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A Yankee Holiday Wish List

‘Tis the season, isn’t it, folks? Whether you’re in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah or gearing up for Christmas or Kwanza, or the Winter Solstice, or whatever you celebrate, it’s the holiday season. In that spirit–and in the spirit of keeping safe and healthy in our celebrations this holiday season–here’s a list of my holiday wishes for some Yankees.

Gary Sanchez: For Gary, I wish a year of no tinkering and no tampering with his approach behind the plate. We’ve heard via Luke Voit that Gary is already working to correct his poor hitting in 2020 and that’s what he needs. What I think he doesn’t need–and I’ve expressed this before–is another round of fiddling with his catching. Sanchez will likely never be a great blocker, maybe not even a good one, but even without the tampering last year, he was a decent framer. He also calls a good game and has a rocket arm. Let him focus on what he’s good at behind the plate so that his struggles and adjustments there don’t carry over to the plate like they did in 2020.

Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Luke Voit: For these three, I wish for fully healthy and productive seasons. The former is asking a lot, especially so of Hicks and Judge, but I so badly want these three to play 140+ games in 2021 to show off what they can really do. Given their levels of talent and previous levels of production, all three could be MVP candidates with full seasons under their belts.

Aaron Judge is Great, When He’s on the Field [2020 Season Review]

Yankees at Orioles 7/10/18

The 2020 season was the perfect encapsulation of Aaron Judge’s career. It is clear that the Yankee right fielder is one of baseball’s best players. It is also clear, unfortunately, that the big slugger has issues staying on the field. He got hurt after hitting a home run against the Atlanta Braves on August 11, returned briefly on August 26 for a few innings in Atlanta before re-injuring himself, and then came back for good on September 16. All in all, he played in just 28 of the Yankees’ 60 regular season games. It was not what you want.

Let’s dive into Judge’s season, which was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, shall we?

A Torrid Start

The start of the Yankees’ season this year was a blast, and Aaron Judge was a big reason why. In his first 68 plate appearances, carrying him through the August 11 calf strain, Judge hit .290/.343/.758 (190 wRC+) with a ridiculous 9 home runs. As expected, he was a key reason why the Yankees jumped out to an 11-6 start, logging a +0.93 WPA in just 17 games. He singlehandedly won a turbulent game in Baltimore, which put the Yankees back on track after a little mini-skid out of the gate. I’m sure you remember this, but here’s the video:

Just three days later, Judge was at it again in a Sunday night matchup against Boston. It was my favorite game of the season, personally, and this absolutely gargantuan blast is why. It was so predictable, which made it so much more fun:

That, my friends, is what I like to call “extreme 2017 Aaron Judge energy” right there. He kept it up for another week. Nearly half (44%) of balls he hit over the period registered as “hard-hit” per Statcast, meaning they left the bat at over 95 miles-per-hour. Of those, 17% were barrels, meaning he coupled that high velocity with the ideal launch angle. This was a function of laying off bad stuff (just a 26.9% rate of swinging at balls) coupled with absolutely pummeling balls in the zone (67.4% contact rate in the zone). It was a joy to watch.

It is important to remember all of this, given the next section: Judge is, without a doubt, one of baseball’s most talented players. There are no two ways about it. When he is clicking, he is actually as good as it gets. It was short-lived in 2020, sure, but we saw it in full force at the start of the season.

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.

Thoughts Before Do-or-Die ALDS Game 5

Well, last night’s game sure was great. I know that these Yankees have a reputation with some fans for backing down when the going gets tough, but I don’t see it. They’ve consistently not gone away all season – even when they folded for a bit in September, they stormed back to win 10 in a row – and last night was no different. They needed to win, and they did. In dominating fashion, really.

This sets up a do-or-die, must-win Game 5 against Tampa Bay tonight. I am amped up and extremely ready. This is why we’re fans, right? For games like these. Anyway, here is what’s on my mind heading into this one.

Thoughts with the Yankees on the brink of elimination

Sure as hell isn’t Giancarlo’s fault that the Yankees are in this predicament.

Game 4 is just a few hours away and the Yankees are in a position that appeared unforeseeable after Monday’s victory. Sentiments sure can change quickly in October, huh? I bet we’d all be pretty fired up about tomorrow if the Yankees can top the Rays tonight. With that, I have a few things I want to discuss before first pitch.

We have all winter to discuss the future of this team. I’m not denying that these last two losses have been dreadful to watch, but there’s no reason to act like this series is over. Do the Yankees have their work cut out for them? Yes. It’s not going to be easy to overcome a 2-1 deficit. At the same time, it’s not an impossible task.

It’s natural to start forward-thinking at this stage. I’m guilty of that myself; offseason scenarios have already begun to cross my mind. There are obvious needs, namely pitching depth, that the Yankees have to address this winter. Frankly, they should have addressed them at the trade deadline. But again, that’s neither here nor there. The Yankees are still alive, even with lackluster performances on the mound from everyone not named Gerrit Cole compounded by highly questionable strategies. Until the clock actually strikes midnight on the Yankees, I’m going to save my energy on the future of this team or lament about what the team didn’t do for the 2020 roster. Let’s save that for the long and cold winter.

Giancarlo Stanton has been amazing, but let’s also show Aaron Hicks some love. Stanton’s getting a ton of attention for turning this postseason into a home run derby of his own, and deservedly so. It’s really nice to hear all of his detractors shut up for once. He is one of the greatest hitters in the sport and is delivering when the Yankees need it. I take joy in dancing on the grave of horrible takes like the following, but I also never want to see something like this again:

My goodness. Tyler Wade over Giancarlo Stanton.

Anyway, I’d like to spend some time highlighting Aaron Hicks’s excellent series. Believe it or not, Hicks (+3.03 percent) has a higher championship probability added than Stanton (+1.88 percent) in the ALDS. Game level win probability is a bit closer, with Hicks at 0.29 to Stanton’s 0.22.

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