‘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.
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.
Got a few questions to answer as we head into the final weekend of the regular season. Before we dive in, remember to send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for a chance to be included in a future mailbag. Now, to this week’s questions:
A few people asked: What does the Yankees’ 2021 rotation look like?
People sure love to talk about next year’s team when this season isn’t over, huh? Nonetheless, I’ll oblige.
As you likely know, the Yankees can lose Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and JA Happ in free agency this offseason. That leaves a number of holes to fill, though the team does have enough big league caliber starters to fill out a staff. It just may not be as good as this year (or before this year). The players under contract for 2021: Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Domingo Germán, Deivi García, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King.
Of course, there are caveats with the seven pitchers I just rattled off. Severino is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will start the 2021 season on the injured list. Germán will have just finished his suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy, so who knows how much rust he will have to shake off. Montgomery was a roller coaster this season. King was terrible. Schmidt will have just one big league start to his name entering 2021. At least Cole and Deivi looked great.
Now, if all goes well, that group could look pretty good by 2021’s end! Cole and Severino could make for a formidable one-two punch. García and Schmidt have a ton of upside. Germán and Montgomery are more than capable back-end guys, with the former having shown flashes of better than that in 2019.
That said, count on the Yankees reinforcing the rotation this year. For one, I’d bet on Tanaka’s return, but I expect Paxton and Happ to depart. Don’t expect any free agent splurges like Trevor Bauer to replace those guys, though. A trade or middle-market free agent (Kevin Gausman? Marcus Stroman? Mike Minor?) signing seems more likely. Here’s what I envision as the Yankees’ ideal rotation come Opening Day 2021:
By season’s end, you can slot in Sevy. Forget about who that boots from the staff as that sorta thing always seems to sort itself out. Injuries and unexpected performances happen.
Paul asks:Should Luke Voit’s contract be extended?
Everyone at this here blog loves Voit, but this answer is a pretty easy no. Voit turns 30 in February and won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. It stinks for the first baseman, but he was a late bloomer who won’t hit the open market until his mid-thirties. That leaves the Yankees very little motivation to extend him beyond 2024 at the moment.
Voit’s now a lifetime 138 wRC+ hitter in over 1,000 big league plate appearances and should still get paid fairly well in arbitration. He’s going to be super-two eligible this offseason and should get a nice raise over the near league-minimum pay he’s gotten over the last couple of seasons. More traditional stats like home runs and RBIs pay in arbitration, and Luke’s got those aplenty.
Aside from age and team control considerations, I think Voit’s position and health are detractors from any extension. I just don’t see much of a reason to lock up a 1B/DH type when the team already has a number of those guys on the roster already. Additionally, though Voit has played through “foot stuff” this season, I can’t help but worry about his health over the long run. Last year’s oblique injury really held him back too.
Dan asks: I recall speculation before the season started that players who were on teams that were clearly eliminated would be compelled to opt-out, to avoid playing in meaningless games. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Are you surprised at all?
I’m a little surprised, but I think that there are two big reasons we haven’t seen a bunch of opt-outs.
First, The expanded playoffs have definitely played a big part here. 21 of the league’s 30 teams are still alive with just three games remaining. Had the league stuck to 10 playoff teams for this season, perhaps we’d see a lot more guys bowing out early.
Additionally, perhaps players have become more confident in the league’s health protocols as the season’s gone on. The amount of positive tests and team-wide outbreaks has slowed down the stretch. Earlier this season, it was a lot easier to imagine players dropping out as playoff hopes dwindled because of the numerous positive tests and postponements.
All that said, one high profile player has opted out this week: Andrelton Simmons. The Angels (26-31) are technically still alive too, though it’ll take a lot going right for them to overcome the Astros (29-28) for second place in the AL West.
Jeremy asks: Gio Urshela is the man. I’m hoping you can help me understand something about his advanced stats (and advanced stats in general). His Exit Velo (86th percentile), xBA (98th), and xSLG (86th) are elite. Why are those stats so high when his Hard Hit% (56th) and Barrel% (48th) are fairly average? His K% (90th) is pretty elite but I feel like that only explains part of the xBA and not much of anything else. Is it more so because his GB%/FB%/LD% mix (38.3%/19.2%/38.3%) is seemingly much better than the MLB average (45.3%/21.9%/25.7%)?
It’s definitely strange that Gio’s hard hit percentage and barrel percentage aren’t up to snuff with his average exit velocity. I do think that Jeremy is on the right track with the batted ball type mix, but there’s one other thing I’d like to add.
Gio’s distribution of batted ball quality is excellent. He may not have a ton of hard hits or barrels, but he almost never makes weak contact. He also doesn’t get on top of the ball too often either. Further, the “under” or “flare/burner” category isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of those are bloopers that dunk in. Better than a weak hit or chopper that’s almost an automatic out.
We should also keep in mind what this means for Gio’s hard hit and barrel percentages. Remember, a hard hit ball is 95 MPH or greater exit velocity in any direction. Grounders, pop-ups, or line drives can all get the same treatment under hard hit percentage. So just because Urshela isn’t great there doesn’t mean his exit velocity and xStats are inflated. Rather, it appears that Urshela’s distribution of hit quality helps him in the exit velocity department, while his launch angle helps him rarely hit into easy outs.
As Jeremy noted, Gio hits grounders well below league average and hits liners well above league average. Consider that with his hit quality distribution and elite bat-to-ball skills and you can see why Urshela’s had so much success.
[25:50] Moving away from injury talk, fifth starter discussion begins. Is Clarke Schmidt a better option than Michael King?
[33:30] On Deivi García’s readiness
[36:00] Discussion on Jonathan Loaisiga’s best fit
[42:40] Other rotation happenings: Jordan Montgomery’s velocity uptick has been a pleasant surprise and maybe JA Happ won’t be so bad?
[49:15] Breaking down the Yankees’ current outfield situation and depth
[57:25] Offseason regrets, namely Cameron Maybin
We will be on all major podcast distribution mediums within the next week or so — there’s a process we need to follow before we’re officially up and running on places like iTunes or Stitcher, so we appreciate your patience. Hope you enjoy our first episode as much as we did making it! We’ll be back again a week from today.
Our worst fears concerning Luis Severino have come to fruition. Brian Cashman announced the talented right-hander will have Tommy John surgery. This is a tough blow for the Yankees, but an even tougher one for Severino. Between last season and his potential return from the procedure, Sevy would have thrown only twenty innings over that span.
Severino initially mentioned discomfort in his forearm back in October during the playoffs. Once the season ended, the team ran multiple tests on the pitcher’s arm throughout the winter. The results for those tests were clean. The discomfort didn’t arise again until camp began when he started throwing his changeup. Sevy was sent back to New York for more tests. Sweeny Murti has more details on the testing procedure that revealed the UCL tear:
One legitimate question is why wasn’t the medical staff able to diagnose this injury over the offseason. This is the first we’re hearing of a dye contrast MRI. Cashman noted that the other “normal” MRI tests taken over the winter didn’t show a tear. Why wasn’t the dye contrast MRI taken along with these other tests? I’m not a medical professional, but that feels like the appropriate course of action. Severino was coming off a major injury to both his throwing shoulder and lat. He rushed to make the playoff roster and was immediately thrown into high intensity innings. His arm obviously didn’t respond well to that scenario. How do you not exhaust all testing options over the winter knowing his recent medical history and the stress he endured on the field? It is really hard to give the medical team a pass for this one.
This sobering Severino news is joining a long list of team wide significant injuries. We all know about the 2019 injury run, but 202o is taking the baton with a little too much enthusiasm. Fans’ concern is even greater considering James Paxton shares a similar timeline to Severino. Paxton suffered back pain in September. He didn’t undergo back surgery until February. Why are these injuries not being treated when the player immediately indicates an issue? I understand a clean test suggests a problem doesn’t exist. But the Severino news is indicative of a medical staff not being extensive enough in their testing. These are two injuries that took place in 2019. Why are they impacting 2020 and 2021 so significantly? Quite frankly, this shouldn’t be happening.
The most pressing issue now is how do the Yankees fill out their rotation. The understandable reaction is to look outside the organization for help. After all, the starting rotation depth we were all excited about is quickly dwindling. It appears the Yankees first course of action is to focus on in house options. The team is confident Paxton will be back in May. Assuming no more catastrophic injuries (I know, I know), the rotation will be Cole, Paxton, Tanaka, Happ and one of Monty, Deivi, King, Clarke Schmidt, Luis Cessa or Jonathan Loáisiga.
This is still a pretty damn good rotation and one that can produce at a high level until Germán comes back from his suspension. There is still quality depth available. The team also has a deep bullpen to cover innings as well. They could also go the Chad Green opener route, but that doesn’t feel ideal. Cashman had this to say about potential replacements:
If the Yankees do go outside of the organization there are some options. They could pursue some version of the failed Joc Pederson trade between the Dodgers and Angels. I advocated for a Pederson trade a few weeks ago, but expanding the deal to include Ross Stripling would be fantastic. That deal would address two issues for the Yankees. Looking into future trade targets, Jim Bowden of The Athletic suggests Johnny Cueto, Matthew Boyd, and John Means. I would also like to add Mike Clevinger and Jon Gray to that group. Both pitchers are on teams who could look to sell if they don’t have strong first halves.
The free agent market does have some starter options. Some of the more prominent names are Ervin Santana, Drew Smyly, Danny Salazar, Dan Straily and Collin McHugh. There is also some guy named CC Sabathia, but he wants to travel the world and do podcasts for some reason. He also has that shoulder ripping apart from his body thing, but whatever. It is important to note that all of these realistic options (obviously not CC) are to help with depth and not replace Severino’s production. When healthy, Sevy is a top ten pitcher. The Yankees aren’t going to replace that any time soon. Salazar would be an interesting option if his stuff didn’t fall off a cliff due to injury. Santana and Straily could be worth a look in camp for the fifth spot. The interesting name is McHugh.
McHugh offers versatility that the other free agent options do not present. He can compete for a starting spot and also come out of the pen. McHugh has a six-pitch mix (four-seamer, slider, curve, sinker, cutter, change up) that he mixes pretty effectively. He primarily throws the slider, four-seamer, cutter and curve with the slider being his most frequently used pitch. Here are his 2019 statcast rankings:
There is a lot to like here. Yes, his fastball velocity is pedestrian, but the spin is in the 77th percentile. That means he’s able to play it up in a way that offsets the velocity. His curveball spin rate is elite and he is able to minimize hard hit damage. The walks were a little high in 2019 given the number of innings he threw out of the pen. Looking at his career numbers though, last year may be the outlier. He is worth a shot and I’m honestly not sure why the Yankees didn’t pursue him this winter. Maybe he doesn’t have a clean bill of health.
The Yankees will be able to survive this terrible loss. They have options both internally and on the market. They are still in a strong position to win the division, the pennant, and the title. Things have become a little harder, but the team is equipped to thrive this season. We’ve seen multiple depth pieces step up when called upon and this year will be no different. The lineup is fierce. Their bullpen remains an elite weapon. The starting rotation features a true workhorse ace and strong options remain at the top. They still have quality depth options for the back end. The Yankees also have the resources to fill holes when needed. They are a true championship contender even without Severino. Keep in mind, Sevy didn’t pitch for most of the year in 2019 and the Yankees won 103 games.
The more devastating aspect of this news is Severino’s well being. Ever since signing his extension, things have not gone well for Sevy. He wants to pitch. We want to see him pitch. There are ramifications not only for his future, but the future of the Yankees rotation starting in 2021. Those are things to discuss down the line. The most important thing is Sevy getting on the road to good health. We wish him the best on his arduous journey to recovery. We can’t wait to see him on the Yankee Stadium mound in the future.