A Look At The Infield: Fangraphs 2020 Positional Power Rankings and Thoughts
Ethan Semendinger looks at Fangraphs’s 2020 Positional Power Rankings for the shortened season and how well the New York Yankees projected starters and positional depth look across catching and the infield.
Players Listed: Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka, Chris Iannetta, and Erik Kratz
Expected Total fWAR (2020): 1.2 fWAR from Sanchez (0.9) and Higashioka (0.2)
The Yankees have been very fortunate to have a history of great catchers and continued success with the catching position even with so much turnover in the last decade. This seems to be something the Yankees should expect to continue into 2020 by this current crop of backstops.
Led by one of the games current top Gary Sanchez, Fangraphs’s projections anticipate that he will be a Top-5 catcher across the MLB (tied with Roberto Perez of the Indians) with a 0.9 fWAR and a .242/.324/.520 triple-slash, which a Slugging that leads all backstops. While he gets hit down a bit for defense, hopefully some offseason adjustments can keep from proving detrimental behind the plate, allowing for his name to be up there alongside J.T. Realmuto (PHI) and Yasmani Grandal (CWS) as the tops in the MLB.
Kyle Higashioka also looks to get his fair share of action, and could very likely produce positive value for the Yankees. His 0.2 fWAR comes from only 52 plate appearances, which should easily fill in for the loss of Austin Romine, who looks to be worse with 0.4 expected fWAR over 123 PA’s of his own.
Both Chris Iannetta and Erik Kratz will likely find themselves playing innings behind the plate in blow-out wins or losses as the Yankees can hopefully keep Sanchez healthy as the depth falls quickly at this position.
Players Listed: Luke Voit, Mike Ford, Miguel Andujar, and DJ LeMahieu
Expected Total fWAR (2020): 0.8 fWAR from Luke Voit (0.5) and Mike Ford (0.2)
Now that the Greg Bird experiment is officially over (we’ll always have that Home Run off Andrew Miller), the Yankees look towards Luke Voit to handle the first base position for 2020 and likely beyond. However, this doesn’t mean that he is totally in the clear.
Voit is expected to produce about 0.5 fWAR with a .260/.353/.470 triple-slash, which comes out to be incredibly average across the position. While his introduction as a Yankee in 2018 went better than anybody would have reasonably assumed, his 2019 season looked good before it was ended horrifically by injury and trying to play through a hernia. These projections match closely to the first half of 2019 for Voit.
However, I wouldn’t count out Mike Ford as a player with a legitimate shot to potentially run with the job for a while in this upcoming odd season. Marked mostly by an amazing presence and eye at the plate, Ford also shows great MLB power. Like Voit however, he does also come with a slight defensive blight.
Miguel Andujar and DJ LeMahieu are both given a few first base plate appearance (39 and 8 respectively), which would most likely come out of trying to find a space in the line-up for each bat. However, more on these two later.
Players Listed: DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Wade, and Thairo Estrada
Expected Total fWAR (2020): 1.1 fWAR from DJ LeMahieu (1.1)
After a near MVP performance in 2019, DJ LeMahieu showed that he was the ultimate piece from the offseason and has earned his spot at second base for 2020. However, while he did test positive for COVID-19, yesterday Ken Rosenthal did say he expects him to rejoin the team this week– just in time for the opening series. It would be hard to fathom a season where LeMahieu isn’t the man slotted in at second base for a large majority of the games in 2020, but his performance may dip as a consequence of not having as much time (if any) in Summer Camp.
Fangraphs projects a substantial decline in his performance for 2020- as to partially be expected- going from a .324/.375/.518 triple-slash to a .290/.345/.435 triple-slash. This would prove to be very bad for the Yankees, but even with this he still projects as a Top-4 second baseman. Add in the comfort with a more solidified role instead of being a super-utility player again, and I would bet that DJ outperforms, even if only slightly, these projections.
Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada do look to get a little bit of playing time here this season, but as with the #3 and #4 catchers on the team, this mostly looks to come from days off for DJ and/or getting into blow-out games.
Players Listed: Gio Urshela, Miguel Andujar, DJ LeMahieu, Matt Duffy, and Tyler Wade
Expected Total fWAR (2020): 0.9 fWAR from Gio Urshela (0.7) and Miguel Andujar (0.1)
Personally, I was always high on DJ LeMahieu which made his breakout in 2019 not seem completely out-of-the-ordinary (especially given an amazing 2016 for him as well), but Gio Urshela completely came out of nowhere after Miguel Andujar went down with injury for the season.
It seems all but certain that Gio will continue to play as the starting third baseman as his bat outplayed his main competitor last season and his defense far outshines him, but there should be some worry. The end of 2019 did bring about strikeout and walk woes, which has led to a reduced .275/.315/.445 triple-slash. Luckily, his defensive value at the hot corner should play favorably into keeping him on the field.
Miguel Andujar on the other hand I hope does not get spread too thin. While LeMahieu excelled in a role playing a large amount of games around the infield, I would hope that a transition to 1B and even maybe the outfield does not affect this young player. His bat should be an extreme asset for the Yankees in 2020 in a DH or first-of-the-bench role, which is why they are trying to make his profile more diverse to allow him game time, but season may prove to be a serious indication of what he can do.
Matt Duffy was recently acquired and should be nothing more than an emergency option, given the competition at third and having two better options ahead of him. Tyler Wade also gets some time here as the super-utility player covering a day off or two.
Players Listed: Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Matt Duffy
Expected Total fWAR (2020): 1.5 fWAR from Gleyber Torres (1.4)
While the delay of the 2020 season will ultimately be favorable for the Yankees as they were able to get players like Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and James Paxton to be healthy at the start, one major negative will be the loss of a half season from the career of Gleyber Torres. While he is not the best shortstop in the MLB- thanks to Francisco Lindor- his future looks to be explosive. Did I mention that 2020 will be his age 23 season?
Shortstop is far and away the most controlled position for the Yankees infield, as DJ LeMahieu may have to move from second base and there being some competition at both first and third, and Torres takes almost 90% of the plate appearances going to a shortstop (231/259).
His .279/.342/.531 projected triple-slash along with a 1.4 fWAR puts him tied alongside Fernando Tatis Jr. (SDP), Bo Bichette (TOR), and Corey Seager (LAD), all of whom are top young players in the MLB. Interestingly enough, even with a move back his more natural position of shortstop from second base, Fangraphs does anticipate mediocre to poor defense. Even so, Torres is a lock to produce, especially with so many games coming against the Baltimore Orioles.
Yet again we see Tyler Wade, who will serve as a competent backup across the infield as the Yankees try and evaluate if he will be a solid MLB contributor. Thairo Estrada should also see some time at shortstop and while he will likely produce little, he is another solid depth piece who requires some extra time to evaluate. Matt Duffy also gets a small highlight, although I would expect his time (if any) this season comes at third.