Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Comparing the 2018 & 2019 Yankees

Comparing the 2018 & 2019 Yankees

The 2017 New York Yankees team was a fun group of overachievers.  Led by Rookie Of The Year winner, Aaron Judge, this squad was fun and energetic. Made up of mostly home grown stars, like Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, they’d fought their way to within one game of going to the World Series before being eliminated by eventual champion Houston Astros in game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

With the addition of reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, the 2018 Yankees started of the year as one of the early World Series favorites. Throughout the season, the team struggled with injuries and slumps, yet remained one of the league’s best teams. Judge was hit on the hand with a pitch on July 26th by Jakob Junis, of the Kansas City Royals. Causing a chip fracture of the wrist. The Boston Red Sox went on to run away with the division and eventually eliminate the Yankees in the Divisional Series on their way to winning their third World Series since 2004.

For whatever reason, a common perception amongst fans changed from that of a fun team in 2017 to that of a pessimist, glass half empty, everything is wrong team at the end of the year.  Even as the team eclipsed the 1997 Seattle Mariners record for most home runs, 100 regular season wins was not enough.  All throughout the offseason as the Yankees improved the team, it was never enough. They traded for James Paxton. They signed Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ, DJ LeMahieu, Zack Britton, and Adam Ottavino, but the constant clamoring was for Patrick Corbin, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper. With all the negativity, you would think that the Yankees don’t stand a chance , even though they currently are the Las Vegas favorites at 6:1.

So I wanted to compare the team on a whole from this time last year to the team that’s about to embark on a 6-month regular season journey with hopes of winning an unprecedented 28th World Series championship.  I will leave out the emotion and see what we should expect from the 2019 New York Yankees.  I’m using Baseball Reference WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to show value of players.  8+ MVP, 5+ All-Star, 2+ Starter, 0-2 Sub, <0 Replace

Starting at the top, Hal Steinbrenner is the owner, having taken over after his father, George, past away. Their family has owned the team since 1973 and is the longest tenured owner, 8 years longer than Jerry Reinsdorf has owned the Chicago White Sox.

General Manager Brian Cashman , also the longest tenured in Major League Baseball, having been in his position since 1998, 7 ½ years longer than Jon Daniels has been the GM of the Texas Rangers.  There is stability and clear cut power structure running the organization.

Manager Aaron Boone is a third generational Major League player and the hero of the 2003 Yankees team. Baseball runs in his veins.  He left his job as a baseball analysts for a national broadcast to succeed Joe Girardi in 2018.  The rookie manager had his share of stumbles, but led the team to 100 victories.  He was hired for his understanding and acceptance of the use of analytics and for his ability to communicate and relate to today’s players.  With a year of experience under his belt, he is likely to be more of an asset this year.

Luis Severino was the ace in 2017 and repeated the same in 2018, going a combined 33-14 with a WAR of 10.  Although fatigue and rumors of tipping pitches made him more hittable during the second half of last season, he still turned in his second straight season with a top-10 finish in the Cy Young award voting.  That earned him a contract extension for 4 years and $40M.  He experienced shoulder soreness during spring training and isn’t expected back before May.  Shoulders are scary.  If it lingers, we may never see him dominate again.  Hopefully it was just a minor setback and he returns in May to once again lead the staff.  Regardless, it’s unlikely he will provide the value he did last year due to the missed action.

Masahiro Tanaka found more consistency in 2018, improving his WAR from 1.1 to 2.9 while pitching 20 innings less.  The former Japanese League star benefits from more rest.  He is a proven commodity that excels in the postseason. He will take over the Opening day assignment and will lead the staff forward. Expect him to match or exceed last year.

The 2018 team had Sonny Gray penciled in as the number three starter.  However, after posting an ERA approaching 5, he was relegated to the bullpen and was traded away during the offseason.  He is being replaced in 2019 by James Paxton who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners for top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield.  Paxton, aka Big Maple, posted a 2.9 WAR over 160 inning in his breakout season.  The Yankees are hoping that they get with him what they expected to get from Gray, a solid starter with team control.  He will definitely provide an upgrade over what they got from Gray.

CC Sabathia returned as a free agent for one last season.  Off season heart surgery and an early season suspension will push back the start of his season.  He posted a 2.8 and 2.3 WAR in 2017 and 2018, respectively.  He provides leadership and is looking to enjoy his last lap around the league.  He may experience a slight dip in production but will lay it all on the line if needed.  Expect about the same as previous years.

The 2018 number 5 starter, Jordan Montgomery blew out his arm after just six starts.  He required Tommy John surgery a year after finishing 6th in the Rookie Of The Year voting.  He is not expected to rejoin the team until after the all-star break, when the team will definitely welcome the reinforcements.  Montgomery is being replaced to start the season by J.A. Happ, who resigned with the Yankees after posting a 3.3 WAR combined with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Yankees. Happ is a proven veteran with a track record of success.  A full year on the team will provide an upgrade in value from just a half season.

Almost all Major League teams limit their pitchers.  160-180 innings is about all they get. Most teams now use at least 8 starters throughout a season.  The Yankees are no different. With Severino and Sabathia beginning the season on the injured list, they signed Gio Gonzalez to a minor league contract.  He will need some time to stretch out, but over the past 9 years, he has averaged 31 starts and 187 innings.  He will become an asset.  In the meantime, the Yankees have three young starters that will fill in the gap: Domingo German, Jonathon Loaisiga , and Luis Cessa.  They will all get significant opportunities to help the club.

Last year’s bullpen was one of the best ever assembled.  They entered with Aroldis Chapman as the dominant closer. Dellin Betances and his 15.1 k/9 rate, Chad Green, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle as the expected leaders.  Chapman dealt with knee issues and Kahnle had velocity issues but the bullpen was still a strength.  Robertson, Adam Warren, and Chasen Shreve are gone from last year.  Johnathon Holder and Zack Britton will be significant contributors.  Kahnle has regained his lost velocity.  Chapman and Betances each had 1.7 WAR and Green has compiled 5.0 WAR over the last two seasons.  This year’s bullpen will likely be the greatest one ever assembled.

Behind the plate, Gary Sanchez missed an entire month in 2017, but still managed a 4.1 WAR with 33 HRs and 90 RBI to go with his .876 OPS.  Injuries destroyed his 2018 as he only played in 89 games and posted a slash line of .186/.291/.406    It is impossible for a player with the skill level of Sanchez to repeat such awful numbers.  He came into spring training fresh and healthy. I expect to see him dwarf his 2017 season en route to staking his claim as the best catcher in the game today.

Over at first, Greg Bird was coming off a .190/.288/.422 season in which he only played 48 games and produced a WAR of 0.  Believe it or not that was better than the .199/.286/.386 and -.6 he contributed in 2018.  At the end of last season, Luke Voit powered his way to a 1.095 OPS during his 39 games in pinstripes.  Both Bird and Voit have had excellent spring trainings.  There will be significant improvements from last year’s production.

Neil Walker signed on as a free agent last year to play second base.  He was soon replaced by Gleyber Torres. Although Torres was kept in the minors long enough to manipulate his service time, he still produced a WAR of 2.9 in only 123 games.  His third place ROY finish is just the beginning of his accolades as he will develop into a perennial all star.  He will definitely improve upon last year.

Didi Gregorius has developed into a true star, earning 7.9 WAR the last two years, despite only playing 270 games.  However, he injured his arm last year in the playoffs and required Tommy John Surgery.  For the interim, Troy Tulowitzki will get the first crack at short, where he was a 2- time Gold Glove winner.  However, that was long before Achilles surgery that required him to miss all of 2018 and most of 2017.  For some reason, the Toronto Blue Jays released Tulowitzki and his guaranteed $38M contract before spring training even started.  The Yankees have been impressed with what they have seen from him and invested only a minimum contract. Tulowitzki will require some rest. Torres will slide across the diamond on those occasions and free agent signee DJ LeMathieu will play second, where he has earned three Gold Gloves.  Production will likely be lower, unless Tulowitzki is capable of returning to the player that produced WAR of 5+ six times earlier in his career.
Miguel Andujar is a career .300 hitter that burst onto the scene last year after Brandon Drury was sidelined with migraines.  Andujar placed second in the ROY voting.  His 2.2 WAR is deceiving as his offensive WAR was 4.6, but his -25 DRS (defensive runs saved) made his defense a liability.  He was not even in the lineup the game the Yankees were eliminated last year.  Andujar committed his offseason to working on his defense.  Scouts are raving at the progress he has made at the hot corner.  His bat will carry him, but if he can become even league average on defense, he will become a huge upgrade over himself.

Brett Gardner is the longest tenured Yankee and the only player that called old Yankees Stadium home.  The former all star and Gold Glove winner is clearly on the downward trend posting a 2.8 WAR in 2018 after a 4.9 in 2017.  However his leadership and solid defense was enough for the team to bring him back as a free agent. If he can rest more early in the season, his production may not drop as much later on.

Aaron Hicks has been a great player, proving to be a true 5-tool player when on the field.  However, staying on the field is what he has struggled to do.  He posted a 3.9 WAR in 2017 despite playing in only 88 games, and followed that up with a 4.7 in 2018.  The team rewarded him with a seven-year contract extension.  Shortly after signing the contract, he developed back issues which have sidelined him for several weeks.  He will begin the season on the injured list.  Hopefully he will return healthy and establish himself as the best center fielder not named Trout.

Over in right field,  Aaron Judge has become a super star and face of the Yankees.  In 2017, he had 79 extra base hits, OPS of 1.049, and 8.1 WAR on his way to win you ROY and runner up MVP.  He was well on his way to duplicating those numbers when the 93 mph fastball by Junis came inside and essentially ended his season in July, save for a late September cameo.  Fully healthy once again, he will be this year’s MVP and produce monster numbers, Ruthian like.

Giancarlo Stanton was the 2017 NL MVP in a season which he slugged 59 homers and posted a WAR of 7.6. So in 2018, even though he connected on 38 round trippers and a 4.0, the fan base was not impressed. Expect him to be more settled in and comfortable this year and production to be somewhere in between the previous two, which will be an upgrade.

Jacoby Ellsbury played in 112 games in 2017, but in 2018 he failed to make it onto the field, due to several various, lingering injuries.  Because of that, the Yankees were able to collect on his insurance policy.  He still has two lucrative years left on his contract and a no-trade clause.  It remains to be seen if he will be able to return to a Major League field if and when he is healthy enough to return. He has missed a lot of time and the game moves fast. Until that time, he will remain on he injured list and the team will collect on the insurance.

Clint Frazier would have played a lot last year had it not been for a concussion suffered in spring training and lingered most of the year.  Andrew McCutchen, Shane Robinson, and others combined to play over 1/3 of the season.  Frazier will have a lot to contribute this year.

The 40-man roster has several players that are potentially capable of being placed on the 60-day IL as they wont be returning before June.  Montgomery, Gregorius, Ben Heller.  Maybe Ellsbury. Possibly Severino.  This is how players such as Gonzalez will be added to the 40- man roster.

The 2018 Yankees set a Major League record with 267 HRs. Their 2-year total from 2017&2018 is 508, second all time to the 1996&1997 Mariners’ 509.  I believe they will shatter that record this year.  In 2018, 10 different players combined to hit multiple home runs in a game 24 times. Surprisingly, none were done by Judge. Bold prediction: Judge hits multiple homers multiple times.

The 2018 Yankees averaged 10.05 k/9, becoming only the third team in MLB history to surpass 10, joining the 2017 Cleveland Indians and the 2018 Houston Astros.  The team total was 1634, which I foresee being eclipsed this year.

In 2017, Yankees farmhands Cale Coshow, Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman (traded for Stanton) & Luis Medina all topped 100 mph in games.  In 2018, Abreu and Medina did it again and were joined by Luis Gil.  A trio of Yankees routinely top triple digits: Chapman, Severino, and Betances.  According to Statcast, Chapman threw four pitches over 104.  Speaking of Statcast, including the playoffs, 33 balls had exit velocities of 117 or higher in 2018.  23 of those were produced by Yankees.  Several Yankees farmhands have already been lighting up the radar gun to the tune of over 100 this spring. Exit velocities are going to be fun to track.

The 2018 Yankees had several injuries, yet somehow still managed to win 100 games.   Throughout MLB history, there have been 105 teams that have won 100 or more games.  95 of those have won their division.  The 2018 Yankees are one of the ten that did not.  This is, in part because the Red Sox were historically good against bad teams.  Of the teams with the ten worst records, the Yankees played seven of them and went a combined 44-25 for a .638 winning percentage.  The Red Sox played the same seven teams at a .779 clip. 53-15 is 9.5 games better than the Yankees, who lost the division by 8 games.

Over the last several years, the Yankees have graduated several elite players out of their farm system.  Gary Sanchez was second in ROY in 2016.  Judge won in 2017 along with Montgomery, who was sixth.  That doesn’t even include Severino, who’s actually even younger.  So, entering 2018, the pie farm system was ranked in the top three, with Gleyber  Torres a consensus top five prospect, and as many as six others making top 100 lists.  Miguel Andujar placed second in ROY voting, followed by a third for Torres.

Along with those graduates, several top prospects like Chance Adams, Thairo Estrada, Freicer Perez, Albert Abreu, and Domingo Acevedo had down years along with the broken hamate bone Estevan Florial suffered and subsequently reinsured this spring.  The Yankees also traded several players.  The results is a system currently ranking in the bottom third of professional systems.

In the past two plus years, the system has traded away:
Austin, Avelino, Blash, Carroll, Cave, DePaula, Diehl, Drury, Enns, Finley, Fowler, Frare, Gallegos, Gamel, Guzman, Herrera, Kaprielian, Littell, Long, Mateo, McKinney, Pazos, Polo, Ramirez, Rijo, Rutherford, Rumbelow, Sheffield, Smith, Solak, Swanson, Tate, Thompson-Williams, and Widener.

Yet as we enter 2019, the team has several young players in the system that have the potential to be elite players and on top 100 lists.  Luis Medina has three 70 grade pitches that he is beginning to throw for strikes.  Roansy Contreras, Deivi Garcia, Florial, Antonio Cabello, Everson Pereria, Loaisiga, Clarke Sschmidt, Anthony Seigler, and Kevin Alcantara are amongst those.  The team is also linked to top international free agent Jasson Dominguez.  Very astute trades for pool money to sign IFA and draft players and trading for players like Stowers and Roman they tried to get earlier is how the team’s player development is quickly becoming the best in the league.  The farm system will once again be top five by the end of the season.

The 2018 Yankees were very good.  They won 100 regular season games, but because of injuries were relegated to a wild card team, playing the eventual World Series champs in the divisional round.
The 2019 team is better.  The rotation is deeper and stronger.  The bullpen is perhaps the best ever.  The defense can’t be any worse tan last year.  The offense could be historic.  Setting records. Runs, home runs.  They are going to be a force.
As the season is about to start, I have them as the favorites.  Not only because they are better, but because Boston is weaker.  A lot can happen, especially in the playoffs and short series.  I just hope that the fans can just sit back and enjoy it this year as opposed to all the negativity from last year.
The team’s minor league affiliates are going to be a lot of fun.  Especially Charleston early on.  They’re going to be stacked with 18- year olds ready for full season ball.

MLB is flush with money.  Revenue in 2018 exceeded $10.3 Billion.  That is why we are seeing all of these contract extensions recently. Arenado, Trout, Harper, Machado, Jiminez, Sale, Verlander have all recently signed huge deals.  Teams no longer rely on traditional streams of revenue like gate attendance and concessions and merchandise.  The main sources of revenue are now streaming services, Internet , and television.

If the Yankees were to offer Judge an extension, what might it look like? Well he is playing this year at basically league minimum. Then he will have three years of arbitration. Even if those years are $10,$20,$30 he is entering free agency about to turn 31. The reason for a team to offer the security up front is to get cost certainty down the road.  If he got the extension now, while he’s making $600,000 a year, he’d probably sign for 9/$170M.  After this year it’d jump to 8/$220M. Same amount of years, $50M more.  If they go year by year and he signs a five year deal for $230 after getting $60M in arbitration they will pay $120M more over the same 9 years.  Assuming he would sign only for 5 years. Cashman should make the offer sooner than later.

Here are a few ideas for how MLB should evolve with the times. Teams are tanking to get better draft positions. They aren’t losing revenue as a large chunk of the $10.3 is shared.  There’s no deterrent. Start rewarding teams that try with higher draft spots. Best team to not make the playoffs get the top pick.  Allow teams to trade picks.  It would increase interest and intrigue.  Institute a salary floor so all teams have to spend at least $100 M a year.  The universal DH and 26th man will cause teams to marginally spend more.

Pay minor leaguers a more fair wage.  The Blue Jays are at least working towards this becoming an industry wide standard.
However, what the same Blue Jays are doing to Vladimir Guerrero Jr is a travesty.  Manipulating his service time.  Smart business in a flawed system.  Teams don’t have to add a player to the 40-man roster for 5 years, then they have three option years, and then six years before they are eligible for free agency.  That’s as much as 14 years.  How about from the point in which a player signs, they are under team control for 8 ½ years. Years 7,8,&9 are arbitration years.  So if a player is major league ready at 19, you bring him up and get as much use out of him before he becomes a free agent.  IFA that are signed at 16 will be on the market by 25.

Cito Culver was recently in Tampa, pitching in the minor league camp.  He joins other former first rounders:
Sabathia, Tulowitzki, Ellsbury, Ottavino, Hicks, Gonzalez, Brothers, Lipka, Frazier, Judge, Holder, Schmidt, and Seigler.

The Yankees have 10 living World Series MVPs:
56 Larsen
60 Richardson
61 Ford
62 Terry
77 Jackson
78 Dent
96 Wetteland
98 Brosius
99 Rivera
00 Jeter
09 Matsui

Former Yankees 90+ years old:
Eddie Robinson
Art Schallock
Charlie Silvera
Dr. Bobby Brown
Irv Noren
Bobby Shantz
Hank Workman
Billy Gardner
Bill Hunter
Whitey Ford

Old Timers Day 2018 only featured two Hall Of Famers:
Mr. October
Chairman of the Board
Expect more in 2019

Most World Series rings, not in Monument Park:
6-Raschi, Murphy, Crosetti
5-Lopat, Woodling, Mize, Lazzeri, Rolfe, Selkirk, Collins, McDougald
4-Henrich, Gordon, Coleman, Skowron

Former players not yet in Monument Park: