By Andy Singer
Photo Credit: Rob Carr, Getty Images
I realize that it might seem a bit lame to post a predictions post after Opening Day, but luckily nothing happened between the first game of the season and now to alter any of my thoughts regarding the Yankees as it stands today. Other SSTN staffers have already posited their opinions regarding some player and team specific outcomes, so I wanted to throw my hat into the ring. My take is going to look a little different, hence it’s appearance separately. Without any further ado, let’s dig into it:
The Most Important Yankee Pitcher Not Named Gerrit Cole
So much of the offseason was spent discussing the starting rotation. While not everyone will agree with Cashman’s choices to replenish depth in the starting rotation, I think the most important rotation innings (in the non-Cole division) will come from Jordan Montgomery. I said it multiple times last year, but Monty’s final line in 2020 was skewed by one really bad outing. Removing that outing from the sample shows us that Monty was pretty darn good last year, and the elements for that performance are readily apparent.
Monty has always shown elite command from the left side and a whole kitchen sink to throw at hitters from start to start; he just didn’t always have the velocity to make that stuff play up as anything more than a backend rotation piece. Since Tommy John Surgery, Monty is pitching with at least 1 MPH more velocity on his average fastball, and at times even more as we’ve seen this Spring. For a guy with command over multiple pitches and already decent movement, extra velocity is huge. Getting one more year away from Tommy John should help Monty thrive, and I think he is going to be a key mid-rotation piece in 2021.
I predict the following line for Jordan Montgomery: 170 IP, 3.55 ERA, 167 K, 40 BB, 3.8 WAR
Best Offensive Performance
The Yankee offense will be a juggernaut – about this, I have little doubt. However, I honestly believe that one Yankee in particular will be healthier than in recent memory and capitalize on that health: Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton’s ability at the plate is game-changing when he’s locked in, and we saw how good he can be in last year’s playoffs. I think Stanton reminds people that he was the NL MVP in 2017, and anchors the middle of the order for the best lineup in baseball.
I predict that Stanton will hit 53 HR in 148 games played, and slash .270/.355/.600. He provides negative defensive value, since he spends most of the season at DH, but with such a dominant offensive performance, Stanton is still worth 5+ WAR overall. I think Stanton will produce the best hitting performance on the Yankees.
Luke Voit will miss the first month of the season, but he will produce numbers that match Stanton on a rate basis.
Team WAR Leaders – Offense
Aaron Judge will play 140+ games, and will bring order to the court as a plus contributor both offensively an defensively. Judge is the best player on the team on a rate basis, and while he won’t quite match his numbers from 2017, he’ll come awfully close, producing 7 WAR in the process while slugging 40 homers (for those of you counting at home, that means that Judge and Stanton will combine for 93 homers).
The second most valuable player in the lineup by WAR will be…Gleyber Torres. I really believe that he will breakout offensively while approaching average-ish defense, which makes Torres a Top-5 shortstop in the game. Torres will go back to making hard contact in the air in 2021, and his improved plate discipline as displayed by improved strikeout and walk rates in 2020 prove not to be a mirage. Torres will produce 5.5-6 WAR.
I’ve predicted an MVP award for Gary Sanchez 3 years in a row…so I’m going to stop doing that. However, for one more year, I remain on the Gary Sanchez train. I think he’s in great shape, and appears to be blocking the ball far better than he ever has if Spring Training is any indication. Sanchez’s arm has never been a question, and I really believe he can be passable behind the plate.
Sanchez will remain streaky behind the plate, but the aggregate is still a good offensive player, and he’ll produce the following line: .240/.320/.515, 35 HR, 3.5-4.0 WAR. Sanchez may not quite be “The Kraken,” but he’s a really good starting catcher that the Yankees will be happy to keep around.
Keep in mind, that I think that the term disappointment is relative to expectations.
DJ LeMahieu is the type of ballplayer that I absolutely love watching, and I still think he’ll be very good, but Yankee fans have gotten used to seeing LeMahieu produce like a near-MVP level during his time in pinstripes, and I’m not sure he can keep that pace up. I hope I’m wrong, but I have a hard time believing that the power won’t diminish a bit in 2021. LeMahieu will still make gobs of contact and play good defense, which makes him a near All-Star, but it’s shy of the 5+ WAR player we’ve seen in recent seasons.
Brett Gardner has been a great Yankee, and I still think he’ll be a valuable member of the 2021 team, but I think he’ll struggle to adapt as a part-time player for the first time in over a decade. He’ll steal some bags (I’ll guess 15) and grab a few big hits, but his overall line will bring his OPS+ and wRC+ under 100 for a full season. I really hope he proves me wrong.
The Offseason Acquisitions
Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon have a lot to prove in 2021. Neither guy has pitched much in the last two seasons, and neither is the same pitcher that they were a few years ago. Both have lost some velocity (unless, of course, the adrenaline that comes from real games boosts their fastballs a bit), and it’s been a minute since either has been dominant.
I’m most confident in Jameson Taillon finding a grove. I really believe that his high-spin four-seam fastball will be utilized as a weapon up in the zone in combination with that wicked slider. I also love the shorter arm action Taillon as shown in camp, and I believe it will help him stay healthy this year. Taillon will be a steady arm in the middle of the rotation who gives the Yankee rotation 140+ innings, a 3.90 ERA, and 2.5+ WAR.
I’m a bit worried about Kluber, but I really believe he’s a smart enough pitcher with good enough stuff to make it work in 2021. I’m not sure I buy that he’ll be healthy enough to throw more than 120 innings, as guys Kluber’s age tend to get nicked up more than younger guys, but I feel good about projecting 110-120 innings, with a 4.05 ERA, and 1.5 WAR. He’ll be healthy and useful in the playoffs.
Bullpen Weapons Emerge
I’ll cut right to the chase: everyone who reads the blog regularly knows what I’m about to write here. I think that two pitchers are going to cement themselves as key cogs in the next Yankee bullpen machine: Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson. They both have stuff, velocity, and a demonstrated ability to throw more than one inning per appearance, which makes them uniquely suited to roles as valuable firemen in 2021 that can be used in a variety of situations as needed. Both will strike out 12+ batters per 9 innings in 2021 and will throw 40+ innings for the Yankees.
Gerrit Cole will win the 2021 Cy Young Award in the American League. I don’t care if MLB cracks down on substances, Cole will still be in a league of his own on the mound. He’ll throw 200+ innings and get to 300 strikeouts with a 2.75 ERA. Numbers like that should get Cole pretty close to 7.0 WAR.
The Former Ace
The Yankees bring Luis Severino on slowly, but he makes his first start of the year prior to the end of July. The Yanks will manage Sevy’s innings very carefully prior to September, when he’ll begin to build for the playoffs. Sevy will have all of his former velocity and stuff, but it’ll take him until September to regain his control and fastball command. However, Sevy will look strong enough in September to be the 1B to Cole’s 1A in the playoffs.
Overall, Severino will only throw 55 innings in the regular season, but he’ll be one of the Yankees’ most valuable pitchers in the playoffs.
When you look around the American League, while there are some very solid teams on paper, there are no teams that come even remotely close to the Yankees. In the AL East, the Rays project to be less formidable than a year ago, while the Jays take the Rays’ spot as possible foil to the Yankees’ well-laid plans. In any case, the Yankees will plow through the American League in the regular season, picking up 103 wins in the process as the best team in the league.
The Yankees will need reinforcements to get through the season. Sevy’s return is a shot in the arm, but the Yankees will acquire either a multi-inning reliever or a backend starter prior to the trade deadline. The Yankees will deal from their prospect depth to accomplish this, sending away Mike King and Clarke Schmidt.
The Jays will win the Wild Card round, and get beaten 3-2 in a hard fought series by the Yanks in the ALDS. The upstart White Sox will surprise everyone by reaching the ALCS, but they are no match for the Yankees, losing 4-2.
I’m not going to overthink the World Series, as this will be a battle of Goliaths, and go to 7 games. The Yankees and Dodgers will play in a World Series that will be remembered for years to come, but our guys will come out on top, winning magic number 28.