Believe it or not, the Yankees will (supposedly) play their first regular season game exactly two weeks from today. They’ll be taking on the defending champion Nationals down in D.C., so this is all happening pretty quickly. To that end, what we’re seeing so far is actually going to be significant. Not in terms of on-field results, but in terms of how guys are being used, what the teams is saying, etc. There’s just not a lot of time left before the games count.
So, it’s an appropriate time for the return of thoughts posts after they were sporadic for the last few months. But first…this was 9 years ago today:
Can you believe that was 9 years ago? It’s crazy. It’s been so long that even looking at David Price in a Rays jersey feels weird now. Anyway, on to today’s thoughts.
1. We (Mostly) Have A Lineup: The Yanks have now played the first of their two intrasquad games. While they’re just glorified practices, they’re actually pretty instructive. Opening Day, as I said above, is only two weeks away, so the team has to ramp up the intensity pretty quickly. With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that the A-Team has put out the same exact lineup in both games. I think what we’ve seen is pretty close to our Opening Day lineup.
Here is what they’ve put out there:
- Aaron Hicks, CF
- Aaron Judge, RF
- Gleyber Torres, SS
- Giancarlo Stanton, DH
- Gary Sánchez, C
- Brett Gardner, CF
- Luke Voit, 1B
- Gio Urshela, 3B
- Tyler Wade, 2B
Pretty interesting. Remember, DJ LeMahieu is currently unavailable after testing positive for COVID – he’ll need to test negative twice before joining the team in the Bronx – and that’s why we’re seeing Wade. We really have no idea how long it’ll be before DJLM is healthy (he’s been asymptomatic, at least) and obviously he should prioritize his health so it could (and probably should) be a while. So, for now, we should assume this is the lineup for Opening Day.
Now, in terms of the actual lineup construction, I think it mostly looks pretty good. I’ll never give up my battle for Judge and Stanton to hit back-to-back, but I’ve accepted defeat on this one. It just doesn’t feel like something the Yankees are ever interested in doing. Gleyber is certainly a worthy 3-hitter, so it’s marginal at best anyway. In other words, the top 5 hitters seem pretty immovable to me, at least until DJLM comes back. It will be interesting to see how he slots in when he does…maybe DJLM leads off and Hicks hits 3rd in between Judge and Stanton, with Gleyber moving to 5 and Gary to 6. That’d be my best guess, anyway.
Personally, as Luke Voit’s number 1 fan, I’d switch him and Gardner. Again, though, it isn’t really that big of a deal: this is one hell of a lineup, even without DJLM. If the season happens, the Yankees figure to be pretty, pretty, pretty good.
2. Rotation Battle: We’re also seeing something of a rotation battle. Derek went into this earlier this week, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the team builds its rotation in a short sprint of a season. Tanaka’s head injury adds a new element to the battle, too. Here’s how we expected the rotation to look before that vs. how it probably looks now:
- Gerrit Cole
- James Paxton
- Masahiro Tanaka
- J.A. Happ
- Jordan Montgomery
- Gerrit Cole
- James Paxton
- J.A. Happ
- Jordan Montgomery
Tanaka will probably only miss a start or two, given how his injury seems to be progressing, but that’s far from a guarantee. Head injuries are no joke. That opens up a spot for someone like Clarke Schmidt, Mike King, or even Deivi Garcia to get some action as the fifth starter. I’m partial to Schmidt but King also looked pretty sharp the other day. The Yanks have been impressed with him, obviously, and he even got a cup of coffee last year, so he could well be the favorite. After all, the Yanks may not want to throw Schmidt right into the fire.
I also think it’s possible that we get a 6-man rotation this year, which opens up this spot even after Tanaka returns. I don’t think that guys will necessarily be stretched out like they normally would be given, well, everything. The Yankees are famously cautious with their arms, and it wouldn’t shock me to see them try to get guys an extra day of rest, especially in the beginning of the season while guys get into game shape. At the same time, every game has an added importance now, so it’s possible they want to run out their very best every single game. I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to see.
3. The “Fast Guy”: MLB implemented a the MiLB rule for extra inning this year, which means that teams will start with a runner on second in the 10th inning and beyond now. It’s dumb, but I think it creates a new role for Tyler Wade. FanGraphs got into this a bit with Billy Hamilton a few weeks ago, and I think it (somewhat) applies to Wade. He’s not as fast as Hamilton, obviously, but he can burn. Here are his sprint speeds as a Yankee, with league ranking in parentheses:
- 2019: 29.0 ft/second (93rd percentile)
- 2018: 28.7 ft/second (89th percentile)
- 2017: 29.1 ft/second (93rd percentile)
He’s the fastest player on the Yankees – well, he and Gardner are pretty close – and we’ve already seen that in years past. Check this out:
That is a completely manufactured run right there and it’s a unique skillset on the power-heavy Yankees. If the Yankees go into extras and have the opportunity to put Wade on second over, say, Gary, Stanton, or Voit, I’d expect them to do so. You have to maximize your chances of scoring the run in those situations, however marginal that advantage may be – and a guy with Wade’s speed does that.
Wade’s very good offensive September (.297/.366/.486) was probably a fluke. His speed is not. He has successfully stolen a base 9 out of his 10 attempts, too. He knows how to use that speed. I have a hard time seeing the Yankees ignoring that given the new rules, but we’ll have to see. Until then, I leave you with this as a final example of what I’m talking about:
4. Tough First Half, Easier Second Half: We got the Yankees schedule the other day and I wrote that I think it’s favorable to the Yankees. They dominated the division last year and bad opponents like the Orioles and Marlins (though they’re improved) take up a greater share of the schedule in 2020. That feels like a net positive to me, even if last year’s success will be hard to replicate. I think the Yanks are the best team in every matchup except potentially against Washington, even if the NL East is a tougher draw than, say, the AL Central. That counts for something.
Still, it’s worth noting that the schedule starts out much, much tougher than is probably ideal. As Mike Axisa pointed out at his Patreon the other day, the first 30 games are loaded with good teams. Check out the winning percentage split:
- First 30 games: .514 opponent’s projected winning percentage
- Last 30 games: .459 opponent’s projected winning percentage
In some ways, that’s a tough draw. Starting out strong in a short season would make life easier, and this will make it tougher to do that. On the other hand, this makes it a lot easier to finish strong and enter the postseason on a roll, so I’m not too worried about it.
It’s hard to project how things will go in the short season and I expect the Yankees (who are, knock on wood, mostly healthy) to be very, very good team all year. But I did want to point out that this discrepancy out, because it’s definitely real.
5. Fans in the Stadium: I’m probably going to expand on this in a bigger post, so this will be brief, but it’s weird to think about playing games in an empty Stadium, isn’t it? I’m curious how that will impact home field advantage, which has been a very real thing for this Yankees core. It’s going to be interesting and extremely dystopian.
I do want to point out that Hal Steinbrenner, for some reason, thinks the Yanks will get games with fans this year at 20-30% capacity. I’m sure that’s based on conversations with Governor Cuomo as well as a million other stakeholders, so he knows more than we do. However, I’m extremely skeptical a single fan will step foot in Yankee Stadium this year. I think we need to be prepared for Yankee Stadium to be hosting fan-less games (if games at all, honestly, I’m still not convinced) all season – and we’ll have to see how, if at all, that impacts what’s traditionally been the Yankees biggest competitive advantage.