Projection season is upon us. With the specter of real baseball fast approaching, Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA projections a couple weeks ago, and FanGraphs and Dan Szymborski have been busy pumping out the ZiPS projections. Yesterday, we got our first look at the Yankees ZiPS forecasts.
As always, remember that projections are good baselines; they are a place to start. They aren’t sure-fire guarantees of what’s going to happen, nor are they to be taken as gospel. It’s more than fair to disagree with what they spit out as you see fit. Projection systems have much longer memories than we do, though, and in aggregate, they will be right more often than not.
Without further ado, take a look at the depth chart, forecasted by ZiPS:
Here are what I see as some main takeaways:
This team is really, really good.
In a few places, ZiPS’ projected WAR seems a little light for the Yankees, and in spite of that, the team still receives a huge projection from the system. The rotation looks rock-solid, the lineup looks deep, and my word, that bullpen. ZiPS gives the Yankees’ relief corps its best-ever projection for a bullpen.
The Bombers essentially project as at worst average, and at best excellent, at every single position. A team that put forth the WAR totals above would probably expect to win just a shade under 100 games. As a median projection, that’s outstanding.
ZiPS buys Luke Voit as good, but not great
Like I said, projection systems have long memories, and ZiPS surely remembers Voit’s time as an unspectacular prospect before his sensational half-season in New York. Even so, ZiPS pegs Voit for a quality .264/.344/.474 line, and a 116 OPS+. If Voit hits that projection, and Greg Bird also hits his projection (101 OPS+), expect Voit to assume a fuller share of the at-bats at first base, and for the Yankees to hit the over on that projected 1.9 WAR figure at the cold corner.
Troy Tulowitzki might be mostly washed
Though we didn’t exactly need a fancy computer to tell us that. Tulowitzki hasn’t played a major-league game in nearly two years, and the last time he stepped on the field, he slashed a paltry .249/.300/.378. Expectations for Tulowitzki should be relatively low.
ZiPS agrees. Tulowitzki projects for a .234/.293/.374 line, and a half-win above replacement in 351 plate appearances. That’s backup infielder stuff, not Entrenched Starting Shortstop for the New York Yankees stuff. Let’s hope Tulowitzki can stay healthy and beat the projection by a hefty margin.
This could be a consolidation year for the rookie phenoms
Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres wowed us all last year, showing tremendous prowess at the plate for a pair of rookies. It can be tempting to simply project a player’s growth from there, and posit that if he was this good as a rookie, he must get even better as he grows.
Player development is not always linear, however, and sometimes, players can stop and start. ZiPS projects the Yankees’ young infield duo to consolidate a bit in 2019, rather than take the next steps into stardom. Andujar projects for a .277/.314/.472 line and 106 OPS+, while Torres projects for a .266/.336/.479 line and 115 OPS+, both above average, but worse than last year. I would personally bet on at least one of the two beating their projections, but ZiPS appears to make a salient point about how not all young players progress evenly and upwardly.
The Yankees might have juuuust enough pitching depth
Starting pitching depth was a clear bugaboo down the stretch in 2018, and the team hasn’t done a whole lot to address it, but ZiPS seems somewhat optimistic that the team’s internal depth will be enough.
Jonathan Loaisiga projects well right away, with ZiPS pegging him for a precisely average 100 ERA+ in 75.2 innings. It also projects Jordan Montgomery for a 101 ERA+, though whether Montgomery can pitch to that figure obviously depends on how his rehab from Tommy John surgery progresses. ZiPS thinks Michael King, a lower-profile prospect acquired from the Marlins, possesses some promise after an excellent 2018 in the Yankees’ system, projecting for a 95 ERA+ despite not having pitched in the bigs. Domingo German and Garrett Whitlock both project for a 91 ERA+.
None of these options excites, and the Yankees would probably be better off importing a veteran as rotation depth. That being said, if the Yankees actually do get fringe-average performance from the likes of Loaisiga, German, and King, they should be just fine.
The starting five continues to look as good as ever
We’ve written a few times here about how the Yankees’ current rotation could be as good as it’s been in years, and ZiPS sees no reason to believe otherwise. Every member of the Yankees’ first five projects for at least a 106 ERA+ (CC Sabathia) up to a 132 ERA+ (Luis Severino). J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka, Sabathia, and James Paxton all project for just about 150 innings, while Severino is forecasted for over 180 frames.
That sounds about right. The median season for each starter should involve above-average pitching, while every pitcher outside of Severino carries injury/age-related risk that make them good bets to take a trip to the injured list. It’s not a perfect rotation, but it’s a darned good one, one with plenty of upside to go along with whatever risks a few of its members bring.