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  • Cary Greene

More Better and Worse...

by Cary Greene

February 1, 2023

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Name One Yankee Who Will Be Noticeably Better in 2023 and One Who Will Be Noticeably Worse


Honing in on Garrett Cole first in order to deliver the bad news I predict first, I think he’ll be noticeably worse in 2023. Projections actually think that Nestor Cortes and not Cole, will fall back significantly in 2023, but I disagree. However, Cole is probably the Yankees most important player based on the innings he eats and the way the Yankees line him up to face the other team' best pitchers. I dearly hope I’m wrong on Cole taking a pretty sizable step back in 2023, but I think he’s teetering on the brink of a potential implosion in 2023 and here’s why I speculate as such.


There was a time when Cole’s Barrels (allowed) per Plate Appearance against (5.9) was well downstairs of the league average (6.7) and that was back in 2019 when he was slathering baseballs up with Spider Tack and missing bats like a true ace. Since he came to the Yankees, he’s averaged 9.5 in this department. Likewise, his Hard Hit Percentage against has also ballooned from 2019’s ace level 35.5 percent to an average of 41.1 percent over the same three-year time span.


Last season, Nestor Cortes did nothing but smoke the projections and with such absurdly low Barrel Percentages and Hard Hit Percentages, I find it very hard to think he’ll suddenly revert back to his days before learning his running and dropping cutter. That’s why it’s pretty obvious that Cortes will beat his projections. Last year’s numbers don’t matter nearly as much as whether or not a player could build on, or slip away from, the body of work they most recently posted.


This is why looking at both StatCast data and projections can help to identify potential player gains and losses. Here’s a glimpse of the Yankees 2022 rotation.


Much has been written here on SSTN about how Cole isn’t locating his fastball up in the zone the way he has in the past, which has caused his effectiveness to decline. He’s kind of reverted to being the pitcher I remember seeing with the Pirates, before the Astros acquired him. While it’s true he’s always had a tantalizing power arm, he’s not the pitcher Brian Cashman thought he was signing when he cut him a massive $334 million sum from Hal Steinbrenner’s checkbook and secured his “white whale” for nine-years.


Pitching is either going to hold up and deliver the Yankees a World Series Championship or falter and wind up continuing to fail providing the run suppression needed to stifle opponents in the postseason and I truly believe for the Yankees to end the championship drought that Cashman and Steinbrenner have combined to create, pitching will be the key.


That said, the Yankees need Cole to get back to being his 2019 self. That means locating up in the zone and drastically decreasing the ability of hitters to square up his primary weapon, which is his four seam fastball, opposed to basically “teeing up” the ball for them and allowing them to square it up and hit it hard. Do I think Cole can/will do this? No, I don’t. But it would be fantastic if he could.


Projections really unanimously agree that Cole is still the Yankees best starter, but the gap between Cole and the Joneses has closed exponentially in recent times. What still sets him apart during the regular season is that Cole remains a true workhorse, he eats innings and racks up strikeouts, but he’s showing signs of decline and the heavy workload may be starting to wear him down. Power pitchers are usually pretty good at eating innings, but the innings do add up. Will Cole once again handle the load, even though opposing hitters have adjusted to where he now locates his best pitch?


It’s not like Cole has worked a new pitch into the mix that he can rely on. Power pitchers rarely do that with success. Power pitchers depend primarily on velocity and pitch location. I think signs point to Cole not being able to meet the projections. He’s a student of pitching, he prepares exceptionally well and he’s big, strong armed and capable of eating innings, but the StatCast data is concerning. I’m not seeing any upwards trends or changes with his fastball and to me, it feels like it's all catching up with him a bit. 2023 may be the year where he takes a step backwards. I don’t think by any means that he’ll implode, but I do think he’ll likely struggle to keep meeting or exceeding projections.


Opinions on whether or not this is true will surely vary. Some will blame the catching, others will say it’s the lack of Spider Tack. Perhaps his arm is tiring from being such a volume power producer for so long now.


Whatever the case may be, I think Cole is in the process of becoming more of a number two or three starter with the Yankees. It's likely that if the Yankees want to win a World Series, they’re not going to succeed by riding on Cole’s back. He’s just not the pitcher he once appeared to be.


Zeroing in on Giancarlo Stanton next, the Yankees would be ecstatic if he could start resembling his 2017 or even 2018 self and doing that means him getting into a serious, uninterrupted from injury, sustained groove. For Stanton to do that, he simply has to get back into the outfield more and stay loose. If he were to hit 50+ home runs and drive in 100+ runs while being more of a two-way player, he could finally combine with Judge to form the kind of outfield giddy Yankees fans thought they were going to see when news hit back in the 2017-18 offseason that Cashman had traded for him. At the time, baseball thought it was “unfair.” Well, I wants to see me some unfair dag-gummit!


If you can’t tell from the many articles I’ve written, I have high expectations on Stanton. I want value from him and he’s not going to provide that if he’s only a DH. Do I think Stanton will hit 45+ home runs this season? Surprisingly, I think the answer may just be yes. 2023 feels to me like the year he puts it all together and to do that, staying healthy is the key and if he could do that, his critics might just ease up a bit.


It’s a big ask, but wow, if Stanton can stay on the field more, I can envision the Yankees becoming a postseason juggernaut. I have hope here, foolishly even. But his Exit Velo’s and other StatCast numbers just jump off the page and scream, “Why aren’t you doing more kid, you’re too good to be such a chump!?” It's unlikely that the Yankees can win it all with the current roster unless they get increased production and durability from Stanton, there’s simply too much invested in him.


Harkening to the Pandemic ravaged 2020 playoffs, I present the following reminders as to what Stanton is capable of: 1.426 OPS with 6 dingers and 13 RBIs in a mere 7 games. The Yankees need to get Stanton on track.


Lastly, I chose a bonus player to focus on, selecting my favorite Yankee, Nestor Cortes Jr. I think 2023 is going to be the season where he becomes a Yankees legend. If he can win 20 games and post a sub 3.00 ERA while logging 185+ innings, he might carry the Yankees even if Gerrit Cole turns into what I think he really will become, which is a middle of the rotation starter. Cortes on the other hand knows how to pitch. I’ve been shouting this out since he first made the Yankees, long before Cashman squandered him away the first and second times, failing to see his mound presence and upside. I saw something rare in Cortes. He attacked hitters and worked with purpose.


I’ve been writing all about him and his new found cutter and I was the first and only person here on SSTN to predict he’d be an All-Star in 2022 - doing so during the 2021 offseason. Most were still skeptical of Cortes, Tim Kabel aside, but lo and behold, Cortes became one of the best starters in baseball last season and he not only made the All-Star game, but he and his flashy glove stole the show when he was miked-up and paired with Jose Trevino. At one point, Cortes even executed his famous trick delivery as he won fans over with pure fun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWoawK_6Ooo


Do I think Cortes will log 180+ innings, win 20 games and post a sub 3.00 ERA while smashing all projections, on the way to winning the American League Cy Young award? It’s possible, yes, though he may fall a bit short if I’m truly being realistic. What I do think is that Cortes will be even better in 2023.


There are several keys to the 2023 season, but while others are focused on bit-part players like Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera, I recognize that Brian Cashman has built a roster with a strategy that places all the marbles on the backs of a few select players. If Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole, and Carlos Rodon don’t carry the Yankees to a championship, if all four don’t step up massively, the plan will never work. Too much is invested in these key players and nowhere else.


Not to mention, there are true flaws in how Cashman has surrounded his pricey but powerful quartet of cogs. In terms of resource (payroll) allocation, the next tranche of key players Cashman has elected to bank on are Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Luis Severino, Aaron Hicks, and Frankie Montas. Does this use of payroll scream “World Series Champs” to you? It doesn’t to me.


Call me kooky, but I’d argue a convocation of players like the below bulleted list would have been a far superior play for Cashman to focus on, while he was simultaneously adding the Harrison Baders and Jose Trevino’s of the world.


● Francisco Lindor - Would have been a great fit on the Yankees and he’s a switch-hitter to boot. Imagine how different the Yankees infield would have looked if Cashman had been aggressive in his pursuit of Lindor during the 2020-21 offseason? He’s a difference making player. Lindor, who will be 29-years-old this season, posted a 6.8 fWAR for the Mets last season while being 13 outs above average at shortstop.

● Freddie Freeman - could have also been a Yankee, for what now seems like a totally reasonable $27-million AAV, but Cashman passed on him as well. Freeman posted a 7.1 fWAR last year for the Dodgers. Imagine a bat like Freeman’s batting third in the Yankees lineup? He was a great fit and our Editor in Chief Paul Semendinger was keenly in on him last offseason and rightly so. No offense to Anthony Rizzo who’s been a really likable and solid player, but Freeman really was the play last offseason and if were to have been added along with the other players on my list, the Yankees would have become an absolute powerhouse.

● Seiya Suzuki - He wound up with the Cubs on a now reasonable five-year deal for $17 million AAV and though he missed 40 games with a finger injury, I felt last offseason that Cashman should have added him to the outfield mix, creating space by trading Joey Gallo who was rated by Baseball Trade Values as still having a $15 million MTV prior to the start of the season. Imagine how cool it would have been if Cashman had flipped Gallo for a solid return and added Suzuki’s intriguing skills to the outfield? STEAMERS is calling for a 3.3 fWAR season from Suzuki this season and his StatCast numbers are pretty intriguing to boot.

● Kyle Schwarber - Last year, “Schwaaaba” wound up in Philly for $20 million AAV over four years and he proved to be once again a feared postseason player with a lighting fast bat and a dead pull swing. I wanted Cashman to finally bring him to the Yankees last offseason but to no avail, my dreams of him batting cleanup as the Yankees DH never materialized. How appealing would his 46 home runs and 96 RBI’s have been in the Yankees lineup last year? Imagine Stanton protecting Schwarber, with Freeman protecting Judge?

● Masataka Yoshida - The Red Sox signed him this offseason for a reasonable $15-million and five-years. He would have been a great fit for the Yankees and he’d have likely solved the Yankees left field issues while making the lower third of the lineup look a whole lot better.

● Tyler Anderson - The Angels made off with the best bargain of the 2022-23 off-season’s free agent pitching class. When Cashman moved on from Jordan Montgomery, who Steamers projects to be worth 2.5 fWAR in 2023, he wound up paying $27 million AAV over six years for Carlos Rodon, who is conservatively projected to be worth 4.5 fWAR while pitching essentially the same 175-ish innings that “Monty” would have. I think signing Rodon was nothing short of an awesome move and he’s very likely going to be an upgrade from Monty.


Which brings us to the matter of Frankie Montas and how he compares to Monty. Is Montas better or worse, pitching in New York, in essentially the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation? I’d argue, for the Yankees who are a team that plays half their games per season in a stadium with a ridiculously short porch in right field, that Monty was a better overall fit for the Yankees than Montas. Some might argue that the Yankees also play half their games on the road and there are far more right-handed hitters in baseball, but do the Yankees want to encourage opponents to come into Yankee Stadium and stack left-handed lineups - for half of the games the Yankees play each year?


Do the Yankees want to hand opponents the very same primary advantage that the confines of Yankee Stadium was built to provide for the home team? Likewise, should the Yankee offense perpetually load up on right handed hitters when most pitchers are right handed? Seems like a very off base fundamental strategy to me. I don’t see Cashman’s logic and based on his recent actions the past couple of seasons, it appears he finally sees the error of his ways.


The problem is, in today’s game, teams put a premium on left-handedness. If the Yankees were truly committed to building a team using the “Yankee way,” which is a blueprint that 27 previous world championship Yankees teams used, Cashman would have needed to understand the vision the moment he took over as GM and Hal Steinbrenner would have needed to be willing to pay for the right players and that means he’d have needed to open the checkbook more than he was willing to do in prior seasons.


FanGraphs thinks Monty is going to actually be a half an fWAR more valuable than Montas in 2023 (2.5 to 1.9). I totally get why Cashman made the trade for Bader. A team like the Yankees can’t not have a center fielder, there’s a lot of real estate out there up the middle, in Yankee stadium after all.


But I think signing Tyler Anderson was the play to open the offseason. I was dejected when the Angels grabbed him so quickly and on such a reasonable 3 -year deal with an AAV of $13 million. He’s coming off a 4.0 fWAR season but STEAMERS projects him to be a much more modest 1.7 fWAR this year. I won’t go deeply into this here, but I have reasons to believe he’ll be significantly better in 2023.


In any event, based on projections, Montas may be perfectly fine as the Yankees fifth starter, if he can come around to pitching the Bronx, which is something I’m very much not sold on him having the ability to do.


My vision for the Yankees hasn’t happened though. I’ve prioritized left handedness, power, batsmanship, defense at key positions, and also some right-handed balance and upside.

8 Comments


Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Feb 01, 2023

-- Really good point. I was actually taking aback, surprised and also enthused that Cashman recognized he needed to sign Rodon. Paired with Cole and perhaps with Cortes and Severino mixed in, that's a righty lefty righty lefty combination that could really click.


Can Cole Do what he's capable of or is his location going to be a problem going forward? That's the concern. When you look at Cole's four seamer heat maps over the past 3 or 4 seasons, He's locating lower and lower in the zone to the point where now he's belt high.


I think he's still going to get his strikeouts but major League hitters with fast bats are going to be sitting on that fastball.…


Like

fuster
Feb 01, 2023

Cole is not superman.


he's not Nolan Ryan throwing 105 at age 40

and he's not even a roid-enraged Roger


but he's one of the 10 best starters in the majors and will remain so for another couple of years.


Cashman understands what Cole is and is not and the addition of Rodon demonstrates both understanding as well as a commitment to building a rotation that DOES bespeak having a championship roster.


~~~~

Tyler Anderson's contract indeed does seem to be a bargain

Anderson, just turned 33, has a spotty history, but had a heck of a season in 2022

he's a good pick-up for the Angels and might end up being the best starter on the Angels

if Ohtani…


Like
fuster
Feb 02, 2023
Replying to

help me out.


explain to me how Anderson is a better value than Cortes


and then tell me how Anderson stacks up against that pitcher Ohtani

Like
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