Not The Weekly Mailbag: 2022 New York Yankees ZiPS Projection
By Andy Singer
Another week, another week without any real baseball news. I know I’m a broken record at this point, but the Lockout is getting to be a major bummer. Jeff Passan has a report this week regarding the state of negotiations that really doesn’t indicate that the two sides have come any closer to substantive negotiations. I remain hopeful that by late January, both sides will look at the calendar and realize that the season might get impacted, which will spur some real discussions…I hope.
In the meantime, we’ll be right here every week. The SSTN Mailbag was light this week, so I thought it would be a good time to discuss the ZiPS projections for this year’s Yankees as they are currently constructed. Send those questions in to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com so that we can get back into the Mailbag next week. I found this year’s ZiPS projections very interesting, so let’s get into it:
Most studies generally accept that a Major League team built entirely of replacement-level players (0 WAR players) would win roughly 47.5 games in a 162-game season. While it isn’t correct to simply add up WAR at each position on the diamond and add 47.5 to project wins, it can give you a pretty good idea of roster quality, even if the range of outcomes are wide.
Using that imperfect methodology, we would set the Yankees’ over/under for wins in 2022 at 93.5.
I was initially very surprised by that number – I expected a number somewhere in the 86-88 win range. When I really considered it though, setting an imperfect over/under for the current roster at 93.5 wins actually makes a lot of sense. A mathematical projection system isn’t going to over-weight one season of data, and the Yankees came into last season projected to be the best team in the American League (once DJ LeMahieu’s projection was added to the calculation). Compared to last offseason, 93.5 wins is actually a significant drop.
This is a reminder that everything that could possibly go wrong for the Yankees from a statistical perspective went wrong. As flawed as this team was in 2021, and despite their inability to hit for long stretches, this team won 92 games when everything went wrong. Setting the over/under at 93.5 games with the current roster makes sense, if you safely project a modest bounce-back for certain members of the team.
In the infield, two players who desperately need some bounce-back are DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres. ZiPS projects modest bounce-backs from both players. ZiPS projects LeMahieu to have a 104 OPS+ and 3.1 WAR, while it projects Torres to have a 106 OPS+, 20 homers, and 2.2 WAR. We would have been disappointed with those numbers coming into 2021, but now? I’d take that from both guys in a heartbeat.
Gleyber Torres is a player about whom I understand skepticism, and relative to last season, 20 homers and a 106 OPS+ sounds like it’s asking a lot. On the other hand, the rate they’re projecting is basically what Torres did from late-July through the end of the season at the plate. It’s important to keep in mind that ZiPS is considered among the best in the business because it tends to be conservative. Even modest bounce-back from players like Torres and LeMahieu gives this team a huge boost in 2022.
I also want to note that ZiPS has LeMahieu playing all over the diamond in 2022, which is exactly what I want to see. Forget about his contract – it’s a done deal. Getting LeMahieu 500 ABs as a super utility player who inevitably fills in at one position for some length of time due to injury really isn’t that difficult, and it’s a role in which I expect him to thrive.
The top-end of Giancarlo Stanton’s projection decreases with each year. I’m not really arguing with it, but I do wonder how much this projection changes if he’s able to play 80-90 games in the outfield in 2022 without embarrassing himself.
This pitching staff is very good, as ZiPS shows pretty definitively. The Yankees are in better shape on the mound than they were coming into last season. The only caveat is the starting rotation, where Taillon is returning from injury, and we don’t know how many innings we can reasonably expect from Sevy. I expect Severino to pitch well over 130-150 innings in 2022, and I liked Taillon as a mid-rotation starter last season, and I expect him to come back strong in May 2022.
Oh, and as the resident hype man for Jordan Montgomery, I just want to note that once again, ZiPS’ conservative projection has him listed as a formidable Robin to Cole’s Batman…again. It was right last season, so don’t be surprised when it happens again.
ZiPS sees some regression for Nestor Cortes, but still views him as a viable Major League pitcher. I agree, but I’ll secretly hope for more. I’m keeping my Nasty Nestor shirt at the ready for his first start.
One interesting point worth discussing: all three major Yankee middle infield prospects get a ton of credit from ZiPS. Each of Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, and Oswaldo Cabrera project to earn 1.2-1.4 WAR with enough playing time. Those are surprising projections for players who have not spent much time in the upper minors (and no time at all for Volpe).
I am bullish on all three as well. Volpe and Peraza are the big guns, but Cabrera is sneaking under people’s radars, and I think he’ll have a lot of value as soon as mid-season as a powerful utility guy who plays good defense at SS, 2B, and 3B. Imagine if Tyler Wade could hit, let’s put it that way.
ZiPS doesn’t love Gary Sanchez or Aaron Hicks, which makes sense. There’s just too much bad data there to overcome. It views both as roughly average hitters in total value with defensive issues, which matches up for me.
Overall? There is clearly work to do with this roster, but it has a much better base than people are giving it credit for. ZiPS shows that pretty clearly. Imagine how this projection will look with an adequate SS and an upgrade at 1B…