Over at FanGraphs today, Dan Szymborski released his ZiPS projection for the 2020 New York Yankees! For those wondering what on Earth ZiPS is, it is a projection system that estimates future player performance based on past performance and comparisons to similar players. For a much more detailed explanation, you can check out this link.
As you can imagine for a team that won 103 games last year while setting a record for most injury stints, the projections are overwhelmingly optimistic. We’ll dive into some of the main takeaways here
The Win Projection
This is what everyone cares about, right? Sure it’s fun to project how each player will do, but at the end of the day all we really care about is how well the team does. At the moment, ZiPS has not released its total win projections. However, we have this incredible nugget from Szymborski in this article:
“Add everything together and the Yankees will likely start the season with a projection north of 100 wins.”
Win projections above 95 are rare for ZiPS, and projections above 100 just don’t really happen. For example, last year the highest team projection was the Yankees with 98 wins followed by Houston at 97 and Cleveland at 96. A projection of more than 100 for the Yankees this year (which is not yet official but near certain to happen) helps show how much adding Gerrit Cole makes a difference. Even though the Yankees lost beloved contributors like Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances, the addition of Cole likely more than makes up for it in terms of on-field performance.
Speaking of everyone’s favorite newest Yankee, his projections is just absurd. He is projected to pitch to a 3.10 ERA in 200 innings with 280 K and a 2.89 FIP and 5.5 WAR. That may not sound amazing after his historic 2019 campaign, but ZiPS is known for being conservative and using the average projection. Earlier in the offseason, I wrote about other projections for Cole and why I think ZiPS may underrate a pitcher like Cole who made a drastic change in the past couple of years.
To highlight how amazing that projection actually is for Cole in the ZiPS system, his player comparison is Greg Maddux, arguably the best pitcher of all time. Szymborski writes “There are few better compliments than being compared to prime Greg Maddux.” For context, Maddux had seven straight seasons with a WAR over 7.0. In the past five seasons, there have only been eight 7+ WAR pitching seasons, including Cole’s 2019 at 7.4. If Cole reaches even half that (e.g. 3 7+ WAR seasons) I would be ecstatic.
The projections for Gleyber Torres in 2020 and beyond are just bonkers. He’s projected to mash 41 home runs next year with a 4.6 WAR. That would represent an increase of a full 1 WAR over last season. In an earlier article, Szymborski released Gleyber’s 5-year projection and it is absolutely insane. I’m reposting the table because words don’t do it justice:
That’s an average of 43 home runs per year which even in the juiced ball era is bonkers. For context, nobody has hit 43 home runs multiple times in the past 5 years and Torres is expected to AVERAGE that.
Interestingly, Torres’ projection is actually brought down by a negative defensive projection. That makes sense because defensive stats don’t like Torres – both DRS and UZR have him at negative values for each of his seasons in MLB. However, according to Statcast’s new Infield Outs Above Average, Torres is likely to be an average defensive shortstop. Mike Petriello went into it deeper in this article, but basically, when Torres either plays shortstop or lines up as a shortstop, he is okay defensively. His negative defensive value came while playing as a second baseman or on that side of the infield.
In 2020, Gleyber is going to be the starting shortstop and there is reason for optimism regarding his defensive value which would truly make his projections and value absurd.
The Defense Looks Good
One thing that stood out while looking through the position players is that the defense for the first time in a while could be a net positive for the Yankees. Both Aaron Judge and Mike Tauchman have amazing defensive projections (both 10+ runs saved), and the combination of DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela (+7 and +3 respectively) is also encouraging. By swapping out Didi who although usually a great fielder struggled in 2019 for Gleyber in 2020 combined with moving LeMahieu back to second base could be a huge defensive boon for the team.
Last year both Didi and Gleyber were negative defensively and LeMahieu’s value was limited while playing first base. Improving the middle infield defense could prove wonders. Likewise, increased playing time for Tauchmann could be great for outfield defense. We all know Judge is a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, but the “Sock Man” was in the 95th percentile for Outs Above Average despite playing in just 87 games.
The Rotation is Amazing
For the past few years, the rotation has been a focal point for where the Yankees need to improve. And improve they did by adding Cole. However, ZiPS is also optimistic about the rest of the rotation (yes, even J.A. Happ). This table shows just how good it looks:
All five starters are projected for over 1.5 WAR and a K% over 21%. To be honest, those projections seem low for Paxton and Tanaka and optimistic for Happ. But if that’s how it works out, sign me up for that rotation every day. Five starters league average or above, as well as the best pitcher in baseball, would make for an incredible rotation that competes day in and day out. Plus those #1 player comps are drool-worthy.
Reading through these projections is getting me pumped up for the season to begin already. I briefly looked through the projections from before 2019 to act as a barometer for context. In 2019, the Yankees had 10 pitchers and 11 position players projected for more than 1.0 WAR. This year, that’s 11 and 12 respectively. In his postseason press conference Cashman said it’s hard to improve on a team that won 103 games, yet it looks like he might have found a way.