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The 2018 Yankees outfield could be an all-time great

Matt Gregory

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are a good team, a world series contender. Expectations were high with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton over the winter. I want to put a measuring stick to see how the outfield stacks up to the expectations coming into the year.

Let us start off with a comparison. The first number is what FanGraphs season preview had projected the Yankees outfield to be worth in terms of WAR. Projections are obviously haphazard. Either due to injuries or just plain wrong predictions of playing time and performance. That projection also included Jacoby Ellsbury reaching 140 plate appearances, again projections can get it wrong.

12.9 WAR 2018 projection Yankees Outfield (50/50 Mix of Steamer and ZiPS)

12.4 Current WAR 2018 Yankees Outfield (through 7/9/18)

The second number is the current WAR of the Yankees outfield through 89 games. So, in just over half a season, the Yankees outfield has nearly reached its projected WAR total for the year. This is a very good outfield. FanGraphs projected the Yankees to be second in the major league in terms of outfield WAR, second only to Mike Tr- er, the Angels.

Giancarlo Stanton came off a 7.1 fWAR season while Aaron Judge won Rookie of the Year with an 8.2 fWAR season. The question marks were in centerfield. What was the overall value of Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury and even Clint Frazier? The answer was… middling. Gardner was projected 1.4 WAR, while Hicks was cautiously at 2.4 WAR. Ellsbury was projected at .4, which even now feels like a stretch, while Frazier was only expected a handful of plate appearances.

Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner have already surpassed their season projections in terms of WAR. The biggest boost to the outfield has been Aaron Hicks. The Yankees bet on him when they traded John Ryan Murphy to the Twins and Hicks struggled in his first action with the Yankees, while battling injuries along the way. Now, he’s healthy-ish and reaching the heights that the front office was betting on. Hicks was worth 3.3 WAR in 89 games last year, and 2.7 WAR in 70 games, and on pace to play more than 89 games this year. He has provided a fantastic offensive year with good defense in center field.

This cannot be overstated, Hicks being in centerfield more consistently allows Aaron Boone to cycle through Gardner, Judge, and Stanton in the corner spots, with Gardner occasionally occupying centerfield. Gardner has played center field in 184 innings this year already surpassing his innings total in centerfield from last year but FanGraphs sees him as a better left fielder defensively.

More importantly, the cycling of Stanton, Judge and Gardner keeps them fresh. Gardner has always been an ironman but plays at 100 miles per hour and is the oldest at 34 years old. Stanton had one of his first fully healthy seasons last year, so the Yankees have used him as a designated hitter to give his legs a rest (he has had knee surgery and dealt with hamstring strains in the past). Judge is the crown jewel of the outfield, keeping him healthy with occasional spells at designated hitter is a luxury the Yankees can now afford.

Where is this post going exactly? Well, it is time now we have a conversation about where this outfield ranks among all-time Yankee outfields. Stop laughing, why are you laughing at me? I am serious.

The answer is obviously still to be decided. In 1927, Babe Ruth, Earle Combs, and Bob Meusel produced 24.0 fWAR. This current outfield, using an average of ZiPS and Steamer, is projected to produce 8 WAR for the rest of the season. Putting them at 20.8 WAR. It is a close one, though it is very hard to overcome a 12.4 WAR season from Babe Ruth. I believe the projections are being slightly bullish on Stanton, given he has produced a 154 wRC+ in the second half for his career and is showing signs of heating up. If he repeats his 2017 second half, then they become a legitimate challenger to the throne.

While most of the best outfields are usually anchored by one player, 2018 has potentially two all-stars in Stanton and Judge, with two very good regular starters in Hicks and Gardner having potential for 3-4 WAR. For reference, here are the top five Yankee outfields by WAR I could find (I did as best I could with manual searching and adding of WAR totals, if there is an outfield you think is missing, give me a shout).

1. 1927 24 fWAR
2. 1941 22.3 fWAR
3. 1961 19.6 fWAR
4. 1940 19.3 fWAR (Technically, George Selkirk and Tommy Henrich did not meet minimum plate appearances but then this outfield only has two outfielders without them)
5. 1939 19.1 fWAR

1927 had Ruth as mentioned above but also had Earle Combs and Bob Meusel providing 6.8 and 4.2 WAR respectively. 1939-1941 had Joe DiMaggio in center and a rotation of others, George Selkirk and Charlie Keller posted 5.7 and 4.9 WAR respectively in 1939. 1940 had Selkirk (3.2 WAR), Tommy Henrich (3.0 WAR) and Charlie Keller (5.6 WAR). 1941 again featured Selkirk (7.3 WAR) and Henrich (5.2 WAR) to support DiMaggio’s 9.8 WAR season. The 1961 outfield featured Mickey Mantle (10.1 WAR) and Roger Maris (7.1 WAR) with Yogi Berra (2.2 WAR) and Bob Cerv (1.3 WAR) rotating as third outfielders. This is a who’s who of Yankee legends.

Most of these outfields only had three players (1940 and 1961 being the exceptions) in their WAR totals. Obviously, 2018 has four quality outfielders, which should not discount them from being in the discussion. It only speaks more to the quality of the rotation the Yankees have. Any one of the four would be a starter on another team. They have a legitimate shot at being one of the greatest Yankee outfields and in turn, one of the great outfields in the history of major league baseball.

Born and raised in New Jersey in a Yankee household, Matt works with computers by day but has always loved baseball. When he's not doing either of those things, he's probably thinking about Villanova basketball way too much. Follow him on Twitter @MattchewGregory.

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New York Yankees

Yankees year in review | The starting pitchers

Matt Gregory

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Yankees Year in Review. This is the third of four parts looking at each position group for the Yankees. This week, it’s the starting rotation’s turn.

If you had to pick one weakness of the Yankees in 2018, it would have to be the starting rotation. Going into the season, it looked like this:

Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka
Sonny Gray
CC Sabathia
Jordan Montgomery

Much like the infield, this is not what the rotation looked like by year’s end. That is not surprising, starting rotations rarely survive a whole year without injuries or poor performance. There was some good and some bad, let’s start with the bad.

The fifth starter was a rotating door, as the Yankees lost Jordan Montgomery after six starts to an elbow strain. That would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery, ending his 2018 and potentially his 2019 season. His initial replacement was Luis Cessa who was also bitten by the injury bug with a hip issue.

Domingo Germán would then get his opportunity to lock down the fifth starter. While he stayed healthy, the results were mixed. Germán has a starter quality pitch mix, the issue was walks and home runs, which kept him from holding onto the spot.

CC Sabathia was a consistent bright spot for the rotation and statistically the third best starter in his age 37 season. It was announced on November 7th that Sabathia signed a one-year contract for 8 million dollars. He also stated that 2019 would be his last season. Sabathia raised his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) from 7.26 in 2017 to 8.24 in 2018.

Additionally, he cut down his HR/9 (home runs allowed per nine innings) to 1.12 from 1.27 in 2017.
Getting 2.5 WAR from a 37-year-old back-end starter is impressive and if Sabathia can give the Yankees another 150 innings as he did in 2018, then it would be an undeniable success. One milestone to watch: Sabathia needs 14 strikeouts to reach 3,000 in his career.

That brings us to Sonny Gray. The Yankees dealt James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler for the righty in 2017 and he performed fine in those 11 starts. His first full season with the Yankees was bad. Gray walked 3.94 batters per nine innings and had an ERA of 4.90. He was sent to the bullpen where he would be used in long relief and an occasional spot start to end the year.

General Manager Brian Cashman has been rather open about his intent to deal Gray, telling Matt Ehalt of the Bergen Record that Gray “has got a good makeup, I just don’t think this is the right spot for him.” Unless he is packaged with some prospects, it seems hard to believe that Gray will bring much of a return in prospects, maybe some lottery ticket type players.

To replace Gray and strengthen the fifth spot, Cashman dealt from the surplus of players and prospects who were blocked for Lance Lynn and J.A. Happ. Both performed as good, if not better than what was expected of them coming over. Lynn was worth 1.8 fWAR in 9 starts while Happ was worth 1.1 fWAR in 11 starts. Both are free agents and potential targets for backend innings. Lynn can also provide extended innings out of the bullpen, something he did both in the regular season and playoffs for the Yankees.

Masahiro Tanaka was not healthy for the full year but still turned in one of his better seasons statistically. He sliced his ERA down by a full run to 3.75 and his HR/9 to 1.44. Still, he only pitched 156 innings. When healthy, he is arguably the second-best starter to Luis Severino in the rotation and will be with the Yankees for another two years since he did not opt-out of his contract.

Speaking of Severino, he started off the year with Cy Young caliber stuff. The problem was that his ERA in the second half was 5.57, which for reference was higher than Sonny Gray’s full-season ERA. Severino has the pure stuff: a high 90s fastball and a wipeout slider. He did not use the changeup much until the second half, but it showed flashes as a good pitch. There is also some evidence that Severino was tipping pitches, specifically in the playoffs. The hope would be that the team caught this, and it gets addressed going into next season.

Still, with Severino, Tanaka, and Sabathia there are two spots left in the rotation. There are three routes the Yankees could choose: internal promotion, free agency, and trades. Internally, the Yankees have Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, and Jonathan Loaisiga. Adams and Loaisiga both made starts during 2017, while Sheffield made some relief appearances late in the year. Loaisiga performed better than Adams but he also dealt with shoulder issues. Expect all three to compete in Spring training 2019 for a spot.

This free agent class looked impressive for pitching a couple years ago and now, it merely looks okay? Clayton Kershaw was taken off the market by signing an extension with the Dodgers in early November. Hyun-Jin Ryu is rumored to most likely accept the Dodgers’ qualifying offer. So, those are two fewer options.

According to Keith Law (insider paywall), the best pitching options still left are Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Nathan Eovaldi. Corbin would be an “ace” type acquisition, though he has been injured in the past. Keuchel also has missed some time in 2016 and 2017 but would be a great option as a mid-rotation starter. Morton is on the older side and the Yankees may be wary to sign Eovaldi again, especially with the workload he shouldered coming off Tommy John.

Finally, we come to the trade candidates. James Paxton, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber have all been rumored to be available so far this offseason as both the Mariners and Indians decide whether they want to shed payroll. Any one of the three would be welcome additions but come with hefty price tags, though it has not stopped Cashman from dealing before.
No matter what, the rotation will be the number one priority this offseason. Expect Cashman to get creative as he addresses the clear weakness of this Yankees team.

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Podcast

Gary Sanchez has shoulder surgery, will be ready Opening Day

Stacey Gotsulias

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Gary Sanchez
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s episode of Locked On Yankees, Stacey discusses Gary Sanchez’s shoulder surgery (try saying that three times fast), Luke Voit’s insane offseason workouts, Brian Cashman’s comments about Chris Sale and she takes you around the league.

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CC Sabathia signs one-year deal to stay with the Yankees in 2019

Stacey Gotsulias

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Brad Penner-USA Today Sports

In today’s episode of Locked On Yankees, Stacey discusses CC Sabathia’s latest one-year deal with the Yankees and she discusses Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and much more!

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