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Evolution or Revolution: New York Yankees

 

Evolution or Revolution is a series that examines whether a team needs a few tweaks or a fundamental reboot. In this edition, we focus on what went wrong for the Yankees in 2020, the DJ LeMahieu situation and whether they’ll be a big player in free agency.   

By: Graham Bell

In a parallel universe, Aroldis Chapman struck out Mike Brosseau as the New York Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in ALDS.

They then won the battle for baseball’s soul against the Houston Astros to take the pennant, before dismissing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the most-watched World Series of all time in San Diego.

Instead, Chapman, who was suspended for three games after igniting a bench-clearing incident by throwing a 101-mph fastball at the head of Brosseau, finished writing the latest chapter in the ‘Book of Baseball Karma’ and the Yankees 11-year wait for a World Series appearance, let alone a title, continues.

Four consecutive playoff exits now hang over Brian Cashman, who like many in the sport is facing pandemic-driven financial woes, and now must also deal with some noisy neighbors in Queens.

General manager Brian Cashman hopes to help the Yankees finally get over the hump in 2021. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For many Yankees fans, the shortened 2020 regular season seemingly threw up plenty of questions over a lineup that continues to be plagued by injuries.

But do they really need to roll the dice that much? According to our Adjusted Team Rankings, they were the best team in the American League and fourth overall behind the Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds. This is calculated using a model that combined each club’s Raw Value data into a single ranking system, of which we’ll have more in a bit.

New York Yankees, 2020OffenseRotationBullpenOverall
Adjusted Team Rankings43234

With most of the pieces seemingly in place, let’s take a deeper dive into what they can look forward to in 2021.

THE DARK CLOUD OF DJ

When DJ LeMahieu signed a two-year contract with the Yankees back in 2019, It is hard to believe that either side could have foreshadowed the success he would have.

In 2020, LeMahieu became the first Yankee since Bernie Williams in 1998 to claim the AL batting title with a .364 average. He also led the team in OBP (.421) and OPS (1.011) – all of which is reflected by a Raw Value+ of 136.

Raw Value+ (RV+) examines how a batter performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, while Raw Value- (RV-) does the same from a pitcher’s perspective. The higher the number, the better for batters, with LeMahieu comfortably clear of the league average of 100. Conversely, for pitchers, it’s the lower the better.

DJ LeMahieu’s departure would leave a major void in the Yankees lineup. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

With a stacked resume, there was little surprise the 32-year-old LeMahieu rejected a qualifying offer. Although talks are on-going between the two parties, the LeMahieu situation is the dark cloud that hangs over the offseason. New York will need to put another big-money contract on the books or risk having arguably their best player walk potentially to a division rival like the Toronto Blue Jays.

There are a few intriguing options if he does go. Francisco Lindor (125 RV+) could be the Mookie Betts of this winter’s market as a possible final piece of a title winner, but the Puerto Rican will come at a cost both in terms of contract and trade value.

Or maybe it’ll be a return to the northeast for New Jersey native Tommy La Stella (112 RV+), who could also replicate Brett Gardner’s tough approach at the plate. While splitting time between the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s, he averaged an MLB-best 19.0 plate appearances per strikeout – well ahead of the next-best LeMahieu (10.3).

With MLB home run-leader Luke Voit (158 RV+), Giancarlo Stanton (167 RV+), Aaron Judge (144 RV+), the Yankees had the AL’s top offense – according to our metrics. And though there are questions surrounding Gary Sanchez’s future with the club, he ended up just one point below the league average in RV+ during a dismal 2020.

COLE AND A LOT OF HOPE

But while it may be a feast in the batter’s box, there is a bit more famine on the mound. And if Cashman’s recent comments are anything to go by, there’s going to be a bit of hoping, especially with the starting rotation.

James Paxton (93 RV-), Masahiro Tanaka (92 RV-) and J.A. Happ (84 RV-) all find themselves free agents with options declined. And while there might be pathways back to the Bronx for the first two, the whispers have been quiet.

Gerrit Cole will continue to lead the Yankees’ starting rotation. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Obviously, they still have a stud at the top of the rotation in Gerrit Cole. He went 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA over 12 starts while posting an RV- of 62 in his debut season in pinstripes, finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young voting.

Luis Severino should return from Tommy John’s surgery by the middle of next season, while Domingo German’s suspension for domestic violence has come to an end. But it leaves a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Jordan Montgomery (79 RV-), and a bullpen that was the eighth worst (102 RV-) in the MLB.

If the Yankees do roll the dice in free agency, two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber might be an option, though his recent run of injuries is a concern.

STATS PERFORM VERDICT: EVOLUTION

Much like their AL East rivals in Boston, we likely won’t see the day where the Yankees go through a full tear-down and rebuild. And even if they wanted to, some of the crippling contracts on their books would make that even less likely.

Three years ago last week, Stanton made the move from Miami. He’s still got seven years and $218 million of that contract remaining, with the Yankees on the line for all but $30 million of it.

Deals like those and Cole’s ($324 million over nine years) limit what they can do. And now it appears they will need to add a long-term LeMahieu deal to the mix with Judge also just two years away from potential free agency.

So while some may be dreaming of Trevor Bauer in New York, it’s more likely he will be doing so in the National League. Instead, the Yankees will be hoping they can eke out enough from their pitching staff to complement their undoubted talent at the plate.

 

Data modeling and analysis provided by Lucas Haupt.

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