Yesterday, Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA projections for the 2016 MLB season and they could have been kinder to the Yankees. According to them, New York will finish 85-77, on their way to a fourth-place finish in the American League East. Of course, these are only projections and nothing is set in stone (the World Series-winning Kansas City Royals are only projected to win 76 games) so take these numbers with a hearty grain of salt. That being said, there were at least a few interesting things PECOTA projected for the Yankees this season.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury will rebound in 2016
After a disappointing 2015 campaign, PECOTA says Ellsbury will rebound for a solid 2016 season. After putting up 0.6 WARP last year, the Yankee center fielder is said to be ready for a 2.6-WARP season. His stat line will improve across the board, he'll see a rise in home runs, from seven last year to 15 in 2016, and he'll steal 35 bases, bringing him closer to his 2014 total. Of course, a large part of this improvement can probably be attributed to staying healthy for once. PECOTA is saying that Ellsbury will have 645 plate appearances at the age of 32, which is a number he hasn't reached since 2011. This seems extremely optimistic, and maybe a little unlikely, but if he avoids a debilitating injury, he should be just fine.
2. Brett Gardner will continue to decline
Brett Gardner is going to be 32 this year, entering his ninth (!) season with the New York Yankees, and PECOTA has him declining for the third year in a row. He's gone down from 3.1 WARP in 2014 to 2.2 WARP in 2015, and now he's projected to have a 1.7 WARP in 2016. Since BP's Fielding Runs Above Average statistic hasn't given him a positive value since 2011, his league-average 16.2-VORP bat is the only thing he has left here. According to PECOTA, his home runs will drop and his stolen base total, already far too low for the top of the order, will remain the same. It doesn't look good for Gardner.
3. Didi Gregorius won't get better
Obviously it's hard for a projection system to take the unlikely into account, which is probably why PECOTA isn't very hopeful about Didi Gregorius in 2016. He had a career-year last season, batting .265/.318/.370 and achieving career-highs in every offensive category. Many believe that this could only be the beginning for Didi, but Baseball Prospectus projects him to fall back the other way. After a 2.2-WARP season, he's been projected at 1.7 WARP for the new season. They have him at 554 plate appearances, which is around 30 less than he had last year, because he will seemingly have to give a small amount of playing time to Pete Kozma and Starlin Castro.
4. Alex Rodriguez won't have another magical season
After an amazing 2015 season where Rodriguez hit 33 home runs and was a 2.5-WARP player in his age-39 season, PECOTA is, unsurprisingly, not expecting it to happen again. He's projected to have a 1.2-WARP season, and since he's just a DH now, that number is solely based on a drop in offensive production. BP says he will fall from a 23.5-VORP bat to a measly 10.7 for the year. He will also fall from 33 to 22 home runs, making for a far less productive, and probably less exciting, A-Rod in his age-40 season.
5. Chase Headley's bat will come back to life
Chase Headley was miserable to watch in 2015, and though PECOTA doesn't think he will be extremely valuable in 2016, his bat will at least be something to look out for. After a minuscule 9.6 VORP last year, he's projected to be much more productive at 15.6 WARP. This means a .258/.340/.405 batting line that, though still not great, could at least be useful at times. He's only expected to be worth 1.7 WARP, after a disappointing 1.4 WARP season, which can likely be attributed to his weak defensive numbers.
Regardless of what these projections state, they won't all be accurate. Ellsbury, Gardner, and A-Rod have a high probability of injury, Didi Gregorius is expected to improve, and Chase Headley's second season could go either way. These numbers give us a baseline on what to expect, so we can judge accordingly when the season plays out. We've seen the hitters, but tomorrow we'll look at the pitching to see how they stack up.