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Digging Into the Yankees ZiPS Projections

 

On Tuesday, FanGraphs released their yearly “ZiPS” projection for the Yankees roster. ZiPS is one of the projection systems that comes out around this time each year. You can check out the complete Yankee projections here.

Its creator, Dan Szymborski, also joined The Bronx Pinstripes show in an episode release on Wednesday. He and Andrew discussed what goes into these projections, some surprises for the Yankees, and top competition around the AL.

Keep in mind when looking at something like ZiPS, there is a difference in “prediction” and “projection.” Projections are typically conservative. For instance, even though Aaron Judge put up 8.2 WAR and 5.0 WAR (in limited time) the last 2 seasons, ZiPS has him at 4.6 WAR this year. This is probably to keep a certain confidence interval. I have some thoughts on these projections, so let’s get to them.

Power Bats

Wow are the Yankees stacked on offense. It really is an embarrassment of riches. Would I have liked to get Manny Machado or Bryce Harper? Sure. It’s not my money. Do I think we needed them in our lineup to win? No way. If you like the old-school stats, check out these projected homerun totals: Stanton: 47, Judge: 35, Sanchez: 28, Torres: 25, Andujar: 23, Voit: 22, Didi: 22, Hicks: 21

These are just the guys who are projected to hit over 20 homers. Like last season, this lineup is simply going to be one of the best in the game. There are other lineups that make more contact — Boston and Houston come to mind — but as far as pure power, it’s hard to beat the 2019 Yankees. All of the above projections seem reasonable to me. You can argue that Stanton’s may be lofty, or that Didi may not be back long enough to reach his number, but the other guys seem legitimate. Here’s a little reminder, Brian McCann led the 2014 Yankees with 23 HRs. Glad those days are over. Give me all the dingers!

WAR, what is it good for?

For the more saber savvy folks, let’s take a look at the projected WAR leaders. Keep in mind WAR takes offense, defense, and base running into account. Here is both the reference chart, and the Yankees leaders according to ZiPS:

               

Three things on this list jump out at me:

  1. If the Yankees get that kind of production out of Luke Voit, that would be incredible. We got him for Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos.
  2. Aaron Hicks is projected to be the fifth best centerfielder in baseball, and I even think that’s a little light. Hicks broke out last year and amassed 4.9WAR while supplying offense 27% better than league average. I will take the over on the above projection.
  3. Miguel Andujar has some obvious bat to ball skills, but he doesn’t walk and plays very subject defense, which brings his value down a lot. Hopefully he can progress to be a more complete hitter and better defender this season. Szymborski said that Andujar may be the Yankees future left fielder if he doesn’t correct his defensive woes this season. I’m not quite there yet, but I do think this is an important year for him to show the Yankees that he is capable or improving at the hot corner.

Here’s what Dan had to say about the young third baseman during his podcast appearance.

Rotation Depth

Let’s move on to the pitching side of things. The Yankees rotation is much improved for the 2019 season, and this projection shows it. ZiPS has the Yankees 1-5 starters as follows:

  1. Luis Severino, 3.20 FIP, 4.5 WAR
  2. James Paxton, 3.35 FIP, 3.2 WAR
  3. Masahiro Tanaka, 3.83 FIP, 3.1 WAR
  4. JA Happ, 3.97 FIP, 2.9 WAR
  5. CC Sabathia, 4.45 FIP, 2.1 WAR

This would be the best Yankees rotation in years if those rate stats hold up. I would also argue there is significant upside here, especially with Paxton and Severino.

Paxton hasn’t made it through a whole season, but maybe his new team with improved facilities and different trainers can help him do that.

Severino has been working on his endurance this offseason due to some late season fatigue. “When you are at the finish line and you feel like you need a little bit more than five days to be ready, you know that something’s going on,” Severino said to ESPN writer Coley Harvey.

Severino is still learning his body as a professional athlete. In addition to changing his diet to address the fatigue issues, part of that is knowing when to let it fly and when to coast through a game.

As for the other 3 projections, they seem to be spot on. Tanaka and Happ are more than capable mid-rotation starters who can provide a moderate amount of innings at above average clips. 3 WAR for each of them seems about right, and they may even be able to improve on that a tick. CC, in his last season before retirement, is still a reliable fifth starter, and is probably one of the best back-end starters in the league. His dominate complete game performances are over, but with the bullpen the Yankees possess, that is hardly necessary.

Bullpen Dominance

Speaking of the bullpen, as Szymborski mentioned to Andrew, this is simply the most talented group he’s ever seen. Last year ZiPS projected 7.4 WAR for the pen, and they put up 9.4 WAR, which is absurd. They’ve since added Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton for a full season, and will hopefully have Chapman past his knee issues. Yes, they’ve lost David Robertson, but I think it’s at least even with last year’s pen. They are projected for about the same WAR as that group, so we’ll see if they can outperform that again. I’m betting they can.

The beauty of this bullpen is that if one or two guys go down, they have a myriad of options they can choose from. Poor Jonathan Holder. Dude came up and had an outstanding rookie season last year, and he may not be used in anything more than a mop-up role or long relief. I doubt he will mind, especially if he gets a World Series ring.

This is likely the best Yankees team we’ve seen since the 2009 club. Buckle up guys, it’s gonna be a hell of a year!

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