The 2020 season brought a little bit of everything for the Yankees: records, breakout stars, underperformers, unexpected results, and a Division Series exit against the Tampa Bay Rays, among several other things.
Now that we are reviewing the season, let’s see who were the best performers on the Yankees according to FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement, or fWAR:
DJ LeMahieu: 2.5 fWAR
For a second consecutive season, DJ LeMahieu was the Yankees’ leader in fWAR, with 2.5. And once again, he was a massive asset with the bat, hitting .364/.421/.590, with a .429 wOBA and a team-leading 177 wRC+. His contributions on the basepaths (a positive 0.7 baserunning runs) and with the glove (-0.4 UZR, -1.0 UZR/150, 0 DRS) were rather modest, especially with the leather, but what he did in the batter’s box was more than enough to lead the team in WAR by a considerable margin.
LeMahieu will be a free agent after the World Series, so the Yankees will lose their highest-rated player in the last two seasons if they don’t eventually secure his return to the Bronx.
Luke Voit: 1.8 fWAR
Of course, we shouldn’t rate a 60-game season the same way as we treat a normal 162-game campaign, but let’s give credit where it’s due: Luke Voit assaulted American League East pitching (and some National League East foes, too) on his way to a league-leading 22 home runs.
Essentially, Voit took a more aggressive approach and traded some walks (he had a 13.9 walk rate in 2019 and a 7.3 mark this season) for some round-trippers. It was a worthwhile shift, one that led to a .277/.338/.610 line with a .393 wOBA and a fantastic 152 wRC+.
Voit also made some defensive improvements that drove his fWAR up a little. He had positive marks in UZR, with 0.9, and UZR/150, with 2.0. And while his -3 DRS weren’t particularly good, it was better than the -8 he posted in 2018 and the -12 he had last year.
Giovanny Urshela: 1.6 fWAR
An injury prevented Urshela, who had already broken out last year, from playing the whole 60 games, but even 43 contests were enough for him to place third on the Yankees’ fWAR list. Offensively, he was very good, with a well-rounded line of .298/.368/.490, a .365 wOBA and a 133 wRC+ (very similar to last season’s 132.)
Defensively, he performed well per the regular metrics: a 5.4 UZR, a 13.2 UZR/150 and 6 DRS are excellent numbers for a third baseman. However, Statcast’s Outs Above Average had him in the 20th percentile of all qualifiers. Luckily for Gio, that last stat isn’t weighted in the WAR calculation.
Gerrit Cole: 1.4 fWAR
The only pitcher on the Yankees that surpassed the 1.0 fWAR threshold, Gerrit Cole didn’t have a typically dominant season, at least in fWAR’s (admittedly flawed) view. His FIP, the ERA estimator upon which FanGraphs’ version of WAR is based, didn’t even lead the rotation (3.89 to Jordan Montgomery’s 3.87.) However, his 1.4 fWAR was far higher than Montgomery’s 0.9. Monty was the second-ranked hurler on the Yankees.
But make no mistake: Cole pitched very well. In 12 starts and 73.0 frames, he had a 32.6 K%, a 5.9 BB% and a 2.84 ERA. He had a bit of a home run issue (1.73 HR/9) but he was the ace the Yankees thought they signed last winter, especially in the postseason.
Clint Frazier: 1.3 fWAR
Frazier was the Yankees’ breakout performer. He went from taking no walks to running the 17th highest BB% (15.6) among batters with at least 150 plate appearances. He also evolved from a lousy defensive outfielder to a Gold Glove finalist, a remarkable evolution for the young player.
He slashed .267/.394/.511 with a .388 wOBA and a 149 wRC+. The on-base and slugging percentages are particularly impressive. He made some changes in his approach and swing and boy, did they pay off. He also worked hard to improve with the leather, and the difference was night and day. In right field, the position he played the most (216.0 innings), he had a 3.8 UZR, a 24.0 UZR/150 and 4 DRS. Additionally, he was in the 69th percentile in Outs Above Average. Not bad at all.
With his excellent performance, Frazier should have, at the least, earned a chance to have playing time next season and beyond.