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.
It’s no secret that the Yankees’ lineup is dominated by right-handed hitters. Great righties, without a doubt. But at the same time, Kevin Cash’s Rays had no problem matching up against the Bombers’ bats in the ALDS. The offense still had some good performances in the series and is far from the only issue facing the Yankees’ roster, but it’s clear that it could use some balance. Aside from switch-hitting Aaron Hicks, the Yankees really lacked a threat from the left side this season. It’s something that should be addressed this winter. Randy and I discussed it on the podcast, too.
Inserting another good left-handed hitter is easier said than done, of course. From top to bottom, the Yankees’ lineup is built with some of the best righties in the sport. Trading Luke Voit for the sake of lineup balance is not a good idea. He’s been an elite hitter ever since the Yankees acquired him from St. Louis. Really, the Yankees are backed into a corner in terms of starters. The only open position this offseason is second base (or shortstop, if you want to move Gleyber Torres over), but at the same time, this team needs to bring free agent DJ LeMahieu back. I suppose catcher too if you really want to dump Gary Sánchez, but get back to me when you find a good left-handed catcher available. So, the Yankees will have to attack this balance issue differently.
How’s everyone feeling about the Yankees this season? Great, right? Yup, feels wonderful to be 21-21 after a 16-6 start. The Yankees are in the midst of as terrible of a run as I can recall, though I’m also spoiled as a person born in 1990. It’s hard to be optimistic about the current team turning things around, by the way. Here’s what’s on my mind now that the Yankees are barely hanging on to a playoff spot.
The Yankees may need to accelerate the returns of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and/or Gio Urshela. There are 18 games remaining and it’s increasingly likely that the Yankees only chance at a playoff spot is the 8th seed. There are still a ton of games left against Toronto, so I suppose the Yankees could still sneak into second place division spot (currently three games back), but it’s getting more difficult to imagine that working out. So, who would have thought the Yankees would have to hold off the Orioles, Mariners, and Tigers to make the playoffs this year?
Just incredible. And that brings me to the players on the injured list. I think Yankees (reasonably) assumed that the current roster would have no issues holding off these teams. That’s why we’ve seen patience in bringing back guys like Stanton (who’s way past his original timetable). But now we’re at the point where the team can’t be much more patient. The Yankees need the likes of Stanton, Judge, and Urshela back in this punchless lineup. This current roster *should* be able to maintain the 8th seed, but it’s officially too close for comfort.
Of course, there is the risk of aggravating an injury by bringing back a player too soon. We’ve already see that with Judge this season. That very well could happen again. That said, would you rather miss the playoffs without getting Stanton/Judge/Urshela back within the next week? Or would you rather miss the playoffs taking getting them back as soon as possible?
Mike Tauchman should not hit sixth. I really do not understand why Aaron Boone penciled in Tauchman sixth in the lineup last night. I get that there are a lot of guys not hitting in this lineup, but Tauchman looks terrible at the plate. Naturally, he came up in a couple of big spots yesterday.
The Yankees had Taijuan Walker on the ropes in the first inning. Tauchman came up with the bases full and two outs and worked the count to 3-1. Here’s what he did:
That’s an eminently hittable fastball in a fastball count. Tauchman could do nothing but hit a soft fly ball to left center.
He came up again with the bases loaded in the fifth. He lifted a sac fly to left for the Yankees’ only run of the game.
I’ll give him a little credit for going with that splitter away to left, but man, I would have rather had a more dangerous hitter up. Miguel Andújar, anyone? At least he’s shown some life of late.
Reaction to Brian Cashman’s team meeting. I gotta say, I didn’t love the idea of Cashman addressing the team before a JA Happ start. It’s preferable to do so with a better pitcher on the mound. But hey, credit to Happ for pitching well yesterday. The offense was yesterday’s letdown.
It sounds like Cashman struck the notes you’d expect him to. Per Cashman’s press conference, he emphasized his belief in the current roster and reminded them that everyone in the room was brought in for a reason. What else is he gonna say?
The GM also noted that there’s no help coming (duh). The trade deadline has passed and the Yankees stood pat. Similar to what he said a little over a week ago, Cashman noted that the prices were just too high and would have subtracted current big league contributors (i.e. Clint Frazier, Deivi García, and/or Clarke Schmidt). But even if he won’t admit it, I’m sure Cashman would like a mulligan. I can’t imagine all trade possibilities required one of the three mentioned above to be sent packing. We can’t know for sure, though.
In any event, talk is cheap and this roster just isn’t performing. A pep talk is nice and all, perhaps needed, but it can only do so much with the likes of Tauchman, Tyler Wade, Mike Ford, and Thairo Estrada needing to play so much. It’s not gonna snap Gary Sánchez, Gleyber Torres, or Brett Gardner out of their slumps.
I feel like I’m rambling a bit here, but I guess I’m just trying to reiterate the frustration about this team’s depth. We often point to the absence of Didi Gregorius this year, but let’s not forget that this team also had Cameron Maybin and Edwin Encarnación around last summer. Those are three big losses that Cashman did absolutely nothing to address. It’s great to have confidence in who’s on the roster already, but sheesh, it sure would have been nice to have a little more cushion. It’s too late the fix that now. Literally all Cashman can do is try to light a fire under the guys currently in the clubhouse.
On the future at catcher and following the Dodgers. There really are no excuses to make for Sánchez. He’s been atrocious at the plate and his defense has taken a step back. Save for a hot start last year, Gary’s been mired in offensive problems since 2018 and it’s concerning. His bat has always been his carrying tool, but it’s been a while since his incredible run from 2016-2017. Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of clamoring to find someone new to replace him long-term. I’m sure the cries for impending free agent J.T. Realmuto will be loud this winter.
Don’t count on Realmuto coming aboard, though. We have heard his name come up in rumors with the Yankees over the years, even when Gary was playing well, but I don’t expect the Yankees to pay up after splurging on Gerrit Cole last winter. That said, I do expect the Yankees to bring in some catching insurance. I know the team likes Kyle Higashioka, but I think they need something more. It would behoove the team to have two starting-caliber catchers kind of like the Dodgers do (Will Smith and Austin Barnes). They more or less split duties and I think it allows the two of them to stay fresh all season. It’s not lost on me that there are not many starting-caliber catchers available, of course. Getting another is much easier said than done.
It just may not make sense for catchers to play, say, 120 or 130 games anymore. It’s too much on their legs. That’s why such a move might be good for Gary too, especially if he can rediscover his offensive ability and be useful at DH on days he doesn’t catch. Here’s what’s out there other than Realmuto in free agency:
Not particularly exciting! But a lot of these guys are probably better than Higashioka and would be playable 3-4 days a week. Tyler Flowers and James McCann are first to mind for me, personally.
Now, as for Higgy: he’s out of options so the Yankees would risk losing him unless they carry three backstops. It’s a tricky situation, but something the Yankees should consider. They need a little bit more insurance behind Gary.
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.
Mike Tauchman was one of last year’s many pleasant surprises. He was nothing short of stellar when thrust into regular playing time, and once again this year, he’s playing everyday because of more injuries. But that .277/.361/.504 (128 wRC+) batting line from 2019 is nowhere to be found. Not even close, in fact. Tauchman has basically become a singles hitter. This season, the 29 year-old has hit .261/.354/.333 (86 wRC+). He’s one of the many batters in the Yankees’ lineup struggling this season.
This version of Tauchman isn’t necessarily abnormal. He’s done the no power thing before while in Colorado’s minor league system. In 2015 and 2016, Tauchman hit four homers in 1,090 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. He found power in 2017 and 2018 in Triple-A, perhaps the reason why he caught the Yankees’ eye for a trade early last year. Unfortunately, that pop has gone missing once again.
It’s painfully clear what’s going wrong for the lefty-swinging Tauchman thus far. This year, it seems like Tauchman’s only successes are when he dunks a flare into shallow left field for a base hit:
You can count how many balls he’s pulled into right field on one hand. Lefty friendly Yankee Stadium was a match made in heaven for Tauchman last summer, but he’s no longer taking advantage of the short porch. Granted, Tauchman went to left field a good amount last year too, but he also was able to pull the ball for power:
With those spray charts in mind, it probably won’t surprise you to see Tauchman down in various metrics year-over-year:
Avg. Exit Velo
Hard Hit %
None of that is good. He’s not hitting the ball nearly as hard as last year, he’s beating the ball into the ground, and he’s whiffing more often. As a result, his expected slugging percentage has cratered:
It sure looks like hitting coach Marcus Thames has his work cut out for him here. The main issue, at least in my mind: Thames and Tauchman need to figure out what happened to the outfielder’s ability to pull the ball. Until he’s able to get out in front of the baseball, it’s hard to imagine his power returning. And that’s a big problem while Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton remain sidelined, because there’s nowhere to hide Tauchman at this point. There’s no one left to turn to in place of Tauchman.
Seeing Tauchman struggle makes yesterday’s fruitless trade deadline all the more frustrating. At the moment, the Yankees are left hoping that a lot of things break in their favor: from injured players returning and staying healthy to guys like Tauchman figuring things out. Sure would have been nice to add a reinforcement or two in addition to waiting and hoping for the rest to get back or turn things around. It’s too late for that now, though.