|Sportsbook||Win AL East||Win AL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 101.5 (BetOnline)|
Major League Baseball is at a critical juncture. When teams like the Red Sox and Cubs are crying poor, it is not good for the league as a whole. We are now in a time period when simply spending money provides a competitive advantage for everybody that does it. All teams used to spend money, but the haves spent more than the have nots and that’s just the way it was. Now, even the haves aren’t spending nearly as much.
The New York Yankees are the exception. There is a misperception out there about the Yankees that they just frivolously spend money and deal with the consequences. While they do continue to have one of the highest annual payrolls in baseball, free agent spending has been curtailed because Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office invested serious time and resources into building up a tremendous pipeline of homegrown talent.
That being said, the Steinbrenner trust is still rich with cash and that was evident when the Yankees scored the biggest fish in the free agent market by signing Gerrit Cole. As a result, the Yankees, who were already among the World Series favorites, are even stronger now and are a clear-cut favorite in the AL East. With the Rays infinitely cash-strapped and the Red Sox looking to cut payroll, the Yankees struck while the iron was extremely hot and look poised to improve upon last season’s disappointing ending.
Three teams won over 100 games in the American League last season. The Yankees were one of them, even though only two position players had more than 550 plate appearances and Luis Severino was limited to 12 innings. It wasn’t always pretty, but a dominant bullpen and a lot of depth helped the Yankees to 103 victories. The season ended in the ALCS with a loss to the Astros in six games.
While the finish was a bit of a bummer for the Pinstripe Faithful, the season was a huge victory overall. Aaron Judge missed 60 games. Giancarlo Stanton only played 18 games with 72 plate appearances. DJ LeMahieu proved to be a stud even after leaving Coors Field. Guys like Gio Urshela and Mike Tauchman stepped up in a big way. When you can fill holes with organizational pieces, you can extend your finances to land a pitcher of Cole’s magnitude. After all, the two pitchers with the most starts last season were Masahiro Tanaka and his 4.27 FIP and JA Happ and his 5.22 FIP.
The Yankees really are poised to do great things in 2020 and maybe even end what has to be an agonizing 10-year World Series drought for the most spoiled fan base in history. I don’t know if this season ends with a 28th championship, but the Yankees will be in the postseason tournament again with the opportunity to take it down.
The games still have to be played and the Yankees have to win a whole lot of them to go over their season win total in what should be a more balanced American League as a whole.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||+134 (5.60/4.77)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||95.5-66.5|
|Record in One-Run Games||18-19|
|Additions: Chad Bettis, Tony Zych, Dan Otero, Wynston Sawyer, Luis Avilan, Chris Iannetta, Nick Tropeano, Adam Warren, Gerrit Cole, Zack Granite, James Nelson|
|Losses: Jacoby Ellsbury, Greg Bird, Jake Barrett, Austin Romine, Cameron Maybin, Cory Gearrin, Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, Edwin Encarnacion, Trevor Rosenthal, David Hale, Stephen Tarpley, Nestor Cortes Jr., Chance Adams|
There sure are a lot of recognizable names on the transaction list for the Yankees. Many of them left the team. One did not. That is Gerrit Cole. The prized possession of the free agent class on the pitching side can just barely afford the New York City cost of living with his new nine-year, $324M contract.
Don’t sleep on some of the other additions. Chris Iannetta could be an excellent coach to Gary Sanchez during Spring Training and has a pretty good chance at taking the backup catcher job from Kyle Higashioka. Nick Tropeano showed flashes when healthy. Adam Warren won’t be a factor until late 2020, if at all, but his minor league deal runs through 2021 after Tommy John surgery. Luis Avilan wasn’t great for the Mets last season, but has carved out over six years of service time as a lefty reliever.
There are some household names on the departures side, but the Yankees didn’t need any of those players. Sure, they would have liked to see more of Stephen Tarpley, Nestor Cortes Jr., and Chance Adams. They would have liked to retain the services of Dellin Betances, but Betances is a gamble and the bullpen is already excellent. Greg Bird was replaced by Luke Voit and Mike Tauchman. Jacoby Ellsbury’s body has failed him. Edwin Encarnacion is a DH and Giancarlo Stanton is also one of those. The only real big loss is Didi Gregorius, but Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu made him redundant.
The Yankees are better for having Gerrit Cole. That is the primary takeaway here. Don’t let the big names concern you.
Brian Cashman doesn’t get enough credit. Everybody just assumes that the Yankees work with no financial cap and can spend like drunken sailors in a port city whenever they please. Maybe that is the case, but look at how this roster was constructed. DJ LeMahieu was punished for playing at Coors Field and wound up being a borderline top-20 position player in baseball last season at a cheap free agent cost. Aaron Judge is homegrown and so are Brett Gardner, who has been a reliable player for over a decade, and Gary Sanchez.
Giancarlo Stanton’s acquisition was a coup from a Marlins team desperate to cut salary, but the Yankees also acquired Gleyber Torres, Mike Tauchman, Luke Voit, and Clint Frazier via trade. They picked Gio Urshela off of the scrap heap. The Yankees minor league system is rich with talent pulled from the international free agent markets and the MLB Draft.
The Yankees were top five in several offensive categories, even though Stanton missed most of the season and Judge also missed a couple of months worth of plate appearances. I know, Yankee Stadium is a Little League field. That’s fine. Even with that bandbox, the Yankees were second in wRC+, which is both league adjusted and PARK adjusted. New York did everything well. They had a high level of contact quality with the top average exit velocity in baseball. They hit for average and for power. They probably could have drawn a few more walks, but I can’t help but think the park factor plays into that. After all, the Yankees did walk more often on the road than at home.
New York finished one home run behind the Minnesota Twins, who set the all-time record for home runs in a season with 307. That was one of two teams to top the Yankees in SLG. The other was the Astros. Eight guys hit at least 15 home runs for the Yankees. They were also without the services of power hitter Miguel Andujar, who missed most of the season. Judge’s home run number was suppressed by the amount of time he missed and Stanton only hit three.
It isn’t just about power for the Yankees, but it helps and it is the biggest component of their offensive success. The high exit velocities also lead to the ability to hit for a lot of power. Remember that home runs do not count towards BABIP because they are not balls in play that can be fielded. The Yankees still ranked sixth in that department because of their contact quality.
In all, 15 players posted a wRC+ over 100. Twelve of those players are still with the organization, though Aaron Hicks had Tommy John surgery and his outlook for the season remains up in the air. If you are looking for regression from this offense, you are unlikely to get much of it. Home runs may decline across the board, but the Yankees will still be among the league leaders. Even if the clock strikes midnight for guys like Urshela, Tauchman, and even an aging player like Gardner, the Yankees will get more from Judge and Stanton to offset any drops in production.
There are some signs of cluster luck regression. The Yankees batted .293/.364/.518 with men on base and .249/.320/.469 with the bases empty. In that respect, which we can see via BaseRuns, the Yankees are a mild regression candidate. However, they should do better with the bases empty this season to create more run-scoring opportunities. They had an average exit velocity of 89.9 with the bases empty and a .286 BABIP. Of course, they had a .334 BABIP with runners and an average exit velocity of 89.3 mph. Defensive alignment matters and a lot of teams are going to do better with men on base than the bases empty in BABIP, but this was a stark contrast. Only the White Sox were better in BABIP with men on base last season.
All in all, aside from the expected league-wide drop in power, the Yankees look roughly on par with last season and will be in the top five offensively again.
Now, for some earth-shattering analysis. It is a good thing that the Yankees got Gerrit Cole. I’m not going to say that James Paxton was bad, but the park factor change did impact his numbers. He also battled some injury issues over the course of the season. Masahiro Tanaka was pretty average. Domingo German is suspended for the first half of the season stemming from a domestic violence incident. JA Happ isn’t very good.
We saw three starts from Luis Severino in the regular season as he worked his way back from a major injury. Severino also made a couple of playoff starts. But, you can just look at the full-season numbers and see that the Yankees needed Cole. To finish 14th in ERA and 17th in FIP with this bullpen and this talent simply isn’t good enough. Most of it was the starting staff, too. The bullpen was ninth in FIP and ninth in ERA, which, admittedly, was well below my expectations, but the Yankees need better from their starters if they are to take that next step. It would also help to stave off some of the regression suggested by the alternate standings metrics and the offensive cluster luck that I mentioned earlier.
Paxton is likely to miss at least most of the first three months of the season after undergoing a lumbar discectomy. Even though he didn’t replicate his Seattle numbers, he was pretty good, particularly late in the year. He is a big loss to a team that entered last season with some big starting rotation questions.
The southpaw wound up with a sub-4.00 ERA and FIP and a 3.5 fWAR pitching half the time in Yankee Stadium. The irony is that Paxton as actually substantially better at home than on the road. Paxton did get better as the season went along and he was actually outstanding over August and September with just 18 runs allowed over his last 61 innings of work.
The problem was everybody behind Paxton. German had a flashy 18-4 record, but he had a 4.72 FIP in his 143 innings and got extremely fortunate with some batted ball luck and a high LOB%. Tanaka had a 4.45/4.27/4.29 pitcher slash with a decreased strikeout rate and his usual home run concerns. JA Happ had a 4.91 ERA with a 5.22 FIP and a 4.78 xFIP, which basically makes him below replacement-level. CC Sabathia wasn’t much help and he has since retired.
The thing about a guy like Cole is that 200 innings previously accounted for by lesser pitchers now go to one of the game’s best. If we consider the same thing with Severino, who only worked 12 regular season innings, the Yankees are getting a monumental upgrade in their rotation in those two guys. They do lose German’s contributions, but will also get him back fresh at the start of July.
Remember that upgrades are twofold. First, the obvious upgrade of adding a world-class pitcher to the roster, but second, the replacement of a below average pitcher. In Cole, we’re likely talking about a difference of 5-6 wins above replacement player. I don’t want that to be misconstrued to say that Cole upgrades the Yankees roster by 5-6 actual wins, but it is simply to say that he represents a dramatic upgrade to what was in place. If Severino returns similar to his 2017-18 form, the Yankees rotation suddenly goes from pedestrian to well above average, if not great, and would add Paxton in June and German in July.
And that can only boost the bullpen. As it is, the Yankees are loaded with talent, starting with Aroldis Chapman and going on down to guys like Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, and even Chad Green, who was simply outstanding in the second half with a .252 wOBA against. This bullpen is deep, highly talented, not affected by the three-batter rule, and can get reinforcements from the minor leagues with starters like Jonathan Loaisiga, Jordan Montgomery, and maybe even Albert Abreu or Michael King. Don’t be surprised if Deivi Garcia makes his MLB debut early as well.
Depth is a big part of my handicapping process for season win totals and the Yankees have a lot of it, as we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons.
Positives & Negatives
The Yankees remain stuck in the AL East, where they’ll go against the Red Sox and the Rays for 38 of their 162 games. That is far better than what some teams have to contend with within the division, so they are somewhat fortunate in that regard. The problem here is that this win total is just so high that it leaves very little margin for error, even if the Yankees are going to be the better team in the vast majority of their games.
A deadened baseball won’t have as much impact at Yankee Stadium as it would in other ballparks. If the pitching staff can improve upon its home run prevention, the offense is likely to supply plenty of power and that would put New York in an extremely advantageous position in the 81 home dates. I would anticipate that the Yankees lead all teams in home runs this season at home and overall.
Pick: Over 101.5
As a general rule, I don’t really like to toy with high season win totals, especially those over 100. We all know that the Yankees are going to be really good. I like to focus my energies and bankroll on teams that have a wider range of outcomes.
That said, with a weakened Red Sox team, Toronto and Baltimore, a top-five bullpen in baseball, a top-five lineup, and quite possibly a top-10 starting rotation, it is very hard to see the Yankees falling short of 100 victories.
The luck factor with runners in scoring position and the alternate standings metrics that paint something of a pessimistic picture are all considerations and concerns. So, too, is the Paxton injury. With Severino coming back after a lost year, no German until about the All-Star Break, and the never-ending potential for more pitching injuries, the ceiling for the Yankees is lowered enough that I cannot bet this win total over with confidence.
I do provide a pick on every team, though, so I have to list something and I think that the chance at triple digits is quite high. Outside of the Dodgers, this is the team with the highest floor in baseball. The problem is that a win total north of 100 caps the ceiling and makes it too hard for me to bet on the over in most cases. Even if the rotation was fully available, it would be tough to do.
But, if I was in a win total pool or a contest or something, it would be the over as opposed to the under.