The Yankees didn’t exactly live up to the “Bronx Bombers” moniker in 2016. The club hit 183 home runs, putting them in the lower half of all teams. That’s a steep drop from the 212 long balls that led to a Wild Card berth in 2015. It also came at a time when teams went deep at an astonishingly high rate. Things were so bad in the power department that Carlos Beltran led the Yankees with 22 homers, despite being traded on August 1st.
After last season’s disappointing performance, it’s reasonable to question the 2017 lineup. There are, however, reasons to be optimistic. The Yankees will likely benefit from a full season of Gary Sanchez, the return of Greg Bird, the arrival of Matt Holliday, and a variety of other factors. These each deserve a closer look.
Perhaps the most obvious starting point is Sanchez. His 20 dingers in just 53 games is still mind-boggling. He took the game by storm in 2016, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. While it is difficult to expect Sanchez to sustain that pace over a full season, there’s evidence suggesting his performance wasn’t a fluke. It’s helpful to look at the location of each home run pitch, courtesy of Baseball Savant:
Sanchez’s home run profile isn’t limited to one portion of the zone. He didn’t hit them all on a bunch of high fastballs, for example. This map illustrates a variety of pitches and locations. He was as well-rounded as one could expect. Pitchers will adjust to Sanchez, as they do to all batters, but there is no obvious place to pitch him. He can hit nearly any pitch in any location, and that bodes well for the future.
Sanchez wasn’t the only rookie sensation from recent Yankees history. It was just under a year and a half ago that Bird went on a tear in his debut. The young first baseman hit 11 home runs in 46 games in 2015, but he missed all of 2016 recovering from a torn shoulder labrum (though he shook off some of the rust in the Arizona Fall League). Labrum tears are serious, and players returning from it might notice a diminished power output. Regardless, Bird still figures to be an improvement over the 2016 version of Mark Teixeira.
The designated hitter spot is another likely area of improvement over an ineffective veteran. Alex Rodriguez will go down in history as one of baseball’s most prodigious power hitters. His 2016 campaign, however, will not be remembered as fondly. He hit just nine home runs in 65 games before being released in early August.
Matt Holliday, on the other hand, is a perennial 20-homer threat. In fact, he hit exactly 20 bombs in an injury-plagued 2016. There are also some indications that he might increase his power output while playing at Yankee Stadium. Holliday is no A-Rod. That’s not a question. He will, however, likely fare better than the 2016 Rodriguez.
The Yankees also have two middle infielders who are about to enter their hitting primes. Both Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro broke into the 20-homer club last season. They will also both turn 27 right before the start of the season. Given their age and batting profiles, it’s reasonable to assume that they will sustain that level of production in 2017.
The notable departures of Beltran and Brian McCann will likely be offset by their replacements. The case for Sanchez has already been established, but Beltran is a little trickier. In all likelihood, the starting job in right field is Aaron Judge’s to lose, though Aaron Hicks should receive time as well. According to Steamer projections, the Yankees can expect about 20 home runs from Judge in 2017. That’s right in line with Beltran’s production. Even if he misses that target, the Yankees figure to have enough power at other positions to make up for that loss.
The Yankees have serious question marks heading into the 2017 season. There are a number of areas in which the team could take a step backward. That said, home run power is not one of them. It’s an area where the Yankees are poised to improve, and they could do so significantly. It’s safe to expect increased firepower in the Bronx next year.
Statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs, charts are courtesy of Baseball Savant.