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The “Battle” for the 5th Spot

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Entering spring training, the most prominent role to be defined in the Yankees’ 26-man Roster was the fifth Starter in the rotation. This “competition” allows us to analyze and write a few words about the candidates. So, lets do just that!

The Candidates

What seemed to be a four horse race at the beginning of the spring has sadly lost an interesting competitor. Clarke Schmidt, one of the most prominent pitching prospects in the Yankees system, has gone down with a common extensor strain in his elbow that will shut him down 3-4 weeks.

Also, I’m not considering Mike King or Nick Nelson in this exercise for different reasons. King because of the lack of a reliable secondary offering, and Nelson because of his lack of control (Career MiLB 4.8 BB/9). Also I think Nelson’s stuff plays up a lot in the bullpen and he could be a weapon there.

That leaves us with (ordered alphabetically by their last name): Jhoulys Chacín, Deivi García and Domingo Germán. Let’s see what the projection system’s tell us about those three players regarding their WAR:

SystemChacínGarcíaGermán
PECOTA-0.11.41.3
FGDC0.21.21.0
Steamer0.11.11.1
ZiPS1.12.12.1
Projections via FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus

The projections tell a clear story of two similarly productive pitchers (García and Germán), and an underdog (Chacín). With that in mind, let’s go under the hood for any further evidence on who should win the job.

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Thoughts on the interplay of Deivi García’s workload and the Alternate Site, retaining NRIs, and Lucas Luetge

Last week, we found out that Alternate Sites are returning as a result of the delayed start to the Triple-A season. The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler has all the details regarding the rules and regulations for the Alternate Site. I have a couple of thoughts on roster implications as a result of the Alternate Site’s return, along with a closing note on a surprising non-roster invitee in camp. Let’s dive in.

The Yankees will probably use the Alternate Site to protect Deivi García’s workload. Like it or not, it’s been pretty clear that the fifth starter’s job is Domingo Germán’s to lose. Not that he needed any more help, but the delay to the Triple-A season might give him a further boost. The Yankees could use the Alternate Site as a way to limit innings for certain pitchers who Germán is in competition with and the organization want to protect, namely García.

There should be no qualms about Deivi’s candidacy for the fifth spot, and in fact, I’d argue he’s the best option. Yet, he’s also never thrown more than 111.2 innings in a season (2019) and is still just 21 years old. I’d wager that the Yankees will be careful to not significantly overstep the young righty’s previous high water mark in 2021. It’s not like the organization needs him to bear a significant anyway. The team has very good starting depth.

So, optioning García to the Alternate Site to start the year would make it easier to manage his 2021 workload. He could pitch in a few exhibition games in April, but wouldn’t need to pitch him every fifth day. Alternatively, there would be no need for him to go five or six frames each time out either. Of course, this could also just be used as a front for service time shenanigans, but there are certainly legitimate health considerations.

This would have applied to Clarke Schmidt too, especially if he stayed healthy and pitched as well as he did last March. But now, his common extensor strain will make his time at the Alternate Site more like spring training all over again anyway.

Now, with Deivi in particular, this scenario only works as long as everyone else stays healthy this month. For instance, I can’t imagine running out Jhoulys Chacín every fifth day in the name of limiting Deivi’s innings. In that case, García should be in the rotation and the Yankees could kick can down the road on workload concerns.

Starting pitching: Significant depth and prospects in the pipeline [2021 Season Preview]

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If you read my piece on the Yankees’ pitching depth last week, you know that the team is pretty deep in starting pitching. Sure, some of those pitchers have their warts, but there are also a number of viable options to pitch out of the rotation. Pitchers break — they always do — so it’s best to have a lot of them. By midsummer, the Yanks may have nearly a dozen major league caliber starters. Yes, some far better than others, but that’s a lot of insurance.

Today, it’s time to preview the organization’s starters. Not just those who’ll see major league time, either. Like my catcher preview or Dom’s corner infield breakdown, I’ll dive into the starters down the rungs of the minors.

A formidable front four

It’s awfully exciting to have a full season of Gerrit Cole ahead of us. In that sense, he still feels like a new addition to this team. I know we saw him for 12 regular season and 3 postseason starts in 2020, but there’s nothing quite like having a bona fide ace for 30-plus starts and 200 innings. And that’s what we can expect from Gerrit this season: a workhorse who could easily win the American League Cy Young award.

If there’s any uncertainty regarding Cole in 2021, it’s his battery mate. As you know, Kyle Higashioka became Cole’s personal catcher by last September. Cole had better numbers with Higgy behind the plate, and given Gary Sánchez’s struggles offensively, it was an easy decision at the time. This year, the Yankees are hoping to pair Cole and Sánchez, and understandably so. Ideally, the two mesh and Gary mashes once again.

After Cole is when folks start getting nervous, which I can understand. What’s a soon-to-be 35 year-old Corey Kluber going to look like after two injury-riddled seasons? How will Jameson Taillon rebound from his second Tommy John surgery? Will Jordan Montgomery‘s results catch up to his peripherals? And so it goes. No, this isn’t a rotation for the risk-averse. But at the same time, how many other big league rotations are full of sure things?

Reviewing the Yankees’ 2021 Projections: PECOTA

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Baseball Prospectus unveiled its PECOTA projections for the 2021 season yesterday. As such, it’s time to take a dive into this system similar to what I did with ZiPS a few months ago.

Overall, PECOTA projects the Yankees to rack up 42.6 WARP, second-most in MLB behind the Dodgers (50.6). The next closest team in the American League is Houston at 40.0. In the division, Tampa Bay projects for 32.8, Toronto 29.6, Boston 28.2, and Baltimore 12.7. The Yankees are the clear AL East favorites, to no surprise.

Of the Yankees’ 42.6 WARP, 26.8 come from positional players and 15.8 come from the pitching staff. That position player total ranks third in the league behind the Dodgers (33.3) and Astros (28.0). The Yankees’ projection on the mound is fifth-best in MLB, trailing the Padres (19.9), Dodgers (17.4), Brewers (17.0), and Mets (16.2).

With that out of the way, I’m going to highlight some notable projections on the Yankees. Let’s get to it.

Betting the over

Hitters: I usually pick one hitter and one pitcher in each category, but I’m going to cheat here and choose two: Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela:

PlayerPABA/OBP/SLGDRC+HRWARP
Stanton515.235/.337/.468117271.8
Urshela584.265/.315/.426102191.5

I think Stanton’s projected batting average and power output is bearish. That .235 batting average forecast seems to drag down his line as a whole, and considering that he’s a lifetime .268 hitter (.266 with the Yankees), I’d expect something a bit higher. Meanwhile, PECOTA projects just a homer every 19 plate appearances, more than his career mark of one per every 16. I just find it hard to believe he finishes with just 27 homers if he accumulates over 500 plate appearances.

Next, PECOTA clearly isn’t ready to buy into Urshela’s bat. This, in spite of Urshela posting 121 and 125 DRC+ marks in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Maybe there’s some regression coming, but Gio surely looks for real.

Pitcher:

PlayerIPERAFIPDRADRA-WARP
Clarke Schmidt594.965.115.431110.0

BP just ranked Schmidt 96th on its Top 101 Prospects list, but PECOTA doesn’t see him as a big contributor this season. We’ve heard a tad about Schmidt having some control issues at times, so it’s not a total surprise that the system spits out a 10 percent forecasted walk rate in 2021. The righty did post a 9 percent walk rate in the minors in 2019 and gave free passes to 5 out of 33 batters faced in 2020. That said, we know he’s got nasty stuff and that he’s very motivated to improve. I like his odds at a breakout this year.

Thoughts on LeMahieu, pitching, and more as snow falls in the New York area

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It’s been a while since any of us has shared a thoughts post, hasn’t it? Not like there’s been much going on in the Yankees’ universe, anyway. We have heard a bit more from the team in the media of late, whether it’s appearances on the YES Network hot stove show or elsewhere. And now that I’ve finished shoveling (twice already), I have some thoughts on what we’ve heard from in recent days, so let’s get to it.

On the latest with DJ LeMahieu. By now you’ve surely seen the reports that the Yankees and DJ LeMahieu are $25 million apart in contract negotiations. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But really, it’s not. The difference here really is a matter of years, not money. Per the initial NJ.com report, LeMahieu’s camp is seeking $100 million over five seasons, whereas the Yankees prefer four years for $75 million. We’re really talking about one year difference in term and $1.25 million in average annual value.

LeMahieu turns 33 in July and the Yankees’ preference is to have his contract end sooner. That’s always sensible with a player entering his mid-to-late thirties. Meanwhile, LeMahieu wants to scratch out as much as he can since this likely is his final chance to cash in. Also sensible! But perhaps most importantly in this negotiation, both sides have clearly signaled a desire to reunite. At some point, I imagine the Yankees and LeMahieu will compromise on some sort of option for that fifth year.

Now, I must admit all of this admiration and negotiation through the media has grown a little tiring for me. Just get a deal done, already. A blogger needs some news to keep content going, you know.

Even considering my own impatience, I am a little confused about the Yankees unwillingness to do anything until the LeMahieu situation is resolved. The Yankees have something like $30 million of space below the first luxury tax threshold and it’s not like LeMahieu is going to eat up all of that. Sure, he’ll take up a good chunk, but there should still be something like $10 million to play with. I get that the front office isn’t going to turn and sign say, Marcus Semien, since that would eliminate them from retaining LeMahieu. But what about some position player depth? Another relief arm? I don’t know. Again, I’m desperate for something.

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