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.
Oof. That was ugly. The Yankees blew out Toronto a couple of times last week, and tonight, the Blue Jays returned the favor. The final in this one: 11-5.
This one was over early as Michael King and Jonathan Loaisiga got knocked around in the third and fourth innings. Meanwhile, the offense couldn’t muster much against Matt Shoemaker and the Jays’ bullpen. Here are the takeaways:
Michael King isn’t a big league starter. At least, not yet. There are reasons to like King, but his start tonight was emblematic of his entire season. He got off to a good start but wore down once the opposing lineup got a second look at him. Now, the times-through-the-order penalty applies to just about every pitcher. But for King, it’s particularly bad. Take a look:
Opposing hitters’ OPS go way up in a second plate appearance against King, though the jump is particularly noticeable as a starting pitcher. He’s kind of consistently bad as a reliever, whereas when starting, his first time through is actually pretty decent.
Tonight, King looked great his first time through the order. He allowed two hits and struck out five. One of those hits absolutely shouldn’t have been a hit, by the way. Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge let a ball drop in the outfield that turned into a triple. Anyway, point is: King shut down the Blue Jays in their first look tonight. He capped off that first time through with a beauty, too:
After that is when things unraveled. With one on, one out, and the top of the order due up, here’s what happened. King walked Cavan Biggio and then gave up back-to-back singles to Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández, which put Toronto ahead 2-1. Next, King fanned Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for the second out, but Randal Grichuk delivered the final blow right after: an RBI single to make it 3-1. In short, Toronto hitters reached in four of the first five plate appearances in the second turn through the batting order. Not good. Jonathan Loaisiga relieved King, but allowed two of his inherited runners to score, putting the Yankees down 5-1 through 3 innings.
In fairness to King, some of the hits in that third inning weren’t scalded. Still, hits are hits and King has shown us time and time again that he doesn’t fare well against opposing hitters twice. As long as this issue remains, he’s not a viable starting pitcher.
King now has a 7.76 ERA and 5.13 FIP in 26 2/3 innings this season. If this is it for King this year, yikes. He had a chance to grab a rotation spot this year, but his poor performance, Deivi García’s success, and JA Happ’s resurgence never allowed it to be a possibility. My one big takeaway from King’s season, aside from the times through the order stuff: he’s gotta find a way to get his sinker down. Here’s his heat map on the pitch this season:
He flashes an excellent sinker (that Pitching Ninja gif, for example), but far more often than not it’s up and over the plate. If he can get that down, maybe he can get himself back on track as a back-end starter type.
Jonathan Loaisiga hasn’t looked great since returning from his unknown illness. In his third outing off the injured list, Loaisiga let this one get out of hand. He entered when it was 3-1 and allowed a couple of inherited runs to score, as mentioned earlier. Then, the next inning, he proceeded to give up four more runs. Loaisiga allowed five hits and walked two before Nick Nelson relieved him in the middle of the fourth inning.
Loaisiga’s pitch usage really stood out to me tonight. Of his 39 pitches in this one, 32 were fastballs. He’s got a great heater, but he also possesses a high spin curve and a sharp changeup, both with whiff rates north of forty percent this year. So, it’s a bit odd to see him spin off five breakers and two changeups tonight. He did something similar in his last outing too.
Granted, Loaisiga’s had some other high fastball usage outings this season. But considering how poorly things went tonight, it’s strange how he and Gary Sánchez kept going to the well. Maybe he just didn’t have a feel for the breaker or change, I don’t know. In any case, he also didn’t elevate his fastball at all, something he’s had success with before.
Hopefully this is just a case of Loaisiga trying to get back into a groove after missing a couple weeks of action. He showed some flashes of excellence in short relief last month and looked like a great option to graduate into late relief, particularly with Tommy Kahnle out for the year. It’d be nice to see him sort things out before the postseason.
Gio Urshela drove in two of the three of the Yankees’ runs tonight. One was an RBI single that gave the Yankees’ a short-lived 1-zip lead in the second. The other was an RBI groundout in garbage time.
Giancarlo Stanton plated the Yankees’ third run with his RBI double in the eighth.
More from the too little, too late department: Mike Tauchman delivered a three-run double in the ninth inning against Wilmer Font.
Nick Nelson threw two innings in relief. The only run he allowed came on Randal Grichuk’s solo shot.
Chad Green and Adam Ottavino got some work in relief as well. Green gave up one run, a solo homer to Alejandro Kirk. Adam Ottavino pitched a clean eighth inning.
The Rays’ magic number for the division title is now 1. Additionally, the Yankees now trail the Twins by 1.5 games for the 4th seed.
Welp, on to the next one. The Yankees have now lost two straight, but it’s nice to have Gerrit Cole on the bump tomorrow. Have a good night, everyone.
Another day, another blown four run lead. But this time, the Yankees pulled it out! They topped the Orioles 6-4 in the first of two games this evening. Let’s get right to the takeaways:
It’s tough to be a King without command. 25 year-old rookie Michael King labored through this one. The righty didn’t record a single 1-2-3 inning as the Orioles put seven runners aboard in four innings of work. His final line: 4 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks, 1 hit batter, 3 strikeouts, and 2 homers.
Baltimore broke through against King immediately. Cedric Mullins wasted no time giving the Orioles a 1-0 advantage in the top of the first:
He retired the next three batters in order, but every other inning he pitched in this evening featured at least two baserunners. King prevented the Birds from scoring in the second and third frames, but gave up two in the fourth. Both runs came on one swing:
Including tonight, King’s ERA and FIP stand at 6.33 and 5.90, respectively, through 21 1/3 innings this season. It just doesn’t seem like he’s a viable rotation option at this point. And that’s OK. Remember, 2019 was mostly a lost year for King as he suffered a stress reaction in his elbow early on. That said, it doesn’t mean he should be getting too many important innings this season. I don’t expect him back in the rotation again anytime soon. He’s only taken a couple of turns over the last week because of the absurd amount of doubleheaders.
King’s time in the rotation might not be now, but it’s also not hard to see why the Yankees like King. His minor league track record is excellent (2.93 ERA in 387 innings across all levels). He didn’t rack up big strikeout numbers, but he induced a ton of ground balls (54.2 percent) and limited walks (4.1 percent). However, since coming to the majors, his batted ball profile has changed:
Major league numbers entering tonight’s game.
This appears to be a big reason why King hasn’t succeeded with the Yankees in limited time. It seems pretty obvious why he can’t keep the ball on the ground too. His sinker, a pitch he throws over 55 percent of the time, has been up far too often this year. Look:
He has to bring that pitch down for it to be effective. Otherwise, he’s going to get hit hard and give up dingers like he did tonight.
Now, further on the bright side: King has shown some proficiency in limiting hard contact. Tonight, even with the dingers, the average exit velocity against him was 84.4 miles per hour. Entering this evening, he was in the 89th and 90th percentiles for exit velocity and hard hit percentage, respectively. That’s good, but again, those need to be on the ground to be converted into outs. Otherwise, we’ll see bloop base hits more often, and when he does get hit hard, home runs.
Offense strike early, but couldn’t put this one out of reach. Sounds a little bit like yesterday, right? Well, I don’t really want to blame the offense for last night’s loss. The Yankees should win when they score seven runs, period. Tonight is a different story though. They scored one in the second and three in the third, but the bats probably could have done more in that third frame. First, here’s how the run in the second came about, courtesy of Gary Sánchez:
That tied the game at one.
Let’s move to the third. The Yankees loaded the bases immediately for the scuffling Brett Gardner. To his credit, he delivered:
That put the Yankees ahead, 3-1. Clint Frazier walked thereafter to reload the bases, still with no outs. But up came a triumvirate of batters hitting under the Mendoza line: Mike Ford, Sánchez, and Mike Tauchman. Ford flew out to left, not deep enough to score a run. Gary struck out. Tauchman managed to draw a walk on an eight pitch at-bat, which increased the lead to 4-1. Thairo Estrada struck out to end the frame. Let’s go back to that Tauchman walk. Yes, it drove in a run, but look at some of the pitches he fouled off:
You really can’t make it up. Tauchman fouled off three fastballs right down the middle. The guy cannot hit a middle-middle fastball. Literally!
on the left is all of the fastballs tauchman has seen down the heart of the plate in 2020. on the right is his batting average against those pitches pic.twitter.com/YPMvCyNRwn
Tauchman had three chances to smack a ball into the gap or over the wall. Instead of a five, six, or seven run inning, his walk resulted in a four run frame. Sigh. In fairness, Ford, Gary, and Estrada deserve a bit more ire. Even though Tauchman missed some very hittable pitches, at least he didn’t make an out. The other three couldn’t do anything against Branden Kline, who entered today with a 5.93 ERA.
As you know, King allowed the Orioles to get back into this one. Ben Heller then gave up a solo homer to Renato Núñez. It stinks the pitchers gave it up, but really, the offense has to do better. Must I remind you that these are the Orioles!? Three runs while loading the bases loaded twice with no outs in an inning is an incredibly bad job.
The Yankees finally catch a couple of breaks. This one went to extra innings, which meant the 2020 extra inning rule was in effect. Gary Sánchez started the inning on second base and immediately advanced to third on a wild pitch. So, runner on third and no one out. The Yankees are gonna score, right? Nope. Thairo Estrada lined out and Aaron Hicks bounced into what felt like a back breaking double play.
The Orioles had a chance to win it in the bottom of the eighth and Aaron Boone went to Jonathan Holder. Ryan Mountcastle hit a sac fly to center to advance designated runner Pat Valaika to third. It looked like things were about the end, but Holder escaped. He struck out Dilson Herrera, walked Ramon Urias, and finally got Anthony Santander to fly out to preserve the tie. Phew.
Holder’s escape was the first break. The offense scoring not one, but two runs, in the ninth was a pleasant surprise. Miguel Andújar, fresh up from the Alternate Site, played hero:
Yes, that’s Jonathan Holder scoring the go-ahead run. The Yankees pulled removed their DH to put Miggy in at third when Aaron Hicks pinch hit for Tyler Wade. Anyway, the Yankees weren’t done there. Clint Frazier added one on for good measure with a single to make it 6-4.
That Frazier RBI proved to be a pretty big insurance run, as Baltimore did score once in the bottom of the ninth against Chad Green. It took a little bit of good fortune to do so. An infield single put runners on the corners with nobody out, but Núñez hit into a 5-4-3 double play. Even though that made it 6-5, the bases were clear with two outs which allowed Green to wrap this one up. Bryan Holaday flew out to end it. Exhale.
That’s 19 wins in a row against Baltimore.
It’ll be curious to see how the Yankees handle the nightcap’s bullpen. No Holder, Green, Britton, or Chapman I’d assume, as all pitched tonight.
Clarke Schmidt is on the active roster! The Yankees optioned Ben Heller after the game. Perhaps we see Schmidt in relief given how many arms pitched in game one.
Three hours and forty five minutes later, whaddya say? Let’s play two! The second game should start around 9:20 p.m. EDT. I’ll share the lineups below once they are out.
It’s too bad the Yankees don’t face the lowly Red Sox again until September. The Yankees completed a four game sweep against Boston at Yankee Stadium to improve to 16-6, 2.5 games ahead of the Rays in the division. Meanwhile, the Red Sox depart at 6-17 and their season all but over. The final in this one: 6-3.
Rain halts Jordan Montgomery’s best start of the season. A one hour and 23 minute rain delay cost Monty a chance to get a win in this one. The delay came with two outs in the fourth, which turned out to be the end of Montgomery’s evening. In sum, the lefty threw 3 2/3 innings, struck out four, and allowed just one run (that he probably shouldn’t have, more on that below). Montgomery had just about everything working. He was throwing hard, missing bats, locating his pitches, and generating a lot of weak contact.
It sure looks like the lefty’s velocity uptick is here to stay. Montgomery averaged 92.9 MPH on his fastball and topped out at 94.1 on the evening. His sinker sat 92.7 and touched 93.8. That’s not overpowering in today’s sense, but it’s very good for Monty. Considering how well he spotted his pitches today, that velo really did him wonders.
Save for a couple sinkers down the middle (both taken for strikes), Monty lived on the edges this evening. That’ll do.
Monty also had good feel for his curve and changeup in this one, which worked well off his fastball/sinker. He got nine whiffs on 27 swings, and when the Red Sox did make contact, it wasn’t well struck. Boston’s average exit velocity was a paltry 77.8 MPH on the evening.
That’s a lot of blue. Soft contact has become Montgomery’s forte this year, by the way. Entering tonight:
Exit Velocity: 96th percentile
Hard Hit %: 68th percentile
Barrel %: 74th percentile
That’s great stuff. Even with a little more hump on his fastball this season, Montgomery isn’t going to be a strikeout pitcher. He’ll need to limit hard contact to maintain success, and so far, so good. I just wish we got to see him go a little deeper in this one.
Nerdy stuff aside, Montgomery really got into a groove after the Torres error in the first. He recorded eleven straight outs thereafter up until back-to-back-to-back singles with two outs in the fourth. Then mother nature came calling.
Bats and B-List relievers keep A-listers fresh for Tampa Bay series. Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, and Zack Britton didn’t have to warm up for this one. That’s big going into an important series against the Rays tomorrow, who were off today and will have a fresh bullpen themselves. Aroldis Chapman wrapped this one up, but he was expected to get into this game regardless of the score. It’s his first game back from the COVID-19 injured list, after all.
The offense took care of business pretty early. Part of it was a self inflicted wound by Boston starter Martín Pérez, though. With two outs in the second, he pegged ninth hitter Tyler Wade. You just can’t let Wade reach base like that and the top of the order made him pay. Hicks ripped a double to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Then came Luke Voit:
That wasn’t his only longball of the day. The first baseman also did this in the fifth:
Those were Voit’s sixth and seventh homers of the year. Thairo Estrada delivered one of his own between those two Voit dingers, by the way.
Aaron Hicks added one for good measure.
Enough about the homer parade, how about the bullpen work of Luis Avilán and Michael King? Avilán came into this one with two on and two out in the fourth as play resumed after the rain delay. He worked out of trouble and then pitched a clean fifth inning. Avilán has been sneaky good thus far: he’s got a 2.25 ERA in eight innings.
King came in after Avilán. It was his first appearance since August 8th, but King didn’t show any rust. He threw three innings, allowed just one run, and struck out two. That one run probably shouldn’t have happened, by the way. Miguel Andújar couldn’t track down what turned into a ground rule RBI double by Alex Verdugo in the sixth. Anyway, King was given the win for this one, his first of his career. Congrats to him.
Again, this was a clutch performance from Avilán, King, and the offense. Aaron Boone should be able to use Green, Ottavino, and Britton often in this upcoming series.
We have to talk about Gleyber Torres’s defense. Although things have started to come around offensively, Gleyber’s defense has been another story this season. In short, it hasn’t been very good. Tonight, Torres made two throwing errors. He now has six on the season, second to Boston’s Rafael Devers who has 8. Gleyber also couldn’t haul in a Christian Vázquez bloop single in the fourth inning that arguably should have been caught.
Tonight’s game started with his first error. Kevin Pillar hit a routine grounder to short, but Torres couldn’t convert it into an out. His throw to first pulled Luke Voit off the bag toward home plate. Per Statcast, that grounder had an expected batting average of .050. Pillar is a good runner, so perhaps that put some pressure on Gleyber to make a good throw. In any case, it’s a play Torres has to make. The good news is that Montgomery worked around that error to pitch a scoreless first, including a 6-4-3 double play turned by Torres and Tyler Wade.
Moving on to the Vázquez single, which cut the Yankees lead to 3-1 at the time. Let’s take a look:
Torres seemed to have a quick first step, but then slowed down and took a circuitous route to the landing spot. He got his glove on it but couldn’t haul it in. Look, I’m not saying that this is an easy play, but it’s one he probably should have made. If you didn’t notice his odd route to the ball on video, you can get a better sense of it from Statcast below:
Statcast also has that batted ball at an expected batting average of .580, but that may be somewhat misleading. Namely, Statcast only considers launch angle and exit velocity. In other words, it treats that blooper’s hit probability the same as if it was hit down the right field line.
Torres wasn’t done there though. He made another throwing error in the top of the top of the fifth inning. This time, it was a grounder off of José Peraza’s bat. Peraza is very fast — 87th percentile in sprint speed — but this was yet another routine grounder that should have been an out.
In fairness to Gleyber, he is just 23 and this is his first (sort of) full season at shortstop at the big league level. I’m a little more willing to give him a pass on the blooper, but he needs to be more consistent on routine plays.
This was the Yankees’ fourth rain delay of the season. It clocked in at one hour and 23 minutes.
Interesting game for Miguel Andújar, who’s back with the team with DJ LeMahieu on the injured list. He *just* missed a grand slam in his first at-bat: he hit a 381 foot flyout to end the first inning. Later, he scorched a line drive right at Peraza. Nice to see some good swings from Miggy. Now, for the not so good. I touched on this earlier, but he took an awkward route on a very catchable fly ball hit by Verdugo to left field in the sixth. But instead of hauling it in, it landed for a ground rule double. Andújar is very new to left field, so we’ll cut him some slack here. Mike Tauchman came in as a defensive replacement later.
To add to Gleyber’s rough night in the field, he also got picked off first base in the seventh inning by Sox catcher Christian Vázquez. At least it didn’t take the defense and baserunning to the plate. He reached base via walk twice tonight.
Aroldis Chapman looked good in the ninth despite allowing a run. His fastball reached 100 MPH four times.
Up next: the Rays for three games in the Bronx. Should be a good one. See you tomorrow.