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A look at the most polarizing Yankees hitters

The projections disagree on quite a few Yankees

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ exhibition schedule is in full swing, and the regular season is right around the corner. Soon, Opening Day will arrive, and instead of fretting about the Yankees’ spending habits or debating the efficacy of their offseason moves, we’ll be afforded the most desirable distraction of them: actual baseball games that matter.

We still have a few more weeks before the panacea of the regular season, though, and that means more time to consider what will happen with the roster. We still have all the same polarizing players to ruminate on, whether it’s Troy Tulowitzki on the comeback trail, Miguel Andujar attempting to improve his defense, or Gary Sanchez looking to shrug off a nightmare 2018 campaign.

We know which players strike a chord within the fanbase. Now, I want to take a look at which players are most polarizing through a much more calculated prism — that of projection systems. To do so, I looked at projected OPS figures from the biggest public projections, Steamer, ZiPS, and PECOTA, and found where the systems diverged the most. Do the projections disagree about the same players that we do?

In some cases, absolutely. Let’s take a look:

Troy Tulowitzki

Steamer Projected OPS: .734

ZiPS Projected OPS: .667

PECOTA Projected OPS: .755

No Yankee features a wider projected range of OPS figures than the erstwhile superstar shortstop. Steamer sees a solid chance for a bounceback from Tulowitzki, while PECOTA sees him as a downright first-division regular when healthy. ZiPS forecasts a near replacement-level season. It should be noted that all three systems see Tulowitzki’s empty 2018 season and dock him in terms of playing time; he’s projected between 242 plate appearances and 351 plate appearances.

It’s unclear exactly why PECOTA is so bullish on Tulowitzki in particular, but it might just stem from Baseball Prospectus’ new Deserved Runs Created model. With DRC+, BP has attempted to improve upon public hitting metrics by drilling down to each player’s expected contribution on offense. By DRC+, Tulowitkzi’s decline has been gentler than in the eyes of other metrics. He posted an 85 DRC+ in 2017 and 109 DRC+ in 2016, compared to respective 79 and 104 wRC+ in those same years.

If PECOTA has generally been higher on Tulowitzki’s past performance, it stands to reason it would have a higher opinion of his future performance. In any event, the Yankees’ signing of Tulowitzki at the league minimum was controversial, with far starrier options on the market. The projection systems don’t quite agree on him either.

DJ LeMahieu

Steamer Projected OPS: .721

ZiPS Projected OPS: .725

PECOTA Projected OPS: .771

Like his former double-play partner, LeMahieu has caused the projections to diverge. Also as with Tulowitzki, we see PECOTA putting forth a much more aggressive projection than its counterparts. Whereas Steamer and ZiPS see LeMahieu as a comfortably solid regular, PECOTA thinks LeMahieu could compete for a spot on the All-Star team given enough playing time.

We’re focusing only on offense here, but LeMahieu’s defense is widely viewed as top-shelf. That defense, combined with the kind of hitting PECOTA predicts here, could make him a four-WAR player, one worth far more than the $12 million annual commitment the Yankees assured him.

In this case, PECOTA’s bullishness most likely stems again from the way the DRC+ model was created. DRC+ takes a more holistic view of hitters from Colorado, and docks them far more mercifully for their Coors Field-driven feats. Compare LeMahieu’s poor 86 wRC+ last season to his borderline average 98 DRC+.

ZiPS and Steamer see a player who, stripped of his friendly home confines, would sag to below-average raw hitting stats. DRC has long viewed as LeMahieu as average or better at the plate, and thus PECOTA expects him to put forth a strong batting line in the Bronx. A pattern has emerged here, in which a player that has divided fans has also divided the projections, with PECOTA standing out as the most optimistic.

Luke Voit

Steamer Projected OPS: .794

ZiPS Projected OPS: .818

PECOTA Projected OPS: .856

Our last name on this list is perhaps less polarizing among Yankee fans in general; my sense is that we’re all just sort of intrigued to see to what extent Voit can keep up what he did last year.

Yet again, the infamously conservative PECOTA puts forth the most aggressive projection. Unlike with LeMahieu and Tulowitzki, I cannot offer any DRC-based explanation for PECOTA’s sunny outlook. Voit’s eye-popping batted ball profile, as evidenced by his Statcast numbers, stands as the most compelling reason to believe in his skills, yet those kinds of numbers are not incorporated into DRC nor PECOTA.

Instead, Steamer, ZiPS, and PECOTA all look at Voit’s unimpressive track record as a prospect, as well as his wildly impressive (and short) track record in the bigs, and come to disparate conclusions. This seems fitting, as I’m not sure there’s a player on the Yankees who comes with bigger error bars than Voit. He showed last year he could be Literally Babe Ruth for a stretch, and yet, he could also turn into a pumpkin in a month’s time.

Are you surprised with which Yankees the projections can’t quite pin down? For the most part, their disagreements appear to make sense. The Yankees that possess divergent projections also cause divergent opinions among actual fans and analysts. With any luck, we’ll start to get some answers to our questions soon enough.