It’s the start of the New Year, which means projections season is upon us. Every offseason, various publications provide predictions for player performance in the upcoming season based on variably-weighted inputs into proprietary formulas. Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs has calculated his ZiPS projections for the last 20 years. This system estimates future player performance based on his most recent seasons and on past performance of similar players.
Last week, Joe focused in on the Yankees’ projections, highlighting the players expected to excel as well as the regression candidates. Now that FanGraphs has released the ZiPS projections for all five AL East teams, I’d like to zoom out and assess where the Yankees stand in relation to their divisional foes.
Infield + DH
Along with the Orioles, the Yankees’ infield situation looks the most unstable — neither team has a full-time starter assigned to any of the five positions around the diamond. At catcher, they expect a repeat of the timeshare between Gary Sánchez and Kyle Higashioka. DJ LeMahieu is expected to bounce around the diamond, seeing time at first, second and third. Gleyber Torres will likely spend the bulk of his time at second, although curiously ZiPS sees him getting reps at short contrary to the plan to move him off the position. As it stands, the rest will be covered by Gio Urshela when he’s not playing third, leaving Luke Voit and Miguel Andújar to man the remaining innings at first at third respectively. The only certainty is Giancarlo Stanton at DH, with ZiPS naming that his exclusive position.
Perhaps as a side effect of this uncertainty, the Yankees’ infield projects to produce the second-least value of any AL East unit. The Rays pace the division with 19.2 zWAR thanks to the double-play tandem of Brandon Lowe (4.5 zWAR) and newly-extended budding superstar Wander Franco (5.1 zWAR). The Blue Jays are not far behind at 17 zWAR, buoyed by AL-East-leading Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (5.9 zWAR) and the newest Yankee killer Bo Bichette (4.7 zWAR). Meanwhile, the Red Sox sit middle-of-the-pack at 14.7 zWAR, with the left side of the infield — Xander Bogaerts (3.9 zWAR) and Rafael Devers (3.5 zWAR) — once again leading the way.
The Yankees come in at 13.4 zWAR, with no position producing more than the 2.7 zWAR projected for Stanton. The Orioles are in a distant last with 8.3 zWAR, featuring a ragtag mishmash of veterans (Trey Mancini and Rougned Odor) and top prospects (Adley Rutschman).
As unstable as the Yankees’ infield looks, the opposite is true for the outfield. Aaron Judge is projected for a monster 5.7 zWAR season — tops across AL outfielders and second among all position players in the division behind Vladito. ZiPS predicts a bounce-back campaign for Joey Gallo (4.3 zWAR) in his first full season in the Bronx. Heck, even Aaron Hicks is expected to contribute some value at 1.8 zWAR. Altogether, the 11.8 zWAR is head and shoulders above any trio to roam the AL East long grass.
Toronto comes in second at 6.8 zWAR, with George Springer (3.9 zWAR) in center, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left, Teoscar Hernández in right, and Randal Grichuk as fourth outfielder. Tampa Bay is right on their tail at 6.6 zWAR with Baltimore surprisingly not far behind at 6.2 zWAR. This time, it’s Boston in a distant last at only 3.5 zWAR, with Alex Verdugo (1.9 zWAR) the only outfielder under contract with even a full projected win of zWAR.
The Yankees’ rotation once again projects to be a strength, thanks in large part to AL East-leading Gerrit Cole (5.8 zWAR). Behind him, ZiPS expects solid contributions from Jordan Montgomery (2.9 zWAR), Jameson Taillon (2.1 zWAR), and Luis Severino (2.0 zWAR). Nestor Cortes Jr. (0.8 zWAR) and Domingo Germán (0.6 zWAR) round out the back end. However, at 14.2 zWAR, the unit sits runner-up in the division.
After years of being let down by their pitching, the Blue Jays have finally constructed a deep staff, to the point of leading AL East projections at 16 zWAR despite losing 2021 AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to Seattle in free agency. They made two statement additions, trading for José Berríos (3.8 zWAR) at the deadline and later signing free agent Kevin Gausman (4.3 zWAR), who spearhead a four-headed monster that also features Hyun Jin Ryu (3.6 zWAR) and Alek Manoah (3.2 zWAR).
The Red Sox (12.2 zWAR) — led by Nathan Eovaldi (3.8 zWAR) and Chris Sale (3.6 zWAR) — and the Rays (12 zWAR) are neck-and-neck for third and fourth place. That leaves the poor Orioles in last with 5.3 zWAR. Only John Means is projected to accrue more than one win, so it’s no wonder they’re pushing the left field fence back so far.
The bullpen is yet again where the Yankees are expected to shine on the pitching front. They were one of the best relief corps in baseball in 2021 thanks to proven contributors (Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green), breakout stars (Jonathan Loáisiga), and shrewd in-season additions (Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes). They return a mostly unchanged group, so it’s no surprise the unit is expected to lead all AL East bullpens at 6.6 zWAR.
Tampa Bay unsurprisingly places second with 5.3 zWAR, given their knack for extracting value out of unknown guys year after year. Boston and Toronto are in a tie with 4.6 zWAR while Baltimore lags far behind at 2.7 zWAR.
Despite Szymborski’s admonishments against doing so, if we add up the zWAR for the projected 26-man rosters of each AL East club, the Yankees actually look to be in decent shape for the upcoming season. Their 44.6 cumulative zWAR leads the AL East, narrowly ahead of Toronto (44.4 zWAR) and Tampa Bay (43.1 zWAR), with Boston (35 zWAR) and Baltimore (22.5 zWAR) bringing up the rear.
In fact, it’s an eerily similar story to the one we saw unfold in 2021, when a disappointing offensive unit was propped up by a sturdy starting rotation and a lights-out bullpen. That brings us back to the point Jake made last week, that the Yankees may just view their roster as “good enough” heading into 2022. It is here that I find myself agreeing with Jake’s final verdict: “good enough” is simply not good enough for Yankees.