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Checking in on the Yankees’ preseason projections

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Let’s see how the Bombers stack up today versus their preseason projections

MLB: All-Star Game Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, I wrote about the virtues of baseball as a narrative. Now, however, I’m flipping the script. This is a completely stats-driven look at how the Yankees have performed this year, and in particular, how their current projections stack up against what we thought before the season.

To do this, I used a nifty tool over at FanGraphs. If you look at Steamer or ZiPS, you can see all of the preseason projections. If you select RoS, it shows you the rest-of-season projections from this point on. And if you click on “Update,” it shows you updated full season totals, a combination of past performance and rest-of-season projections.

To see how the Yankees look as of now, I took all of the preseason Steamer projections and stacked them against the updated full season totals to see how much they’re currently over or under-performing. Let’s begin with position players.

Yankees Position Player Projection Differentials

Player Pre-Season wRC+ Updated wRC+ wRC+ Differential Pre-Season WAR Updated WAR WAR Differential
Player Pre-Season wRC+ Updated wRC+ wRC+ Differential Pre-Season WAR Updated WAR WAR Differential
Aaron Judge 106 168 62 1.2 7.2 6
Aaron Hicks 94 129 35 0.8 3.3 2.5
Brett Gardner 100 108 8 1.7 3.1 1.4
Starlin Castro 90 110 20 1.2 2.1 0.9
Didi Gregorius 91 100 9 2.2 3.1 0.9
Matt Holliday 121 127 6 1.4 2.2 0.8
Chase Headley 96 93 -3 1.9 1.8 -0.1
Jacoby Ellsbury 90 92 2 1.4 1.1 -0.3
Gary Sanchez 118 124 6 3.6 3.3 -0.3
Austin Romine 79 66 -13 0.4 -0.1 -0.5
Rob Refsnyder 99 55 -44 0.4 -0.2 -0.6
Chris Carter 107 73 -34 0.5 -0.6 -1.1
Greg Bird 124 67 -57 1.9 -0.4 -2.3

We all know what’s obvious here. Aaron Judge is the biggest surprise, so far beating his preseason projections by six wins. Other under-performances are pretty much wiped out by a supposed one-win player becoming an MVP candidate. He’s been that good.

Beyond that, we’re also familiar with the rest of the surprises, like Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner (beating his aging curve), Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, and Matt Holliday. Despite the last month before the All-Star break, these position players have largely over-performed their projections by nearly a win apiece.

The disappointments, or those who weren’t surprising at all, are pretty much who we expected. Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury are natural for projections because they have an extensive career to draw from, and their declines are relatively predictable at this point. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to tell you they’re 90 wRC+ hitters worth about a win and change.

First base overall was the only “worst case scenario,” as we know. Chris Carter was abysmal, and Greg Bird is still hurt. Hopefully that changes, or perhaps they trade for someone, but it’s definitely positive to say that most of the position player performed beyond their projections so far. Starting off with two projected 2+ WAR players and finding themselves at the halfway point with seven is about as good as it gets. Now, on to the pitchers.

Yankees Pitcher Projection Differentials

Player Pre-Season ERA Updated ERA ERA Differential Pre-Season WAR Updated WAR WAR Differential
Player Pre-Season ERA Updated ERA ERA Differential Pre-Season WAR Updated WAR WAR Differential
Luis Severino 4.09 3.66 -0.43 1.7 4.5 2.8
Jordan Montgomery 4.65 4 -0.65 0.4 2.4 2
Adam Warren 4.47 3.33 -1.14 0.3 1.1 0.8
Jonathan Holder 3.92 3.91 -0.01 0.2 0.5 0.3
Luis Cessa 4.83 4.72 -0.11 0.2 0.4 0.2
Chasen Shreve 3.9 3.36 -0.54 0.2 0.4 0.2
Aroldis Chapman 2.33 2.94 0.61 1.6 1.6 0
Chad Green 4.29 2.94 -1.35 1.3 1.3 0
CC Sabathia 4.39 4.11 -0.28 1.8 1.7 -0.1
Tyler Clippard 4.44 5.01 0.57 0.1 -0.2 -0.3
Dellin Betances 2.46 2.85 0.39 1.7 1.3 -0.4
Bryan Mitchell 4.69 4.67 -0.02 0.9 0.3 -0.6
Michael Pineda 3.52 4.16 0.64 3.4 2.6 -0.8
Masahiro Tanaka 3.91 4.83 0.92 3.8 2.3 -1.5

The pitching has been way more surprising this year, for quite a few reasons. First, Masahiro Tanaka has been quite horrible. Despite being projected as close to a four-win player, he’ll now be about average when all is said and done. It’s not the end of the world, but it stings in his walk year.

Michael Pineda under-performed the projection he probably was never going to hit anyway. That’s a wash in my books. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery, however, blew Steamer out of the water. They jumped from a combined 2.1 WAR to a projected 6.9.

There were other disappointments, like Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, and Aroldis Chapman. The fact that Severino and Montgomery have been so dominant pretty much makes up for all of that, though. That said, my guess is the Yankees bolster the bullpen at the trade deadline.

Overall, this is a team that is better than we thought. I would reckon that a majority of the over-performance comes directly from Judge, because subtracting his performance makes this team something like a .500 club, which is what we expected.

I suspect these numbers will continue to fluctuate, and we’ll revisit this at season’s end. If Judge continues to do what he’s doing, Tanaka rebounds, and they make a decision to solidify first base, they could break even projection-wise in the second half. That would put the team in good shape. No matter how pessimistic we all may feel going into the second half, think about how bad the Yankees would be if they just followed the script.