Things sure are boring in Yankeeland these days. That’s not a bad thing. I’m not really sure what more the Yankees could do this offseason to make me happy. The went out and signed Gerrit Cole and they revamped their strength and conditioning departments. Those were pretty clearly the two big priorities. I mean, I wish they brought back Didi and Betances, obviously. But there are baseball red flags for both players and it never felt like the Yankees were serious about a renewing their vows with either guy. I’ve made my peace with that.
Anyway, the slow days of the January months, try as they might, have not stopped me from thinking about the Yankees. Here’s what’s on my mind today, which is only 78 days away from Opening Day.
1. Gleyber’s ZiPS Projections: Have you all see the ZiPS projection for Gleyber Torres yet? It was at the bottom of Dan Szymborski’s look-back on the 2019 Yankees, which is worth reading even if the projection wasn’t included. With the projection, though, it’s a must-read. I mean, check it out:
Told you! That’s about as bullish of a projection as you can imagine on any player. Szymborski — who is the architect of ZiPS, it’s worth mentioning — correctly noted that Torres “became more aggressive at the plate in 2019 in the best possible sense.” That is true, as I noted in my review of Gleyber’s season. He swung at better pitches, which is why his walk rate and strikeout rate both declined year-over-year. These two charts are pretty illustrative:
Very impressive stuff. Torres, who is now just 23-years-old, made real improvements at the plate last year. He looked in command of the strike zone. That should help quell doubts about his power surge: there was more going on here than just the ball, even though that definitely helped. The reality is that Torres absolutely got better. There’s no doubt about it.
Overall, he’s as an impressive a young player the Yankees have produced since at least Robinson Canó — who hit .342/.365/.525 in his age-23 season, remember — and there’s every reason to believe that he will continue to improve. I believe that Aaron Judge will be the Yankees’ best player for at least the next few years, as long as he’s healthy at least, but Gleyber is making this a real competition.
Now, having said all of that…I have a hard time being this optimistic. ZiPS projects — *does quick math* — 223 home runs and 25 fWAR over the next five years for Torres. Almost 45 home runs a year! Insane. It makes me wonder what it will project for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. 80 home runs a year? I kid, I kid. But seriously, that is quite a projection.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I put Gleyber’s 2019 season in the context of other young middle infielders historically. This new projection is an excuse to revisit that exercise, which I found really fun, so here it goes. Assume that ZiPS is 100% spot-on. Here is where Gleyber would rank among middle infielders — defined as players who logged 80% or more of their games at 2B or SS in the World Series era — all-time, sorted by bWAR:
15. Willie Randolph: 32.2
16. Ernie Banks: 32.1
17. Gleyber Torres: 31.8
18. Alan Trammel: 31.4
19. Chuck Knoblauch: 31.2
That’s sandwiched right between two Hall of Famers right there. (Derek Jeter ranked 14th on this list.) Not bad! His 285 home runs, for what it’s worth, would be good enough for second behind A-Rod. There’d be a 102 HR gap in-between him and third place on the list.
Sign me the hell up for this. I’m really rooting for the ZiPS projection to be right on this one, but even if it is too optimistic, Gleyber is well on his way to superstardom. In fact, he’s probably already there.
2. Mike Ford’s Potential: All of this projection talk had me curious, so I checked out another of FanGraphs’ projection systems, Steamer. Here’s one that caught my eye: it projects Mike Ford to hit .254/.340/.485 (115 wRC+) in 2020. It also expects a 10.5% walk rate. Now, to be fair, that’s only across 105 projected at-bats, but still: that’s pretty good! In fact, it’s better than it projects from Luke Voit (.250/.341/.446, 108 wRC+).
That piqued my interest enough to go into Ford’s batted ball profile from 2019, which somehow I’d never done before. Turns out that there is reason to be optimistic after all. Here are some of his batted ball stats from his (limited) 2019 appearances, with league average in parentheses:
- Average Exit Velocity: 91.9 mph (87.5 mph)
- Launch Angle: 15.6 (11.2)
- Expected wOBA: .365 (.318)
- Hard Hit Rate: 45.6% (34.5%)
Look, a small sample is a small sample, but a player can only hit the balls he is thrown. Ford absolutely did that last year. In fact, he hit the ball much harder than average and into the air — that sure is a good combination for a lefty bat in Yankee Stadium — which is all you can ask any hitter to do. Perhaps Ford, a lefty, can help fill the gap in “lefty power bat” that everyone is obsessed with these days.
As you all know by now, I am Luke Voit’s number one fan. I believe that Ford will have to show that he is for real in order to take significant playing time away from Voit, who has already demonstrated again and again that he is a legitimate MLB player. But there is some actual evidence to suggest that Truck Month may be extended well into 2020.
3. Relief Market Dried Up: The free agent market for relievers has all but dried up at this point, now that Washington re-signed Daniel Hudson last week. We know that the Yankees have interest in adding another reliever due to their ties to Josh Hader, but if they’re going to add anyone, it’s going to be from a trade at this point. I was looking at the rest of the market the other day and, blegh, there’s nobody that really is all that interesting to me. If you want to check it out yourself, you can find the list here.
I’m not worried about the Yankee bullpen at all, even though I personally would have signed Betances. They’ve been the best in the business at assembling a bullpen for at least a decade now and that isn’t going to change now. (Plus, the Gerrit Cole signing will help save some bullpen bullets next year, which shouldn’t be overlooked.) Still, the more relief arms the merrier. Now, though, if there’s going to be any support coming, it’s probably going to come via trade.
4. What’s Next for Clint Frazier: Speaking of trades, what the hell is going on with Clint Frazier? The Frazier saga has been one of the oddest dramas in Yankeeland in recent years and it doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon. Derek noted that the team has been really quiet on the trade market this year — a definite break from year’s past — and that starts and begins with Clint Frazier, in my opinion. Obviously J.A. Happ has been at the center of trade discussions this year, but Frazier is the biggest piece with actual value on the team who seems likely to move. (And I like Happ for some reason.)
This waiting game — he’s been in Triple-A since 2016 — is really odd. It’s not how the Yankees have operated with their other young talent. They’ve repeatedly made space, even when there wasn’t any, for Gary, Judge, Torres, Andújar, etc. That they haven’t with Frazier implies that they don’t think he’s ready for prime time, concussion notwithstanding. At the same time, though, they’ve also been hesitant to move him when presented with the chance. That implies that they value him highly — or at least higher than Robbie Ray. It’s an interesting tension, but Frazier is a 25-year-old on the brink of a fourth consecutive season at Triple-A, although could factor in as a fourth/fifth outfield option, too. It’s just a strange situation. Something’s got to give at some point, right?
5. Unofficial Yankee Brett Gardner: Speaking of outfielders, the Brett Gardner contract — now a month old! — still is not official. I can’t believe it. I know there’s a 40-man crunch and everything, but it is still so, so weird to me. This has been a long time now. Oh well. Not really much to add here. He’s going to get added to the roster at some point and he’s most likely going to be the Yankees everyday centerfielder until Aaron Hicks returns. Just a weird situation that gets weirder each and every day.