Assuming the earth hasn’t fully rejected human society in a century, our baseball-obsessed great-grandchildren are going to look back at the numbers of the 2020 campaign with one word: “Huh?”
Almost every player who saw significant time this past season will have their year-by-year numbers interrupted by very low totals in 2020. Our descendants might wonder why a seemingly-healthy DJ LeMahieu played just 50 games after appearing in at least 125 every year since 2014. Even when they research and rediscover what hellish garbage caused these problems, it will take a little time to figure out how place them a larger context.
Well, those kiddos don’t have to worry because that weird old hermit Obi-Mearns Kenobi has the answer. After all, it’s clearly the only question they’ll have about anything when investigating 2020.
To produce an approximation of the Yankees’ 2020 numbers, I used the preseason PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus as a guide. I took the Yankees’ actual 2020 numbers and added them to what the PECOTA estimates would have forecasted over a 102-game season with appropriate adjustments. Although it’s not a perfect formula, it led to some fascinating results from the Yankees’ hitters.
The downside is that I had to exclude two prominent position players: Clint Frazier and Miguel Andújar. PECOTA didn’t anticipate that Frazier would play nearly as much as he did, predicting only 36 plate appearances in its original 60-game projection. Even weighted to a 102-game season, it doesn’t accurately reflect how much the slugging Frazier would’ve actually played. Andújar has the opposite problem — PECOTA projected almost as much playing time for him as Gio Urshela, but Andújar quickly lost his job in the starting lineup and never returned from the dreaded ALTERNATE SITE after September 13th. Perhaps eventually, he might have returned and caught fire in a full season, but it didn’t feel right to predict that prominent a role for Andújar.
Caveats aside, here’s how everyone else fared.
2020 catcher projections
|Gary Sanchez (proj.)||510||455||94||63||18||30||205||47||152||.207||.293||.450||103||1.6|
|Gary Sanchez (2020)||178||156||23||19||4||10||57||18||64||.147||.253||.365||84||-0.1|
|Kyle Higashioka (proj.)||136||130||31||17||4||9||61||7||35||.237||.271||.468||92||1.1|
|Kyle Higashioka (2020)||48||48||12||7||1||4||25||0||11||.250||.250||.521||98||0.4|
Gary Sánchez was never supposed to be as bad as he was in 2020. He’s a streaky hitter, and PECOTA suggests that he likely just didn’t have enough time in the season to actually hit an extended groove. He didn’t need to turn into 2016 Gary to make his numbers respectable; even a run from 2019 Gary would’ve been a boost. Aside from the occasional dinger here or there, it never came.
For what it’s worth, while the system is not super sold on Kyle Higashioka’s offense, his defensive numbers in limited time almost bring him to Sánchez’s level in terms of WARP. As Josh noted the other day though, it’s still tough to buy the idea of Higashioka as a real hitter since his outlier three-homer game boosted his otherwise-paltry numbers.
2020 corner infield projections
|Luke Voit (proj.)||588||522||141||87||20||37||276||56||148||0||.269||.348||.529||127||2.8|
|Luke Voit (2020)||234||213||59||41||5||22||130||17||54||0||.277||.338||.610||133||1.4|
|Gio Urshela (proj.)||461||421||116||55||26||15||191||33||78||1||.276||.332||.454||108||1.9|
|Gio Urshela (2020)||174||151||45||24||11||6||74||18||25||1||.298||.368||.490||125||1.4|
|Mike Ford (proj.)||195||171||36||20||9||9||69||19||36||0||.208||.297||.406||109||0.2|
|Mike Ford (2020)||84||74||10||5||4||2||20||7||16||0||.135||.226||.270||86||-0.1|
Luke Voit was everything that Aaron Boone could’ve dreamed he could be in 2020, launching a league-leading 22 homers. So that had to be about peak Voit performance, right? Technically, yes, but PECOTA doesn’t think he was about to hit a brick wall, either. Earth-2 Voit was perfectly solid in those remaining 102 games, building his dinger output up to 37 while still maintaining a strong .268/.348/.529 triple slash and a 127 DRC+.
Gio Urshela’s numbers dipped a bit in the remaining missed time, but keep in mind that PECOTA’s preseason projections had the difficulty of squaring everything people thought they knew about Urshela entering 2018 compared to his out-of-nowhere explosion in 2019. Sure enough, his expected DRC+ for 2020 was a league-average 97, which was a far cry from his actual 125 DRC+ (an incredible 95th-percentile result). But that’s just life now with Gio.
As for Mike Ford, well, the system is also a bigger believer in his ability than me. He looked awful and then didn’t get another start after September 6th. PECOTA didn’t expect regular playing time from him anyway, but even still, the results seem a touch optimistic.
2020 middle infield projections
|DJ LeMahieu (proj.)||592||540||176||84||29||20||273||47||75||8||.327||.383||.506||126||5.3|
|DJ LeMahieu (2020)||216||195||71||41||10||10||115||18||21||3||.364||.421||.590||135||1.9|
|Gleyber Torres (proj.)||536||478||121||65||23||22||212||54||111||8||.254||.336||.443||112||2.5|
|Gleyber Torres (2020)||160||136||33||17||8||3||50||22||28||1||.243||.356||.368||112||0.6|
|Tyler Wade (proj.)||216||190||39||29||8||5||61||21||51||7||.204||.295||.321||80||0.1|
|Tyler Wade (2020)||105||88||15||19||3||3||27||12||22||4||.170||.288||.307||92||0.1|
|Thairo Estrada (proj.)||96||91||18||11||2||3||26||3||28||1||.201||.243||.291||67||-0.1|
|Thairo Estrada (2020)||52||48||8||8||0||1||11||1||19||1||.167||.231||.229||61||-0.1|
Look, I am never going to get tired of seeing “.364” on DJ LeMahieu’s Baseball Reference page. It looks incredible. Those aforementioned descendants are going to throw eggs at me and yell “YOU CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME, OLD MAN!!”
They’re right! I can’t. But a .364 campaign was probably not in the cards. Still, a 5.3 WARP season! That’s actually a smidge better than his 4.9 from 2019 and would fit in with Robinson Canó’s best years. Decent.
Gleyber Torres had a somewhat-disappointing 2020, but his actual DRC+ was identical to the projection. It was just generated in a different manner — less power and more walks. Torres hit 19 more homers in the extra games on Earth-2. The results are still shy of his breakout 2019, but flashier.
Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada? Still firmly bench players, at best. Sorry.
2020 outfield projections
|Aaron Judge (proj.)||468||404||103||74||17||29||207||59||144||3||.254||.356||.514||127||3.1|
|Aaron Judge (2020)||114||101||26||23||3||9||56||10||32||0||.257||.336||.554||111||0.5|
|Giancarlo Stanton (proj.)||448||384||99||65||22||26||205||58||139||3||.258||.361||.533||130||2.3|
|Giancarlo Stanton (2020)||94||76||19||12||7||4||38||15||27||1||.250||.387||.500||98||0.1|
|Aaron Hicks (proj.)||543||460||106||67||24||18||192||82||120||9||.231||.349||.419||111||1.8|
|Aaron Hicks (2020)||211||169||38||28||10||6||70||41||38||4||.225||.379||.414||124||1.1|
|Brett Gardner (proj.)||467||407||94||54||19||15||162||57||98||10||.230||.329||.397||99||1.5|
|Brett Gardner (2020)||158||130||29||20||5||5||51||26||35||3||.223||.354||.392||110||0.5|
|Mike Tauchman (proj.)||244||214||50||32||11||3||75||28||57||9||.235||.327||.350||92||0.7|
|Mike Tauchman (2020)||111||95||23||18||6||0||29||14||26||6||.242||.342||.305||94||0.4|
Yes, yes, I can hear you in the back. I know it’s been a couple years since Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton accumulated as much playing time as PECOTA projects in the remaining 102 games, and the final total of course accounts for the time they did miss in the actual 60-game season. That being said, those offensive numbers are just dandy. If they’d like to do that in 2021, sign me up.
Both Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner saw their numbers dip in a wider sample on Earth-2, though both turned in decent years considering where each is in his career. A little more offense would, uh, be preferred, but it could be worse. Mike Tauchman, however, is still just fourth outfielder material, even by BP’s sunnier perspective on his numbers than elsewhere. We’ll always have the Sock Man Summer, Mike. We’ll always have that.
So for the most part, the Yankees still had a pretty damn good offense in the completed season on Earth-2. Their numbers all generally adjusted to relative norms to make the hot and cold streaks that were more glaring in a 60-game season fade a little. It’s not an exact science, but it’s a relatively decent approximation.
Thanks to Matt Provenzano for research consultation.