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Let’s take a hard look at the Yankees PECOTA projections

The projections feature many average hitters with plenty of upside.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Every player, no matter their level of skill, has a wide spectrum of possible performance, with a floor, a ceiling, and everything in between. Projection systems, like Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA in this case, use aging curves, previous performance, and countless other factors to try and quantify this set of potential outcomes. I’m going to dive into PECOTA’s projections for the Yankees in the (hopefully) upcoming 2022 season. Because of the struggles a handful of players on the team have had, their projections are unsure where they will ultimately end up.

Rather than diving deep into every player, I’ll discuss the most notable or eye-catching projections. There are a few players with distinct skillsets whose potential outcomes don’t range all that much between their 20th and 99th percentile outcomes. Those include Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, and a few others. Why is that? For superstars like Judge and Cole, you know what you’re getting. It may seem crazy that their player comparisons mention Roberto Clemente and Roger Clemens, but it’s because they’ve proven who they are year in, year out.

For pitchers like Severino and Montgomery, the reasons are slightly different. Severino’s volume will be capped no matter what as he ramps back up. That limits the scope of possibilities. For Montgomery, his combination of stuff and pitchability hasn’t changed that much through the years, making the mathematical calculations of his projections more clear cut. Montgomery is probably just going to be pretty good.

Now, onto the more volatile players. The 50th percentiles outcomes are about what you should expect from a player in the upcoming season. For guys like Joey Gallo and Gary Sánchez, those outcomes are around league average production fueled by legit power. Gallo’s projections are slightly better than Sánchez’s because of his incredible plate discipline. However, the both of them have the type of upside that can drastically swing the outcome of the Yankees season. Without dreaming too much, we can see a world where they both rebound back to their 80th percentile outcomes. For Gallo, that is a 130 DRC+, and for Gary, it’s 114.

It’s not all that crazy, nor is it asking too much. We’ve seen this from these players. What may be a little crazier is betting on their 99th percentile outcomes. If everything lines up in Gallo’s favor in his contract year, he could very well take an MVP-type form! With a 159 DRC+ projection and guaranteed great defense, there’s a world where we see a seven-win version of Gallo. This speaks to his level of talent.

Believe it or not, the same goes for Gary. He is a flawed defensive player, so that pulls his floor down a bit, but in a perfect world, he returns to his rookie year level of offense and swats nearly 40 homers for a 142 DRC+. I know I’m dreaming, but there’s a reason that PECOTA sees a sliver of this reality. It’s a perfect metaphor of the Yankees lineup; mountains of upside with just as much league-average risk.

Then there are Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu. Unfortunately, PECOTA is just as skeptical about these two hitters as they are Gallo and Gary. Their 50th percentile outcomes are basically their production from last year, and that’s league average hitters. What we saw from these players in 2019 is highly unlikely to happen again, barring extreme bounce backs. Their 80th percentiles outcomes are nearly identical at 118 DRC+ and 119 DRC+, respectively. Their 99th percentile outcomes are much closer to those ceilings that we saw in them in earlier seasons.

However, it does beg the question, are the chances that these players reach their 99th percentile outcomes the same across the board? The math would say probably yes, but if I was betting, I’d guess that Gallo and Torres have better chances than Gary and DJ. In Gleyber’s case, it’s because I believe that youth is in his favor. For Gallo, it’s a hunch that he will make the mechanical adjustments that lift him closer to the 130 DRC+ hitter that we’ve seen in stretches.

When it comes to the pitching, there are a few hurlers that stand out to me. Stuff and performance with the Yankees have shown me that Clay Holmes will can be a relief ace. Obviously, he doesn’t have a deep body of work, but it’s very hard to ignore the swings and takes from hitters when Holmes was on the mound for the Yankees. If you ask me, he will be better than the 3.95 ERA that PECOTA projects him for.

One of the biggest shocks on this list, pitcher or hitter, was Stephen Ridings’ projection. His explosive fastball truly is no joke. PECOTA’s 50th percentile projection calls for 50 innings and a 3.29 ERA. He may really be a significant contributor right away in 2022. His size and explosive fastball are quite convincing.

Similar to last year, the Yankees’ pitching outlook looks promising. When projections systems were released in 2021, the public seemed surprised the Yankees were near the top of the league. This year, we shouldn’t be as surprised. The bullpen is strong and the rotation is anchored by one of the best pitchers of this generation, even if the depth is imperfect. On the other hand, the offense has several key hitters with a wide range of potential outcomes. While I think it’s valid to be concerned that the most likely outcome of the lineup is two superstars and a bunch of league average hitters, you should also consider there probably is no other lineup in the entire league which could absolutely explode the way the Yankees’ can. It’s the path Brian Cashman has decided on. Let’s hope that risk pays off with at least a few of these hitters.