, didn’t it? I sure wouldn’t mind a similar coincidence in 2020. Year one of a big name free agent starting pitcher and a World Series title? Not bad at all. No pressure, Gerrit. Though as he said, pressure is a privilege. It’s going to be a fun season of Cole in pinstripes.

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