Last Updated: 2019-03-04
For the first time since 2009, the New York Yankees won 100 games. For the ninth straight season, they fell short of winning their 28th championship. It is very hard to win 100 games and finish eight games off the pace in the division, but that is a sign of just how good the Boston Red Sox were in 2018. That certainly hurts for Yankees fans to hear, especially considering it was Boston that sent New York packing in the ALDS.
The Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992 and they won’t end that streak this season. This remains one of the best bullpens in baseball and the team actively pursued starting pitching and position player help over the winter months. Many people scoff at what Brian Cashman has achieved because the Yankees have operated with different budget constraints that most MLB teams ever since George Steinbrenner bought the team, but Cashman’s work simply cannot go unnoticed.
The 2018 version of the Yankees had the lowest average batter age in the organization since 1970 per Baseball-Reference’s calculation, which is weighted by at bats and games played. Furthermore, for the fourth straight season, the Yankees pitching staff averaged under 29 years of age, again weighted by games started, games, and, oddly enough, saves.
The only skeptical move from the Yankees heading into the 2018 season in my estimation was firing Joe Girardi. Aaron Boone took over and the Yankees didn’t really seem to miss a beat, but I did feel that Girardi was one of the better in-game managers out there. The knock on Girardi was how he handled the personal side of the job and Boone seemed to excel in that department and it has been a lateral move at worst.
Starting pitcher depth is still a problem for this team going into the 2019 season, but there are few flaws elsewhere. A mesh of young and old creates a really strong lineup and the bullpen remains elite, despite the loss of David Robertson in free agency.
The biggest question for the Boston/New York/Tampa Bay triumvirate is how to amass all of these wins in a closely-contested division. The Orioles and Blue Jays will likely continue to be punching bags, but with win totals in the mid-to-upper 90s for the Sawks and the Yankees, and a win total in the mid-80s for the Rays, there are only so many wins to go around.
The Yankees basically finished right around all of their alternate standings metrics, which is a rarity. They were one game off of their Pythagorean Win-Loss record and three games off of their BaseRuns record. On one hand, that is a good thing because it suggests consistency heading into 2019. On the other hand, it’s usually nicer to have a starting point going into the new season.
Instead, we’ll have to dig just a little deeper.
Season Win Total Odds
2018 Standings Data
Actual Record: 100-62
Run Differential: +182
Pythagorean W/L: 99-63
BaseRuns Record: 97-65
BaseRuns Run Differential: +159 (5.14/4.16)
3rd Order Win% Record: 99-63
Record in One-Run Games: 23-17
Additions: DJ LeMahieu, Troy Tulowitzki, James Paxton, Adam Ottavino, Ryan Lavarnway, Billy Burns, Matt Lipka, Josh Stowers, Tyler Hill, Drew Hutchison, Danny Coulombe, Rex Brothers, Danny Farquhar
Losses: Adeiny Hechavarria, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Lance Lynn, David Robertson, Erik Swanson, Dom Thompson-Williams, Justus Sheffield, Drew Finley, Ronald Torreyes, AJ Cole, Hanser Alberto, Reiver Sanmartin, Sonny Gray
A lot of player movement for the Yankees, but just about all of it appears to be a positive. At the very least, there are some lateral moves in there for the Yankees, but it’s hard to say that this roster is worse than last year.
Depending on who you talk to, James Paxton instantly usurped Luis Severino for the title of best starting pitcher in the rotation. Those people would be wrong, but Paxton is still an excellent pitcher. The Yankees did pay a pretty penny to get Paxton by giving up a package that included highly-touted pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, but the time is now for the Yankees and they made the right call.
Adam Ottavino, if healthy, could be as good or better than David Robertson.
The depth with DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki is more than enough to compensate for the loss of Didi Gregorius to Tommy John surgery and utility man Neil Walker.
Sonny Gray was never a good fit for the Yankees. Organizationally, the team has downplayed the importance of throwing fastballs and Gray really needs that to set up his other pitches. It was a good split for both sides.
He may not be of any consequence for the Pinstripes, but I’m rooting hard for Danny Farquhar, who had a brain hemorrhage after a ruptured aneurysm in April. The sick thing is that he had just come out of a game after getting four outs. Good luck to him. I hope he makes the club and has an impact.
BA: .249 (16th)
OBP: .329 (8th)
SLG: .451 (2nd)
wOBA: .335 (2nd)
wRC+: 111 (T-1st)
BABIP: .285 (25th)
K%: 22.7% (19th)
BB%: 10.0% (3rd)
As I mentioned in the intro, spending for spending’s sake is stupid. The Yankees have spent wisely. They’ve also gotten fortunate to develop some good in-house talent, but that’s because of a commitment to scouting and player development. It starts with Aaron Judge, who was taken 32nd overall in the 2013 MLB Draft. Judge saw his numbers regress from 2017 to 2018 and he still posted a .278/.392/.528 slash line. He also fell from 52 HR to 27 HR, which was a significant drop to say the least. Judge should hit more homers and he’ll also continue to walk and make a ton of hard contact.
Couple Judge with Giancarlo Stanton in the middle and the Yankees have just about all of the power that they could possibly need. Stanton may not have hit 59 homers last season, but he has a chance to provide more value this season with some mild regression in a couple of areas. Aaron Hicks posted a .360 wOBA and will be around a 130 wRC+. Add Hicks to guys like Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit, Miguel Andujar, Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, DJ LeMahieu, and the return of Didi Gregorius at some point and it’s easy to see why projections are so high on the Yankees.
Torres is a solid hitter and a good power guy for a middle infielder. Voit hit at every level of the minors and crushed MLB pitching to the tune of a 187 wRC+ last season in his small sample size. Andujar is a butcher at third base, but makes a lot of hard contact. Sanchez is a good throwing catcher, but a bad receiver. Fortunately, he’s a good hitter and should be in line for a bounce back, especially if he can maintain his 12.3 percent BB%. LeMahieu may fall victim to the Coors Field effect, but he’s a plus-plus fielder for as long as he’s out there every day because he’ll likely slide to the bench for Torres to play second base when Gregorius returns.
There aren’t many weaknesses in this lineup or, as you’ll see, with this pitching staff. A replacement-level team is pegged for 47.7 wins per both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Per the Depth Charts projections at FanGraphs, the Yankees are pegged for 52.3 fWAR. Not that it is an exact science, but that puts the Yankees around 100 wins, which is where they were last year.
ERA: 3.78 (10th)
FIP: 3.63 (3rd)
xFIP: 3.61 (3rd)
K%: 26.6% (2nd)
BB%: 8.0% (10th)
LOB%: 73.9% (11th)
The biggest difference with this season’s Yankees is the starting rotation. Luis Severino is and was elite. Masahiro Tanaka is and was very solid and CC Sabathia continues to laugh at Father Time. Last season, the other two rotation spots were a revolving door of Quad-A starters like Domingo German, Luis Cessa, and Jonathan Loaisiga, who would be better off developing in Triple-A or pitching out of the pen.
Ignoring Severino, Tanaka, and Sabathia for a minute, the rotation upgrades are crystal clear with guys like James Paxton and JA Happ. Even with Paxton’s very likely regression going from Safeco Field to Yankee Stadium and from the AL West to the AL East, he is a substantial upgrade. He won’t post Mariner-like numbers, as he goes from the 26th-ranked park factor over the last three seasons to the fifth-ranked park factor, but it’s safe to say he’ll be better than what was there. JA Happ posted a 2.69 ERA in his 11 starts for the Yankees. He’ll regress as well, as his FIP was 4.21 and his xFIP was 4.30, but even if we regress both of those guys, they grade average or above. That is a substantial upgrade.
It will be interesting to see if the Yankees leave well enough alone with Paxton and Happ. The Yankees have downplayed fastball usage for several seasons now. It’s one of the reasons why Sonny Gray didn’t work out. Happ is a 70 percent fastball guy and Paxton is in the 65 percent range. Happ’s arsenal changed very little, but he was an in-season acquisition. Will the Yankees allow Paxton and Happ to be themselves?
Even with these concerns, including the health of Sabathia, who had heart surgery over the offseason, the rotation is much better. So is the bullpen and that is terrifying. Last year I called this the best bullpen ever, but it fell a little short of expectations. This season, the Yankees replaced David Robertson with Adam Ottavino, re-signed Zach Britton, and have Dellin Betances in a much better spot than he was going into 2018. Aroldis Chapman is presumably healthy and Chad Green and Jonathan Holder are all kinds of fun. Tommy Kahnle should also be stronger after returning midseason from Tommy John surgery.
Positives & Negatives
Two major considerations for me with season win totals are injury risk and depth. The Yankees have injury concerns. Sabathia is 39. Ottavino is one of several post-Tommy John guys, Britton included. Paxton has had shoulder issues. Chapman has spent time in the trainer’s room. Tanaka has been pitching with a damaged UCL since he was signed. The Yankees are a little bit long in the tooth, as four of their starting pitchers are on the wrong side of 30 and so are four primary relievers.
Starting pitching depth remains a worry. On the positive side, players that were called upon to make a lot of starts last season are now the depth guys, but swingman Jordan Montgomery is a tough loss for the season following Tommy John.
Five position players are over 30. Hicks just had his first season with at least 400 plate appearances in his career. Gregorius is coming back from Tommy John surgery. Judge missed time last year and Stanton missed significant time in 2015-16.
Pick: Over 96.5
The injury risk is very real, but there is only one way that I can go with this team. The Yankees won 100 games last season. There weren’t any glaring outliers in the alternate standings metrics. You can make a case that guys like Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge actually had down years relative to what they are capable of and that could make this offense even better.
The biggest thing to me is that this is a better overall team and predominantly because of the rotation. There are the over-30 injury risks and it is what it is. Every pitcher in baseball is damaged in one way or another. All I know is that I’d take this rotation AND this bullpen over last year’s versions. And I love David Robertson. But, the Yankees filled the holes that they had. They got James Paxton. They kept JA Happ. They kept Zach Britton. They got probably the most reliable reliever out there in Adam Ottavino.
It’s hard to see how this team loses a lot of games. Any lead after five innings should come in at an extremely high clip and likely the best clip in baseball. The offense is good enough to erase some late deficits. Aaron Boone didn’t seem to be a drop-off in the decision-making department.
I’m all-in and, quite frankly, the Yankees would be my World Series pick at this point in time.
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