Change is important and sometimes even if it is grudged, it proves to be a blessing in disguise. The story is somewhat similar for the Yankees. Though they had a quite 2018, the team seems the ideal pick for the World Series by virtue of some underrated moves and trade deals during the off-season. The team was still in transition last season, Aaron Boone was a rookie in the managerial position and there was a bit of a learning curve there. Giancarlo Stanton had to get through the New York boos in his first season in pinstripes before having a bit of a late-season boost.
No wonder then that the Boston Red Sox easily dispatched them 3-1 in the ALDS, a series that wasn’t even that close thanks to a 16-1 thumping from the Sox in Game 3. To add to that, they were haunted by injuries to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. But they also found potential stars in 3B Miguel Andujar and 2B Gleyber Torres for their infield.
Here are 10 reason as to why they might be the last team standing this season:
The Great Gaincarlo
He had hit 38 home runs and scored over 100 runs. He was trying to follow up a 59-homer 2017 season and was on the heels of signing a 13-year deal worth $325 million. Needless to say,with him hitting two dingers on Opening Day 2018, he had set a high bar for himself. But he’d only have two hits in his next six games and a dozen strikeouts. Expectations were high and he had a hard time matching up to them, but as the season wore on, there was definite improvement as consistency came behind.
It’s a big reason why the advanced statistics have him making considerable improvements this year.His average from last year (.266) shouldn’t change much. But taking into consideration the six major projection models on Fan Graphs, Stanton looks to compile anywhere between 42-47 home runs in 138-150 games with a .891-.923 OPS. That last number would be a .39-to-.71-point jump. Most importantly, after a solid—but not Giancarlo standard—4.2-WAR (wins above replacement) season, those numbers should spike. He probably won’t be 6.5-7.0 WAR guy ever again. But anything near ZiPS projection of 5.1 would put him back among the top performers in the game.
And having a healthy Aaron Judge will only aid him further.
A Healthy Judge
Even when he was not able to play for the entire season, he had impacted the team a great deal. In the first 20 games alone that they had without him, they scored a half-run less, with their OBP dropping 15 points.
The monster duo that was supposed to be Stanton and Judge flashed serious promise but was never allowed to fully unleash for too long. This season should—provided there’s not another injury—allow the two to fully feed off each other’s skills.
Even if Andujar or Torres have a sophomore slump early in the season, a healthy Judge will be able to cover up such a stretch. He absolutely shredded opposing pitching through five playoff games, going eight-for-19 with six runs and three homers.
LeMahieu’s Big Defensive Uplift
With Didi Gregorius expected to be out until June or July, there will be some shifting around in the middle of the Yankee infield. With Didi Gregorius expected to be out until June or July, there will be some shifting around in the middle of the Yankee infield. Torres is still more natural at shortstop and looked lost at times at second base last season. But he’s still a slick fielder overall and looks to have made enough improvement over the winter. He could find himself playing some SS though with Gregorius out.
Which is why it was brilliant that the Yankees brought in DJ LeMahieu. The former Rockies second baseman had the second-highest defensive WAR of any 2B in the league (only behind Kolten Wong of St. Louis). He also possessed the 8th-highest WAR on defense in all of baseball.
Torres will likely take a step forward in his learning curve at the position. And the Yankees certainly won’t take him from 2B for the entire time Gregorius is out, as to not stall said growth.
But LeMahieu is a veteran who has continuously put up strong defensive numbers. He can play all four positions across the infield, has a little speed left in him, and should hit in the neighborhood of .280. Hitting away from Colorado’s confines may lower his average. But anything New York can get to accompany his defensive prowess will simply be a bonus to what they paid for.
They’re Going To Hit The Round Tripper When Others Don’t.
New York hit 267 home runs last year, an MLB record. That was without having Judge for 50 games. Or Gary Sanchez for 73. In today’s MLB, teams are living and dying by the long-ball. And those big three-run home runs will be coming of these bats at a potentially greater rate than they ever did last year.
The Yankees have seven players—seven—projected at 25 or more home runs. Having guys like Luke Voit (14 homers with NY in 39 games) and Troy Tulowitzki (seven seasons over 20 homers as a shortstop) potentially coming off the bench is insane. If Gregorius were playing a whole season, he’d also be projected near 25 homers.
That’s without considering Gregorius, Tulo, or Greg Bird, which should be an extra 40 home runs even if Bird doesn’t play the majority of the games at first base. Power bats can always go cold. But the likelihood of even half of the big NY boppers not finding the other side of the fence during any stretch of the season is doubtful.
Just One Resurrection Will Put Them Over The Top
The Yankees aren’t relying upon old veterans and unproven commodities. They have Judge, Stanton, Andujar, and Torres leading the way, all under 28 and coming off impressive seasons. But they also have a few underperformers from last year who have an outside chance of bouncing back. If just one of these players were to regain old form, it would transform this team to World Series favorites all by themselves.
Sanchez is definitely not in the same category as these guys. He’s definitely a building piece for the future.
But his 2018 was injury-riddled and saw his average drop over 90 points and his OPS nearly .180. After hitting a home run every 14.3 at-bats in 2017, he only did so in every 20.8 AB’s in ’18.
Any added boost with his regained health would be huge for a team that already had 100 wins last season.
The Bullpen Is Still Crazy Good
Getting to the bullpen might be tricky for the Yankees. But once they get there, the bridge for the rest of the game is a much easier one to cross.
Aroldis Chapman improved from 2017 to ’18, heading back to the All-Star Game. Dellin Betances wasn’t an all-star but arguably pitched better than the last two times he was one. And getting Zack Britton re-signed gives New York essentially three closer-quality relievers.
There could potentially be a fourth with Adam Ottavino coming aboard. He was equipped with a 2.43 ERA and impressive 199 ERA+ (higher than Chapman and Betances) last season. That’s no easy task when playing for the Rockies in their home park.
Throw in a middle-inning guy like Chad Green, with 11.2 K’s and only 1.8 BB’s per-nine innings, and you have the best bullpen in baseball.
Aaron Boone’s Progression As A Skipper
Aaron Boone seemed comfortable most of the time during his first season as Yankees’ manager. But he was in need of a little on-the-job experience.
Coming into his second season, he’s definitely more knowledgeable when it comes to his own team and the rest of the league. But the important thing is that he’s not resting on the laurels of the talent on the field.
After helping nurture the growth of Andujar and Torres in their first years in New York, it seems he also has a plan for another prospect, outfielder Clint Frazier. It’s hard to know if the 24-year-old will be pushing Brett Gardner for playing time in the outfield any time soon.
But Boone seems to have a route he wants to take with him. It’s yet another step forward with the team’s youth.
Their Rotation Might Exceed Expectations
In the absence of Sonny Gray and James Paxton, the rotation must improve.
Luis Severino will add stability and though Masahiro Tanaka may not have lived up to his incredible hype, at least he leveled out in 2018. And after an incredible 7-0 run with the team last year, J.A. Happ brings another steady force to the rotation.
And New York is currently projected for a 15.2 WAR for their one-through-four starter. That’s only .6 behind Houston’s projected top-four and ahead of the Dodgers and several other playoff hopefuls.
Sure, Boston and Cleveland are still out in front of them by quite a bit, but the Yankees’ offensive potential is still high enough to surpass the first and blow away the latter.
Luke Voit Will Be The Difference At First
Greg Bird has been starting the most games there for the past couple of seasons. He’s been below replacement value on defense each year he’s been in the Big Leagues and he hit below the Mendoza line (.200) the last two years.
When Luke Voit stepped in late last season after a trade from St. Louis, he ignited the Yankee offense with another capable power bat.
No, he won’t hit .333 as he did in his first 39 games in pinstripes. And he won’t stay at a 58-homer pace either. But pretty much anything is better than hitting .190 with low-end power for the position.
That’s part of what led him to get tossed to the Yankees. Now it’s all up to whether he can be somewhat serviceable with the glove. Boone is keying on that with him.
But supplying that kind of power from, say, the seven-hole or eight-hole in the lineup would be tremendous.
The Boston Red Sox Are No Better
They won the AL East late last season, winning the division by eight games. Then they swept away teams like the Yankees and the Dodgers in the World Series, but they will hardly be getting any better.
Second base and catcher are still issues offensively. Third base isn’t a ton better with Rafael Devers. But this is still a team with MVP Mookie Betts, RBI king J.D. Martinez, and the best pitching staff around.
But Craig Kimbrel was a big loss for them as their closer. And looks like he may be signing with the Washington Nationals now that they don’t have to pay Bryce Harper a load of money.
FanGraphs has exactly one of their relief pitchers (Matt Barnes) pulling off an ERA under 3.70. Predicting Ryan Brasier at 3.95 after a dominant 2018 seems pretty high. But he got away with throwing a lot of fastballs last year, as both secondary pitches (change and slider) were below-average.
As of now, the Yankees have the better lineup by a fair distance. The Red Sox are likewise the better team rotation-wise, though Paxton has filled some of that gap. And now New York has by far the better bullpen.
Free Pick: New York Yankees +600
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