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Do the Yankees hitters have the most upside in the AL East?

How does the Yankees lineup stack up in terms of upside?

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The expectations for this edition of the Yankees is about the same as it has been for the past few years: middling. There is, however, a bit more hope in the air as the Yankees progress through spring training. From the sight of Gleyber Torres going deep to Greg Bird’s triumphant return to Aaron Judge flashing his awe-inspiring power, the Yankees’ youth has infused some new energy into the typically bland spring proceedings.

There’s a decent chance the Yankees will be fairly average yet again in 2017, missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. There’s also a chance that things come together quicker than expected and the team contends ahead of schedule. The influx of talented youngsters has given the Yankees reason for optimism.

It seems logical that the Yankees, as they shift towards younger, more exciting and more volatile players, would have increased upside. Now, what does that upside look like, and how does it stack up with the upside of their rivals?

To answer that question, I looked to Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections. Specifically, I looked at the 70th percentile projection for each starting player in the AL East, and compared it to their median projection. I then totaled each team’s WARP projections and calculated the increase in WARP per 600 plate appearances from their median to 70th percentile forecasts.

This is where things get tricky. Do we measure upside in terms of raw WARP per 600, or in terms of the discrepancy between a team’s upside and its median? Spoiler: the Yankees don’t rate as well in terms of raw WARP, but in terms of the difference between their 70th percentile and their mean, they look to have plenty of upside.

In the end, I ranked the teams by difference between their median projection WARP/600 and their 70th percentile WARP/600. That captures the difference between what the team is expected to do, and what the team would look like if everything went right. Here are the results:

5. Tampa Bay Rays

Rays 70th Percentile

Rays 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Rays 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Luke Maile 0.244 1.4 0.6
Brad Miller 0.28 2.9 2
Nick Franklin 0.264 1.5 0.8
Evan Longoria 0.279 4.1 2.8
Matt Duffy 0.275 3.6 2.2
Steven Souza 0.288 2.3 1
Colby Rasmus 0.264 1.6 0.7
Kevin Kiermaier 0.278 6.4 4.9
Corey Dickerson 0.289 2.7 1.8
Total 26.5 16.8
Total WARP/600 3.12 2.22

The Rays see a .9 WARP jump per 600 plate appearances from their median to 70th percentile outcome. The left side of the Tampa infield seems to have some upside, as PECOTA sees a potential All Star-caliber combo in Matt Duffy and Evan Longoria.

Less exciting are nondescript veterans like Luke Maile, Brad Miller, and Corey Dickerson. As a whole, PECOTA is fairly optimistic when it comes to the Rays, forecasting them to bounce back from a dreadful 68-win season to win 84 games and contend for a Wild Card spot, but it doesn’t look like upside for an elite team is there.

4. Boston Red Sox

Red Sox 70th Percentile

Red Sox 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Red Sox 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Sandy Leon 0.249 0.9 0.1
Mitch Moreland 0.267 0.6 0
Dustin Pedroia 0.279 4.2 3
Pablo Sandoval 0.271 1.4 0.8
Xander Bogaerts 0.278 3.2 1.7
Andrew Benintendi 0.287 5.5 4
Jackie Bradley Jr 0.271 3 1.7
Mookie Betts 0.308 6.2 4.5
Hanley Ramirez 0.291 2.8 1.9
Total 27.8 17.7
Total WARP/600 3.16 2.26

The Red Sox see a jump similar to the Rays, but their players are just better. If things break right for Boston, it looks like they’ll have the league’s best outfield that doesn’t include Mike Trout, with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and rookie Andrew Benintendi leading the way.

Boston’s upside and overall team is just weighed down a bit by infield weaknesses. Sandy Leon is projected to regress, and corner infielders Pablo Sandoval and Mitch Moreland appear to have both low ceilings and low floors. The Red Sox are good, but they do have some glaring holes on paper.

3. Baltimore Orioles

Orioles 70th percentile

Orioles 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Orioles 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Welington Castillo 0.268 0.5 -0.2
Chris Davis 0.296 2.9 1.9
Jonathan Schoop 0.262 2.2 1.2
Manny Machado 0.291 5.8 4.4
JJ Hardy 0.245 1.1 0.2
Hyun-Soo Kim 0.293 1.7 0.7
Adam Jones 0.278 3.7 2.2
Seth Smith 0.278 2.2 1.1
Mark Trumbo 0.28 2.2 1.4
Total 22.3 12.9
Total WARP/600 2.58 1.58

By projected WARP, the Orioles hitters are clearly the worst in the AL East. Even in their 70th percentile outcomes, the only Orioles regulars that project as clearly above average are Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Adam Jones.

However, since their baseline is so relatively low their upside looks that much rosier by comparison. A 2.48 WARP/600 projection isn’t much as far as 70th percentile outcomes go, but it does represent a pretty large jump from the Orioles’ median forecast. Still, if 2.48 wins per 600 plate appearances is all the Orioles can muster if things break right, they won’t be long for playoff contention.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays 70th Percentile

Blue Jays 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Blue Jays 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Russell Martin 0.275 4.9 3.6
Justin Smoak 0.271 0.6 0
Devon Travis 0.277 3.6 2.3
Josh Donaldson 0.31 6.3 4.7
Troy Tulowitzki 0.289 4.2 3
Melvin Upton 0.248 0.9 0.1
Kevin Pillar 0.262 2.6 1.3
Jose Bautista 0.308 4.1 2.9
Kendrys Morales 0.28 2.1 1.4
Total 29.3 19.3
Total WARP/600 3.49 2.48

Since these rankings aren’t based on which team has the highest WARP projections in their 70th percentile outcomes, the Blue Jays don’t appear at the top of the list. Still, given that the Blue Jays 3.48 WARP/600 figure is easily tops in the division, I won’t quibble if you decide that the Blue Jays hitters are AL East’s highest upside unit.

In Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and Josh Donaldson, the Blue Jays have a trio of veterans that, if they can stay healthy and fight off any age-related regression, would rank among the best trios in baseball. On the strength of excellent defensive ratings, players like Russell Martin and Kevin Pillar could prove to be big-time contributors. They might not be at the top of this particular list, but it’s clear Toronto’s position players have some real upside.

1. New York Yankees

Yankees 70th Percentile

Yankees 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Yankees 70th tAV 70th WARP Mean WARP
Gary Sanchez 0.291 4.5 3.2
Greg Bird 0.285 1.9 0.9
Starlin Castro 0.263 2.4 1.5
Chase Headley 0.27 2.8 1.8
Didi Gregorius 0.26 2.8 1.4
Brett Gardner 0.263 3.2 1.9
Jacoby Ellsbury 0.258 1.9 0.9
Aaron Judge 0.277 2.8 1.7
Matt Holliday 0.291 2.9 1.9
Total 25.2 15.2
Total WARP/600 2.95 1.88

And we come to the Baby Bomber-led Yankees. Their raw 70th percentile WARP projections aren’t the highest in the division, but the difference between the Yankees’ median and their upside is the greatest in the AL East.

So the Yankees would stand to benefit the most if everything breaks right, and much of that stems from their younger, unproven players. PECOTA is unsure if Bird will be a big league-caliber player right away, or a liability. It’s unsure if Judge is a below-average contributor or a solid right fielder. And of course, the range of outcomes for Gary Sanchez is pretty wide.

The main takeaway from this exercise appears to be that while the median outcome for the Yankees hitters is mediocrity, there is real upside for them if things go right. Another takeaway is that most teams have pretty similarly sized discrepancies between their means and their upsides. Still, it does seem like the Yankees’ youth provides them with more upside than usual. In just a couple weeks, we will start to see if that upside will come to fruition.