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Reviewing the Yankees’ 2021 Projections: ZiPS

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.

Report: Yankees Exercise Zack Britton’s 2022 Option

Improving their bullpen should be a priority for the Yankees this offseason, and the first step is maintaining the very good baseline. It seems like they’ve done just that, as SNY’s Andy Martino reports that the team exercised Zack Britton’s option. Martino’s report follows a tweet from Britton himself a few minutes earlier, which seemed to break the news:

Remember, this keeps the 32-year-old lefty in the Bronx through the 2022 season. That’s technically what the Yankees exercised today: his 2022 option, not 2021. Had they declined, Britton would have had a player option for the 2021 season. He will earn $13 million in 2021 and $14 million in 2022.

This was a no-brainer for baseball reasons. The Yankees player union representative has a 2.14 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 105.1 innings pitched since joining the Bombers bullpen back in 2018. He has an obscene 76% ground ball rate over that period. Overall, the lefty has been a reliable addition to a formidable pen.

He kept up that excellence in 2020, with a 1.89 ERA (2.82 FIP) in 19 innings pitched for the Yanks. Britton’s 33% strikeout rate was a career high and likely a function of the short season, but perhaps not! Anyway, he was a rock-solid late inning option for Aaron Boone. Overall, Britton limits hard contact and induces the most ground balls in baseball, which helps him overcome a high walk rate.

Despite the obvious on-field value, this was still not a given. Cleveland declined Brad Hand’s cheaper option. St. Louis declined Kolten Wong’s. This is likely going to be the trend. Teams are crying poor. So, while Britton is worth the money, it is still an encouraging sign. I know we’re all pre-mad at the Yankees for some reason, but this is an early signal that they will not be as “fiscally responsible” as other teams.

Welcome back, Zack. The next step is for the Yankees to give him some new friends out there. Hand is a good place to start.

Zack Britton remains a stable force [2020 Season Review]

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Sinkerball extraordinaire Zack Britton was excellent in relief in 2020. Whether or not it’s his last season in pinstripes going forward is up in the air, though the Yankees would be much better with him than without him.

Still dominant, even without the strikeouts

Another season, another sub-2 ERA. A shortened year, sure, but a 1.89 ERA is nothing to sneeze at across 19 innings. Dating back to last season, the lefty has a 1.90 ERA in just over 80 frames, which is 10th-best in MLB. He’s not a FIP darling because of low strikeout totals, but it’s pretty safe to say that you can throw FIP out the window in Britton’s case. A 71.7 percent ground ball rate and no homers allowed made it pretty easy to forget about a below average 21.1 percent strikeout percentage.

League-wide strikeout rate was 23.4 percent in the regular season and even higher among relievers (24.1 percent). Britton used to be able to rack up Ks like that in Baltimore, particularly from 2014 through 2016 (27.1 percent). There are a number of possibilities for a lower strikeout rate, including age, injuries, and velocity decline. He still throws his sinker exceptionally hard (94.8 MPH), but that’s down from 96.9 MPH in 2016.

News & Notes: Boone stays, Thames interviewing, Germán’s return, Britton’s option, Hank Aaron Award

He’s staying.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t spent too much time watching baseball since the Yankees were eliminated. I’ve tried to tune in to the NLCS, but my goodness, Globe Life Field is incredibly depressing. What an awful ballpark. As for the ALCS? Just can’t do it. Seeing Tampa Bay going for the sweep tonight is a bummer knowing that the Yankees would have stomped Houston. Sigh. Anyway, here’s the latest in the Yankees’ world:

  • End of season press conferences: Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman spoke to the media today. We recapped it here.
  • Boone is staying: In case you couldn’t already tell from press conference earlier, this is not a huge surprise. Yesterday, Hal Steinbrenner said on The Michael Kay Show that the manager would return in 2021. At the minimum, that means the team will pick up his 2021 option. It could also mean an extension. We’ll see.
  • Marcus Thames interviews for Detroit’s open managerial gig: The hitting coach would be missed here in the Bronx, but is more than deserving. He interviewed with the Tigers last week.
  • Domingo Germán’s future: In the same interview, Hal was asked about whether or not he’d be comfortable having Germán on the roster next season. His response: “I have to absolutely feel comfortable that he deeply, deeply regrets and is sorry for what he did, and I absolutely have to be comfortable with the fact that he’s turned his life around”. The details of the incident aren’t public, but it sure doesn’t sound good.
  • Details on Zack Britton’s option: The reliever told the New York Post that, based on his understanding, the Yankees have to decide on his 2022 option three days after the end of the World Series. If declined, Britton will have two days to decide on opting out of 2021.
  • DJ LeMahieu is the Yankees’ Hank Aaron Award Nominee: MLB announced each team’s candidate this morning. LeMahieu, who won the batting title with a .364 batting average, also had the American League’s best wRC+ (177). He’s got to be the favorite in the AL, no?
  • Send us your mailbag questions: Just a friendly reminder here. Shoot an email to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com and we’ll consider your question for upcoming mailbag posts.

ALDS Game 4: Yankees Live to See Another [Gleyber] Day

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The Yankees aren’t done yet. They beat the Rays 5-1 to force a deciding Game 5 tomorrow night in San Diego. The Bombers finally got a well pitched game from someone other than Gerrit Cole and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Let’s get to the takeaways:

Gleyber Day arrives just when the Yankees needed it. The shortstop’s 2-run homer in the sixth inning gave the Yankees some breathing room, putting the Bombers up 4-1. Up until that point, I had a lingering concern that an earlier wasted opportunity — scoring just one run after loading the bases with no one out in the second inning — would later haunt the Yankees. Thankfully it didn’t, and Gleyber’s bomb eased those concerns:

What a shot. How many dingers would the Yankees send over the Western Metal Supply Co. building if this was actually the team’s home ballpark?

Keep in mind that Gleyber fouled a ball off his shin in his previous at bat against Yarbrough. It took a while for him to get back in the box after it, too. I guess it’s safe to say he’s OK now!

By the way, Torres reached base two other times this one. Once via single, once via walk. He stole a base in the ninth and scored a run too. He had a really nice series against Cleveland last week, but had been relatively quiet until tonight against the Rays. Nice to see a big game from him tonight. Would be even better to see him carry it into tomorrow.

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