Predictions Versus Reality: A Reckoning
By Andy Singer
Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke
This will be a short article. Generally speaking, my posts tend to be a hodgepodge of analytical concepts mixed with scouting/video analysis to formulate an opinion of something vaguely pertinent to the Yankee Universe. However analytically based an argument may be, one thing for which I always strive is objectivity. Just behind that though is a commitment to looking in hindsight with very clear eyes. For the first year in a couple of years, I made some very definitive predictions regarding the 2021 season. What follows is a purely objective assessment of those predictions, the good, the bad, and the ugly. For reference, all predictions were noted in this article and the Tuesday Discussion. Without any further ado, let’s see how I did:
1.) The Most Important Pitcher Not Named Gerrit Cole
I predicted that Jordan Montgomery would be the second best starting pitcher on the Yankee staff, and I predicted the following pitching line: 170 IP, 3.55 ERA, 167 K, 40 BB, 3.8 WAR.
On this first prediction, I was pretty darn close to on the money. Monty was very clearly the second best pitcher in the Yankee rotation, despite the fact that he seemingly battled through each of his first 12-15 starts. I was a hair high on innings pitched, but I think I overestimated how many innings numerous pitchers would toss after a pandemic-shortened season. Monty’s final line was as follows: 157 IP, 3.83 ERA, 162 K, 51 BB, 3.3 bWAR/fWAR. That’s pretty good! Frankly, my prediction looked even better had Monty not made a start during the last weekend of the season. Prior to a disastrous final start, this was Monty’s line: 154.2 IP, 3.49 ERA, 159 K, 48 BB. Somehow Monty gets overlooked by many Yankee fans, but by the numbers, Monty is a very capable #2/3 starter.
Final Result: GOOD PREDICTION (Grade A)
2.) Best Offensive Performance
I predicted that Giancarlo Stanton would have the best offensive performance of anyone on the roster, slugging 53 HR, with 5+ WAR and the following batting line: .270/.355/.600. I also said that Stanton would be healthy enough to play 148 games, and that Luke Voit would match Stanton’s stats on a rate basis, even though health would be an issue.
I was right that Stanton would be largely healthy in 2021, but I was a bit too bullish regarding his offensive performance. I was right on the money about Stanton’s batting average and on-base percentage: .270 predicted versus .273 actual batting average, and .355 predicted on-base percentage versus .354 ob-base percentage. The part I missed was Stanton’s power outage in the first half of the season: .484 slugging percentage in the first half versus .547 slugging percentage in the second half. He also hit 35 homers (not 53) and produced 3.1 bWAR/2.6 fWAR. It was a season that was still excellent offensively, but short of Aaron Judge’s production.
Oh, and Voit was hurt for much of the year, and he didn’t match Stanton on a rate basis, save for a 3 week stretch in July/August while Rizzo was on COVID-related IL. Despite Voit’s offensive success, Boone sent Voit to the bench basically for the rest of the season, and he never rediscovered that groove.
Final Result: Half Right (Grade C) – I’ll justify a passing grade here by saying that Stanton was healthy, and I guessed batting average and on-base percentage almost on the number. I didn’t foresee his first half power outage though, nor did I catch Voit’s struggles.
3.) Team WAR Leaders – Offense
I said that Aaron Judge would play 140 games and produce his best season since his rookie year, producing the best total value of any player on the Yankees (7-ish WAR) while slugging 40 homers.
I also predicted that Gleyber Torres would be the second most valuable offensive player on the team, with 5.5-6 WAR, defensive capabilities that sniffed average, improved plate discipline rates, and renewed hard contact in the air.
I was on the money with Aaron Judge – he was the best player on the team in 2021, and though he didn’t reach 7 WAR by the popularly available metrics (5.9 bWAR/5.5 fWAR), those calculations include less bullish defensive ratings that I really don’t buy based on available data. Judge was healthy, played a capable CF when needed, and was a rock. Quite simply, I was right here – Judge was worth every penny and more in 2021.
Boy, was I wrong about Gleyber Torres…mostly. It turns out that Torres really can’t play shortstop anymore, and until late July, Torres was incapable of hitting the ball hard in the air. He also fell woefully short of 5.5-6 WAR (0.8 bWAR/1.7 fWAR in reality in 2021). However, I was correct that Torres’ improved plate discipline that first appeared in 2020 was for real (Torres’ strikeout and walk rates were the best full-season figures of his career) and his line was excellent from July 17th through the end of the season: .295/.345/.466, 6 HR, 8 SB. A disappointing full season, but a second half that should give Yankee fans hope, particularly since his defense looks solid at 2B.
Final Results: Half Right (Grade C)
4.) The Catcher
I predicted that Sanchez wouldn’t regain his 2016-2017 form, but he would be a solid average catcher due to his offensive ability, despite streakiness. Due to the dearth of valuable catchers across the league, I thought that Sanchez would be an above-average catcher with the following line: .240/.320/.515 with 35 HR and 3.5-4 WAR.
If we had discussed this in June/July, I looked like a genius…then Sanchez got cold and stayed cold through the end of the season. Sanchez slugged 23 homers (well short of 35), barely beat the Mendoza line, and just didn’t make an offensive impact consistently (99 OPS+). Were there better options available, Sanchez would be easily replaceable from a value perspective. I’ve been on the Sanchez bandwagon for as long as I can remember, but without a coaching overhaul. I’m not sure the Yankees can salvage Sanchez.
Final Result: Bad Prediction (D-)
5.) The Disappointments
I expected DJ LeMahieu to hit for far less power and fall well shy of his near-MVP caliber performances in 2019 and 2020. I also predicted that Gardy would have some value, but would be overmatched at the plate, producing at a below-average rate by both OPS+ and wRC+.
I was right on the money. DJLM hit for almost no power despite hitting for contact with decent defense. DJLM was a major hole at the top of the order all year long, and I sadly called it.
Gardy had some value defensively and he had some timely hits, but he completely stopped stealing bags, and his offense, despite some resurgence late in the season, was still well below-average over a full season.
Final Results: Perfect (Grade A)
6.) The Offseason Acquisitions
I had more faith in Jameson Taillon than I did in Corey Kluber. I predicted that Taillon would toss the following line: 140+ innings, a 3.90 ERA, and 2.5+ WAR. I hedged my bets with Kluber, saying that I really didn’t believe he’d be healthy enough to throw 120 innings, but I thought he’d prove he could still pitch. If he threw 120 innings, I thought he could produce a 4.05 ERA and 1.5 WAR.
I was close with Taillon. He did throw 140+ innings (144.1, to be exact), with 2.2 bWAR/2.0 fWAR and a 4.30 ERA. That ERA is inflated slightly by a late season swoon, which could have been due to some issues with Taillon’s ankle. Overall though, I was very close with Taillon’s season.
I was right to worry about Kluber’s health: he did not reach 120 innings, throwing just 80 innings. However, I was right on with his full season value: Kluber had a 3.83 ERA and 1.4 bWAR/1.5 fWAR. Kluber, when healthy, can still pitch.
Final Result: On the Money (Grade A)
7.) Bullpen Weapons Emerge
I predicted that Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson would emerge as dynamite options out of the back of the Yankee bullpen, utilizing high octane stuff to baffle hitters while throwing 40+ innings.
I was half right. Loaisiga was the best reliever in the Yankee bullpen, which is what I thought Loaisiga was capable of. I was completely wrong on Nelson. His control issues completely undid him this year, and he was never a realistic option at MLB despite some disastrous outings.
Final Results: Half Right (Grade C) – I justify this score by saying that an A+ and an F average out to a C on the 4.0 GPA scale.
8.) The Ace
I expected Gerrit Cole to have a CY Young season, chucking 200+ innings and getting to 300 strikeouts with a 2.75 ERA and close to 7 WAR.
I overestimated the number of inning Cole would throw following a shortened season. I was correct about value on a rate basis, as Cole was worth 5.6 bWAR/5.3 fWAR in 2021, which would have approached 7 WAR on a rate basis had Cole thrown 200-215 innings. The ERA was a bit higher than 3, but Cole was largely dominant in the regular season.
Despite Robbie Ray’s performance in 2021, Cole may very well win the CY Young award.
Final Results: Pretty Close (Grade B+)
9.) The Former Ace
I thought that the Yanks would bring Luis Severino on slowly in 2021, and manage his innings carefully once he returned in late July. Ultimately, I predicted 50+ regular season innings, and an important role in the playoffs.
Sevy didn’t come close to 50 innings in the regular season due to setbacks. However, Sevy was managed carefully by the Yankees, and they did count on him for a critical role in the Wild Card game, counting on him to relive the middle innings of Cole’s disastrous start while the game was still within reach. Sevy acquitted himself well, despite the fact that he didn’t have a really full rehab slate with which to build up prior to the playoffs.
Final Results: Decent (Grade C+/B-)
10.) The Team
I thought the Yanks would be the class of the AL, winning 103 games and bludgeoning teams with the best offense in baseball. I predicted that the Yankees would hit the most homers in baseball (315 HR), and I thought they’d win the World Series against the Dodgers. Lastly, I predicted that Judge and Stanton would combine for 80 HR.
Let’s cut to the chase:
The Yankees had a below-average offense by almost any metric and they came nowhere close to hitting the most homers in baseball, not to mention my 315 HR prediction. The Yanks hit just 222 HR as a team.
The Yanks squeaked in to the Wild Card game with 92 wins, a far cry from 103 wins.
No…the Yanks won’t win the 2021 World Series.
I was darn close on Judge and Stanton, though: they combined for 74 homers, just shy of the 80 I predicted
Final Results: Not Good (Grade D-) – I didn’t fail on the back of the Judge/Stanton combined homer prediction, but this was ugly.
I am willing to admit when I’m wrong every bit as much as I’ll tell people when I’m right. I got a fair amount right about this year’s team, which makes it all the more stunning that the team as a whole struggled so mightily. I pegged the pitching almost perfectly, Judge’ and Stanton were both healthy and very productive, Loaisiga broke out in a big way, DJLM and Gardy fell shy of expectations, and Cole was great in the regular season. I think I need to re-evaluate my stance on Sanchez, Torres continued his regression until a late bounce-back, Nick Nelson was a non-factor, and the Yankees fell well shy of expectations.
My individual predictions were pretty close, even as my prediction for the team was overly optimistic.