Weekly Mailbag: ZIPS Projections, Andujar’s Off-Season, and CF in 2020!
This has been a really tough week for the baseball world. The accusations against first the Astros, and now the Red Sox, are unprecedented. As a result, 3 teams are now looking for managers just one month before teams will report to Spring Training. Just as we should be getting excited for the long winter hiatus from baseball to finally end, we are left with anger and sadness over the systematic cheating that has rocked the sport. Many of us have discussed the scandal here at SSTN, including Paul, Ed, Derek, and myself, if you missed our takes. I received a few mailbag questions regarding the scandal this week, but I think the posts that we’ve put up on SSTN answer those questions and comments pretty comprehensively.
Now that I’ve had a few days to process the reality of the situation, I’m left with a feeling of sadness. Baseball is one of the ways I escape the day-to-day grind, and a scandal of this magnitude sullies that feeling of escape. I’m sure that many others feel the same way. I’m sure the fallout will continue for months, but for now, I’m ready to talk about actual baseball and the Yankees, so without any further ado, let’s get at it:
Jack asks: Fangraphs just released the annual ZIPS projections for the 2020 New York Yankees. Assuming you’ve seen it. Was there anything that stood out to you? Are there any player projections that you think are surprisingly good? Surprisingly bad?
Jack is clearly a night owl…much like myself. The ZIPS projections for the 2020 Yankees were teased earlier in the day yesterday, and the full projection article is up now on Fangraphs. I’ll probably do a deeper dive into the numbers in a post next week, but I’ll give some preliminary thoughts now. Obviously, ZIPS projects that the 2020 Yankees will be a juggernaut. It’s not really correct to simply add team WAR projections to a replacement-level team’s win projection (traditionally calculated at roughly 58 wins, give or take), and I won’t do that here. However, the Yankees’ ZIPS projection pretty clearly shows that they are a 100+ win team based on talent level. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise any of you.
However, there are a few things that I find very interesting. The first thing that jumps out to me is that ZIPS thinks that Masahiro Tanaka and JA Happ will produce similar value on a per inning basis. JA Happ gives many Yankee fans, myself included, a significant amount of indigestion when he pitches, but last year has not significantly altered his projections for this upcoming season. The Yankees are likely looking to deal him for salary relief, but he does have the potential to be a useful pitcher in 2020.
ZIPS loves Chad Green. Green had a tough start to 2019, but when he returned from his stint in the minors to work out the kinks, he was basically the same guy he’s always been. ZIPS projects that Green will be more valuable than Chapman, based on the fact that Green is likely to throw more innings.
Also on the pitching front, Jonathan Loaisiga checks in as a valuable Swiss Army knife, throwing league-average or better innings as both a starter and reliever. I think Loaisiga would be even better out of the ‘pen full-time on a rate basis, and he would help a bullpen that ZIPS like, but isn’t quite as bullish on as previous years.
Last note on pitching: based on projections, ZIPS sees Jordan Montgomery, Mike King, and Deivi Garcia all having similar value on a rate basis at the Major League level in 2020. While the Yankees struggled with starting pitching depth last year, projections like what I see for these three sure gives the Yankees a lot of down-list options to start games this year.
The biggest surprise on the players’ side is that ZIPS thinks that both Tauchman and Urshela are for real, checking in as average or better players with an everyday workload in 2020. I wasn’t sure that both players would get that much love from the projection systems, but ZIPS is pretty bullish on both guys.
ZIPS is also bullish in projecting Mike Ford to be an average first baseman with enough at-bats. I’ve been pounding the Ford drum for years, so it’s nice to see that a projection system finally views him in the same light.
Lastly, I was surprised to see how underwhelming the projection is for Miguel Andujar. I understand that his defensive projection is very poor, which holds down his value, but I was shocked at just how underwhelming his offensive projection looks. 19 HR in over 500 AB? Andujar beat that as a rookie without the gopher ball. I’ll take the over with enough at-bats, but I understand that expectations need to be tempered, given the fact that he basically missed an entire year.
OK, I thought I’d be a little quicker with my thoughts, but I’ll still probably post something with more detail next week. Overall, the Yankees project to be every bit as dominant as I would expect.
Kenny asks: Have you seen the video of Andujar working out? He looks jacked compared to 2018 or 2019. Do you think he will play a role on the 2020 Yankees or is he trade bait for another team that needs a young player with the potential for a good bat?
Yes, I did see the video of Miguel Andujar working out in the DR that came out last week. It was good to see that Andujar appeared to be in great shape, although I can’t say that I am particularly surprised that the video showed him both working hard and in great shape. Andujar has always been portrayed as a player with a very strong work ethic and good habits. There were stories from the 2018 season and prior of Andujar showing up early and staying late to try to work on his infield defense. Let’s also not forget that Andujar looked to be in pretty great shape in 2018 and at the start of the 2019 season. Most importantly, it doesn’t look to me like Andujar has over-bulked to the point of being too thick in his shoulders to throw effectively. Based on his seemingly strong work ethic, I have no doubt but that Andujar has given himself every chance of coming back from shoulder surgery as strong as possible.
As far as the question of Andujar’s trade value is concerned, I admit to being a bit perplexed as to why many Yankee fans and baseball commenters seem so quick to want to deal Andujar. To be clear, I’m not saying Kenny is one of those people, but it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Sure, the infield is a bit crowded, but it looked that way at the beginning of 2019 too, and look where that wound up. Beyond that, trading Andujar now likely trades him at the low-point of his value. Andujar was one of the best rookies in baseball in 2018, and looked to be a player on the rise prior to 2019. Trading him after a lost season that included shoulder surgery, combined with the defensive questions that have only grown louder does little to maximize any return the Yankees would receive for Andujar.
The Yankee infield looks pretty crowded right now, but there are multiple ways to alleviate that particular situation. The Yankees can use the extra man on the bench to their advantage by rotating their wealth of infield pieces at multiple positions while giving plenty of off-days to guys for rest during a long season. It’s also important to remember that Andujar still has a minor league option, so if he looks like he needs more time to re-acclimate at the beginning of the season, the Yankees can very easily send him to AAA until he’s ready to come back to MLB. The Yankees have also signaled that Andujar will be exposed to other positions, so the potential exists that Andujar will prove to be a versatile piece for the 2020 team.
Many forget just how good Andujar was at the plate in 2018. The bat, assuming it returns, is an asset, and the Yankees would be wise to hold on to it as they try to win a World Series in 2020.
Lionel asks: assuming no one unexpected pops up, who is gonna be playing center till hicks gets back?
is it old man Gardner, the guy is said to wear down, or is it Tauchman?
This is a really good question, one that I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time thinking about. I have a post on this exact topic going up on the site tomorrow, so I don’t want to spoil everything in this answer, but my research surprised me.
Without any question, my preconceived notion was to say that Gardner should be the primary CF, with Tauchman rotating between all 3 outfield spots in a semi-regular role. Mostly, I could see that Tauchman was a plus-plus defender in LF, but I’ve maintained that the Yankees know their players better than anyone, and they sure seemed hesitant to play Tauchman in CF over Gardner last season. This has led me to believe that the Yankees don’t think that Tauchman is as good in CF as the publicly available metrics have indicated.
However, we have some new tools at our disposal this off-season which is causing me to re-think this question. I think that Gardner is likely to be a good defensive CF in 2020, even if his bat falls off some, but I think that the range of projections are all over the place for Tauchman. Gardy is the safe choice, Tauchman is the boom or bust choice.
In reality, I think that both guys will see time in CF until Hicks returns, possibly even an even split. The question is who is more valuable in that role. I’ve done some research, and the answer is interesting. I’ll save my answer to that part of the question until tomorrow.
That’s all for this week! Thanks for the great questions this week – there was plenty to comb through. Keep ‘em coming. As always, send your mailbag questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. ‘Til next week, my friends!