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What do the ZiPS projections say about the 2017 Yankees?

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Does ZiPS see glory in the Yankees’ future, or another middling season?

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With spring training around the corner, projections for the upcoming season are fully upon us. PECOTA projections just dropped, and we’ve already taken a look at the ZiPS projections for the rest of the AL East. Now, let’s turn our attention to the Yankees.

Here, courtesy of Dan Szymborski and FanGraphs, is the Yankees’ projected depth chart per ZiPS:

Well, we usually talk about these current iterations of the Yankees in terms of how middling they are, and ZiPS doesn’t really give us a compelling reason to think otherwise. Of the Yankees’ top five starting pitchers by ZiPS and their top nine position players, only Gary Sanchez projects to break out of the one-to-three WAR range.

Speaking of Sanchez, his projection obviously represents a step down from his superb debut, but the forecast is still pretty rosy. ZiPS calls for 4 WAR in 499 plate appearances and a 120 OPS+. That isn’t close to the 168 OPS+ Sanchez posted last year, but it’s still good news that ZiPS, conservative by nature, thinks that Sanchez on average will be a shoe-in All-Star caliber catcher.

Outside of Sanchez, mediocrity reigns for the most part in the Yankee lineup. Chase Headley? Projected for a 96 OPS+ and just about 2 WAR. Starlin Castro? A 100 OPS+ and 2 WAR. Brett Gardner? A 102 OPS+ and 2 WAR. Even the oft-derided and extravagantly-compensated Jacoby Ellsbury projects for a nice little 94 OPS+ and 2 WAR (stop me if you’re sensing a pattern).

Perhaps the most interesting slice of projections for the Yankees’ hitters pertains to the young guns. ZiPS seems particularly optimistic about the contributions the Yankees could receive from their farmhands in 2017. After struggling in the majors in 2016, Aaron Judge projects for a 112 OPS+ and 30 home runs. Similarly, ZiPS thinks Clint Frazier (102 OPS+, 1.9 WAR) could also be a legitimate big league outfielder right now. I think it’s safe to say the Yankees would sign up for that kind of production from rookie players next year.

Less optimistic is the outlook for the Yankees’ first base situation. Recovering from shoulder surgery, Greg Bird only projects for a 108 OPS+ in 397 plate appearances, and Tyler Austin doesn’t project as much more than replacement level. It’s tough to know what Bird will be after a long injury lay-off, but after posting a 135 OPS+ as a 22-year-old in 2015, most fans will surely be expecting Bird to beat his projection.

Turning to the starting staff, things continue to look pretty average. Masahiro Tanaka was an ace last year, though ZiPS projects him to regress a bit in 2017. He projects for a very strong 86 ERA- and 83 FIP-, but only 165 innings, constraining his projection to 3.3 WAR. ZiPS is unsurprisingly optimistic about Michael Pineda (156 IP, 2.5 WAR), as ZiPS looks at Pineda and mostly sees shiny peripherals and reasons for positive regression, rather than a frustrating bundle of under-performance.

Of the back-end starters, ZiPS appears most confident in Luis Severino and Chad Green. ZiPS likes Severino to bounce back from a sophomore slump to the tune of 152 innings with a better than average ERA, while Green projects for a usable 0.8 WAR and 128 innings. Luis Cessa is not acquitted well with ZiPS, as he projects for a 5.25 ERA and overall replacement level production. There has been plenty of talk about the Yankees’ shaky back of the rotation, and ZiPS doesn’t appear to do much to assuage those concerns.

Where there is less concern is in the bullpen, where the Yankees have consistently excelled. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman project for identical and sensational ERA- figures of 55, as well as strikeout rates in excess of 40%. One can question the savvy of investing heavily in late-inning relief on a team with more pressing weaknesses, but one cannot question the effectiveness of the Yankees’ league-best relief duo.

Betances and Chapman appear to have some support in the bullpen, but not a ton. After a solid run in pinstripes last year, Tyler Clippard projects for a strong 86 ERA-, and ZiPS thinks that prospect Jonathan Holder, who struggled in a brief 2016 MLB stint but posted a 1.65 ERA in the minors, will be good for an 85 ERA-. Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve also project for ERAs better than average, a bit curiously so in Shreve’s case given his disastrous 2016.

If you glanced at the ZiPS projections for the Yankees hoping to be convinced that the team was destined for glory in 2017, you would have been disappointed. The forecasts guarantee nothing, and the Yankees certainly don’t project poorly. The projections simply confirm what many on-lookers already feel about this team: it’s merely alright, and in need of some fortuitous bounces or surprising performances in order to win 90+ games. Now, just a few more weeks of waiting before we will start to see whether those bounces actually will go the Yankees’ way.