Three Up, Three Down: Predictions for the 2019 Season
At long last, the regular season is finally upon us. The Yankees’ final Spring Training game has been played, the 25-man roster is set, and all that’s left to do prior to the season is to make some armchair predictions. Unlike in years prior, in which I had made predictions about each position group on the team, I am going to format this year’s predictions differently. Below, I have assembled a list of 3 players who I think will achieve full season statistics above the value predicted by ZIPS, 3 players who I think will fall short of their ZIPS projections, and some random short-form predictions. Without further ado, here are my predictions:
ZIPS projections for 2019
Particularly when one considers the fact that ZIPS typically offers a fairly conservative projection for player statistical output, Giancarlo Stanton’s projection looks rather lofty. I think that most Yankee fans would settle for an All-Star caliber year that includes 47 HR. While that all sounds great, I think that Stanton is going to put together an MVP caliber campaign in his second year in pinstripes. For one, Stanton has admitted in numerous interviews prior to the start of this season that last year forced him to make numerous adjustments, from changing leagues and homes, to learning how to DH on a consistent basis as opposed to playing the outfield every day. Presumably, that adjustment period is over now, which can only help Stanton. Additionally, an early season injury to Aaron Hicks means that Stanton will play LF more often, at least to start the year, which means he will provide additional defensive value over and above what he provides as a DH. It is also important to note that last year was pretty clearly a down year for Stanton – he posted a significantly lower HR and BB rates than his career average, while striking out at a slightly higher rate on average (and far more often than he did in his 2017 MVP effort). Simple regression to the mean dictates that Stanton will be better than the rate and total statistics projected by ZIPS. I think that Stanton is going to challenge for the AL MVP in 2019, and I’ll really go out on a limb: I think Stanton will hit 60 HR during the 2019 regular season. You heard it here first!
Gary Sanchez struggled more than anyone could have reasonably expected in 2018. His plate discipline was down, as were his abilities to drive the ball and consistently make contact, and while his defense was solid in many areas, Sanchez very publicly struggled with passed balls. Sanchez is such an obviously talented ballplayer, and I think many have lost sight of the fact that Sanchez may be one of the 3-5 most talented catchers in the game today. I generally despise the “best-shape-of-his-life” stories that come out of Spring Training, but Sanchez is noticeably leaner this year, and he really looked clean behind the plate in the 15 or so innings I was able to watch him play. I admit, I am a Sanchez apologist, but I think combining a better ability to block the ball with his already solid game in other defensive facets, while getting back to hitting like the middle-of-the-order hitter he certainly should be would make Sanchez the best all-around catcher in the game. I think Sanchez will play average to slightly above-average defense, while hitting .275/.350/.525 with 32 HR. Add it all up, and Sanchez will be an All-Star, producing 6+ WAR in 2019.
Tyler Wade has had a tough week, getting demoted to the minors to start the year after producing admirably this Spring while playing multiple positions well defensively. While Wade may not be a household name, I think that he will be a very important member of the roster this year. ZIPS projections have Wade clocking in at 506 plate appearances, but he almost certainly will only have 400 plate appearances, at most. However, I think that Wade will produce significantly better results than ZIPS projects with the at-bats he receives. Wade is going to play solid defense up the middle in the infield and at all three outfield positions, utilizing his range and solid arm to make plays defensively. 2019 will also be the year his bat produces statistics closer to his minor league output. I think his stats at AA in 2016 provide a good look at what Wade could do at the big league level offensively. I think Wade can produce a .255/.350/.375 triple-slash line while displaying good baserunning. While this may not sound overly exciting, Wade will be an important, versatile bench piece (on a short bench) for the Yankees in 2019, and he will be a significant upgrade over utility infielders the Yanks have employed in recent seasons.
2019 ZIPS Projections
2019 ZIPS Projections
Pitcher is actually a Greek word for “breaks often,” and sadly the Yankee pitching staff has illuminated that fact this off-season. The two pitchers on the “Three Down” list are among the fallen, and at the head of the list is Luis Severino. ZIPS had high hopes for Severino in 2019, as did Yankee fans everywhere. Shoulder injuries, even so-called “minor” shoulder injuries are tough to come back from, and Severino’s bout with shoulder inflammation began before he could get any work in prior to the regular season. Through no fault of Sevy’s he will be behind the eight ball once he’s able to get back on a mound. Based on the current prognosis, the earliest Severino will return is early May, but I would bet on later based on the type of injury he is facing and the amount of throwing he will need to complete to get into game shape. Severino certainly will not throw 186 innings in the regular season, and I think that he will struggle to find his ace-form throughout much of the year. It is also important to note that Sevy struggled down the stretch last year as well, so I do not believe he was a sure thing this year anyway. I do believe that Severino will be at least an average starter when he is able to pitch, he will not be the ace the Yanks were counting on in 2019.
Dellin Betances is typically a slow starter in Spring Training, but I think everyone was worried when he was still struggling to break 90 MPH with just a little time left in the Spring. As Betances is facing similar shoulder woes to Severino, I think that Betances will have trouble finding his footing in the first half of the year. Assuming health, I think it will be a matter of time before Betances finds his stride, and I think that he will be back to dominating opposing hitters by the end of the season (and just in time for playoffs), but his full season output will fall well short of ZIPS’s projections.
I actually believe that Luke Voit’s rate stats, as predicted by ZIPS, are right on the money, but I do not believe that he will get the projected number of plate appearances. I fully expect Greg Bird to eat into Voit’s at-bats at varying times throughout the season, as I think Bird will do just enough at the plate and defensively to justify a roster spot. The fact that I do not expect Voit to reach last year’s heights is, ironically, a positive for the Yankees as they’ll get more value out of 1B than anyone currently projects, but I think Voit falls short of the projected HR and WAR output.
Odds and Ends
Troy Tulowitzki will have a few big hits in April, which will buy him a long enough leash to get too many at-bats in May. By the end of May, Torres will be the everyday SS and DJ Lemahieu will be the everyday 2B. The pair will perform well enough that Didi can take his time coming back. Didi will return in late July, and play like he never left.
James Paxton will perform as expected (near-ace caliber pitching), but will remain healthier than in any previous year of his career, throwing 180 innings.
Miguel Andujar will continue his ascent as a hitter, and he will improve just enough at 3B to make him playable behind all non-CC Sabathia Yankee pitchers.
The Yankees will break their own HR record this season. They hit 267 in 2018, and I think that Stanton and Judge will get 105 (60 for Stanton, 45 for Judge) by themselves in 2019. My guess: the 2019 Yankees hit 272 HR.
The best reliever on the 2019 Yankees by WAR will be: Adam Ottavino.
Domingo German and Luis Cessa will establish themselves as Major League pitchers.
Brett Gardner will lose at-bats following the All-Star break, since both Greg Bird and Luke Voit hit well enough to deserve lineup spots, pushing Stanton to LF and Gardner to the bench. Gardner will still be valuable, playing typically great defense, and getting on-base at a decent clip. Gardner will make a game-saving catch in the playoffs at some point.
The Yankees will win 100 games in the regular season. With a banged up starting rotation, the bullpen and young depth starters are key to keeping the Yankees in every ballgame.
The Yankees and Astros will play one of the most memorable ALCS series in recent memory, eclipsing even the excitement of the 2017 ALCS. The Yankees will win in 7 games this time.
The Yankees will beat the St. Louis Cardinals in 5 games to win the World Series. OK, so maybe I’m a bit of a homer.
I hope I’m wrong about Severino, Betances, and Voit.