The Super Bowl is over, and even though it’s a bit trite to say “baseball season is here,” because it isn’t, it’s at least around the corner. Just like intermittent warm days in the winter exhale a gasp of spring, the Baseball Prospectus Annual is a gasp of baseball, if you can really call 575 pages a mere gasp. I’ve been purchasing the book for three years now, and I can definitively say that it’s a must-read for any baseball fan before the season. Each team has an essay and PECOTA projections for the year, as well as other statistical articles.
This year the Yankees essay was written by none other than our good friend Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal, and he penned an optimistic brief on the Yankees’ hopes for this year and beyond. I’ll review the greatest hits of the essay, the player comments from Kenny Ducey and the BP Staff, and some oddities from the other essays. If you want the full picture, I recommend purchasing the book.
1. This is a likable team, but not for long.
Diamond mentions in his essay that with the rise of Gary Sanchez this past summer, the Yankees became a younger, more dynamic, and more likable team. This is in stark comparison to the past iterations, when the team was a juggernaut loaded with the best free agents available, more so a reminder of their financial dominance than anything else. Now this looks like a team built from the ground up, and even some die-hard Yankees haters can appreciate that.
2. After years of emphasis on the farm, it’s finally a reality.
Throughout the past few years, there has been an undercurrent in Yankees baseball that the organization intended to become more cost efficient. Hal Steinbrenner made a pledge that they would get under the luxury tax, not just because he wanted to, but because he believed that the Yankees could be successful under the limit. Take that for what it’s worth, but that’s the reality. Now with an emphasis on the farm system, we’re finally seeing results on paper. The Yankees are ranked as the second-best farm system in baseball, and there are nine Yankees in the BP Top 101 prospects.
3. Joe Girardi is the best bullpen manager in baseball.
A really fascinating piece of the book was a section about a stat created by Rian Watt and Rob Arthur called wRM+. It is scaled like wRC+, and it measures optimal bullpen performance based on how good a reliever was and if they were used in the highest leverage situations possible. By this measure, Girardi was the best bullpen manager in baseball. Period. I can already hear people complaining about this one, but it really can’t be denied: his mark of 105.3 is the best in the game, and he has outperformed his Pythagorean record year in and year out.
4. PECOTA is unsure of how good Greg Bird is...
Missing an entire year does not make PECOTA look at you in a forgiving manner, and even Greg Bird was no exception. He is projected to be worth a mere 1.1 WARP in 496 plate appearances this year, which would be wholly inadequate. Call me crazy, but I’m taking the over.
5. ...but it thinks Aaron Judge will be league average.
Aaron Judge, on the other hand, checks all the PECOTA boxes for good major league performance. He has immense power, he has performed at high levels and has reached the big leagues, and his defensive numbers are about average. If he actually picks up 4.1 WARP in the next two years, I would be completely satisfied. If he further corrects his contact issues, expect that number to spike.
6. Gary Sanchez is here to stay.
#IAmGary was an absolute phenomenon in 2016, and Sanchez was one of the most exciting Yankees story lines of the past five years. He put up an incredible 2.7 WARP and .332 TAv in just 229 plate appearances. PECOTA obviously regresses to the mean, so he’s likely to put up a similar WARP over a full season, but that’s not bad at all: with excellent major league numbers, framing and blocking numbers that put him at a little better than average, and a gun for an arm, I think Sanchez sticks around for years to come.
7. Once again, Michael Pineda is predicted to regress positively. Do we buy that?
Ah yes, Big Mike. He’s one of the most frustrating and confusing pitchers in all of baseball, and his PECOTA projections don’t help that at all. With a projection of 3.0 WARP, 82 cFIP, and 3.56 ERA, PECOTA firmly believes that this is the year that his results finally fall in line with his peripherals. Projections systems are cool and everything, but the eye test issues an official veto. I don’t buy it, and I’m taking the under.
8. Masahiro Tanaka’s first comp is Justin Verlander.
I find the player comps to be nothing more than a toy, but sometimes it really pops off the page. Masahiro Tanaka is projected for a 2.6 WARP year, and his comps are Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, and David Price. Yankees: do the thing and make sure he stays a Yankee. Thanks.
9. Unsurprisingly, this is a mediocre team...
All told, this is an average ball club. There is not a single star, and there are just so many what-if’s that it’s impossible to pen this team in for any more than 84 wins unless everything goes right.
10. ...but that can change in an instant.
And that could happen. These are the Yankees, remember, and they’ve had everything go right quite a few times over the last century. If Sanchez repeats, Tanaka has another Cy Young year, Pineda puts it together, and Cashman pulls the trigger on a serious trade, then the contention window instantly flies open. For a team stuck in a holding pattern for a few years, that could end very soon.