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The most interesting Yankees PECOTA projections

Let’s dig deep on Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections for the Yankees.

New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole at spring training in 2020 Photo by J.Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

Earlier this week, Baseball Prospectus unveiled their projected standings for the 2020 season based on their PECOTA projection system. Our Joe LoGrippo has you covered if you want a rundown of how the forecasted standings look from a Yankees perspective.

BP has also released individual player projections, and in some ways, the more granular forecasts can reveal even more to us than the top-level numbers. So, let's dig into the projections for the Yankees in particular, and try to find the most interesting nuggets PECOTA has in store.

DJ LeMahieu is... a superstar?

Not even bullish LeMahieu observers (which I consider myself!) could have foreseen his breakout season with the Yankees. At age-30, LeMahieu combined power, contact, and defensive versatility to an extent he never had before. The result was a stellar campaign, one that saw him rack up six rWAR and finish fourth in AL MVP voting.

We've all been here before, though. Late-prime player with no prior history of MVP contention suddenly puts together an elite season? There must be a bunch blinking signs of regression here.

Except, remarkably, PECOTA has projected very little regression for LeMahieu. In fact, it thinks he'll be about as good in year two in New York as year one. The computer calls for a .303/.359/.456 line and 5.3 WARP. That latter mark is the sixth-best median projection for a position player heading into 2020, just ahead of stars like Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich.

LeMahieu has always rated well by BP's metrics, so it's not entirely surprising to see PECOTA render an optimistic forecast. That said, I was shocked to see the system feels he'll repeat as one of the best players in the AL. Let's hope the algorithm is right.

Gerrit Cole, definitely a superstar

This projection is a bit less surprising. Cole projects for 200 innings pitched, a 2.55 ERA, and 303 strikeouts. This has something to do with the game's changing landscape, but Cole's median season sees him notching a strikeout figure that no pitcher reached between Randy Johnson in 2002 and Clayton Kershaw in 2015.

Again, this is no stunner, but the Yankees are about to get everything they paid for, and then some. Cole looks to be the AL Cy Young favorite, and if his comments since reporting to camp with the Yankees are any indication, he's not content to rest on his laurels. This is a man who's both a master of his craft and extremely eager to keep learning and refining his craft. Watching him this year is going to be a blast.

Giancarlo Stanton > Aaron Judge, as a hitter

PECOTA makes this assertion, though I certainly struggle to agree with it. The computer pegs Stanton for a .257/.353/.537 line in 595 plate appearances, while putting Judge at .250/.361/.495 in 560 plate appearances. Stanton projects for a 139 DRC+, BP’s proprietary hitting metric, while Judge comes in at 130.

Judge’s sterling defense propels him Stanton ahead in terms of overall WARP projections, 3.7 to 3.3, respectively, but PECOTA still seems just a little low on Judge. A 130 DRC+ would be Judge’s lowest mark since his abbreviated 2016 debut, as would that .495 slugging percentage.

Perhaps this forecast is where we can shed a little light on an area in which PECOTA is in the dark. If I had to guess, I would figure the system sees the fact that Judge has run BABIP figures above .360 in each of the past two seasons and assumes Judge must regress. Of course, PECOTA can’t literally see Judge as we can, and it thus doesn’t know that Judge is a mammoth human that hits monster dongs and scalds the ball harder than any other player in the world.

Maybe Judge won’t run a .370 BABIP, but it seems likely he’ll beat the .332 BABIP PECOTA expects, and subsequently beat his projected slash line.

James Paxton could be an ace, if he could just stay healthy

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before. Paxton’s career has long been defined by an ability to strike batters out by the bucket and an inability to stay on the field. PECOTA sees the status quo continuing in 2020, pegging Paxton for only 98 innings, but an excellent 3.18 ERA and 11.1 K/9 rate.

Paxton is set to miss the opening weeks of the season after undergoing recent back surgery. In a season in which the Yankees are clear AL East favorites, the goal for Paxton might be reminiscent of load-managing NBA stars: just get to the playoffs healthy.

The most important thing Paxton might be able to do is give the Yankees another ace-caliber pitcher to throw at the league’s best clubs in October. The team projects to win the division nine out of 10 times even with Paxton missing half a season. Their World Series odds might tick up if the big lefty can get to the postseason healthy and pitching at the level PECOTA expects.