New York Yankees 2020 Season Preview

       2020 was both a nightmare and a dream for the Yankees at times. As everyone knows, the injuries were out of control. Only two players in the Opening Day lineup played in at least 120 games, and of the two starters with at least 30 starts, they had a combined 4.67 ERA. While the bullpen was able to hold down the fort, the Yankees saw multiple back-up players thrive as GM Brian Cashman once again showed off his ability to get great players out of nothing. But, Cashman did something more special to Yankee fans this offseason, a Christmas gift worth $325 million.
       Offseason additions: RHP Gerrit Cole, C Chris Iannetta, RHP Dan Otero, LHP Luis Avilan, IF Matt Duffy, UT Rosell Herrera, RHP Nick Tropeano, RHP Tony Zych, OF Zack Granite, C Josh Thole.
       Offseason subtractions: SS Didi Gregorius, 1B Edwin Encarnacion, LHP CC Sabathia, RHP Dellin Betances, OF Cameron Maybin, C Austin Romine, LHP Nestor Cortes Jr., RHP Cory Gearrin, LHP Stephen Tarpley, RHP Chance Adams, 1B Greg Bird.
The rotation was the main issue for the Yankees last year, with Luis Severino hurt almost all year, and JA Happ and Masahiro Tanaka struggling. But, the Yankees went all-in to get themselves an ace, signing Cy Young runner-up and former rival Gerrit Cole to a monster nine year, $325 million deal. Was it an overpay? Sure. Do the Yankees need Cole? Absolutely. Cole lost out to Houston teammate Justin Verlander in Cy Young voting, although he probably should have won. He had a 2.50 ERA with 326 strikeouts and a 13.8 K/9, all leading the league. The 2011 first overall pick, Cole\’s fastball velocity averaged 97.1 mph while pitching in 212.1 innings. The pitch had an average against of just .166. The Yankees will be without Severino once again, as he had Tommy John surgery, just like rival Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale and Noah Syndergaard from the crosstown Mets. That leaves James Paxton as the number two starter. A free agent at the end of the season (along with Masahiro Tanaka), Paxton had a 3.82 ERA, the worst of his career (minimum 15 starts) with 186 strikeouts in 150.2 innings. Paxton has still never pitched in 162 innings in a season, which would qualify him for an ERA title. Paxton\’s 11.1 K/9 was the best among Yankee starters. Masahiro Tanaka is recovering from a concussion after being hit by a Giancarlo Stanton rocket during batting practice. He will hopefully make the Opening Day roster. Tanaka struck out 149 batters in 182 innings with a 4.45 ERA over 32 games. His K/9 dropped from 9.2 in 2018 to 7.4. Tanaka has depended more on his slider and less on his split finger, the latter a pitch that allowed a .261 average last year, the worst BA it has allowed in Tanaka\’s MLB career. After bringing back JA Happ, the pitcher who faced them in the 2009 World Series, the Yankees saw Happ have his worst season since 2011, finishing with a 4.91 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 161.1 innings, coming two outs away from qualifying. Happ allowed 34 home runs, seven more than his previous career high, with 25 of the long-balls off of his fastball. The Yankees utilized Chad Green and others as an opener, so they could go that route, or they could go with Jordan Montgomery as their fifth starter. After recovering from Tommy John surgery and facing multiple setbacks, Montgomery finally made his season debut in September, striking out five and allowing three runs in four innings over two outings. In his 37 game (36 starts) career, Montgomery has a 3.91 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 186.2 innings. He does not pitch deep into games. In 29 starts in his rookie season (and only full season), Montgomery threw his curveball 26.1% of the time (more than any other pitch), and it struck out 73 batters with a .175 average against.
The Yankees will be without closer Aroldis Chapman for at least the first couple of games after his positive COVID test on Saturday. Chapman pitched in 60 games last year, his most since 2015. He had a 2.21 ERA with 37 saves and 85 strikeouts in 57 games. While his fastball velocity is down to a still potent 98 miles an hour, Chapman has stayed elite thanks to the development of his slider. The pitch had an average against of .159 with 41 strikeouts. Zack Britton will likely be the closer until Chapman returns. Britton, who in 2016 had one of the best seasons ever for a reliever, with a 0.54 ERA, had his best season since in 2019. He had a 1.91 ERA with 53 strikeouts and three saves in 61.1 innings. Britton threw his sinker 86.4% of the time in 2019, leading to a 76.7 ground ball percentage. The Yankees used Tommy Kahnle often against left handed batters, even though he is right handed. It worked, thanks to Kahnle\’s change-up, a fast pitch (90 miles per hour on average) with very little spin (1483 rpm). Thrown 307 times to lefties, his change-up had a .208 slugging against. Overall, Kahnle struck out 88 batters in 61.1 innings with a 3.67 ERA. Adam Ottavino, who grew up a Yankees fan, had an amazing first season in New York although he burned out by the playoffs. Ottavino had a career best 1.90 ERA with 88 Ks in 66.1 innings. Ottavino throws a slider with a 2877 rpm spin rate nearly half of the time. Chad Green\’s final numbers look bad, but it is all because of the first month of the season, where Green had a 16.43 ERA after 10 outings, earning himself a demotion to AAA. Green improved when he returned, making 15 starts as an opener plus 29 out of the bullpen (not counting his original 10). Overall, Green had a 4.17 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 69 innings. Green does allow hard contact though, with an average exit velocity against of 91.5 mph last year, and 90.1 mph in his career. Jonathan Holder earned manager Aaron Boone\’s trust in Boone\’s first year of 2018, when Holder had a 3.14 ERA in 66 innings. Injuries and overall bad play took that away, as Holder\’s ERA slipped to 6.31 with 46 strikeouts in 41.1 innings. In 2018, Holder allowed hard contact 28.6% of the time. Luis Cessa found success when moved to the bullpen full-time. A former starter, Cessa was able to pitch multiple innings in one game. He struck out 75 batters over 81 innings with a 4.11 ERA. Cessa\’s slider had an improved whiff rate of 40.7%. Jonathan Loaisiga will likely make the team in a similar role as Cessa, and he can also be the bulk pitcher after an opener. In 15 games (four starts), Loaisiga had a 4.55 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 31.2 innings. Loaisiga\’s fastball had an average velocity of 96.8 mph. David Hale was a nice surprise out of the bullpen and is back on a minor league deal. Hale had a 3.11 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 37.2 innings. Hale allowed an average exit velocity of 86.2 miles per hour. Michael King is ranked as the Yankee\’s 25th best prospect, per MLB Pipeline. He made his MLB debut at the very end of the 2019 season, pitching in two innings and not allowing a run with one strikeout. King was hurt for most of 2019, and he had a 4.18 ERA in four games (three starts) at AAA. In 2018 for High-A, AA and AAA, King had a 1.79 ERA with 152 strikeouts in 161.1 innings. Ben Heller returned from Tommy John at the end of the year, allowing one run in 7.1 innings. In his MLB career, Heller has a 2.49 ERA with 24 Ks in 25.1 innings. Instead of Heller, the Yankees might go with a lefty like Luis Avilan or Tyler Lyons. Avilan is a veteran who had a 5.06 ERA in 32 innings for the Mets last year. Lyons was a September call-up that made the playoff roster after striking out 12 in 8.2 innings with the Yanks.
Gary Sanchez has become known for his power at catcher and his awful defense. He improved behind the plate, and hit a career high 34 home runs, the most for a Yankees catcher (breaking his 2017 record of 33). He also had an .841 OPS. Sanchez had a barrel percentage of 19.1%. Kyle Higashioka has been the third catcher over the last three seasons, and with Austin Romine leaving for Detroit, he gets a chance to become the back-up. Higashioka hit 20 home runs with a .929 OPS. He will have to beat out Chris Iannetta for the spot. A 14 year old veteran, Iannetta has a career .751 OPS.
Although he only played in 118 games, Luke Voit was more healthy than fellow infielders Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar and Greg Bird. He didn\’t keep up his 1.095 OPS from the end of 2018, but I don\’t think he was expected to. Voit had a .263 average and an .842 OPS with 21 home runs and a 13.9 BB%. DJ LeMahieu was a very pleasant surprise, finishing 4th in MVP voting while playing 1st, 2nd and 3rd base. LeMahieu hit .327 with an .893 OPS, five stolen bases and a career high 26 home runs. He had six combined outs above average. Gleyber Torres had a great second season, making the all-star team again, and leading the team with 38 home runs. Torres had a .278 average and an OPS of .871. Now adjusting to being a full-time shortstop, his position in the minors, Torres had a .618 slugging against fastballs. Gio Urshela was another great surprise, as he was a defense-only guy when he was called up, and then finished the season with a .314 average plus an .889 OPS, with 21 home runs. Urshela\’s even 0 outs above average does not do him justice. Urshela\’s great play hurt Miguel Andujar, who played in just 12 games with a .271 OPS after being the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up (and should have won) in 2018. Andujar, who is not great at third base, and is trying out the outfield, has decent speed, with a 28.1 ft/s sprint speed. Tyler Wade can play the outfield as well as the infield. Wade rose his OPS from .588 to .692 in September. Mike Ford and Thairo Estrada are in a battle for the final spot. Estrada\’s main advantage is his defensive versatility, as he can play second and third base, as well as shortstop, while Ford is mainly a first baseman. Estrada hit .250 with three home runs and four stolen bases in 35 games last year. Ford hit 12 home runs with a .909 OPS, plus a 91.9 mph average exit velocity. Rosell Herrera, a utility infielder who spent last year on the Marlins and is fast, is a dark horse contender for the final spot.
Aaron Judge is a top-10 MLB player, if not top-5. He just cannot stay healthy. Judge has been injured in both 2018 and 2019, and either way, has not hit home runs at the rate he did in his rookie season of 2017, when he hit 52. Judge has hit 27 home runs in both 2018 and 2019. Last year, he had a .272 batting average with a .921 OPS. Judge hits the ball absurdly hard, for an average exit velocity of 95.9 mph, and a 57.1 hard hit %. Judge also had a 20.2 barrel percentage. He is a very good defender with eight outs above average, and a 28.2 ft/s sprint speed. Judge has injury issues, and is currently out with a stiff neck, although he should be fine. The other slugger in the outfield, Giancarlo Stanton, just cannot stay healthy as well. Three separate injuries left Stanton playing in just 18 games last year, hitting three home runs with an .894 OPS. He has a career average exit velocity of 93.4 mph. Stanton has a 162 game average of 43 homers in his career. Aaron Hicks is very inconsistent at times, but the highs are very good. Hicks played in just 59 games last year, hitting 12 home runs with a .769 OPS. In 2017 and 2018 combined, Hicks hit 42 home runs with 21 stolen bases and a .255 average. Brett Gardner returned on another one year deal. Almost 37 years of age, Gardner hit a career high 28 home runs last year. He stole 10 bases and had an .829 OPS. He still has great speed, with a 28.9 ft/s sprint speed last campaign. Mike Tauchman had a very underrated season, his first in New York. He hit 13 home runs with six stolen bases, a .277 average and an OPS of .865. Tauchman had nine outs above average, with six of them in left field. Clint Frazier is a very talented hitter, with 12 home runs and an .806 OPS in 69 games last year, but attitude and defensive issues (-13 OAA last season) will likely hurt his chance at the Opening Day roster.
       Projected Opening Day Lineup
2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
RF Aaron Judge (R)
SS Gleyber Torres (R)
DH Giancarlo Stanton (R)
C Gary Sanchez (R)
CF Aaron Hicks (S)
1B Luke Voit (R)
3B Gio Urshela (R)
LF Brett Gardner (L)
       Projected Rotation
Gerrit Cole (R)
James Paxton (L)
Masahiro Tanaka (R)
JA Happ (L)
Jordan Montgomery (L)
       Projected Bullpen
Aroldis Chapman, closer (L)
Zack Britton (L)
Tommy Kahnle (R)
Adam Ottavino (R)
Chad Green (R)
Jonathan Holder (R)
Luis Cessa (R)
Jonathan Loaisiga (R)
David Hale (R)
Tyler Lyons (L)
Michael King (R)
       Projected Bench
C Kyle Higashioka (R)
UT Tyler Wade (L)
1B Mike Ford (L)
3B/OF Miguel Andujar (R)
OF Mike Tauchman (L)
Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats
59-36 record, 1st in AL East
Most home runs: Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres (25)
Highest batting average: Mike Tauchman (.315)
Highest OPS: Mike Tauchman (.961)
Best ERA, starters: Gerrit Cole (3.09)
Best ERA, relievers: Aroldis Chapman (1.89)
Most innings pitched: Gerrit Cole (131.0)
Most strikeouts: Gerrit Cole (171)
Best K/9: Aroldis Chapman (14.6)
Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 38-22
2018: 41-19
2017: 37-23
2016: 30-30
2015: 33-27
The Yankees are really good. After snaging Cole from Houston, they are probably now the best team in the American League. They definitely won\’t be healthy, but if the are, the lineup is the best in the division, and Brian Cashman is so good at his job that he could probably find someone else that can surprise everyone and be good. The rotation looks better with Cole, and the bullpen is still amazing. The Yankees will win the AL East in 2020, but lose to the Braves in the World Series.

Published by carterhud SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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