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New York Yankees Season Preview: Average team with three elite relievers, who think they can win the AL East

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Get on top of the Yankees early or it could be a long night for opposing hitters.

Let's not get this guy angry!
Let's not get this guy angry!
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are coming off an 87-75 season that saw them claim a wild card spot, but but they lost the Wild Card Game to the Houston Astros. For other organizations making the playoffs could be considered a successful season, but these are the Yankees, whose fans believe that a $220 million payroll ought to assure them at least a World Series appearance.

The Yankees took a very non-Yankee like approach this off season: They did not sign a single MLB free agent.

Yes, in 2016 the Rays have spent more in free agency than the Yankees.

The Yankees took to the trade market in order to improve their roster, acquiring OF Aaron Hicks from the Twins, Starlin Castro from the Cubs, and Aroldis Chapman from the Reds.

Going into the season it looks like the Yankees didn't do a whole lot to help an aging roster while they try to free up money to spend on future free agents.

Lineup Prediction

Last year the Yankees scored 764 runs. They bring back a very similar lineup as they have no major losses and have acquired Starlin Castro, who has major league experience, to secure the second base position.

The Yankees projected lineup courtesy of PinstripeAlley.com and their Steamer projections:

Player PA AVG OBP SLG ISO wRC+ fWAR
Jacoby Ellsbury 585 0.262 0.321 0.393 0.131 94 2.1
Brett Gardner 602 0.255 0.331 0.394 0.139 100 2.1
Carlos Beltran 424 0.262 0.321 0.432 0.170 104 0.3
Mark Teixeira 466 0.232 0.327 0.448 0.216 110 1.5
Alex Rodriguez 531 0.239 0.333 0.408 0.169 103 0.4
Brian McCann 484 0.239 0.310 0.429 0.190 101 2.9
Chase Headley 551 0.257 0.333 0.398 0.141 101 2.5
Didi Gregorius 541 0.255 0.313 0.375 0.120 88 2.3
Starlin Castro 557 0.269 0.310 0.398 0.129 91 1.3

The Yankees look to have a fairly deep lineup of league average bats, many of whom used to be much more productive. Hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium will help them score runs at home, but there is a lot of variance with many of these players as Father Time is still undefeated and will one day catch up with us all.

Last year the offense was carried by career resurrections of Mark Teixeira (.255/.357/.548 143 wRC+) and Alex Rodriguez (.250/.356/.486 129 wRC+). The Yankees will likely need similarly strong years from both in order to have an above-average offense.

The Yankee's offense took a big hit during the off-season when Greg Bird (.261/.343/.529 137 wRC+) had to have surgery to repair his right shoulder labrum.

Pitching Projection

Last year,  the starting rotation suffered many injuries that required the Yankees to use 10 starting pitchers; no pitcher received more than 29 starts. The Yankees patched together a roughly league average rotation as they pitched to a 104 ERA- and 97 FIP-.

Luis Severino made an impact once he received the call-up, posting a 1.8 RA9 WAR in 62.1 innings of 2.89 ERA baseball. FIP wasn't as kind as he posted a 4.37 FIP and 0.7 fWAR. The effectiveness of the rotation will likely swing on the performance of Severino.

The projected starting rotation along with Steamer projections:

Player IP ERA FIP K% BB%
Masahiro Tanaka 187 3.35 3.55 22.4% 4.9%
Michael Pineda 156 3.36 3.51 22.0% 4.3%
Nathan Eovaldi 152 3.92 4.05 18.4% 6.7%
Luis Severino 148 3.82 4.01 21.0% 7.9%
CC Sabathia 132 4.10 4.19 18.7% 6.8%

The Yankees have a solid rotation, but one plagued by injury concerns. Fortunately for them, they really only need their starters to cover 6 innings.

The Yankees bullpen was the real strength in 2015 and this off season they only improved with the acquisition of Aroldis Chapman. Even though Chapman will be suspended for the first 30 days of the season they have enough depth to cover the high leverage innings with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances returning.

The projected bullpen and their Steamer projections:

Player IP ERA FIP K% BB%
Aroldis Chapman 55 2.24 2.48 38.5% 10.7%
Andrew Miller 65 2.39 2.45 35.2% 8.5%
Dellin Betances 65 2.53 2.53 35.2% 9.8%
Ivan Nova 101 4.37 4.49 16.2% 7.2%
Chasen Shreve 55 3.58 3.98 23.4% 10.2%
Branden Pinder 45 3.92 4.22 21.2% 9.0%
Johnny Barbato 10 4.06 4.28 20.6% 9.6%
Bryan Mitchell 66 4.16 4.27 19.9% 10.2%

The three headed monster in the back end of the bullpen should make things difficult for opposing hitters as they all post 35%+ k-rates. After you get through the top three the bullpen is much weaker.

Conclusion

The Yankees are getting older on the offensive side of the ball and as such there's always a chance of their production falling off a cliff. Their offense is likely to be league average and their defense should be below average. The Yankees need Gardner and Ellsbury to return to being above average defenders to go along with the strong defense from Gregorius and McCann.

Their starting rotation is above average, albeit lacking depth, but the Yankees bullpen can be the difference maker, especially if the team is able to surpass its low-to-mid 80s win projection and make it to the playoffs.