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So About These 2017 Yankees

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)

2016 Batting

NameAVGOBPSLGwRC+WAR
Brett Gardner0.2610.3510.362972.4
Jacoby Ellsbury0.2630.3300.374912.0
Starlin Castro0.2700.3000.433941.1
Didi Gregorius0.2760.3040.447982.7
Chase Headley0.2510.3290.383922.6
Brian McCann0.2420.3350.4131031.3
Mark Teixeira0.2040.2920.36276-1.1
Carlos Beltran0.3040.3440.5461352.2
Aaron Hicks0.2170.2810.33664-0.2
Alex Rodriguez0.2000.2470.35156-1.2
Gary Sanchez0.2990.3760.6571713.2
Austin Romine0.2420.2690.38268-0.1
Rob Refsnyder0.2500.3280.30972-0.3
Ronald Torreyes0.2580.3050.374810.5
Aaron Judge0.1790.2630.34563-0.3
Tyler Austin0.2410.3000.4581020.0
Dustin Ackley0.1480.2430.14811-0.3
Billy Butler0.3450.3750.5171370.1
Chris Parmelee0.5000.5001.3754070.3

2016 Pitching

NameWLSVGGSIPERAWAR
Masahiro Tanaka14403131199.23.074.6
Michael Pineda61203232175.24.823.2
Dellin Betances3612730733.082.9
CC Sabathia91203030179.23.912.6
Andrew Miller61944045.11.391.9
Aroldis Chapman302031031.12.011.4
Nathan Eovaldi9802421124.24.760.7
Luis Severino3802211715.830.6
Tyler Clippard23229025.12.490.4
Ivan Nova761211597.14.900.4
Bryan Mitchell12055253.240.4
Richard Bleier000230231.960.3
Kirby Yates21041041.15.230.3
Blake Parker10116016.14.960.2
Adam Warren42029030.13.260.1
Johnny Barbato120130137.620.0
Chad Green24112845.24.730.0
Tyler Olson000102.26.750.0
Luis Cessa44017970.14.350.0
Jonathan Holder000808.15.400.0
Tommy Layne201290163.38-0.1
Nick Goody000270294.66-0.1
James Pazos100703.113.50-0.2
Chasen Shreve211370335.18-0.4
Anthony Swarzak120260315.52-0.4
Ben Heller10010076.43-0.4

 

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.

All of that said, the roster in 2017 isn’t much different. Chris Carter and Matt Holliday are really the only new names you figure to see regularly.

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.

(KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY SPORTS)

The biggest reason for my optimism are names that any Yankees fan already knows: Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez.

(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.

(KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY SPORTS)

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.

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1 Comment

  1. Joshua Dratel

    Nice job. I’m going to comment more on personnel rather than prognosticating on the team’s chances because I think the latter focuses too much on winning and not enough on patience and development — what’s needed to make the commitment to youth yield ultimate results. So:
    1. Pitching: I would commit to Severino. Period. Take the lumps and let him develop. While I think Mitchell is the best next starter candidate, I think he should begin at AAA because (a) due to last year’s injury his innings limit is severe; (b) I’d rather have him throw 12 innings a week at AAA than 2-3 in the majors. That way when he ultimately moved into the Yankee rotation by mid-season he’ll be sufficiently stretched out. I’d keep Warren as the swing and would rather have a true reliever like Heller than converted starters not pitching innings. Also if Niese makes the team he can swing too. Besides, the 4-5 starters won’t matter as much because I think CC and Pineda are suspect — the former on the basis of his spring performance and the latter on track record. The LOOGY looks to be Layne. Not terribly impressed but his numbers are okay. Mantiply has not impressed. Am I forgetting another possible LOOGY? Anyway, for me Heller has had a great ST, but the guys to monitor are Jordan Montgomery (great promise as starter), JR Graham (good hard stuff w funky delivery), and Gallegos (K machine w great 12/6). Chance Adams wasn’t hittable but had control issues. Also throws harder (94 regularly) than I expected.
    2. Hitting: Just play Judge and let him learn. Same w Bird. Holliday looks very capable as DH. Gotta give Carter at bats but I’d make sure Bird sees plants of AB’s against LHP. Hasn’t seemed to bother him. Now that Austin is back I assume he’ll start season at AAA. As for prospects, Torres appears to be the real thing, Fowler and Wade look solid, Frazier needs more AAA reps (although I’m hoping either he or Fowler progress quickly enough to supplant Gardner — although maybe Hicks can if he can finally hit), Andujar can be a monster producer but needs to improve fielding (I’m hoping he can send Headley packing by 2018), Mateo needs to have a good year and should be moved to 2B. Big surprise is McKinney because he has a perfect YS swing — potential Oscar Gamble/Raul Ibanez quality — but needs to raise avg. don’t know if I saw anyone else worthy of comment. Oh, and re backup catcher, Higgy finally looks ready to be a hitter. He’s better defensively than Ronnie, whose hand injury occurred on a lazy backhand rather than slide and block (I get that it was a fastball, and no one expects one in the dirt, but still, with a man on base you can’t just backhand), but I get the whole options issue.

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