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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ZiPS comfortably puts the Yankees over the 100-win threshold, as it should. The Yankees are stacked, folks. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more intriguing projections the system has in store.
Betting the over
Hitter: Like I did with Steamer, I could easily pick DJ LeMahieu again (ZiPS has a 108 OPS+ projection). But, let’s mix it up here to avoid repetitiveness. I’m going bolder this time. Gio Urshela already has a respectable forecast, but I think he’ll do better than the 105 OPS+ and 2.2 WAR ZiPS calls for. Urshela’s exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and xwOBA all were comfortably above average last year which led to a 133 OPS+. Now, I don’t expect a repeat of 2019, but something like a 115 OPS+ seems within reach.
Pitcher: ZiPS pegs Zack Britton for a 3.48 ERA and 3.63 FIP in 51 2/3 innings. A fine projection, but I think Britton can beat it easily. Zack really came on in the second half of last season and I think we can expect more of that in 2020. Take a look at the splits from a year ago:
1st half: 2.43 ERA and 4.21 FIP, 17.2 percent strikeout rate
2nd half: 1.11 ERA and 3.01 FIP, 28.7 percent strikeout rate
Betting the under
Hitter: This was a hard one. I don’t think there’s any obvious pick here, so I’m going a little more granular. ZiPS projects Gleyber Torres to hit 41 home runs, but I think he falls short of that. I know he hit 38 last year, so 41 may be in reach, but I am more comfortable pegging Torres in the 25-30 home run range. Which is still great! I just can’t see him hitting more homers per plate appearance (one every 15.1 PAs) than Aaron Judge (one every 15.8 PAs), which is what ZiPS indicates.
Pitcher: I have no choice but to do a repeat here. I thought Steamer was too high on JA Happ, but ZiPS is even more optimistic. It expects 138 innings of 4.43 ERA and 4.40 FIP performance, which seems too good to be true. I’ll gladly sign up for a 101 ERA+ from the fifth starter, but I just can’t envision it.
Hitter: Gary Sánchez’s projection feels about right. ZiPS gives The Kraken a .244/.323/.524 (121 OPS+) batting line with 32 homers and 2.6 WAR in 467 plate appearances. Only Giancarlo Stanton (43 in 567) is projected to hit homers at a higher per PA rate than Gary. That said, I could absolutely see a monster season that beats the forecast, but this is a pretty darn good outlook nonetheless.
Pitcher: ZiPS projects a 4.34 ERA and 4.30 FIP for Masashiro Tanaka in 168 innings. Considering that Tanaka hasn’t posted a FIP below 4.01 since 2016, this seems like a reasonable expectation. In any event, we know the season doesn’t really get going until the calendar says October for Tanaka. We can reasonably expect a sub-2.00 ERA come fall.
Hitter: ZiPS has Mike Tauchman at 2.5 WAR, or sixth-best out of the Yankees’ position players. It loves his defense and thinks he’ll hit aplenty (.263/.335/.437, 105 OPS+). I think the offensive projection is reasonable, but the way ZiPS loves Tauchman’s glove caught me off guard. Dan Szymborski, the proprietor of ZiPS, did note that the system has loved his fielding since he was in the minors. Statcast has him in the 95th percentile in outs above average, so maybe this shouldn’t come as a total surprise. But essentially, per ZiPS, the big takeaway here is that Tauchman should play over Brett Gardner, which I didn’t anticipate.
Pitcher: It’s not really one guy, but rather, how the non-late inning relievers stack up per ZiPS. See below:
If the Yankees are going to carry an eight man bullpen, that means three of the five above can be in the majors along with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle. It’s pretty obvious that Cessa should be the odd-man out, right? And that Heller absolutely deserves a spot, too. I didn’t expect that to be so cut and dry. I figured everyone would be a bit more closely bunched together.
Hitter: It has to be Gleyber’s projection, right? I know I already wrote about betting the under on his home run total, but still. .287/.348/.557 (136 OPS+), 41 home runs, and 4.6 WAR is a thing of beauty for the 23 year-old shortstop.
Pitcher: One of my favorite things about the ZiPS release are the comps the system spits out. For the Yankees, the pitcher comps are simply fantastic. ZiPS equates Gerrit Cole to prime Greg Maddux, Luis Severino to Roy Halladay, and James Paxton to Andy Pettitte. And then there’s the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman was comped to Billy Wagner, Chad Green to Rollie Fingers, and Adam Ottavino to Jeff Nelson.
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.
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.
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.
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.