The Yankees 2024 ZiPS projections were released last week and as I do each year, I’ll present to you the five key takeaways from the projections. However, before doing so, I want to reflect on something said last year:
“It’s really hard to be a lousy offense with Aaron Judge, and it’s really hard to be a great one without him.”
Well, was this accurate! Going into the 2024 season, this won’t be as much of a concern! The team has better built the lineup around the case of a Judge-less floor. With that out of the way, let’s get into this year’s projections. In general, they look solid, but this isn’t the Yankees team from 2018-2022 that has a high floor. However, the ceiling is respectably high and that’s largely due to these two:
The League Leaders
We don’t need data to tell us that Juan Soto and Aaron Judge are two of the best hitters in baseball. But what data does do is tell us how much certainty there is in these two hitters continuing their elite performances as one ages and as another changes their home park. Judge and Soto’s 160 and 162 median OPS+ projections, respectively, estimate them to be two of the five best hitters in the game. That’s exciting, but I think it’s important to frame each of their projections with the right context.
For Judge, that would be a step down from his past two seasons. We’ve already seen him significantly exceed this mark for his last 1000 plate appearances, so there is a ton of confidence that he can repeat it, especially when you consider his historically fantastic batted ball profile. For Soto, the story is a bit different. His career high wRC+ is 164, excluding the shortened 2020 season. Other than that, he’s never been above 155. His projection bets on the fact that his best years are ahead of him. He is only 25, so it’s a fair bet.
Giancarlo Stanton’s Ceiling
The Yankees have improved their offense this offseason, but their odds of a championship — and success in general — still swing depending on Giancarlo Stanton’s performance. If he plays well, the shape and look of the offense is completely changed. His 110 OPS+ projection is fine, but the team needs him to reach his 80th-percentile outcome of a 130 OPS+. His position at DH locks up the ability of the team to play their best outfield defense at all times. If he doesn’t hit, then they’re not getting the most out of their roster. If he does, then you throw up your hands and say thank goodness, because you probably have the best lineup in Major League Baseball.
Anthony Volpe’s Sophomore Year
Like Stanton, Volpe is a player with a wide distribution of outcomes and a lot of uncertainty. He is clearly a talented player, but it’s tough to know exactly what his best skills are. His 50th-percentile outcome of a 94 OPS+ doesn’t give much hope at all. A lot needs to go well for him, and in the complete opposite direction as last year. The bright side is that the upside is still there. A 116 OPS+ for an 80th-percentile outcome recognizes that there is still promise in the bat despite the struggles. For him to get to it, though, he’ll need a significant approach improvement. However, he is still young, his batted ball quality when he did make contact was very good, and he’s shown the ability to make improvements in the past.
Chase Hampton and Will Warren
So you mean to tell me that the Yankees have two pitchers in the minors who can be league average starters right now? This rotation is in a good state, regardless of if Carlos Rodón regains his top of the rotation form or not. Each and every year, the team comes up with one or two pitchers that are unexpected contributors, and this year those pitchers might be better than they ever have. Both Hampton and Warren haven’t thrown a pitch in MLB and have similar projections to Clarke Schmidt. The floor is reinforced with the likes of these kids. It’s up to big names to bring the ceiling up.
Projections are a good guide to look at your team on a macro level. More often than not, they won’t be far off from what happens in reality. The Yankees are better than last year because they’ve improved the offensive floor, but the story is similar — if they don’t get a few bounce backs, then they’re likely just a mid-80s win team. But who's to say some things won’t go right this time around?