When it comes to projections for the Yankees, the summarizing point is inevitably the same: World Series or bust. What’s more interesting is forecasting how the Yankees earn the Commissioner’s Trophy in late October. So let’s glance over the burgeoning IL list, scrutinize some ZiPS projections, and rub Gardy’s shiny bald head for luck that some bold predictions come true in this season preview of the 2021 New York Yankees.
Since setting the record for IL stints in 2019, the Yankees are on a collision course to continue their health woes. Zack Britton, Luke Voit, and now Justin Wilson join Luis Severino on the IL to start the season. Even after a full reconstruction of their strength and conditioning team, it seems unfathomable to have a roster as injury prone as the Yankees. Yet here we are again.
Thankfully, there are (mostly) known quantities filling the holes left by injured squad members. Domingo Germán returns to the rotation after his suspension, and Jay Bruce takes Voit’s place on the roster. It’s expected that Lucas Luetge, who thoroughly impressed this spring, will be the corresponding move for Wilson and Britton prior to Opening Day.
While obviously not ideal for Yankees fans, there are reasons to be optimistic health-wise. Aaron Judge is fine after a Monday teeming with questions. Giancarlo Stanton looks loose and comfortable at the plate and on the base-paths. All five starters came through their spring starts healthy, including off-season signings Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. Finally, Luis Severino is on pace for a midsummer return to the team following Tommy John surgery. The shelved Yankees will reinforce the squad in due time, but there should be cover to keep the ship steady until then.
Projecting the Lineup’s Output
Top to bottom, the Yankees have one of their strongest lineups in recent memory. But one thing is for sure, home runs will be down in 2021. As evidenced by a 220 HR drop off from the last full Spring Training in 2019, the subtle changes to the ball are undoubtedly affecting HR rates.
When considering the only likely Opening Day roster, ZiPS projections have the Yankees hitting a whopping 305 HRs. That seems high to me, as evidenced by Kyle Higashioka’s projection of 15 HRs for ~25% of his hits this season. But then again, this is Yankee Stadium, and the hard-hit percentages of Stanton, Judge, Gleyber Torres, and more could help make the projections close.
Clint Frazier also has a huge chance to cement his spot this season. Penciled in as the everyday left fielder, Frazier will play ahead of deputies Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman. His “legendary” bat speed should bring solid numbers at the back end of the lineup. Joining him in turning over the lineup will be Gio Urshela. His offseason elbow surgery behind him, Urshela’s ZiPS projections have him third on the Yankees with a .283 batting average and t-5th with Stanton at 2.6 WAR. No doubt his fielding numbers will keep him afloat in the latter stat, but I expect the strong lineup allots Gio more key at-bats this season and ups his RBIs.
Team Awards Projections
A full conversation about the Yankees projected Cy Young award winner is unwarranted in a season preview because, well…Gerrit Cole. There’s no reason a workhorse, power-arm in the prime of his career would be anything less than stellar for the Yankees this season. ZiPS projections actually have Cole under 200 innings, not unfathomable given the wealth of rotational options in the Yankees system and Boone’s propensity to pull starters early even when cruising. Nevertheless, I fully expect Cole to be the first 20-game winner since CC Sabathia in 2010.
The MVP conversation gets a little trickier. The likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and DJ LeMahieu are such strong WAR guys, they’re automatically in the conversation. Throw in Aaron Hicks‘ now 2yrs post-TJ surgery and Torres swinging big in the Spring, there are arguments for any of these guys. If I put money on anyone, it’d be the Machine himself for the 3rd year running.
Now you might be thinking: no mention of Gary Sanchez in the season preview? He’s filed under Comeback Player of the Year for the 2021 Yankees, part and parcel because you really can’t get much worse than Gary’s 2020 season. While he won’t come near the heights of his 2016/17 seasons, Yankees fans should watch Gary exceed his slash line from ZiPS projections (.212/.299/.460) and settle into a better rapport with Cole and the starting rotation. I’ll even go bold enough to say he finishes the season batting 5th in the order, rather than his likely starting position in the back third.
Projecting the Road to October
For the first time in a while, my head and my heart are saying the same thing in a season preview: the New York Yankees will be World Series champions. The road to October of course won’t be easy, but there have certainly been more difficult seasons. In the AL East, the Yankees are expected to comfortably top the Blue Jays by 7 games, according to ZiPS projections. I see the Bombers amassing over 100 wins for the third full season in a row.
In the playoffs, which revert back to the 2019 format, my projections have the Yankees defeating the White Sox 3-1 in the ALDS, laughing at the already crying Twins fans by beating them 4-1 in the ALCS and overtaking the Dodgers in 7 to parade through the Canyon of Heroes for the first time in over a decade. Tomorrow, or Friday, rain permitting, can’t come soon enough.