Yankee fans started looking forward to the 2020 season the moment Aroldis Chapman’s hanging slider left the bat of Jose Altuve in Game 6 of the ALCS. After a DJ LeMahieu two-run shot tied the game in the top of the ninth, blowing the game in the latter of the inning made the defeat even more crushing than the two years prior. Superstar Aaron Judge remembers telling the team after the loss, “Remember this feeling. Remember this silence, this emptiness, and just use it as fuel. Don’t use it to mope about it, linger about it. Use it as fuel going into this next season to take care of business.” That next season is finally here.
The countdown for Opening Day 2020 started as soon as Altuve touched home plate. Still, the eagerness hit a record high on a Tuesday night in December. It was reported that former Astros’ ace Gerrit Cole, coming off of one of the best seasons in recent memory, would be taking his talents to The Bronx on a record-breaking deal.
Gerrit Cole is in pinstripes, but what will the rest of the Bronx Bombers look like?
27-year-old Gary Sanchez will sit behind home plate for the Yankees for the upcoming year. Sanchez bounced back last year after an abysmal 2018 at the plate, hitting 34 home runs and boosting his wRC+ from 91 to 116. He also improved somewhat on his fielding, lowering his passed balls from 18 to 7 and his wild pitches from 45 to 30. However, it came at a significant cost to his framing, as he saw his FRM plummet from 2.6 to -6.8. The potential to be an all-around star catcher is there for Sanchez. He has unprecedented power from the position, but his lack of patience at the plate has held him back, recording just a 9.0 BB% last season. Still, when Sanchez is at his best, he’s a force to be reckoned with at the plate.
With the 30-man active roster, the Yankees will be entering the year with two backup catchers: seasoned minor leaguer Kyle Higashioka and MLB veteran Chris Iannetta. While Higashioka is a liability at the plate, he’s skilled behind it, putting up an FRM of 2.5 or 2.6 the past two years in limited playing time. Iannetta is coming off of two terrible years with the bat, but the Yankees hope he’ll be able to unlock some of himself from 2017 when he recorded a 120 wRC+. In all likelihood, Iannetta won’t be seeing much playing time, with only 60 games on the schedule and him sitting third in the depth chart.
Offensively, the Yankees infield is easily one of baseball’s best. From first to third, New York will be sending out Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Gio Urshela on Opening Day.
Voit, who was acquired in exchange for Giovanny Gallegos at the trade deadline in 2018, has shown fantastic plate discipline since arriving in New York. Last year, the 29-year-old recorded a BB% of 13.9%, finishing 13th in the majors among batters with 500 PAs. With his 6’3”, 225 lb frame, his power does leave a bit to be desired, and his career -19 DRS at first base raise questions as to his fielding ability, but he’s a key piece in the Yankee lineup.
While Voit is locked into the starting spot, he’s not without competition. Undrafted Princeton graduate Mike Ford arrived in New York last season and turned heads, hitting 12 HRs and recording a 134 wRC+ in 50 games. The burly lefty will start the year on the bench but see a good amount of playing time if last year was not a fluke.
At second, the Yankees will be turning out veteran DJ LeMahieu. The former Rockie signed with the Yankees on a 2-year, $24M deal late in the 2018-19 offseason, and turned out to be a bargain. In 145 games, the 32-year-old hit to a .327/.375/.518 slash, with a 136 wRC+ and 5.4 fWAR. His fWAR most likely would’ve been higher, had he spent more time in his natural position of second base, where he combined for 26 DRS in 2017 and ’18. While last season came as a surprise to many, as LeMahieu was coming off of two below-average seasons at the plate, nothing indicates it was a fluke. His xwOBA of .378 outperformed his wOBA of .375 last season, as he saw a career-high in average EV and barrel %. While expecting the same results as last year may be too much to ask, expectations remain high for DJ entering the shortened season.
Gio Urshela will handle the hot corner for the Yanks. Urshela came out of nowhere and produced last year, both in the field and at the plate. Urshela recorded a 132 wRC+ last year, almost doubling his previous career high of 67. In the field, Urshela flashed the leather, with his insane arm leading to many Top 10 worthy highlights. While some flashy plays may see the eye test fool the viewer a bit, Gio still had 2 Outs Above Average last year. Urshela is easily the biggest question mark on the Yankees offense. Will his bat revert to the Urshela of old? Can he improve in the field? If he can have the production he had last year, there’s potential for Gio to be a Yankee for a long time.
Over at short, Gleyber Torres will hope to build off of an excellent start to his career. The 23-year-old put up 122 wRC+ and 125 wRC+ in his first two seasons and sent almost 40 balls into the stands last year. Torres’s OBP has circled .340 to start his career, a substantial number, but easily his biggest flaw at the plate. Hitting shouldn’t be an issue for Gleyber, but his defense is alarming. He had -12 DRS and -5 OAA at second last year, and -1 DRS and -2 OAA at short in significantly less time. It’s rare for player’s defense to improve by moving to shortstop, so the Yankees are taking a considerable risk asking him to man the spot. Hopefully, Torres sees a vast improvement on the diamond, but the Yankees may need to have a plan B and search for a shortstop at the trade deadline or give the spot to Tyler Wade, the slick-fielding utility man, and do some shuffling if he doesn’t.
It was injuries galore for the 2019 Yankee outfield. Between Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge, the three men penciled in to start for the Bronx Bombers, the three combined to miss 307 games last year with various injuries. None of the three were supposed to be ready for Opening Day of this year, but the delay means none will miss the start of the year.
Giancarlo Stanton is expected to spend most of the season as the designated hitter for the Yanks. The Yankees acquired the 30-year-old in a blockbuster trade just after the 2017 season came to an end. His first season in New York was outstanding, as he recorded a 129 wRC+ and hit 38 home runs, but still left a lot to be desired coming off of a dominant year where his wRC+ was 29 points higher. Then, an injury-riddled 2019 kept him out of all but 18 regular-season games. Now, all eyes are on Stanton to live up to his giant deal. He has the skill to do it. If he can stay healthy, Stanton can be one of baseball’s best hitters.
Penciled in at center field is switch-hitter Aaron Hicks. Like Stanton, Hicks was riddled with injuries last year, seeing action in just 59 regular season games. Also, like Stanton, Hicks’s talent is through the roof. In a healthy 2018, Hicks recorded 5.0 fWAR and 129 wRC+, hitting to a .248/.366/.467 clip with a 15.5 BB%, which put him fifth in baseball. Hicks is a huge piece of the Yankee roster, oozing talent in every aspect of the game. If he can stay on the field, Hicks is a key piece to this amazing Yankee lineup.
Over in right stands the best player on the Yankees. At 6’ 7”, 282 lbs, not only is Aaron Judge the largest person in the game, but he’s also one of the best. While everyone knows about his MVP-deserving 2017, where he had a 174 wRC+ and an 8.3 fWAR, Judge’s last two seasons have been considered “off-years” for the giant right fielder. Despite 150 wRC+ and 5.1 fWAR and 141 wRC+ and 4.6 fWAR in the last two seasons, respectively, Judge’s disrespect as one of baseball’s best has been through the roof. Judge’s power is easily one of the best in the league, but his patience at the plate sets him apart. While people love to point out his strikeouts, he makes up for it by reaching base at an extraordinary rate and hitting balls harder than almost anyone in the game. But what may be the most amazing thing about Judge, is his ability to move so quickly despite his large stature. Judge has combined for an amazing 45 DRS and 19 OAA in the past three years over in right, and he’s only getting better. Judge is, without a doubt, one of the best players in the league, and, if he can stay healthy, he is an MVP-caliber talent.
The three big names in the Yankees outfield are amazing, but their depth is key. Last year, the Yankee depth lead them to over 100 wins despite a historic number of injuries. Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman, Miguel Andujar, and Clint Frazier are the depth on this year’s squad. Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankee, has been a constantly good fielder who found a spark at the plate last year, hitting a career-high in homers. With Stanton DHing, Gardner will most likely be the day one left fielder, but Mike Tauchman will give him a run for his money. Last year, Tauchman’s 9 OAA (a counting stat) ranked ninth in baseball, despite him playing just 87 games. Also, Tauchman found his stride at the plate, hitting at a .277/.361/.504 clip with 138 wRC+. It’s Gardner’s spot to lose, but if Gardy struggles to start the year, don’t be surprised if Tauchman grabs the left-field position and doesn’t let go.
Former top prospect Clint Frazier also sits in the outfielder’s room (is that a thing? I don’t know). Clint’s “ridiculous” bat speed has turned heads since he made his big league debut, but he’s never been able to find a good spot on the Yankees. His terrible plate discipline and abysmal glove have stood in the way of him getting an everyday role, and it won’t be surprising if there’s more of the same this year.
Miguel Andujar has the same problems as Clint. After a second-place finish in the 2018 Rookie of the Year voting, Andujar missed last year with injuries. Andujar’s bat is easily more polished than Frazier’s, as he recorded a 130 wRC+ in his rookie year, but his glove is historically bad, and his plate discipline is awful. His first year, Andujar has -21 DRS. Last year, he followed it up with -4 DRS, despite playing just 33.0 innings in the field. His rookie year, he also had a terrible 4.1 BB%. Both Frazier and Andujar are big league talents, but neither seem to have a spot for the future in New York. With the DH moving to both leagues, that opens up 15 more suitors for both the players, who could see themselves traded before August 31.
While the Yankees are going to be missing star Luis Severino this year as he underwent Tommy John surgery in March, they still have put together one of the best rotations in the league.
The Yankees ace is quite obvious – he goes by the name of Gerrit Cole. Last year in Houston, Cole had a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 2.48 xFIP, 2.62 SIERA, and put up 7.4 fWAR, ranking first in each of the categories besides ERA and FIP, where he placed third and second, respectively. With all that, Cole’s 34.0% K-BB% in 2019 is the highest ever recorded, dating back to 1916. Also, Cole earned a victory in 19 straight decisions, including the playoffs, with the streak ending in Game One of the World Series, and a strikeout total in the double digits in 11 consecutive starts, including his two ALDS masterpieces against the Rays. Dominant doesn’t even begin to describe Gerrit Cole in 2019, and now, that man is a New York Yankee.
After Cole, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are slotted as the 2-3 starters for the Bombers. Both are in their contract years and are looking to cash in with a big shortened season. Paxton had a solid first year in New York, putting up a 3.82 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 4.03 xFIP, 3.93 SIERA, and 20.7% K-BB%. While Severino would’ve given the Yanks a lot more depth in their rotation, when Paxton is on, he is dominant. After him, Masahiro Tanaka, who will miss his first start as he recovers from getting hit with a Stanton comeback in summer camp, is slotted to deal. Tanaka was solid last year, but alarmingly inconsistent. When he’s on his game, he can pitch with the best of them, but when he struggles, he unravels quickly and usually in the form of one runs. Tanaka may be the X-factor for this Yankees rotation. As the Game 3 guy, he’s the difference between a solid rotation and a great one.
Rounding out the starting five is JA Happ and, most likely, Jordan Montgomery. Happ struggled last season, posting a 4.91 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 4.78 xFIP, and 4.72 SIERA. The Severino injury forced the Yankees to give him a spot, but there’s a good chance Montgomery would have won the fifth spot if Sevy was healthy. Happ looks to bounce back to his 2018 self when he had a 3.64 SIERA. If not, there’s a very good chance he doesn’t see postseason baseball if the Yankees make it there. Meanwhile, Montgomery should win the fifth spot as he comes back from the Tommy John surgery that’s sidelined him the past two seasons. In his rookie year of 2017, Monty recorded a 3.88 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, and 4.34 SIERA. With a fastball faster than before, and a still-nasty curve, he looked dominant in the exhibition game against the Mets. Montgomery has a ton of potential, and could easily make his way into a possible postseason rotation for the Bombers.
It’s agreed throughout the game that the Yankees have a top-shelf bullpen. Despite Aroldis Chapman sidelined with COVID-19, the Yankees have talent in bunches. With ground ball wizard Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino’s whiffle ball slider, Chad Green’s unbelievable control, and Tommy Kahnle’s nasty changeup, the Yankees easily have one of the best pens in the game. When Chapman comes back, that’ll just build to their immaculate depth. In addition to the big names, Jonathan Holder, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King, and Clarke Schmidt should be making appearances throughout the year. Each of them, specifically Schmidt, has a load of talent, and Boone said he could see Clarke making some starts before the year’s end.
As the MLB tries to figure out their plans in the pandemic, it’ll be a 60-game season. To limit travel, the Yankees will only play against their division (40 games) and the NL East (20). A breakdown of the Yankees schedule, by opponent, is as follows.
- Boston Red Sox (seven home, three away)
- Toronto (or wherever they’re playing) Blue Jays (three home, seven away)
- Baltimore Orioles (four home, six away)
- Tampa Bay Rays (six home, four away)
- Washington Nationals (three away)
- Philadelphia Phillies (two home, two away)
- Miami Marlins (three home)
- Atlanta Braves (two home, two away)
- New York Mets (three home, three away)
ZiPS Player Projections
- HR leader: Giancarlo Stanton (16)
- OPS leader: Giancarlo Stanton (.911)
- wOBA leader: Aaron Judge (.378)
- fWAR leader: Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres (1.7)
- SO leader: Gerrit Cole (104)
- ERA leader: Gerrit Cole (3.16)
- fWAR leader: Gerrit Cole (2.4)
PECOTA Team Projections
PECOTA projects the Yankees record at 36.5-23.5, giving them a 72.4% chance at winning the division and a 90.7% chance at making the playoffs. Note that the playoff odds are calculated under the assumption of non-expanded playoffs. Obviously, with the potential of expanded playoffs, the Yankees’ playoff odds would scoot even closer to 100%.
- Record: 38-22
- Season Result: First Place in AL East
- Playoff Result: World Series Champions (I will predict this every year until I’m right)
- Team MVP: Aaron Judge
- Dark Horse: Giancarlo Stanton
- Team Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
- Dark Horse: It’s gonna be Gerrit Cole
- Biggest Breakout: Clarke Schmidt
- Dark Horse: Michael King
- Biggest Bust: J.A. Happ
- Dark Horse: Adam Ottavino
- Most Likely to be DFA’d by August 1: Clint Frazier
- Dark Horse: J.A. Happ
- BOLD PREDICTION: Aaron Judge finishes in the top-three in AL MVP voting
MLB is back. Fans across the nation have been waiting for months to say those three words. Excitement is filling the air throughout the sport. It’s going to be a weird season. No fans, crazy new rules, and just 60 games played, but none of that matters. The sport we know and love is back.
The Yankees just completed their first decade without a World Series appearance since the 1910s. It’s time for them to hoist the trophy once again.
Featured Photo: Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock