2020 MLB Preview: The New York Yankees

Are Two Great Pitchers Enough?

Coronavirus be damned. There will be baseball, eventually, and thanks to the Spitter’s countless hours of research, we will know what we are talking about the next time we are able to have drinks with friends and go to a game. We will call that time, “September.”

And what will September look like? Try, a lot of black and white pinstripes. And, no, I don’t mean the Chicago White Sox. One way or the other, the Bronx Bombers are going to be front page material. For Yankees fans’ sake, I hope it’s because they’re winning.

And win they should. The signing of free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole should take care of a lot of the Yankees concerns surrounding the appearing/disappearing nature of their starting pitching staff. Even when all of the starters were available in the playoffs, none could make it into the seventh inning. Cole moves from the Houston Astros and stays in the American League. According to the ESPN park factor rating, Yankee Stadium gives up .31 fewer home runs than Minute Maid park in Houston.

Go ahead. Insert trash-can-banging joke here .

So Cole (20 wins, 326 strikeouts in 212 innings), the second coming of Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan in the strikeout department, gives the Yankees a dominant number-one starter. They have a solid number two with James Paxton coming off surgery. Great news for the Yankees is the surgery was to remove a cyst, and Paxton (15-6, 3.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP in 2019) is scheduled to be ready to go in mid-May/early June.

The question is who will be number three? Masahiro Tanaka gets drilled when a pitch ends up in the strike zone and he seems to have lost the ability to put batters away. His strikeouts were down while hits and batting average against were up. Is Domingo Germán the guy who had a 2.60 ERA through nine starts last year, or the guy who gave up five or more earned runs in four later starts? I think the former. Sure he had four lousy games. What big league pitcher doesn’t? But the rest of his resume looks pretty damned impressive. He may leapfrog Paxton in the two slot. Luis Severino is out for the year at least with Tommy John surgery. Clarke Schmidt has impressed at every level of the minors, and, as the number-two-ranked minor-leaguer in the farm system might make an appearance sooner rather than later.

Pitching is going to be everything in the battle with the Tampa Bay Rays for the American League East title and the Rays have improved their offense in the offseason. They may have to improve it a little more to catch up, if New York can stay healthy. Actually, they’ll have to improve a little more even if New York can’t stay healthy.

Does Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman really get the credit he deserves? Sure, they can buy any free-agent they want, but the free agents they get pay off. D. J. LeMahieu’s departure from Colorado, after a productive but comparatively down 2018, left the Rockies with a four-headed second baseman. Combined they were productive, but nothing like LeMahieu’s line of .327 batting average, 109 runs, and102 RBI. Can he continue that pace? Maybe, maybe not. In the year of the ridiculous Rawlings, he hit 11 more home runs than he ever did while playing half his games at Coors Field. So if Major League Baseball stops screwing with the ball and returns it to the way it was previously made, that number will fall, but he is a career .302 hitter with five seasons of 85 runs or more scored.

Catcher Gary Sanchez crushes the ball when he hits it –34 home runs out of 92 hits last year– but what’s going to happen when the ball returns to “normal?” Will the Yankees continue to tolerate his inability to block the ball? Should they wave the white flag and put him at designated hitter full time? There’s no doubt he fills up a stat sheet. His line is almost identical to Gleyber Torres in HRs, walks, and strikeouts but Sanchez played in 38 fewer games. Of course, he hit 42 points worse (.232) than Torres. Who would catch? Kyle Higashioka? He’s been solid in the minors, but…

Torres looks like the real deal. He can hit for a good average (.278 in 2019) and produce in other ways offensively. That said, it’s his defense that’s the concern. He’s being asked to step in at shortstop with the loss of Didi Gregorious to the Phillies. Four errors in nine spring training games isn’t a good sign for Torres, but we’ll see what he looks like when he gets back after this extended break.

Next to him at third base, Gio Urshela‘s had a coming out party that included 21 homers and 74 RBI while hitting .314. Repeatable? Who knows?

I love that first baseman Luke Voit walks as much as he does (71 times in 510 at-bats) but considering he hit only 21 home runs last year and struck out 142 times, perhaps a change in approach would provide more numbers that help the team. Line drive doubles help a club, too.

And then there’s the question about the health of the big guns: outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. Stanton’s recovery from knee, biceps, and shoulder injuries kept him out of 144 games last year. Don’t forget he totaled only 193 games in 2015 and 2016 combined before his MVP season of 2017 and a top-20-MVP season in 2018 for New York.

Judge played 155 games his rookie year but has averaged only 107 in the last two. The great thing about him is how many miss-hits go out of the ballpark. He’s a lot like Torres in that the average doesn’t suffer for the power numbers too badly and that when he hits the ball, good things happen. You’d still like to see him be more efficient and strike out less. One interesting thing of note, in his MVP-caliber season in 2017, he struck out 208 times, or four times per home run. In subsequent years, he’s striking out 5.6 times per every home run.

Brett Gardner hitting 28 homers shocked me. Again, the ball? Again, repeatable?

The amazing thing about the 2019 club was the rash of injuries and the way guys just kept stepping up. Can that continue? I’m learning not to count out them out no matter how dire the circumstances. The bullpen was a strength, the starting staff is better, and certainly they can’t be that snakebite again, can they? Given their history, a tough Rays team battling for the division and what appears to be a transition year for the Red Sox, I’m going to pencil the Yankees in for 98 WINS (assuming of course, a 162-game schedule.)

Update: The Yankees are notorious for starting slow. If they do this year, they may just miss the postseason.
Coronavirus 60 game prediction: 36-24.

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