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Analyzing the Yankees’ ZiPS projections

Joey Gallo is projected to have a big rebound season for the Bombers, while the system predicts Néstor Cortés to take a step back

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The New York Yankees’ offense was a disaster in 2021, and there is no question about that. Perhaps disaster is a harsh word, but they definitely underperformed according to preseason expectations.

By runs scored, they ranked 19th in MLB with 711. Their 101 wRC+ was enough for ninth place, but they were 13th in OPS (.729), 11th in ISO (.169), and 16th in WAR, with 18.2. They certainly weren’t the “Bronx Bombers” we have grown accustomed to seeing.

Among the regulars, four hitters badly struggled last season: DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sánchez, and Joey Gallo. LeMahieu, the AL 2020 batting champion, hit .268/.349/.362 and had a 100 wRC+. Torres hit just nine homers in 516 plate appearances; while the Kraken and Gallo hit .204 and .160 with the Yankees, respectively, with lots of Ks.

Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs has been publishing his ZiPS projections, which are among the most respected in the industry, throughout the offseason. The Yankees’ edition is now out, and his system sees bounceback seasons for this foursome, even if they aren’t expected to return to their best version.

Here is an extract of what Szymborski wrote about the Yankees’ offense in his piece:

“The offense is a relatively stable group, especially with the addition of Joey Gallo for a season, but some of the shine has come off the team’s upside here. Giancarlo Stanton was healthy and solid in 2021, but the year largely served to narrow his range of outcomes in ZiPS rather than change its trajectory; a year older and farther away, ZiPS sees it as less likely that another 2017 is lurking in there somewhere. It’s also less likely that DJ LeMahieu turns in another elite season, and center field is in a tough spot given how much of the depth chart is tied up in the frequently-injured Aaron Hicks. We can’t skip over Gleyber Torres, either; for a player who hit 38 homers as a 22-year-old shortstop just two years ago, his career is in a precarious position now.”

He seems somewhat sour on the group as a whole, but the numbers say they could enjoy mild resurgences. The one hitter that ZiPS seems to trust the most is Gallo: he is projected to hit .205/.352/.507 with a 131 OPS+, much better than the .160/.303/.404 line he had with the Yanks in 2021.

Note from Szymborski: If you see some players who aren’t on the Yankees roster at the moment, it’s because they are listed with their most recent teams when possible. Another thing to keep in mind is that ZiPS “is agnostic about future playing time by design.” You can see the entire organization’s ZiPS projections here and last year’s stats here.

Having the best version of Gallo would be huge for the Yankees, as they need another powerful, high-OBP bat to help Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton to produce some runs.

ZiPS sees a mild improvement for both LeMahieu (.282/.344/.402, 104 OPS+) and Torres (.260/.332/.426, 20 homers). Recovering something close to their best form could make or break the Yankees’ season, and Torres, in particular, regaining the power stroke that made him a 38-homer guy in 2019 is perhaps the biggest storyline to follow in the lineup.

Of course, ZiPS doesn’t know that the Yankees are bringing in a new, analytics-driven hitting coach with all the tech resources and knowledge to help these guys regain their stroke: Dillon Lawson, who oversaw the club’s minor league hitting structure until last season, will be tasked with changing the outlook of the big league offense for the better.

When it comes to pitching, the system seems some of the Yankees’ arms taking a step back this upcoming season. Néstor Cortés Jr., who had a 2.90 ERA in 93 innings in 2021, is projected to finish at 4.44 in 2022, for example. ZiPS thinks Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery will pitch at a similar level as they did last season, but the projections have stepbacks for Jonathan Loáisiga (2.17 ERA in 2021, 3.24 ERA per ZiPS), Chad Green (3.12 2021 ERA, 3.54 projection), and Clay Holmes (1.61 ERA with the Yankees in the last campaign; 4.08 projected 2022 ERA).

Playing with projections is fun because we get a glimpse of what a player could do next year based on past performance and other factors. ZiPS is one of the best in the business, but in the end, it ignores lots of factors that can end up shaping a player’s performance. There could be a lot of those external aspects for the Yankees in 2022, so they remain one of the most interesting franchises to follow next season.

Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13