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What can the Steamer projections tell us about the 2020 Yankees?

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Projections are just like buying Christmas gifts: it’s never too early to start looking.

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The new year in MLB is just now underway, and what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at the first projection to be published for the 2020 season, FanGraphs’ Steamer projections?

Before we begin to take a look at what they have to say, let’s just first remind ourselves what these projection systems actually do. Each projection system uses statistical analysis to create what is essentially an “over/under” for a player’s performance, using some combination of the player’s history and typical regression. Initially created by Jared Cross, Steamer produces its forecasts by analyzing a player’s last five years of progression alongside the typical “career arc” of players at that position. It’s far from perfect — especially since it cannot predict injuries — but it is widely considered one of the best projection systems out there, albeit on the conservative side.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Steamer thinks of the Yankees’ roster at the moment:

Steamer expects to see the outfield power barrage we have all been robbed of the past two seasons, projecting big seasons from the Yankees’ two biggest sluggers. Not surprisingly, Aaron Judge is expected to once again be the Yankees’ best player, with a 134 wRC+ and 5.2 WAR. His 41 home runs and 105 RBI would be about in line with what he likely would have produced this year had he not been injured. Giancarlo Stanton is not dinged at all for his injury-filled 2019, as his 52 homers are expected to lead the league (with Mike Trout’s 44 coming in at a distant second).

Gleyber Torres, with a projected .271/.339/.508 slashline and 33 home run, sees a big jump from his 106 wRC+ projection last year — and even then, I still think Steamer underrates him a tad. On the other hand, Miguel Andujar’s injury-shattered season, in which he found a way to put up a -26 OPS+ in 12 games, puts a damper on the third baseman’s projections. If he performs to the 103 wRC+ Steamer expects, his subpar defense will likely see him cede the hot corner to Gio Urshela, even if the latter’s 2019 performance at the plate regresses.

Speaking of Urshela, Steamer expects a lot of regression from the “Next Man Up” crew. Urshela, Mike Tauchman, and Clint Frazier are all expected to perform below league average, although Steamer’s bias against younger players accounts for some of it.

As for the pitchers, Steamer has a rather confusing view:

At first glance, those starting pitching numbers don’t inspire a ton of confidence; organized by WAR, however, James Paxton is ranked 16th in the league, Luis Severino 20th, and Masahiro Tanaka 58th, giving the Yankees three starters in the top 60 at the moment — on par with every other major contender except for the Rays (who have three in the top 30, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow) and the Indians (who have four in the top 30, Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco). Unlike the other top teams, however, the Yankees don’t have a bona fide ace, a starter in the top ten. Fortunately, two of them, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, will be hitting free agency in the upcoming days.

Steamer is also generally fairly pessimistic about relief pitchers, due to their volatility. With this in mind, they’re about as optimistic as they get about the Yankees bullpen, with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, and Chad Green logging in with ERA figures under 3.75. They are expecting big regression from Adam Ottavino, however, anticipating his ERA rising from 1.90 to 4.33, while Jonathan Loaisiga is expected to put forward a solid, albeit not spectacular, season out of the bullpen.

Notably lacking from these projections is top prospect Deivi Gacia, who is simply one of a dozen players, including Clarke Schmidt and Trevor Rosenthal, who are given token one-inning projections to show that they might be relevant despite not currently being on the 40-man roster. Tyler Lyons, meanwhile, remains on the projections despite electing free agency yesterday.

All in all, the Steamer projections depict a Yankees roster that has a lot of talent, but also could use work. At the moment, Mike Tauchman looks to be the starting center fielder, with Giancarlo Stanton in left and Miguel Andujar the full-time DH — while a perfectly acceptable arrangement, this would be relying on Tauchman repeating his 2019 performance and Andujar his 2018. On the mound, the Yankees could use some more depth at the back of the bullpen, and a true ace to give them a rotation on par with the other leaders across the league. Nonetheless, as a launching point for the season, things could be much worse.