The Yankees will not field a Bryce Harper -esque superstar in 2016, but they are still projected to receive average or above-average contributions from the majority of the players in the Opening Day starting lineup. It is unlikely that any Yankee will lead the team in the modern three big offensive categories (average, HR, WAR). However, the team can expect certain players to shine in each of the individual aforementioned categories. Using each Yankee's past performance and projections for 2016, here are my predictions for who will lead the team in offense this year.
Steamer prediction: Starlin Castro
My prediction: Jacoby Ellsbury
Both Castro and Ellsbury have hit for high average in the past, with career highs of .307 (2011) and .321 (2011), respectively. Both players are surrounded by large amounts of uncertainty this year; Castro's career has been a roller coaster of unpredictable performance, and Ellsbury's performance has sharply declined since signing with the Yankees.
Both of these players have potential, but Castro's offensive ability seems to turn on and off without rhyme or reason. On the other hand, Ellsbury was a four-WAR player just two seasons ago, and he was hitting .324 last season before a knee injury sidelined him and subsequently slowed him down in the second half. Furthermore, he struck out at an anomalous 17.2% last year, and a regression to his career 13.6% rate would help increase his average in 2016.
Steamer prediction: Mark Teixeira
My prediction: Alex Rodriguez
Last year, as a team, the Yankees hit a whole lot of dingers (212). The team's biggest home run threats, Teixeira and Rodriguez, will remain in the heart of the lineup in 2016 as they try to repeat their 2015 dinger hitting ways.
Steamer projects Teixeira to hit 23 home runs to Rodriguez's 19 (McCann is projected to hit 22), but based on their performances last year (31 and 33 HR, respectively), it seems like an arbitrary choice. Teixeira is younger than Rodriguez and missed a good portion of last season after a fluke shin fracture, but Rodriguez is one of the greatest hitters of all time. He has shown time and time again that it is a fool's errand to write him off. Teixeira might even find another way to get injured, all but handing over the team's 2016 home run crown to Rodriguez.
Steamer prediction: Brian McCann
My prediction: Brian McCann
Last year, Didi Gregorius led the team in WAR with 3.1, followed by McCann with 2.9. However, Gregorius had never played to that level previously, and he is projected to regress somewhat in 2016 and accumulate 2.3 WAR. McCann, on the other hand, has posted at least 3.0 WAR five times in his career, and at 32 years old he should be able to repeat his performance from last season in 2016.
It is not surprising that McCann will likely lead the team in WAR. By playing catcher, McCann receives the largest defensive position adjustment in the calculation of WAR, which takes into account that catchers play the most difficult non-pitching position on the field. In this offensive category, Steamer and I are definitely in agreement.
The Yankees will likely succeed in 2016 if they receive superlative performances players in their respective skill sets. They do not expect any one player on the team to dominate in all facets of the offensive game, but rather the hope is that each player finds their niche and excels in that domain.
Who do you see leading the team in offensive categories in 2016? Why?