New York Yankees 2017 Outlook - Pinstriped Prospects
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New York Yankees 2017 Outlook

Aaron Judge and the Yankees have the potential to do well but need this to come together. (Bryan Green)

As Spring Training begins, players, staff members, media, and fans all ponder what the upcoming season holds. There are always both optimistic and pessimistic views. However, this article is based on statistical analysis.

The 2016 New York Yankees failed to reach the postseason for the third time in four seasons. The club went 48-33 at Yankee Stadium and 36-45 on the road, giving them an overall record of 84-78. New York finished nine games out of the division and five games back of earning an American League Wild Card berth.

After analyzing where the club needs to improve to make the postseason this year, look no further than winning games within their division. The 2016 Yankees struggled against AL East opponents (36-45) while faring much better against the Central (21-12) and West (20-13) divisions.

The team also performed uncharacteristically bad against National League opponents, posting an 8-12 record. This season the Yankees play their inter-league games against the NL Central teams, which will be a much easier task than last year’s NL West opponents.

Joe Girardi performed well compared to his colleagues. He set up his hitters up for success by giving them a platoon advantage to start the game 72% of the time (compared to the 57% Major League average). This was done by putting out 143 different lineups over the course of the season. Joe did tend to have a quick hook with pitchers. However, he always makes it a priority to take care of his relievers arms. No matter what you think of Girardi, all the statistics say that his clubs have outperformed expectations the last few seasons, despite missing the playoffs.

Thanks to the Yankees instant replay guru Brett Weber, Girardi was successful 67.9% (19/28) out of all his manager challenges. This was the best percentage in baseball.

Improving team defense needs to be a priority should the Yankees want to progress from last year’s fourth-place finish. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro were the sixth and third worst in Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop and second base, respectively. Castro struggled mightily at times, and while Gregorius has the range and ability to make some spectacular plays, he struggled with the routine ones. On a positive note, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury both performed above average posting the third and sixth best Defensive Runs Saved numbers in their respective positions.

The good news is the Yankees project to outperform their 2016 defense behind the plate and in right field. A full season of Gary Sanchez projects to be beneficial along with Aaron Judge fielding right over Carlos Beltran.

Pitching continues to be a huge question mark at the Major League level. Last year starters posted a 4.44 ERA (19th overall), while the bullpen posted a 3.67 ERA (16th overall). Dellin Betances faltered down the stretch bringing the team saves conversion rate down to 75% (48/64).

Luis Severino projects to bounce back from a down year as does Michael Pineda. Pineda is in his contract year and looks to finally reach the high ceiling that he possesses. His numbers from 2016 can be best described as head-scratching. He got ahead of hitters, even got them to two strikes quite often, but could not finish them off. The same can be said for getting outs one and two, then failing to retire the final batter. Look for him to use more of his change-up in his pitch sequence. “Big Mike” used the pitch just 7%, the least out of all qualifying starters in Major League Baseball.

All pitchers controlled the running game well, with the exception of CC Sabathia and Dellin Betances. Sabathia posted a -3 Defensive Runs Saved clip, while Betances posted a -7 DRS mark. Betances also struggled to field the baseball. At times the hard-throwing righty would even underhand the ball to get an out at first because he couldn’t throw it. Teams down the stretch figured out this weakness in his game and tried to exploit it by bunting. Although it has been reported that he worked hard to fix this over the off-season, this will be something to keep an eye on to begin the season.

The bullpen should improve on what it did last season. The Yankees can enjoy a full season of the young Cuban Phenom Aroldis Chapman. With the re-acquisition of Chapman, Betances slides back in a set-up role, where he has attained an immense amount of success. Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren both project to have solid seasons, putting the organization in a good place for relief pitching.

The offense had its ups and downs last season and have a plethora of unknowns entering 2017. Greg Bird will be returning from a labrum tear that forced him to miss all of the last seasons. Aaron Judge is expected to start in right field, and Gary Sanchez will attempt to repeat similar production to what he did down the stretch in 2016.

Below is the lineup that I would suggest Girardi to employ with each player’s 2017 projections, the average of how many pitches they saw in an at-bat in 2016, and what type of hitter they are:

vs. Left Handed Pitchers

  1. Brett Gardner          LF         .257/.345/.372     4.09        Patient, Ground              
  2. Starlin Castro          2B         .272/.312/.419      3.69        Aggressive, Ground
  3. Gary Sanchez           C           .275/.337/.499     4.11         Patient, Ground              
  4. Chris Carter             1B          .222/.320/.471     4.26        Very Patient, Air
  5. Matt Holliday          DH        .269/.359/.459     3.67        Very Aggressive, Ground
  6. Didi Gregorius         SS         .268/.317/.417       3.46       Very Aggressive, Air
  7. Chase Headley         3B         .254/.338/.390     3.96        Neutral, Medium
  8. Aaron Judge             RF         .251/.331/.458  
  9. Jacoby Ellsbury       CF         .268/.331/.386     3.73        Aggressive, Ground

vs. Right Handed Pitchers

  1. Brett Gardner          LF          .257/.345/.372     4.09        Patient, Ground
  2. Starlin Castro          2B          .272/.312/.419      3.69        Aggressive, Ground
  3. Matt Holliday         DH         .269/.359/.459     3.67         Very Aggressive, Ground
  4. Gary Sanchez           C            .275/.337/.499     4.11          Patient, Ground
  5. Greg Bird                 1B           .266/.344/.499
  6. Didi Gregorius        SS          .268/.317/.417       3.46        Very Aggressive, Air
  7. Chase Headley        3B          .254/.338/.390     3.96         Neutral, Medium
  8. Aaron Judge            RF         .251/.331/.458
  9. Jacoby Ellsbury      CF         .268/.331/.386       3.73        Aggressive, Ground

Below are the Pitchers 2017 projections with win-loss and ERA statistics

SP #1     Masahiro Tanaka              14-8       3.19

SP #2     Michael Pineda                 11-9         3.66

SP #3     CC Sabathia                        9-10       4.21

SP #4     Luis Severino                     10-8        3.65

SP #5     Luis Cessa                            7-9         4.44

RP           Bryan Mitchell                   4-5         4.56

RP           Jonathan Holder              

RP           Tommy Layne                    3-3         3.94

RP           Adam Warren                    4-4         3.84

RP           Tyler Clippard                    5-3         2.83

RP           Dellin Betances                 4-3          2.70

CP           Aroldis Chapman              5-2          1.83

If the Yankees stay healthy, I predict they will finish second in the American League East with a record of 88-74. This should be enough to get them in the Wild Card game. It is understood that my outlook and prediction seem a bit optimistic, but after reading all the data, to me, it seems very attainable.

At the very least, historically the Yankees will have a winning record in inter-league play, and that alone would get them to 87 wins if they fared the same against the American League teams in 2017.

Mathematically that means they would need just one more win to get to 88. With Chapman back, he should pick up a few of those blown saves by Dellin. With the additions of Holliday, Carter, and full seasons from Sanchez and Bird; it should almost be a lock to out produce what we saw from Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira.

It is going to come down to the starting rotation. Can Severino and Pineda bounce back? What can we get out of CC? Is Tanaka’s elbow going to hold up? Only time will tell.

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