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The Yankees consolidated their gains in 2018

The Yankees had a number of breakouts in 2017, and they held over to 2018.

Wild Card Game - Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

When the Yankees burst onto the scene in 2017, they were a bit of a surprise. The whole league figured they were some sort of sleeping giant, with a loaded farm system, enviable financial advantages, and some young talent already percolating at the major league level. They just didn’t foresee that giant waking up so soon.

In order for the Yankees to arrive early that season, they needed several players to uniformly step up. The Yankees’ breakout was fueled by a number of individual breakouts, by leaps forward from a chunk of their core contributors. Those surprise leaps forward were what fueled the 2017 Yankees to the doorstep of the World Series.

You know the names at this point. The most crucial development was that of Aaron Judge, from over-matched prospect in 2016 to MVP-caliber destroyer of worlds in 2017. Next on the list was Luis Severino, who cast aside doubts about his ability to stick in the rotation after a disastrous 2016 and vaulted into the top three of AL Cy Young voting in 2017.

Adding an MVP-type hitter and a Cy Young-contending pitcher at the same obviously is what boosted that Yankee team the most, but other, smaller breakouts were also vital. Didi Gregorius set the franchise record for home runs as a shortstop in his first ever season with above-average offensive production. Aaron Hicks put it all together for the first time, providing a strong, switch-hitting bat and valuable defense. Chad Green became one of the league’s most dominant relievers after a lost 2016.

Entering 2018, most of the major question marks surrounding the Yankees pertained to whether their 2017 breakouts could be sustained. From that vantage point, the Yankees’ 2018 was a resounding success. Every key player that made a massive jump in 2017 consolidated their gains in 2018, leaving the team in a better position going forward.

That’s not to say each breakout the Yankees had last year performed exactly the same this year, just that each player erased the doubts about whether they were a fluke. Judge, for instance, didn’t quite reach the heights of his rookie of the year campaign, when he ran a 172 wRC+. He did, however, make it clear the gains he made in terms of contact and on-base ability were for real. Judge was able to do to damage with his prodigious power as he continued to make enough contact, and he showed his plate discipline in running a .400 OBP for most of the year.

Similar things could be said about Severino. The Yankees ace had an awful second half (though there may be reason for his struggles), but even so, his numbers on the year ended up eerily close to his 2017 campaign. His strikeout and walk rates hardly budged year over year, and he posted 5.7 fWAR after earning a 5.8 mark in 2017.

Hicks and Gregorius are the 2017 breakouts that you could argue didn’t just consolidate their gains, but actually improved even further. Gregorius broke his own shortstop home run record, hitting 27 dingers this year, setting a career-high in wRC+ (121) in the process. Hicks also nudged up his career-high wRC+, from 126 in 2017 to 127 in 2018, and stayed healthier in setting a new career best in WAR.

Green was more like Judge and Severino in 2018, in that he didn’t push beyond his 2017 breakout, but still thoroughly reinforced it. Green didn’t run a sub-2.00 ERA like he did in 2017, but he still managed post a sterling 2.50 mark across 75 innings while striking out nearly a third of the batters he faced.

In each of these instances, we had just one season of data to indicate that these players were stars. Now, we have twice that. The questions about whether this group of breakouts can keep it up have been answered. That’s not a guarantee that they will all remain stars forever, but they all have cemented their status as high-caliber performers at the moment.

The only player that made a huge jump forward in 2017 only to fall back was Tommy Kahnle, but I didn’t include him here since a good portion of his breakout occurred with the White Sox. That being said, Kahnle’s inability to consolidate his gains has had a negative impact on the Yankees’ bullpen going forward.

Elsewhere, other players that regressed weren’t coming off 2017 breakouts. Gary Sanchez had a lost year, but his breakout campaign was in 2016. He already consolidated his gains last year, and he should be fine going forward. Sonny Gray wasn’t with the team for half of 2017, and had long established himself as a quality starter. He, too, should be able to bounce back next year, though probably not with the Yankees.

For all the things that went wrong (Sanchez and Gray’s disappearances, Judge’s injury, Giancarlo Stanton’s uneven season), I would argue that the strides made by these 2017 breakouts more than outweigh the frustrations. The Yankees consolidated their gains in 2018, and they won 100 games. They are in position to do so again moving ahead, thanks in no small part to the fact that the players that made the biggest leaps managed to prove they weren’t flashes in the pan.