Thursday, March 11, 2021

New York Yankees 2021 Season Preview

From Getty Images

 

       The 2019 Yankees tradition of constant injuries carried over to 2020, but with their offseason plan, the team made it clear that they think they can fix it. Out went steady starters Masahiro Tanaka and JA Happ, and in came two risky former aces who combined for one inning pitched in 2020. The 2021 team is the definition of high risk, high reward. Being a playoff team seems like a definite right now, but is this team good enough to win a World Series?

Offseason additions: RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Jameson Taillon, LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Darren O'Day, OF Jay Bruce, IF Derek Dietrich, C Robinson Chirinos, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Kyle Barraclough, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, LHP Lucas Luetge.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Masahiro Tanaka, LHP James Paxton, RHP Adam Ottavino, LHP JA Happ, RHP Jonathan Holder, C Erik Kratz, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Miguel Yajure.


2020 Trade Deadline summary

Acquired: None.

Traded: None.

2020 record: 33-27

2020 placement: 2nd

2020 WAR leader (batter): DJ LeMahieu

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Gerrit Cole


Starting Pitchers

The only starter that the Yankees know what they are going to get from is Gerrit Cole, who isn't an injury or poor play risk, like the rest of the rotation. Cole started his first Yankees season off cold, but progressively got better. He finished with a 2.84 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 73 innings. Cole actually had two complete games, but neither was a complete nine innings; one was seven, and the other was five. He had a .196 xBA against and a 3.08 xERA. The Yankees will try to build up Corey Kluber, who missed most of 2019 with a broken arm after a comebacker, and tore his shoulder after the first inning of the 2020 season. Kluber was struggling in 2019 before the injury, with a 5.80 ERA through seven starts. Kluber finished third in Cy Young voting in 2018, his last full season. The Yankees also acquired former Pirate Jameson Taillon in the offseason, who missed most of 2019 and all of 2020 with Tommy John surgery. Taillon has a 3.67 ERA in 82 career starts. In seven 2019 starts, Taillon developed his slider more, a pitch that batters slugged .396 against. The Yankees will hopefully see former Cy Young finalist Luis Severino back midseason from Tommy John surgery. Severino struck out 17 batters with a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings at the tail end of 2019. Big lefty Jordan Montgomery had a 5.11 ERA in 44 innings, but he struck out 47 batters with a career low 4.7% walk rate, helping lower his xERA to 3.87. Montgomery also was great at forcing soft contact, with an average exit velocity against of 84.6 mph. At the moment, he seems to have locked up the fourth starter job. The fifth starter role is more of a fight, mainly between Domingo German and Deivi Garcia, and the loser could go to the bullpen. The 21 year old Garcia was great through his first four starts, but struggled in his last two, raising his season ERA to 4.98. He walked just 4.1 percent of batters, and while his changeup showed promise, with a .200 slugging against, his slider got lit up, as batters went 5-for-10 with two home runs against it. German missed the 2019 postseason and all of 2020 serving a domestic violence suspension, but he is back now and looking great in Spring Training. Through five innings this month, he has not allowed a run, with just two hits and seven strikeouts. He was in the middle of a career year in 2019 before getting suspended, with an 18-4 record (I don't care about wins and losses but this was too good not to share), a 4.03 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 143 innings. Since he has not pitched in a long time, I could see the Yankees throwing German in the bullpen to start.

Relief Pitchers

While he missed some time with COVID-19, Aroldis Chapman was great in the 13 games he did play, striking out 22 in 11.2 innings. If his 3.09 ERA looks too high for you, his 2.68 xERA was better. Batters went 2-for-21 against his fastball, which had an average velocity of 97.8 mph. Batters had a .160 xBA and a .308 xSLG against Chapman as well. From 2012 to 2019, Chapman saved as least 30 games seven times. The Yankees will miss set-up man Zack Britton for at least the first month or two of the season. Britton had a 1.89 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 19 innings. His main pitch is a sinker, which helped his insanely high 71.7% groundball rate. In Britton's absence, Chad Green will have to step up. Green had 17 strikeouts and a 0.71 ERA through his first nine games, but some rough games afterwards raised his ERA to 3.51. Green had 32 strikeouts in 25.2 innings, with a 2.24 xERA and a .161 xBA. The Yankees traded Adam Ottavino to the rival Red Sox, but signed both Justin Wilson and Darren O'Day with the money cleared up by the trade. The left-handed Wilson was a Yankee in 2015, before getting traded to Detroit for Green and Luis Cessa. Wilson pitched for the Mets in 2020, finishing with a 3.66 ERA, a 3.45 xERA and 23 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. Wilson walked 10.5 percent of batters, which was an improvement, but still not great. He also limited batters to an 84.5 mph average exit velocity. O'Day was in the AL East with the Orioles from 2012 to 2018, but was with the Braves last year. He had a 1.10 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 16.1 innings, and a .183 xBA against. O'Day's fastball only averaged 86 miles per hour, but batters went 2-for-23 against it last year. 26 year old Jonathan Loaisiga has all the tools to be a great reliever, he just has to put it all together. He throws a high-90s fastball with a high-spin curveball, and limited batters to an exit velocity of 84.6 mph. Luis Cessa has improved a lot since moving from spot starter to multi-inning relief. His best season came in 2020, as he had a 3.32 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. Since moving to the bullpen, Cessa has thrown his slider more, up to a career high 54.4% in 2020. The pitch had a .180 average against and a 35.1% whiff rate. Assuming one of Garcia/German makes the bullpen, there is one last spot up for grabs. Nick Nelson throws a fastball that averages 96 miles an hour, and pitched in 20.2 innings last year. His 12.2% walk rate was not ideal. Michael King had a 4.74 xERA and 26 strikeouts in 26.2 innings last year, but he also had a 7.76 ERA. The star of Yankees Spring Training so far has been former Mariner Lucas Luetge, who hasn't pitched in the MLB since 2015. Luetge has struck out eight batters in three shutout innings so far. 

Catchers

There is no question about it, the X-factor for the Yankees in 2021 is Gary Sanchez. The two-time all-star hit .147 with a .618 OPS in 49 games last year, but he did hit 10 home runs. Sanchez struck out 36% of the time, and he had a .191 xBA. Sanchez still had a very high 91.8 mph average exit velocity, and a 17.4 barrel percentage. Sanchez has hit three home runs in seven Spring games so far. Kyle Higashioka acted as Cole's personal catcher towards the end of the 2020 season, and had a .771 OPS. He is a better defender than Sanchez, and the Cole connection should keep him on the roster. The third catcher is veteran Robinson Chirinos, who has a .755 OPS over nine seasons.

Infielders

The Yankees were able to keep their infield intact, which is what they wanted after the past two seasons. Luke Voit was the weakling of the group in 2019, but hit a league leading 22 home runs in 2020, one more than he had in 2019, in 62 less games. Voit finished 9th in MVP voting, and had a .948 OPS with a .584 xSLG. With -3 outs above average, he is a below-average defender at first base. For a good portion of the season, Voit and DJ LeMahieu carried the Yankees' lineup. LeMahieu hit .364, winning his second batting title, and first in the American League. LeMahieu also led the league with a .421 OBP, and a 1.011 OPS. He won his second Silver Slugger, and finished 3rd in AL MVP voting, while striking out just 9.7 percent of the time. After hitting 38 home runs in 2019, Gleyber Torres took a big step back in 2020, hitting just three with a .724 OPS. Torres is a below-average defender at shortstop, but can make a great play every once in a while. He also had a positive walk rate of 13.8% last year. Gio Urshela's defense is an interesting case of analytics versus the eye test. By the eye test, Urshela's defense is great, while analytics aren't a huge fan. He was great in 2020, with a 2.1 bWAR, finishing third on the team. Urshela had an .858 OPS, with a .311 xBA while only striking out 14.4 percent of the time. His 10.3 walk rate was a career high. Tyler Wade played in 52 of the Yankees' 60 games last year, and he had a 28.2 ft/s sprint speed and four outs above average. He can play the outfield, but also three of the four infield positions. Wade is not a good hitter, with a .170 average and a .595 OPS in 2020. Non-roster invitee Derek Dietrich hit five home runs with an .806 OPS in 25 games for the Rangers last year, and can play second and third base, plus corner outfield. Jay Bruce can also be a bench bat option and play first base. He is 5-for-11 with two home runs this spring. 

Outfielders

For the third season in a row, we are entering wondering if we will see Aaron Judge stay healthy. Judge played in just 28 games last year, and hit nine home runs with an .891 OPS. Judge also had a .534 xSLG, and an average exit velocity of 92.2 mph. He still strikes out too much, at a 28.1% rate, and his 8.8 percent walk rate in 2020 was a career low. Speaking of walks, switch-hitter Aaron Hicks is better at walking than he is at getting hits. Hicks had 38 hits in 2020, and walked 41 times, for an absurd 19.4% walk rate. He only hit six home runs with four stolen bases and a .793 OPS last year. That OPS was inflated by all of those walks. Hicks also hit just .194 with a 44.3% whiff rate against breaking balls. Despite an injury scare a few days ago, Clint Frazier should be the Opening Day left fielder. In 39 games, Frazier hit nine home runs with a .905 OPS and a 15.6% walk rate. Frazier also improved from maybe the league's worst defender in 2019, to a Gold Glove finalist while filling in for Judge last year. Back for his 14th season in pinstripes is Brett Gardner, who re-signed a week into Spring Training. Gardner did have a weak season in 2020, but he still had a .747 OPS and a 108 OPS+. Gardner also walked 16.5 percent of the time, and can play all three outfield positions. When the Yankees have so many outfield injuries, Gardner has always been healthy, which is a relief to this team. Mike Tauchman had a great breakout season in 2019, but was terrible offensively last year, hitting no home runs with six stolen bases and a .648 OPS. He is an above-average defender in left, center and right. Tauchman oddly couldn't hit fastballs last year, with a .189 average and a .264 slugging against heaters. Giancarlo Stanton played in just 23 games, but he was great in them, with a 16 BB%, an 18.4% barrel percentage, and an .887 OPS. Stanton was the team's MVP in the playoffs, hitting six home runs, and he had a 1.381 OPS in the ALDS. He lowered his K rate to a still too high 28.7%. 

Projected Rotation
Gerrit Cole (R)
Corey Kluber (R)
Jameson Taillon (R)
Jordan Montgomery (L)
Deivi Garcia (R)

Projected Bullpen 
Aroldis Chapman (L)
Chad Green (R)
Justin Wilson (L)
Darren O'Day (R)
Jonathan Loaisiga (R)
Luis Cessa (R)
Domingo German (R)
Nick Nelson (R)

Projected Lineup
2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
RF Aaron Judge (R)
CF Aaron Hicks (S)
DH Giancarlo Stanton (R)
1B Luke Voit (R)
2B Gleyber Torres (R)
C Gary Sanchez (R)
LF Clint Frazier (R)
3B Gio Urshela (R)

Projected Bench
C Kyle Higashioka (R)
IF Tyler Wade (L)
OF Brett Gardner (L)
Mike Tauchman (L)


This is not the best Yankees team that we have seen in recent years, but you can't say that they are worse than they were at the end of last year. The rotation looks better, the bullpen is not as weak as it was, and bounce back years from Sanchez and Torres are in the works, while Judge and Stanton may actually be healthy this year. Yes, this is a playoff team. 

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