The New York Yankees finished the 2020 season 33-27 and seven games behind the Tampa Bay Rays. They then lost to those same Rays in the American League Division Series after sweeping the Cleveland Indians in the Wild Card series. Heading into Aaron Boone‘s fourth season as manager, the Yankees look to get over the hump of missing out on the World Series for the last decade.
The Yankees have a very good lineup, and if they can stay healthy it will be one of, if not the, most dangerous lineup in the league. They pretty much retained the same lineup from the last two years, as they brought back DJ LeMahieu on a six-year, $90 million contract, which was the most important move this offseason. New York also brought back Brett Gardner, who will serve as a solid fourth outfielder and clubhouse presence. The difference now is that Clint Frazier comes into this season earning the starting left fielder position after he vastly improved his defense in 2020.
On the pitching side of things, the Yankees brought in some risky, but high reward arms in Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon to help back up their ace Gerrit Cole. They signed Kluber to a one-year, $11 million deal and traded some prospects to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Taillon. Behind them, they will have a few different arms in play for the fourth and fifth spots and potential for minor league arms to make an impact. They lost James Paxton (Seattle Mariners) and Masahiro Tanaka (Japan) to free agency. In the bullpen, they lost Tommy Kahnle (Los Angeles Dodgers) and traded Adam Ottavino (Boston Red Sox), but brought in Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson.
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1B: Luke Voit
2B: DJ LeMahieu
3B: Gio Urshela
SS: Gleyber Torres
Sanchez had a really down year last season, but advanced stats show that he should see a big bounceback this season. Despite hitting below .200 with a .618 OPS, Sanchez hit the ball hard with a 50 percent hard-hit rate and barreled up at a 17.4 percent clip. His subpar batting average looked to be the result of some bad luck as he had a .159 BABIP.
Voit went on a tear last season, leading the league in the shortened season with 22 homers, the most of his career. His improvements from 2019 were mainly seen from his increased launch angle of 15.2 degrees, up from 12.7 in 2019. Assuming he maintains the solid contact and launch angle, he should remain as a premium power bat at the first base position.
LeMahieu earned his second batting title last season, becoming the first player in the modern era to win the batting title in both leagues. That was with his career-best batting average of .364, while he also led the league with a .421 on-base percentage and a 1.011 OPS. The same level of numbers isn’t necessarily sustainable for a full season, but what he put in 2019 is still quite possible.
Urshela proved in 2020 that his breakout 2019 campaign wasn’t a fluke. He didn’t have as much power, but he had a .192 ISO. He also topped his average exit velocity (91.4 mph) and expected batting average (.315) marks from 2019. The third baseman sustained his ability to make contact as he dropped his strikeout to 14.4 percent from 18.3 percent. Urshela’s walk rate doubled from 5.3 percent to 10.3 percent. Torres’ offense was far behind what he put up in 2019. He mashed just three homers in 42 games while slashing .243/.356/.368. His barrel rate dropped to just 3.7 percent and his home run to fly ball rate fell way off to 7.1 percent. Despite that, his walk rate nearly doubled and his strikeout rate dropped four percent.
LF: Clint Frazier
CF: Aaron Hicks
RF: Aaron Judge
Frazier has earned the starting job after a very good 2020 season on offense and defense. His major improvements on defense earned him a Gold Glove nomination. On the offensive side, he put up a .905 OPS in 39 games and the Yankees are finally giving him the starting spot he deserves.
Hicks became the first player in history to undergo Tommy John surgery the year prior and play from the beginning of the season. That, of course, was because the season was pushed back to July. While he played in 54 games, he still never fully got back to the Hicks of old with a 19.4 percent strikeout rate and .225 batting average. Nonetheless, Hicks was still one of the best at getting on base with a .379 OBP and a 19.4 percent walk rate. He had an Average Exit Velocity of 88.2 mph, which is around his norm. So a return to his numbers of old is likely this season.
Judge was once again hurt in 2020, as two IL stints caused him to play just 28 games. When he was on the field, he put up fairly solid numbers but still struck out too much (28.1 K%). If he is to stay healthy this season, he should be able to return to at least half of the form he was in his Rookie of the Year winning year of 2017. Stanton is another player who has been plagued with injuries and played just 23 games last season. But Stanton was very good when it mattered most, hitting .308/.387/1.038 and six homers in 31 plate appearances in the postseason. A healthy season for both Judge and Stanton will be extremely dangerous for the rest of the AL. Let’s just hold our collective breath that we finally get to see that.
Starting Rotation Projections:
The obvious ace is Cole, who didn’t pitch to 2019 level last season. But his numbers were still solid and could breakout for an even better season in 2021. He still had a steller 32.6 percent strikeout rate and an elite walk rate of 5.9 percent. He surrendered more homers (1.73 home runs per nine innings) and his ERA was WAY up at a terrible, no good 2.84. Cole finished fourth in Cy Young voting and his home run issues should be improved this season.
In the case of Kluber and Taillon, if they can stay healthy will be huge keys to the rotation. Kluber has been limited to just 36 2/3 innings since 2019 and was already seeing his velocity drop prior to that. A pre-2019 Kluber probably won’t happen, but he has a decent floor if he can stay healthy. Taillon has been through two Tommy John surgeries and battled cancer. He is the perfect feel-good story for this season and should provide the Yankees with plenty to work with.
Montgomery looks to be a key piece after he didn’t pitch at his best in 2020 after coming off Tommy John of his own. His advanced metrics show that he can be better while he had a solid 24.4 percent strikeout rate. Monty’s command improved as he had a low walk rate of 4.7 percent. He still allows a lot of long balls and will have to work on keeping the ball in the ballpark.
German and Garcia have been fighting for the fifth and final spot in Spring Training, while German seems to have the upper hand. Garcia should still see his fair share of time in the rotation on odd days and if/when anyone gets hurt. To be honest, though, it hasn’t been really a rotation battle per se, just a showcase of their stuff. Both pitchers will likely make numerous starts this season and may switch on and off. Severino underwent Tommy John last season and his timetable to return is sometime in mid-summer around June or July.
Chapman won’t be available for the first two games of the season. He will be serving a suspension for throwing at Mike Brosseau last season. Once he is back, he will be their closer, of course. He averaged 17 strikeouts per nine last season and lowered his hard-hit rate to 27.8 percent from 30.3 percent in 2019.
Wilson experienced some tightness in his left shoulder and underwent an MRI on Tuesday. Aaron Boone said that the MRI showed nothing noticeable and is day-to-day. He will be a key piece to the bullpen that will be without Britton. Britton had to have a bone chip removed in his left elbow and will miss a month. The sidewinding O’Day is a great addition to the bullpen. Despite throwing his fastball in the mid-80s, he has consistently been able to get outs in his 13 big league seasons. He is a tough pitcher to square up and was one of the most dependable arms for the Atlanta Braves last season. O’Day struck out 32.8 percent of batters he faced.
Outside of that, the Yankees have plenty of other options on the 40 man roster that could see time. King has been pitching well this spring outside of a shaky first start. Luetge has been a surprise big-time arm so far, while Cessa and Loasiga, along with others will likely eat up some innings.
Players to Watch For:
Schmidt made his debut along with Garcia last season and filed just 6 1/3 innings of big-league experience. Unfortunately, he suffered an elbow injury at the beginning of camp and will open the year on the IL. He has outstanding stuff and if he can work out some kinks and come back healthy, he has the chance to make an impact on the rotation this season.
Bruce has shown that he is healthy this spring, while also mashing the ball. He has been able to showcase his ability to play the corner outfield spots and first base, so that provides the Yankees with some versatility options. The final roster spot will likely come down to him and Mike Tauchman. The power swing of Bruce was built for Yankee Stadium. We could see a lot of mashed taters from him off the bench if he in fact makes the roster.
The Yankees are one of the best teams in the majors with loads of talent everywhere. The AL East won’t be the greatest division, but the up-and-coming Toronto Blue Jays look scary (at least on offense). The Rays, however, seem to have gotten weaker after making the World Series. The Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox will be at the bottom of the division and struggle to get many wins. That being said, the Yankees should easily win the division and put themselves in a prime position to go on a deep October run.
Record: 98-64, 1st place in AL East
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