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Reviewing the Yankees’ 2022 Projections: PECOTA

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As we await the daily updates from the league and union’s collective bargaining sessions, the Yankees made some news this morning. The team will retire Paul O’Neill’s no. 21 on August 21, finally putting an end to its unofficial retirement for two decades. That’s a Sunday afternoon game against the Blue Jays. There’s been some consternation about not issuing O’Neill’s number over the years, so if you want to discuss any of this news in the comments, have at it.

This morning’s news aside, today I’m breaking down Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections for the 2022 season, which were released last week. As rosters currently stand, PECOTA envisions a second place finish for the Yankees, projecting a hair under 94 wins, trailing the Blue Jays by a game. Obviously, signing one Freddie Freeman or Carlos Correa would change things. For now though, allow me to break down some of PECOTA’s individual projections on the Yankees’ current roster.

Fun with ZiPS

On Thursday, Derek took a look at the Yankees’ 2022 ZiPS projections. Today, let’s do something similar and have some fun–since there’s very little fun to be had in the baseball world these days–and run these projections through an old friend: the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis Tool.

For those unfamiliar, the concept is simple. You drop in player names and their OBP and SLG numbers and the tool spits out a bunch of lineup permutations to see which one is the best. Now, the models that the tool uses are a little outdated and it isn’t foolproof, but, like I said, it’s fun! I’ll use the 1959-2004 model to cover more dates, get more of a variety of run environments in there.

First, let’s roll with players currently on the Yankees, so we’ll exclude Anthony Rizzo and Brett Gardner. The lineup will look like this (OBP/SLG):

C: Gary Sanchez (.304/.432)

1B: Luke Voit (.342/.468)

2B: DJLM (.344/.402)

SS: Gleyber Torres (let’s just roll with it for now; I’ll play with other versions later) (.332/.426)

3B: Gio Urshela (.318/.458)

LF: Joey Gallo (.352/.507)

CF: Aaron Hicks (.340/.400)

RF: Aaron Judge (.369/.538)

DH: Giancarlo Stanton (.338/.491)

Assuming the batting order is as follows, this team should score 5.257 runs per game, about 852 over the course of the season:

  1. DJLM
  2. Judge
  3. Gallo
  4. Stanton
  5. Voit
  6. Urshela
  7. Hicks
  8. Torres
  9. Sanchez

The best possible lineup–5.293 runs per game, 857 per 162 is:

  1. DJLM
  2. Judge
  3. Voit
  4. Gallo
  5. Stanton
  6. Sanchez
  7. Torres
  8. Urshela
  9. Hicks

Even without any upgrades at the plate, the Yankees figure to be a good hitting team. Granted, we thought that last year…but I doubt they’ll be as shaky as last year and that the team will be as it is above. So let’s get frisky and do some wishcasting on this roster.

Last night, someone asked me, while I was tweeting from the Views account, what I want the infield to look like in 2022. I said I’d want Matt Olson at first, Carlos Correa at short, with DJLM at second and Gio at third. Let’s keep the rest of the team the same and fit that infield into the tool (while remembering that the Correa and Olson projections wouldn’t be adjusted for being Yankees). If that were the case, I assume the lineup would be:

  1. DJLM
  2. Judge
  3. Olson
  4. Stanton
  5. Gallo
  6. Correa
  7. Urshela
  8. Hicks
  9. Sanchez

That lineup would average 5.448 per game, 882 over 162. The best possible lineup with those projections would be

  1. Correa
  2. Judge
  3. Stanton
  4. Olson
  5. Gallo
  6. Sanchez
  7. Hicks
  8. Urshela
  9. DJLM

Is any of that going to happen? It’s highly unlikely! But it’s still fun to think about. Next time, I’ll revisit this with some other players plugged in and fool around with positions and playing time. Until then, be well and hope this owner-enforced lockout gets resolved.

Thoughts as the lockout looms

The current CBA expires at 11:59pm eastern tonight. As the clock winds down, it doesn’t look like a new deal is coming. Maybe things will change in the coming hours, but considering the recent run on free agents, the writing is on the wall. The owners are expected to lock out the players, thereby freezing transactions, not allowing players to use team facilities, and more. You won’t see pictures like this for a while:

@JoeyGallo24

From everything I’ve read, it doesn’t sound like regular season games are in jeopardy. There’s still a ways to go until spring training, after all. That said, prepare yourself for radio silence in terms of hot stove news for the next few weeks and months. All that buzz and excitement over the last few days? A product of an anticipated lockout, sure, but good for the league nonetheless. And yet, the owners are ready to shut that down to gain negotiating leverage.

As a result, it’s going to be pretty difficult to discuss anything Yankees-related in the near future. This could be the last Yankees-related thoughts post for some time, so let’s jump in:

Game 74: It’s Exactly What You Want

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Now that’s more like it! After last night’s crazy walk-off win, today was exactly what you want to see the Yankees do against the Royals with a nice, calm, and easy victory with great pitching and hitting. The Kraken hit a huge 3-run homerun in the 6th to put this one out of reach, giving the Yankees a 8-1 victory behind Jameson Taillon’s best start in pinstripes. This moves the Yankees to 40-34 on the year, and just 4 back on the Red Sox who play the Rays later tonight. It’s their 3rd straight series win and they have won 7 of their last 9. To the takeaways:

Room for Improvement: Gary Sanchez

Not going anywhere

As a teacher, I deal with failure just about every day. From one angle, it’s if a student doesn’t turn in an assignment or whatever. From another, maybe I didn’t deliver my lesson in the best way. Either way, there’s room for improvement. The same goes for baseball, which is, more or less, a game of failure, at least from the hitter’s perspective. There is always going to be something to improve on. For Gary Sanchez in 2021, there is going to be a lot to improve on.

2020 was nothing short of an offensive disaster for Sanchez, despite some decent underlying peripherals. He hit just .147/.253/.365, good for a .271/63 wOBA/wRC+ split. There were some positives, like a 10% walk rate and a .218 ISO, but those weren’t enough to salvage 2020 for him. The season ended with a playoff benching and many questions about his future with the Yankees.

The main culprit, however, behind Sanchez’s failure of a 2020 season was (aside from ‘everything’) his strikeout rate. Whether an issue of timing, of mechanics, of pitch recognition, whatever it was led to a 36% strikeout rate, far too high even with a good walk rate and strong power numbers. When he did make contact, it was loud. Per Statcast, Sanchez was in the 89th percentile for exit velocity, the 92nd percentile for hard hit percentage, and the 97th percentile for barrel percentage. Those are encouraging! But, making so little contact so often sucked the value out of the times he did make contact. As a contrast to those batted ball numbers, he was in the 2nd percentile for strikeout rate and the 11th percentile for whiff rate. As a certain ad exec might say, not great, Bob.

Striking out less is a good broad goal for Gary in 2021, but there does need to be some focus to it. And the biggest focus I can find is the slider. Many times, time after time, we saw Sanchez whiff on sliders. The numbers also bear out what the eye test showed us.

Per Statcast, Gary whiffed on 42.1% of sliders he saw. That’s almost a 50/50 proposition and that’s a big problem when it’s the pitch you see the second most (21.7%) behind fastballs (31.1%). He whiffed even more on fastballs (45%), but at least he hit them reasonably well (.481 SLG, .323 wOBA, 66.7% hard hit). When he did manage to make contact with sliders, the results were ruinous: .086 average, .171 slugging, .125 wOBA, 17.6% hard hit–the only pitch on which he had a hard hit percentage under 40.

For success in 2021, Gary Sanchez needs to strike out less (and maybe find a few more holes on his hard hit balls). He’s never going to be a low-strikeout hitter, of course, but he can’t run strikeout percentages so high and be productive. I’ll take the power and I’ll take the walks, of course, and I’m not nearly ready to give up on him yet, but he needs to whiff less. Whether that means shortening up his swing every so often, doing something with timing, or just recognizing pitches better (or some combo of all these things), I’m not sure, but I’m not a scout or a coach. Given his level of talent, though, and his hard work, I’m sure Sanchez can do this.

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