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Know Your Enemy: New York Yankees

Projecting as one of the best teams in baseball, the Yankees will need to rely on some key guys to stay healthy to find success

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Five Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Yankees fell just short of their projected dominance last year, but still managed to make it to the playoffs as the 5th and final seed, ultimately losing to the Red Sox in the Wild Card Game. That’s a failure that used to be a motivator for Yankee offseasons of the past when they’d then go out and do whatever they could to improve the team. Not so much this year, as their transactions left their fans wanting more.


Notable Departures:

Hitters: Gary Sánchez (C), Gio Urshela (3B), Luke Voit (1B), Tyler Wade (INF), Brett Gardner (OF), Clint Frazier (OF), Rougned Odor (2B).

Pitchers: Corey Kluber (SP), Andrew Heaney (SP), Nick Nelson (RP), Darren O’Day (RP).

Notable Arrivals:

Hitters: Ben Rortvedt (C), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (SS), Josh Donaldson (3B).

Pitchers: None.


Position Players:

Catchers:

The reign of Gary Sánchez came to an end last week, as he was shipped off to the Twins, while coming back is his likely heir in Ben Rortvedt. Rortvedt played in 39 games for the Twins in his rookie season last year, hitting a paltry .169/.229/.281 (40 wRC+) with 3 home runs. He wasn’t highly regarded as a prospect, with no true carrying skill. Regardless, the Yankees intend to use his left handed bat as at least the strong side of a platoon behind the plate.

Backing up Rortvedt and set to get the starts against lefty pitchers is veteran Kyle Higashioka. Now entering his age 32 season, Higashioka saw a career high playing time last season, as he hit .181/.246/.389 (71 wRC+) over 211 PA. He did manage 10 home runs, with approximately 13 of those coming off the Blue Jays’ pitchers (in reality, he’s just 44% better against the Jays than he is compared to his overall numbers for his career).

Overall, the Yankees won’t get much production behind the plate, and their minor league depth consists of a bunch of non-roster invitees who likely will somehow be worse.

First Base:

The Yankees ended up bringing trade deadline acquisition Anthony Rizzo back, before shipping Luke Voit out. The 32 year old Rizzo is fairly well removed from his glory days with the Cubs when he was a legitimate middle of the order threat. He still gets on base well, and will likely end up in 20s with his home run total, perhaps pushing into the 30s with half his games in front of the short porch at Mickey Mouse Stadium. He’s likely a 2-3 WAR player for the Yankees this year, which is probably not far off what they could have had in a healthy Luke Voit too. But this is the path they chose.

Second Base:

Gleyber Torres will take his shaky defense over to second base this season, where he will likely be a lot better than he was at SS. The bat has also come under question, after phenomenal seasons in 2018 and 2019 when he had a wRC+ in the 120s, and contributed 38 home runs in 2019 (unrelated, but because of that power showing, if you play OOTP 21, he is an absolute monster, reaching 953 career home runs in one of my sims). Last season, Torres hit just .259/.331/.366 (94 wRC+) with only 9 home runs in 127 games. As a middle infielder, that’ll play, but it’s certainly no longer the star power the Yankees were hoping they had with him. A return to form for Torres would be a boon to the middle infield for the Yankees.

Shortstop:

Coming over in the trade with the Twins was Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who will take the reigns as the starting shortstop. While he doesn’t carry much of a bat, his defense is strong, winning the Gold Glove Award at 3B in 2020. His defense at SS isn’t quite that good, but still solid enough that the Yankees will certainly see an improvement there compared to last year. However, the defense can only carry the bat so far, and Yankee fans will not be satisfied if he’s anywhere close to his .271/.312/.357 (85 wRC+) line from last year.

If Kiner-Falefa struggles (or is needed elsewhere on the diamond), expect to see highly regarded prospect Oswald Peraza get some starts at SS. The slick fielding speedster will be impactful on defense, and likely will carry a good enough bat when he’s ready that he could hold down a starting job. That likely wouldn’t last for too long though, as uber-prospect Anthony Volpe is poised to make some noise in the Bronx likely at some point in 2023.

Third Base:

It’s painful to see, but Josh Donaldson is the Yankees’ third baseman for the next couple seasons, as he plays out the latter half of the 4 year, $92m contract he signed with the Twins prior to the 2020 season. Donaldson has seen better health the last few seasons, missing only a combined 66 games over the last 3 seasons after missing 110 games in 2018 and 49 in 2017. He still missed time last season, although this time for a hamstring strain as opposed to the chronic calf problems that plagued him for the previous 5 seasons. When he’s healthy, he’s still a solid bat in the middle of the lineup, likely putting up a wRC+ in the 120-130 range. His defense at third base has been slipping, but he shouldn’t be too far from league average at the hot corner.

Left Field:

Trade deadline acquisition Joey Gallo will be the main name in left field this season, and while many Yankee fans hate him, he’s likely to be a big part of their offense this year. However, after coming over from the Rangers mid-season, he hit just .160/.303/.404 (95 wRC+) in Pinstripes, so it’s somewhat reasonable to be upset with Gallo. If he can be anywhere near the .223/.379/.490 (139 wRC+) line he put up with the Rangers to start the year, he’ll win over upset Yankee fans fairly quickly. Regardless of what the batting average comes out to, he’s going to hit home runs, and he’s going to play solid defense, and those are very good building blocks for a corner outfielder at Yankee Stadium.

Centre Field:

When the Yankees signed Aaron Hicks to a 7 year, $70m contract following his fantastic 2018 season, it seemed like the Yankees had CF figured out for the foreseeable future. However, a multitude of injuries to his shin, calves, knees, elbows and back has resulted in him playing just 145 of a possible 384 regular season games since signing that contract. And unfortunately for the Yankees, neither his bat nor his glove have lived up to that 5 WAR 2018 season. Now 32 years old and with Brett Gardner gone, the Yankees are going to rely on Hicks to provide a lot of value in CF, and his body may not be up to it.

Right Field:

When he’s healthy, Aaron Judge is the best right fielder in the American League. And he was healthy last year, playing in 148 games, his highest total by far since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2017. A healthy season of Judge resulted in a .287/.373/.544 (148 wRC+) line with 39 home runs. Expect the storyline surrounding Judge this year to revolve around his impending free agency, and whether the Yankees can come up with an agreeable extension before he hits the open market looking for a massive payday at 30 years old.

Designated Hitter:

Pretty much solely a DH now, Giancarlo Stanton is still the premier punisher of baseballs, with his name littering the list of hardest hit baseballs every single year. But like Judge, the risk to Stanton’s value comes entirely from injury, as he has also missed a lot of time the last few seasons, playing in just 41 games between 2019 and 2020. Fortunately for him and the Yankees, he was also healthy last year, playing in 139 games and hitting .273/.354/.516 (137 wRC+) with 35 home runs. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to help carry this team. But the risk is certainly there for another lost season.

Utility:

DJ LeMahieu may not have an official position anywhere on the diamond to start the season, but considering the injury risk carried throughout the entire roster, he is going to play a lot. After hitting a combined .336/.386/.536 (146 wRC+) in his first two seasons with the Yankees, including winning the batting title in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, LeMahieu fell pretty flat last season. He hit just .268/.349/.362 (100 wRC+), giving him an ISO below .100 for the first time since 2015. He hit just 10 home runs, the same total he had in a third of the games in 2020. At 33 years old, there is a legitimate concern on the Yankees’ side of things that he will be closer to the 2021 LeMahieu going forward as opposed to the 2019-2020 version, and with 5 years remaining on his monster contract, he could be hearing the Bronx Cheer for a good portion of his remaining career.


Pitching Staff:

Starters:

Gerrit Cole will anchor the staff, and as one of the best pitchers in baseball, he’s a very solid anchor. Cole came in runner up last season in the Cy Young race to Robbie Ray, putting together one of his strongest seasons of his career. He’s likely to be good and healthy once again, and a dominating force for the Yankees every 5 or so days.

Behind Cole is Jordan Montgomery, who established himself as a pretty reliable starter last year. Through 30 starts, he put up a 3.83 ERA, with a fairly similar 3.69 FIP over 157.2 innings. He won’t pitch deep into games, but he’s effective enough a couple times through the order before turning it over to a strong bullpen.

Luis Severino hopes to have a full season now that he is fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery prior to the 2020 shutdown. He made it back to the Majors last season, throwing 6 shutout innings over 4 appearances, looking fairly close to his old self. If he’s anything like his 2017-2018 fully healthy self, the Yankees have a second Ace in their rotation.

Rounding out the rotation will be Nestor Cortes and Jameson Taillon. Both possess decent upside, and currently project for a mid-4.00 ERA. Cortes with his slow fastball and great slider complements the rotation well, while Taillon looks to have his second consecutive healthy season and tap into the great upside that once made him an exciting prospect. If either of them can find success, this quickly becomes one of the best rotations in baseball.

Bullpen:

While the Yankees’ rotation is potentially one of the strongest, the bullpen will once again be unquestionably among the best. With domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman anchoring the back of the bullpen, the Yankees continue to have minimal concerns with holding late leads. While the walks took a huge spike last year and the home runs have been coming more frequently the last couple years, he still strikes out more than enough batters to shut opposing offences down.

Setting things up for Chapman will be Jonathan Loáisiga and Chad Green, two of the best setup men in the game. The trio at the back of the bullpen struck out 265 batters over 210.2 innings last year, a devastating trio to face in tight games.

Beyond them, look for guys like Joely Rodríguez, Lucas Luetge, Wandy Peralta and Clay Homes to eat a bunch of innings. Former closer Zack Britton will miss this season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery last September.


2022 Outlook:

Fangraphs projects this group to have the most WAR of any team in baseball, but they peg them at just 91 wins and second in the division, likely based on the injury risk that their model takes into consideration. PECOTA is expecting a 98-64 record and first place finish.

I see a lot of injury risk throughout the lineup as well as some concerns in the rotation. They’re also lacking in solid depth pieces beyond LeMahieu, and will be giving away outs with their catcher position. However, if everything breaks right for them (which so often it does), then that PECOTA projection seems reasonable. If they start to lose guys to injury, their lineup is going to quickly fill up with questionable bats. Their range of probable wins is likely greater than any other team in baseball, with anything from 80-100 within the realm of possibilities.


Poll

The Yankees will win

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    88 or fewer games
    (149 votes)
  • 50%
    89-93 games
    (199 votes)
  • 12%
    94 or more games
    (49 votes)
397 votes total Vote Now

Poll

The Yankees will finish in __ place in the AL East

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    First
    (32 votes)
  • 27%
    Second
    (104 votes)
  • 50%
    Third
    (188 votes)
  • 12%
    Fourth
    (48 votes)
  • 0%
    Fifth
    (2 votes)
374 votes total Vote Now