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The 2019 Yankees and RBI

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve at least dipped a toe into the waters of analytics, sabermetrics, whatever you want to call it. Even if you haven’t done more than that–or even that at all–you likely know that RBI isn’t exactly an ‘in vogue’ measure of a player’s performance. And, really, it shouldn’t be. While getting a hit with a man on base is great, that hitter didn’t do the work to put the men on base. At best, a high RBI total shows us a combination of skill–getting the hit–and chance–hitting while there happened to be men on in front of you. 

Stil, RBI tells us a story–who scored when and courtesy of whom. Without that story, the story of the game itself can’t be told. Earlier in the week, I saw a story about RBI that caught my attention. 

In a Facebook group, someone mentioned Luis Castillo’s 2000 season, in which he notched 17 RBI in 626 (!) plate appearances. Curious as to how that happened, I went to Castillo’s game logs page on Baseball Reference and looked up this handy chart:

Despite how shockingly low that is, especially when you see it compared to the average, it makes sense. Castillo was mostly a leadoff guy who was on a below average (79-82) team, so he routinely had bad hitters and the pitcher in front of him to drive in. The whole thing, though, got me curious about the Yankees. How good were they at driving in runners? Let’s take a look, using some charts. I included only those who had 300+ PA. 

Gary Sanchez

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44629677265426321+5

Luke Voit

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
51032062196130020+1

DJ LeMahieu

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
655343102307938620+10

Didi Gregorius

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
34421561284120220+8

Gio Urshela

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
47630474245728020+4

Gleyber Torres

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
60436890247335621+3

Brett Gardner

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
55030574246632420+4

Aaron Judge

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44724955225426321+1

This isn’t too surprising, is it? The Yankees get a lot of men on base–not one player had fewer than expected runners–and drive a lot of them in–not one player had fewer than expected RBI. As such, all of them are above the average expected RBI% by at least 1%, with DJLM smoking everyone else at 10% above average. 

Are these players good because they have high RBI totals and percentages compared to the average? No. They have those things because they are good players and they play with good players who get on base. RBI don’t tell the whole story, but they tell part of it. In this case, it’s another way of telling us the the Yankees are good at hitting. Plain and simple.

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With A Slew of New Injuries, Luke Voit is More Important Than Ever

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: several key members of the Yankees’ lineup are hurt all at once. Last year’s defining storyline is showing no sign of abetting in 2020. Aaron Judge is out for an indefinite amount of time with a stress fracture in his rib. Giancarlo Stanton is sidelined until mid-April with a strained right calf. And now there is a mysterious new back injury for Gary Sánchez, severity TBD. While the timelines and severity of each injury varies, one thing is clear: the Yankees will need all the offensive firepower they can get, especially in the early days of the season.

That’s where the middle-of-the-order force everyone has forgotten about comes in. It’s easy to forget about Luke Voit! After all, Voit all but disappeared in the second half of last year thanks to injuries. He did not come to the plate against Minnesota in the ALDS, of course. He did not make the ALCS roster against Houston, either. It was a rapid descent – nearly as rapid as his 2018 rise – and that’s why fans are overlooking him. No more! Injuries should thrust him back into the spotlight – and the good news is that he’ll likely be ready to step up once again. It’s all he’s ever done as a Yankee, actually.

First, remember that pre-injury Voit was legitimately one of the Yankees’ best hitters in 2019. He hurt his abdominal muscle in June’s London Series and was not the same after that. Prior to the injury, though, he was a monster. Here are his stats and 1B rankings prior to that series:

  • Batting Average: .280 (6th in MLB, 2nd in AL)
  • On-Base-Percentage: .393 (4th in MLB, 2nd in AL)
  • Slugging Percentage: .409 (11th in MLB, 5th in AL)
  • Walk Rate: 14.0%, (7th in MLB, 4th in AL)
  • wRC+: 140 (7th in MLB, 3rd in AL)
  • fWAR: 1.8 (10th in MLB, 4th in AL)

This includes a torrid April .275/.392/.523 (144 wRC+), during which time he buoyed an injury-plagued Yankees lineup. (Sound familiar?) The injury changed all that. It’s true that he struggled in the second half – he was barely the same hitter – but we also know that his injury was much, much worse than we originally thought.

In an interview with The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler (subs req’d), Voit opened up about his offseason surgery and the injury itself. It was not pretty. He revealed that he’d “torn everything” in his bilateral core area, which impacted his “abdominals, hip flexors and groin muscles.” Ouch. Obviously, that injury impacted his explosiveness and ability to drive the ball at the plate. It was evident from watching him, too. He was not the same and now we know why.

However, as I noted while reviewing his season, there are still plenty of signs that Voit remains a ferocious hitter at the plate. Look at his underlying peripherals in the second half, even with that injury:

  • Average Exit Velocity: 91.1 mph
  • Average Launch Angle: 15.7 degrees
  • Hard Hit Percentage: 47%
  • Chase Percentage: 21.3%
  • Walk Rate: 14%

He hit the ball hard, into the air, laid off bad pitches, and drew walks. The batted ball profile suggests he was a bit unlucky, but it’s the last two points that are most important. Even while hurt, a batter retains control over pitch selection and how to attack the ball. Voit, who is patient, remained the same hitter during his injury. It was just the outcomes that changed – and the injury is clearly a big reason why.

In other words, there is cause to believe that a fully-healthy Voit will once again be a force in the middle of the order. In fact, he hit cleanup a week ago when the Yankees rolled out what will likely be their Opening Day lineup. A sign if ever there was one.

While his regular season successes tell a more complete tale, it’s worth mentioning that Voit has looked himself this spring. He’s hitting .296/.345/.444 (8 for 27 with 2 walks in 9 appearances) in the Grapefruit League so far. It is flying under the radar, sure, but it’s still true. Voit is having a lot of success so far. He even hit his first home run of the spring the other day. Check it out:

[iframe src=”https://streamable.com/m/luke-voit-s-first-spring-home-run” width=”100%” height=”300″]

I don’t ever read anything into Grapefruit League performance, but it’s certainly encouraging to see him looking like himself at the plate after last year’s devastating injury. I’ll take that over having to rationalize a struggling Voit, that’s for sure.

Voit, unheralded or not, was always going to be a mainstay in the Yankee lineup in 2020. He has earned that spot by now. Even with his rough half last year, he’s a .280/.384/.517 (141 wRC+) hitter with 35 home runs in just about 650 NYY plate appearances. That’s MVP-level production over a full season, essentially. In other words, there is every reason to believe in Luke Voit – and now that the injury bug is once more baring its teeth and decimating the Yankee lineup, that sure is good news.

Reviewing the Yankees’ 2020 Projections: PECOTA

Embed from Getty Images

Steamer and ZiPS have had their days in the sun, but today, it’s PECOTA‘s turn. In continuation of our series reviewing the Yankees’ projections, let’s take a look at Baseball Prospectus’s projection system du jour.

Betting the over

Hitter: PECOTA is definitely the projection system lowest on Gleyber Torres. It still gives him a solid forecast — .257/.323/.464 with 28 homers in 595 plate appearances (111 DRC+, 2.9 WARP) — but that seems very beatable. Such a performance would be a step down from his career 123 DRC+, and I can’t imagine predicting the 23 year-old to regress at this point of his career. On the bright side, Torres’s top comps is pretty nice: Carlos Correa.

Pitcher: I feel like projection systems are sleeping on Adam Ottavino, PECOTA included. Now, PECOTA isn’t quite as low as Steamer is, but I expect better than a 3.49 ERA and 4.01 DRA for Otto. As I wrote in the Steamer post, it’s pretty clear that these systems are very conservative on the right-handed reliever because of his high walk rates.

Betting the under

Hitter: Kyle Higashioka is in line for the backup catcher role this year, and by PECOTA’s evaluation, he’ll be pretty good at it. BP’s system doesn’t have a spectacular offensive projection by any means (89 DRC+), but does foresee a bit of power (9 homers in 175 plate appearances). Much of Higashioka’s 1.3 WARP projection is tied to his defense (+8 FRAA), as expected. My expectation: he won’t hit quite that well. He has a nice minor league track record offensively, but playing sporadically will make things a little more difficult for him and I just don’t see a 31 homers per 600 plate appearances pace.

Pither: I can’t see Domingo Germán recording a 3.47 ERA in 2020, which is what PECOTA forecasts. His 4.48 projected DRA is a bit worse and seemingly more reasonable, but I find it very difficult to be that high on a pitcher’s run prevention skills after he surrendered 30 homers in 143 innings last year. PECOTA also has German pitching more often in relief (34 games, 8 starts) which perhaps accounts for a lower ERA, though it’s anyone’s guess as to what role Germán plays when his suspension for domestic violence ends.

Push

Hitter: I picked DJ LeMahieu for the over against Steamer and could have done so again with ZiPS. But when it comes to PECOTA, things look much more sensible from my perspective. PECOTA projects DJLM to be the Yankees’ best position player (5.2 WARP) and expects him to slash .303/.359/.456 (119 DRC+) with 16 HR in 595 PA. Perhaps there’s a little more power in there than that, but I’m not going to quibble with this projection.

Pitcher: Sign me up for Luis Severino’s PECOTA. A 3.19 ERA and 2.9 WARP in 156 innings? Yes, please. Sure, a little more in terms of innings would be nice, but better to be safe than sorry after a lost 2019.

Biggest Surprises

Hitter: Last year, I wrote about Luke Voit’s terrific preseason PECOTA projection for BP. It was an eye opening forecast for a hitter with a limited, abeit terrific, major league track record. This year, Mike Ford has virtually the same preseason forecast under similar circumstances. It expects Ford to slash .255/.342/.502 (126 DRC+) with 12 dingers in 210 plate appearances after a 125 DRC+ in 2019. Voit wound up falling short of his 2019 projection (118 actual vs. 128 projected DRC+), but much of that was due to injury.

Pitcher: I can’t say I expect much from Jordan Montgomery this year. However, PECOTA foresees a solid first full season back from Tommy John surgery. In 89 innings, it calls for 1.0 WARP buoyed by a 3.48 ERA and 4.58 DRA. The DRA projection looks reasonable, but the ERA is much lower than I anticipated.

Personal Favorites

Hitter: Has Luke Voit’s second half slump resulted in some people sleeping on the first baseman? That’s my impression, at least. Bobby dispelled that in Voit’s season review, and now PECOTA reminds us that Voit is still potent at the dish. The first baseman is projected to bat .263/.354/.471 with 25 bombs in 560 plate appearances. That’s good for a 119 DRC+ and 2.0 WARP.

Pitcher: PECOTA adores Chad Green. He didn’t start off 2019 so hot, but he was excellent down the stretch after returning from a minor league stint. In 2020, PECOTA says we can expect Green (68 DRC-) to be the Yankees’ best reliever not named Aroldis Chapman (66 DRC-). In 65 innings, PECOTA projects Green to post a 2.66 ERA and 3.33 DRA. Should he hit those marks, it would be Green’s best season since he burst onto the scene in 2017.

Tinkering With the Lineup

(Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s January 26th. We’re under a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting. But it still feels like we’ve got forever to go and aside from Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame election, there isn’t much going on in Yankee-land. So let’s do something fun, if futile: think about the Yankee lineup.

As we well know, lineup construction doesn’t matter that much over the course of the season, so long as you’re not putting the worst hitters up top and the best hitters down low. In the best possible way, it’s very hard to tell the good and bad hitters from each other in the Yankee lineup. This makes it difficult–again, in the best possible way–to figure out exactly what the best configuration is. What a wonderful problem to have, right?

The following lineup is pretty ‘standard,’ what I think Aaron Boone will trot out most days.

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Giancarlo Stanton, LF
  4. Gary Sanchez, C
  5. Gleyber Torres, SS
  6. Luke Voit, 1B
  7. Miguel Andujar, DH
  8. Gio Urshela, 3B
  9. Brett Gardner, CF

This lineup is more than fine by itself. You could make a few tweaks, I suppose–swap Urshela and Gardner, if you want; swap Stanton and Sanchez, too, if you please. No matter what, a combination of these nine guys is gonna score a lot of runs.

Here’s a slightly more than slightly altered version.

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, LF
  5. Gary Sanchez, C
  6. Gleyber Torres, SS
  7. Luke Voit, 1B
  8. Miguel Andujar, DH
  9. Gio Urshela, 3B

This lineup has a slightly more traditional twinge with a fast, OBP guy at the top and a contact hitter second. Given Gardner’s on-base ability–and occasional power–it’s not hard to imagine DJLM’s contact skills driving in a few runs or putting a runner in scoring position in the first inning. New conventional wisdom says to put Judge second to get him more plate appearances, but this still guarantees him a first inning PA and gives him a decent chance to have guys aboard. This does, however, bury Gleyber a bit, which he probably doesn’t deserve. Maybe you swap him and Gary, depending on who’s hot. Again, this lineup is gonna produce no matter what.

Here’s one last lineup that’s maybe a touch different, a little friskier.

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  3. Gleyber Torres, SS
  4. Aaron Judge, RF
  5. Giancarlo Stanton, LF
  6. Gary Sanchez, C
  7. Luke Voit, 1B
  8. Miguel Andujar, DH
  9. Gio Urshela, 3B

This lineup puts all the more contact-oriented players up top (minus one) and gives Gleyber his deserved spot at the top. This lineup is also just a power onslaught after the first three batters–who are capable of power themselves!

Regardless of how the Yankees line up this year, there will not be many landing spots, if any. There are questions, sure. Can DJLM keep tapping into power? Will Gardner keep up his production at an advanced age? How will Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar bounce back from their injuries? Hell, we don’t even know what the baseball is going to be like! But even with those (not very vexing) questions and whatever happens with the baseball, the Yankees are going to score. Often.

Reviewing the Yankees’ 2020 Projections: Steamer

49 homers for Stanton? Sign me up. (Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0)

As spring training nears, projection season is upon us. Today, we start a series examining the various projection systems’ outlooks for the Yankees in 2020. Today, we cover Steamer, currently available on Fangraphs. We’ll get to others like PECOTA and ZiPS once they are publicly available.

We’re not going to go player-by-player as we review each system’s output. Rather, we’ll call out a few projections that caught our eyes. With that, let’s get to what Steamer says about the Yankees’ fortune.

Betting the over

Hitter: It’s going to be difficult for DJ LeMahieu to match or top his production in 2019, but Steamer calls for a pretty significant drop off. After LeMahieu hit .327/.375/.518 (136 wRC+) last season, the system projects a .285/.345/.434 (107 wRC+) line. That’s way to low on the Yankees’ second baseman.

Pitcher: Steamer is bizarrely down on Luis Severino. It projects a 3.98 ERA and 4.05 FIP in 168 innings. I know his shoulder injury was scary, but he came back and looked sharp by the end of 2019. Moreover, he’s been dominant since 2017. In just under 400 innings from 2017 through last season, Sevy owns a 3.13 ERA and 2.99 FIP. Pitchers have down years from time to time, but I just can’t fathom Severino’s marks hovering around 4 in 2020. Gerrit Cole is the ace of the staff, but there’s no reason to sleep on Severino.

Betting the under

Hitter: I hate that I’m about to say this, but I could see Miguel Andújar falling short on expectations this season. Steamer says he’ll hit .270/.312/.474 (104 wRC+), which is already a far cry from his brilliant rookie season in 2018. I’m not taking the under here because I think Miggy is bad, but rather, I can’t help but wonder how long it will take him to get acclimated after missing most of 2019. Labrum tears are no joke and it could take him a little bit longer to approach his 2018 form.

Pitcher: This is a bit of a cop out, but I’m going with JA Happ, who Steamer says will have a 4.64 ERA and 4.78 FIP in 105 innings. That’s an improvement over last season, but I’m not confident in Happ rebounding. Maybe he won’t be as bad as 2019, and he did pitch well in September, but a 37 year-old fastball-reliant pitcher with diminished velocity? Count me out.

Push

Hitter: At some point, 36 year-old Brett Gardner’s production is going to taper off. I thought that was the case after the second half of 2018, but he rebounded with a terrific 2019. Now, Steamer expects Gardy to still be a solid player, but experience some decline. It calls for 1.8 WAR in 509 plate appearances, 17 home runs, and a .246/.327/.422 (98 wRC+) batting line. The batting average and on-base percentage are basically in line with 2019, but there’s a stark drop in power. I think that’s pretty reasonable to expect.

Pitcher: Steamer slates James Paxton for a 3.85 ERA and 3.96 FIP in 183 innings this year. That’s virtually a carbon copy of Paxton’s performance in 2019 and slightly worse than 2018. I can see a case for the projection being low, especially after watching the lefty’s dominant second half of 2019. That said, this seems to be a pretty safe expectation and a solid season for The Big Maple.

Biggest Surprises

Hitter: Steamer thinks Mike Ford (115 wRC+) is a better hitter than Luke Voit (108 wRC+). I like Ford quite a bit, perhaps more than most, but I’m skeptical of any forecast saying he’s better than Voit. As Bobby put it in his season review of Voit, Luke carried the offense before he got hurt last summer. Ford was great in his stead, but Voit has a longer track record of success at the big league level.

Pitcher: Steamer is down on Adam Ottavino. The system calls for a 4.36 ERA and 4.43 FIP in 68 innings this year, which would be a major disappointment. I imagine Ottavino’s high walk totals (14.1 percent in 2019) put some fear into the projections, but he’s been effectively wild for a few years running now. I suppose there’s concern that another 2017 is plausible, when Otto had a 5.06 ERA and 5.16 FIP. But that looks more like an anomaly around dominant 2016, 2018, and 2019 campaigns.

Personal Favorites

Hitter: I’m here for a monster season from Giancarlo Stanton, and that’s just what Steamer has ordered. Look at this thing of beauty: in 143 games and 627 plate appearances, Stanton is projected to hit a league-leading 49 homers. He’s also projected to be the Yankees’ best hitter (143 wRC+), a few ticks ahead of Aaron Judge. 2019 was a lost season for Stanton, but Steamer is still a big believer.

Pitcher: I think Steamer may be a little bit low on Gerrit Cole, but regardless, his projection is great. His forecast calls for a 3.25 ERA and 3.15 FIP in 202 innings along with a remarkable 280 strikeouts. And per WAR (6.1), Steamer thinks he’ll tie Jacob deGrom for most in the league.

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