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Taking a look at the 2016 Yankees ZiPS projections

It's that time of year for projections, and the Yankees look to have a very well balanced roster.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

A little less than a year ago, I took a look at the 2015 ZiPS projections for the Yankees, and they weren't that pretty. They were projected to have only one above-average starter, and first base, right field, second base, and designated hitted looked to be huge problems. Luckily things worked out much better, as breakout years from Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Greg Bird, and Luis Severino helped catapult them to relative success.

My interest in cracking open the projections has waned considerably over the years, and that's because, as my article from last year states, while these projections on the aggregate do a competent job at projecting overall talent level, individual teams and players often fall by the wayside. Prospects are suddenly "must see" because the projections told us they'd be good, and we seem to get a false sense of security in what we think we know about our own teams. Nonetheless, these do give us a pretty accurate view of the talent level of veterans, and while there will be huge misses (as there were last year), it still gives more information than using our mind's eye. And without further ado, the depth chart (and the full write-up is here):


The first thing that's obvious is that there is plenty of balance in this roster. Only CC Sabathia is not projected as a  (roughly) two-win pitcher, and the only position player not projected to be worth two wins is Carlos Beltran. I'll break down the meat of the projections, though, starting with position players.

The best position player by projected WAR is Brian McCann, at 3.1. There are also six other players projected at 2.0 WAR or greater: Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Greg Bird. There are obvious caveats here: Bird will not amass 518 plate appearances, unless something horrible happens to Mark Teixeira. Also, Ellsbury took a nearly two-win nosedive in talent level over the past year because of his horrid 2015, and he's projected to hit 97 OPS+. I'm not sure I believe that considering he is supposedly healthy, and a healthy Ellsbury is likely a three win player or better, but I can understand the projection system taking that into heavy consideration. Only one player is projected to hit better than 120 OPS+ (Greg Bird)--which I'm not sure I buy--but there are eight players on the roster who should be above average, which is not bad at all.

What I do find interesting is what ZiPS thinks of Yankees prospects, and largely I think they're very optimistic. Rob Refsnyder, for example, is projected to be worth 1.9 WAR over 539 plate appearances, which I do not believe. If we believe that the Yankees have their own system of determining value, then there is no way on Earth that Rob Refsnyder and Starlin Castro could be separated by 0.3 wins, because then they would not have traded for Castro in the first place! This is probably because ZiPS thinks he's only one run below average on defense, which once again we'd have to take with a baseball-field-sized grain of salt.

Gary Sanchez is projected to be worth 1.9 WAR--which is more believable (other than the plate appearances) considering his recent success in the upper minors--and Aaron Judge is projected to be worth 1.5 WAR. Judge has had serious problems with breaking pitches, and strikeouts in general, in Triple-A, so I'm not exactly penciling him in for that amount. But if we believe the projection for Carlos Beltran and we don't think Judge is that good, there might be serious problems in right field. Only another season in Triple-A will help with that determination.

In terms of pitchers, there are really no surprises. Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, and Michael Pineda are projected to be worth at least 2.0 WAR, and Andrew Miller gets the very nice Billy Wagner comp at 1.3 projected WAR. After that, I would argue that the projections are pretty unreliable. We expect nothing from CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi still has quite a bit of potential to tap into coupled with injury concerns, and the rest is rounded out by depth where the statistics are limited, and even the scouting reports are sparse.

Overall, this isn't a bad team. This team was projected to win about 81 games last year given even those sub-par projections, and they over-performed to win 87. This year the projections are certainly a bit better, but we obviously can't expect the same over-performances. I'm not a huge fan of analysis by adding the WAR, but I think these projections at least give us another perspective on value, one that we'll have to reconcile with our own. I don't expect anyone to take these as gospel, but I think dismissing them altogether would be foolish as well. It's clear, by this measure at least, that this is a team without obvious holes but with no stars either. It'll be interesting to see if any improvements are made by spring training.