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The Worst-Case Scenario



Photo Courtesy of Frank Franklin II/AP
Photo Courtesy of Frank Franklin II/AP


Photo Courtesy of Frank Franklin II/AP


Spring Training is often a time when teams and fans alike are filled with hope and irrational projections for in-season performance. Over the years, I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard that “such-and-such is in the best shape of his life,” or “such-and-such is ready to leave an injury-riddled past behind them.” Despite the fact that my natural disposition is more analytical, I have been known to get sucked in to stories like this on occasion, because after a long winter, I get so excited for baseball season that the emotional part of my brain can get the better of my more analytical half.

That was me prior to 2019. All of the injuries and stalled comeback attempts faced by the Yankees in 2019 broke my ability to think hopefully as issues arise in Spring Training. Spring Training 2020 has unfortunately looked a lot like 2019 for the Yankees. Despite the fact that the team is still projected to be the cream of the American League crop, there is a sense of doom and gloom around the team, probably due to the PTSD fans have developed after the Yankees had a body count that was almost as high as their win total. I have been somewhat guilty of feeling a bit down about the team thus far as well. I think it’s important to understand exactly what it is the Yankees are dealing with in terms of their current injury situations. In the worst-case scenario, the Yankees have to replace Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the season’s first weeks (until we know anything further), they have to replace James Paxton through at least May, and they need to replace Luis Severino for the entire year. I think it’s important to understand what the team looks like even if the worst-case scenarios were to occur.

Projections

Each year, ZiPS releases its projections for each MLB team’s depth chart. The 2020 Yankees looked insane when those projections came out in early January. To understand what the Yankees are losing, it is essential to understand what the true-talent level of the guys we’ve lost. I wish I could tell you that Judge, Stanton, Sevy, and Paxton are overrated, but I can’t. Judge is the best player on the team (alongside Gleyber Torres, according to the projections!), Stanton is one of the 3 or 4 best over a full season, while Sevy and Paxton are the 2nd and 3rd best starters respectively. Check it out:


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ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs
ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs


ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs



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ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs
ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs


ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs


And now, here are the projections for the collection of guys who are likely to replace them:


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ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs
ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs


ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs



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ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs
ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs


ZiPS Projections , Courtesy of Fangraphs


One important note: all of these projections are based on playing time, and I think it is safe to say that all of these projections are on the low-side for the replacements based on playing time, as most of these guys now project to surpass the number of at-bats and innings originally projected.

Analyzing the Projections

The Yankees have lost a lot here in Spring Training, of that there is little question. However, the Yankees are lucky to have a collection of young players who are not only very capable based on the projections, but all are young enough that they are certainly capable of beating the projections. Miguel Andujar stands out to me as someone who could very easily beat his projected 95 OPS+. After all, he was one of the best hitters in the American League in 2018, and we have every indication that he is healthy so far this Spring.

We’ve talked about Tauchman a lot this off-season, and our regular readers know that despite my hesitation initially about giving Tauchman more playing time, I think it is likely that he is an above-average starter, and the projections bear that out.

Clint Frazier can hit. We know this. The question remains how far his defense has come. However, the Yankees have an embarrassment of depth. Mike Ford is a projections darling, and has been a personal favorite of mine for years. I think giving both guys time at their natural positions and DH is a fine way to get maximum value out of both guys.

Sevy and Paxton are difficult to replace, no question about it, and it will be nearly impossible to match their production. However, any of the guys who are most likely to replace them at the start of the season are likely true-talent average pitchers. If we consider average to be 2.0 WAR over 185 innings (roughly), everyone on this list is capable of doing that on a rate basis. In last week’s mailbag, I talked about reprising Green’s role as an opener. If that happens, I think that the Yankees can maximize either King’s or Loaisiga’s value by using them as the “bulk” guys who follow Green.

Conclusion

While the team would certainly be projected to be a few wins worth over a full-season without Judge, Stanton, Severino, and Paxton, all but Sevy project to play at least a fair amount of the season. The marginal difference in win projection is tempered by the fact that the Yankees really are blessed with a significant amount of depth. Should the injuries drag on, like they did in 2019, the Yankees may need to acquire further depth to bolster the roster, but at least to begin the season, they are well positioned.

#MikeTauchman #JamesPaxton #JordanMontgomery #ClintFrazier #MikeKing #MiguelAndujar #MikeFord #JonathanLoaisiga #AaronJudge #LuisSeverino #GiancarloStanton

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