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Luke Voit to have knee surgery, Jay Bruce makes the team

So much for all of the debate about Jay Bruce vs. Mike Tauchman. The veteran 1B/OF has made the team, but not for the reason most folks anticipated. Instead, an injury to Luke Voit paved the way for Bruce:

Voit had an MRI yesterday that revealed the meniscus tear. This comes after the first baseman dealt with some knee trouble earlier in the month. One can’t help but wonder if this decision to tag up from second to third made matters worse:

This is a big blow to the Yankees’ lineup, but fortunately, it’s coming at the start of the season rather than the end. Voit could be back at some point in May.

Bruce will be the Yankees’ everyday first baseman for the time being. The soon-to-be 34 year-old has hit .194/.242/.419 with two homers in 33 plate appearances this spring.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Bruce, the Yankees placed Clarke Schmidt on the 60-day injured list (elbow). He suffered a common extensor tendon strain earlier in camp. Meanwhile, the Yankees also released Robinson Chirinos and Derek Dietrich from their minor league contracts.

Yankees Spring Training News & Notes: March 11, 2021

The Yankees topped Philadelphia 6-1 in Clearwater earlier today. Aaron Hicks homered, Gerrit Cole was dealing, and everyone’s favorite non-roster invitee Lucas Luetge did his thing again. Here’s Hicks’s excuse-me-wind-aided dinger:



More on the game in a bit, but first, some important rehab news.

The Big Story: Luis Severino

As anticipated, Luis Severino threw off a mound this week. It’s the first time he’s been on the bump since he underwent Tommy John surgery last February. This session happened Tuesday, though it wasn’t public knowledge until today.

Sevy threw 20 pitches, all fastballs, and it went well according to Aaron Boone:

“It was a lot of fun for me to get over there on Tuesday morning to be there to see that first one and just to see how he’s moving around,” Boone said before Thursday’s exhibition against Philadelphia in Clearwater.

“There’s just a confidence in that he’s kind of exuding in his health, just watching him play catch, the way his body is, the kind of shape he’s in and the free and easy way in which he’s throwing,” Boone said. “He was really efficient the other day — it really kind of throwing it exactly where he wanted. He was coming out hot. We almost said, ‘Hey, back off a little bit. It’s coming out a little too well.’ And he wasn’t working for it necessarily. So really encouraged about where he’s at to this point.”

Obviously, it’s great to hear that Severino looked great and came away from this step healthy. If all goes well, Sevy will be a huge boost to the Yankees’ rotation in the second half of the season. And I know, I know: you’re not going to like hearing Brian Cashman say that he’s the best acquisition the team could make when the trade deadline comes around. But honestly, will he really be wrong about that?

There’s still a long way for Severino to go, of course. He needs to start mixing in breaking balls, face hitters, build up arm strength, etc. But every step he takes without an issue is a big plus.

Looking forward to seeing this again.

The Infield Corners: Voit, Urshela, and Thoughts and Prayers [2021 Season Preview]

Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports

The Top-Flight First Baseman

On August 2, 2018, Luke Voit made his pinstriped debut. It was a relatively dull introduction to Yankees fans, as he went 0-for-4 in a 15-7 loss to the Red Sox. And, to be frank, it wasn’t all that shocking either; after all, Voit was a no-name 27-year-old first baseman that many assumed was the secondary piece in the deal that sent Gio Gallegos to the Cardinals for international bonus money.

As it turns out, that was the low point of Voit’s tenure.

Voit has hit .279/.372/.543 as a member of the Yankees, which is good for a 144 wRC+. That wRC+ ranks third among first basemen, behind 2019 MVP Cody Bellinger (who has played more outfield in this span) and 2020 MVP Freddie Freeman. That’s pretty good company, folks. And, if you want to go even deeper, his 144 wRC+ ranks 12th among all hitters.

Room for Improvement: Luke Voit

Luke Voit had a career year in 2020, as we all know. (This is part of the reason why many wanted to trade him; it is why I was against that idea outright.) This can make it somewhat challenging to identify a way for him to tangibly improve in 2021. However, this turned out to be fairly easy: Voit, despite his incredible season, actually took a significant step back with his plate discipline.

Here is a handy visualization that gets directly to the point:

Pretty clear decline there, sinking to levels not seen since his August 2018 breakout in New York. Unsurprisingly, there was a correlated increase in Voit’s chase rate over the same period – which, combined, drove his on-base percentage down to a fairly pedestrian .338. I put together this chart that shows the three figures from 2017-20, with league averages in parentheses:

OBPWalk RateChase RatePA
2018.39810.6% (8.5%)27.5% (30.9%)161
2019.37813.9% (8.5%)26.6% (31.6%)510
2020.3387.30% (9.2%)33.3% (30.6%)234
Career.36310.9% (8.5%)28.9% (~30%)1,029

There are a few obvious takeaways from this. First, Voit has always drawn walks at a rate higher than league average. (That is also visible in the Statcast chart above.) Second, he has been above average at laying off pitches outside of the zone. This is a fairly straightforward relationship, so no surprises here, and it clearly correlates with his robust on-base percentages. Finally, this changed significantly in 2020.

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.

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