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Stock Up, Stock Down: Updated ZiPS Yankees projections

ZiPS has adjusted its expectations for the Yankees early in the 2022 season.

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MLB: Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

I could get used to this. After a bit of a bland start to the 2022 season, the Yankees went supernova and reeled off 11 consecutive wins before finally losing a one-run game in Toronto on Wednesday night. Unsurprisingly, when a team is winning so frequently, some individual Yankees are off to hot starts. Admittedly, less so for some others.

Nevertheless, their starts are reflected in ZiPS’ updated projections, so I’ve decided to look at which Yankees have seen their stock fluctuate the most even in the early going. As an aside, I did not forget about Aaron Judge, whose forecast, obviously, is trending upward. But there is more to come on him early next week, so stay tuned for a fun article on the slugger and just how high we might be able to dream on his performance. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at ZiPS’ updated expectations for a few Yankees.

Stock up: Nestor Cortes

Pre-season projections: 4-3, 97.1 IP, 4.44 ERA, 1.1 fWAR

Season to date: 1-1, 24.2 IP, 1.82 ERA, 0.7 fWAR

Updated projections: 4-4, 112 IP, 3.69 ERA, 2.1 fWAR

It is perhaps understandable that ZiPS’ initial forecast for Nasty Nestor was not exactly shooting the moon. Even after his breakout 2021 season, Cortes came into 2022 with a career 4.66 ERA over 172 innings. But after Cortes accumulated two-thirds of ZiPS’ initial WAR forecast in the first month of the season, their expectations almost had to increase considerably.

Interestingly, ZiPS still does not see a substantial increase in Cortes’ innings pitched, only revising that total upward by 14.2. But it seems ZiPS has reconsidered the quality of the innings they expect him to toss, nearly doubling their initial projection of 1.1 fWAR to 2.1.

Perhaps my favorite part of this projection is that ZiPS is probably still selling Cortes short, at least in terms of how many innings he is likely to throw in 2022. He’s currently an invaluable piece in the Yankees’ rotation. And with a 2.68 ERA covering 117.2 innings pitched since the beginning of 2021 and a lot of red ink on his Baseball Savant profile this season (elite xwOBA, xERA, xBA, xSLG, and K%), there’s no reason to think Cortes is in danger of falling off a cliff.

Stock Down: Joey Gallo

Pre-season projections: 134 G, 38 HR, 91 RBI, .859 OPS, 4.0 fWAR

Season to date: 22 G, 3 HR, 4 RBI, .632 OPS, 0.0 fWAR

Updated projections: 136 G, 34 HR, 75 RBI, .806 OPS, 2.8 fWAR

In a mirror of Cortes’ hot start, we have Joey Gallo’s season-long struggles, which likewise have forced a ZiPS adjustment. What jumped out to me initially though was that, while their offensive forecast for Gallo trends downward, it doesn’t seem to warrant a 30% drop in fWAR (from 4.0 to 2.8 with only one-sixth of the season played).

Granted, there are drops across the board in Gallo’s offensive numbers. But a quick look at Gallo’s defensive forecast might explain the pessimistic ZiPS forecast for the rest of the season. Originally, ZiPS foresaw Gallo as a middling left fielder for the 2022 season with -0.4 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average, with a built-in positional adjustment).

But after the opening month, that metric now sits at -3.7. ZiPS’ pessimism about Gallo’s defense represents a loss of about one-third of a win over the course of the season. Baseball Savant backs up ZiPS’ assessment, with Gallo in the 8th percentile of their Outfielder Jump and Outs Above Average metrics. So while Gallo’s bat hasn’t exactly been torrid, some of ZiPS’ pessimism is fielding related.

There is reason to hope, based on recent games, that Gallo’s bat is coming around. Check this piece by Sam Chapman from yesterday if you’d like a dose of Gallo optimism. And if his bat indeed recovers, I’m sure we can all handle it if Gallo isn’t the greatest left fielder of all time.

Stock up (but by less than you’d expect): Anthony Rizzo

Pre-season projections: 132 G, 23 HR, 75 RBI, .823 OPS, 2.8 fWAR

Season to date: 25 G, 9 HR, 21 RBI, .937 OPS, 0.9 fWAR

Updated projections: 139 G, 31 HR, 90 RBI, .856 OPS, 3.1 fWAR

I thought that if anyone on the Yankees offense would have seen their projections skyrocket, it would be Rizzo, who has absolutely mashed baseballs early in the season.

And indeed, ZiPS has moved Rizzo’s 2022 ceiling upward across the board offensively, including a nearly double-digit increase in homeruns and a more than 30-point jump in OPS.

Despite all that, and the 0.9 fWAR Rizzo has already accumulated, the uptick in his overall value is noticeably less than I expected. What explains it, you might ask? If you guessed defense, you would be correct. ZiPS is in “sell” mode on Rizzo’s glove, revising its initial negative forecast of -8.5 Def down even further, to -11.4. Like Gallo, ZiPS is not alone in its assessment of Rizzo’s glove early in the season. Rizzo’s Outs Above Average, similar to his teammate, sits in the 8th percentile.

As Lindsey Adler identified yesterday in The Athletic though, Rizzo finished in the top three in OAA among first basemen last season, so it is entirely possible that ZiPS is too pessimistic on where Rizzo’s glove will end up after the Yankees have played 162 games. And if he continues to swing a big stick while tightening up his defense, the next time ZiPS updates his projections, they should look even better.

It is still early in the Yankees’ season, with the club sitting at 18-7 after Friday’s game was postponed due to rain. But despite having a lot of baseball left to play, some of the Bronx Bombers have substantially changed expectations surrounding their seasons with their performance so far.