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It took time, but Aaron Hicks shook off Tommy John surgery with aplomb [2020 Season Review]

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Aaron Hicks had a pretty good 2020, though as I’ll get to in a moment, his production really picked up toward the end of the campaign. Overall, the switch-hitting center fielder batted .225/.379/.414 (123 wRC+) with 6 dingers in 211 plate appearances. Perhaps the batting average left a bit to be desired, but considering that he walked more often than he struck out (19.4 percent vs. 18.0 percent of the time), he was very productive. Let’s break down his year.

A slow return from Tommy John surgery

The good news is that Aaron Hicks didn’t have to spend any time on the injured list this season. Obviously, a big part of that is due to the pandemic shortened season. Otherwise, he likely would have been on the Didi Gregorius 2019 return timeline after having offseason Tommy John surgery. Gregorius returned on June 7th last year, and one figures that Hicks would have been back around the same time under normal circumstances. Instead, the center fielder was ready for the July 23rd opener.

The bad news is that Hicks struggled a bit out of the gate offensively. Not unlike Didi, who didn’t rediscover his power stroke until later in 2019. Hicks wasn’t bad per se, but he certainly wasn’t himself. Through August 29th, he owned a .198/.343/.383 (102 wRC+) in 99 plate appearances. His always stellar walk rate was still in tact (18.2 percent), but his power hadn’t shown up yet (2 homers). Additionally, Hicks was far better hitting left-handed (114 wRC+) compared to right-handed (61 wRC+), though I wouldn’t make too much of that as we’re making an already small sample even smaller (21 PA as a righty).

Jordan Montgomery’s return [2020 Season Review]

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Technically, Jordan Montgomery made it back from Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2019 season. But really, his return at full bore came this season. He didn’t get the opportunity to make 30 starts, but maybe it’s not a bad thing that a shortened season allowed the Yankees to take even more time to rebuild his workload. The lefty made ten starts and tossed 44 innings, and though his 5.11 ERA wasn’t pretty, his 3.87 FIP and 4.48 DRA point to some bad luck.

Added velocity

There was palpable excitement about Montgomery way back in Spring Training. The soon-to-be 28 year-old was able to reach 94 MPH on the radar gun all the way back in February. He’s been able to touch that number in the past, particularly in 2017 when he topped out at 94.7 per Statcast. Now, nobody mistakes Montgomery for a power pitcher, but there was a notable dip in velocity after rookie campaign. The southpaw maxed out at 92.1 in 2018 before the surgery cut his season short.

Gio Urshela is for real [2020 Season Review]

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I think it’s safe to say that Gio Urshela is a star, no? Since joining the Yankees, Urshela owns a 132 wRC+ in 650 plate appearances and has racked up betwen 5 and 6 WAR, depending on your WAR version of choice. He’s a testament to the Yankees’ incredible ability to unearth and/or develop talent. He may have turned 29 last month and is something of a late bloomer, but it certainly looks like he’s here to stay. Let’s get into his brief but terrific 2020 campaign.

No offensive regression

Urshela’s 2019 performance didn’t feel like a fluke to me, but at the same time, I expected some regression this season. There were a couple of things pointing to a step back, namely a .349 BABIP and a wOBA .016 points higher than his xwOBA. Even so, the underlying batted ball metrics were really good, so I expected another solid season. So when Gio posted a 133 wRC+ after he recorded a 132 mark a year ago, it was certainly a pleasant surprise.

Year one of Gerrit Cole [2020 Season Review]

Finally, the Yankees’ front office got its man. The Yankees coveted Gerrit Cole for years: the team drafted him in the first round back in 2008 (but couldn’t sign him away from his commitment to UCLA) and tried to trade for him before the 2018 campaign. The third time, free agency, was the charm. Cole in pinstripes finally came to reality in 2020.

By the numbers, Cole’s debut season with the Yankees was a good one. He went 7-3 in 12 starts and posted a 2.84 ERA in the pandemic-shortened regular season. That was good enough for fourth-place in American League Cy Young voting. Cole also pitched very well in the postseason, as advertised. But when you break it all down, things weren’t smooth all season for the team’s prize acquisition. Let’s take a look.

A slow start

The newly minted ace didn’t necessarily get off to a poor start, but it also wasn’t the beginning that was expected. Cole wasn’t ferociously mowing down opponents like we saw him do over the last two seasons with the Astros in the early going. He struck out just 16 batters in his first three starts (17 2/3 innings), though the Yankees won all three of those games and Cole allowed just five runs (2.55 ERA).

His next start came in Tampa Bay and it sure looked like we were in for the first overpowering performance of Cole’s career in pinstripes. The Yanks gave him a 5-0 lead and Cole had eight strikeouts through four innings before the wheels came off. He was pulled after he gave up three runs and recorded just two outs in the fifth (both strikeouts). For a while, it felt like Cole was off to a 7 or 8 inning performance with 14 or 15 strikeouts. Instead, he couldn’t finish the fifth (though he did punch out 10).

Clint Frazier’s here to stay [2020 Season Review]

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The wait is over. Clint Frazier’s had a hard time sticking in the majors since the Yankees first brought him up in 2017, although not all of that was his fault. This season, Frazier left the Yankees with no choice but to play him everyday once he was called upon. Let’s take a look at Clint’s terrific season.

We’re not in Scranton anymore

Clint wasn’t free from Scranton to start the year, but once he made his way to the Bronx, there was no turning back. Frazier wasn’t brought up from the Alternate Site to the majors until August 11th, between the placement of Giancarlo Stanton (8/9) and Aaron Judge (8/14) on the injured list. It didn’t take long for Clint to make his presence felt. From his first game:

Frazier’s had opportunities with the Yankees a few times over the years — though some better than others — and has spent time at Triple-A each year since 2016. That’s a lot of time shuttling between the minors and majors over the past four years. Of course, a big part of that was the concussion he suffered in 2018 which undoubtedly threw off his trajectory.

Perhaps Clint deserved this shot sooner, but it’s better late than never. It was incredibly frustrating to watch a number of players go down due to injury this season, but the silver lining was Frazier’s breakout.

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