Two seasons ago I wrote a Fanpost for Pinstripe Alley titled “Did The Yankees Punt On 2015?” As is customary when it comes to headlines that end with a question mark, the short answer is “No.” Re-reading it now is like opening a weird time capsule and I hope I never have to write anything about Stephen Drew ever again, but the point is that I thought the 2015 team could be sneaky good and then ended up watching them play in the Wild Card game (they lost but let’s move right on from that.) I have a feeling the 2017 iteration of the team is being undersold as well.
The projections for the Yankees in 2017 generally have them at around .500, but they’ve managed to outperform their projections and pythags for years now and I don’t see that stopping this season. Why? Well, simply because they’re better than they were last year, and they were playing meaningful baseball until game 159, and even then they got knocked out of WC contention because the O’s lost.
Here are the lines from the 2016 team:
(All stats from Fangraphs)
First off, let’s pour some out for Chris Parmelee.
Second, let’s take a shot to forget Anthony Swarzak.
OK, now lets never speak of them again.
Anyway, moving on: The Yankees were not so great at the plate last season. Brian McCann was the only one who played a full season and put up at wRC+ above 100, and production from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira truly fell off of a cliff. You’re not going to run away with anything when two supposedly “middle of the order” guys struggle to hit. As a team the Yankees also took a pretty big step back in runs, from 2nd in the AL in 2015 to 12th in 2016.
The pitching was…spotty. Masahiro Tanaka is an ace and he pitched like one, but aside from that you got a whole lot of nothing. Only Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda even managed to pitch enough innings to qualify for titles last season, since both Luis Severino and Nathan Eovaldi were unable to complete the season. The middle innings were a constant coin flip, exacerbated by the trades of Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller.
So why would I think the 2017 Yankees will be a better team?
Because even with these middling numbers, the team went 84-78 last season, and the upside potential for the current roster is far better than it was last year.
(First, a short aside about Judge: yes, he struck out at a 44% clip in 2016. Yes, he is always going to have elevated strikeout numbers, he’s 6′ 7”, that’s a lot of zone. But I refuse to believe he’s a true-talent 44% strikeout player. Not unless he has managed to massively bamboozle not just the Yankees scouting and player development staff, but every other scout in baseball along with them. He’s always needed an adjustment period at each new level.)
Is El Gary gonna hit 70 dingers in 2017? No, but he doesn’t have to. Because 1B isn’t gonna put up a .204/.292/.362 line, and the DH spot isn’t gonna put up .200/.247/.351 again. The bars for premium offensive positions in 2017 are so low for New York and I absolutely believe that a combo of Bird, Carter, and Holliday can beat them. Will Judge put up 2016 Beltran numbers? No (holy crap could you imagine?!) but again, he won’t have to. If every batter with over 100 plate appearances on the Yankees has a 2017 WAR that tops 0.0 it will beat the performance of five players last year.
The pitching picture for 2017 isn’t a rosy for me, but again, the team won 84 games. Can Severino turn over lineups and start? What does a full season of some combo of Bryan Mitchell/Luis Cessa/Chad Green/one of the many arms that will be starting in the upper minors look like? Can Warren go back to being the solid swingman he was for the Yankees prior to 2016? Will any of the shuttle relievers like Ben Heller or Jonathan Holder step up and get the job done?
The honest answer is “I dunno.” I’m still not sold on Severino for this season, but I’m bullish on the rest of the questions. If the starters can put up ERAs below 4.5 across the board, I would take that and run with it. The non-closer relief guys, especially Heller, have the skills to get the job done as well. At the very least, I don’t see the staff devolving to numbers markedly higher than they were in 2016.
All told, I don’t see any reason why the 2017 Yankees can’t match the record from last year. Or even beat it and get up near 90 wins. If not that, please don’t get swept by the Rays right before the trade deadline.
Can we at least agree on that? OK, cool.