The Yankees will play their first game of 2019 later this afternoon against the Boston Red Sox, and even though it’s only a meaningless Spring Training game, it’s still Yankee baseball. It’s been a slow, tortuous offseason—and it’s obviously not over, with Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel still unsigned, the latter two with zero known suitors—but the Yankees are back. Even though this has been an atypically frustrating Yankee offseason, that should not stifle our excitement for the coming season.
That’s not to say that the season will erase a number of troubling trends across the sport more broadly, like reduced spending, reticence to improve via free agency and meaningless worship of future financial flexibility. It plainly will not. The Yankees are major contributors to those issues and there is no use pretending otherwise simply to justify our fandom.
But with that said, fans of 29 other franchises suffered through the same arduous free agency process—and very few of them have as much cause for optimism as Yankee fans. Let’s break down just a few important reasons why.
1. They’re Going to Tear the Cover Off the Ball
The Yanks set the MLB record for most home runs in a season last year with 267, and the 2019 team might be locked and loaded with even more power than last year’s version. After all, the Yanks only got 45 combined home runs from Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in 2018, and as long as the duo avoids significant injury, they’re a lock to surpass that figure in 2019. But even if there is no such thing as #TooManyHomers, there is no denying that the Yankee offense will be much more than just a bunch of home runs.
Just consider their projected Opening Day lineup, with ZiPS fWAR projections in parentheses:
- Aaron Hicks (3.2)
- Aaron Judge (4.6)
- Giancarlo Stanton (4.6)
- Gary Sanchez (2.5)
- Miguel Andújar (1.6)
- Gleyber Torres (2.6)
- Luke Voit (1.9)
- DJ LeMahieu (2.2)
- Brett Gardner (1.5)
There are few teams in baseball, if any, that can run out a lineup like that—and that’s without even Didi Gregorius’ bat in the front half. This is a high-powered offense that should expect a full season of Judge, a much more effective and healthy Gary Sanchez. It has one of baseball’s best center fielders in Aaron Hicks, as exciting a young group in Andújar and Torres as any (not to mention Clint Frazier), a bonafide superstar talent in Giancarlo Stanton and might even get production out of first base for the first time since 2015. Advanced statistics and projection systems absolutely love Luke Voit—take them for what you will, but it suggests that the position might not be a black hole.
The Yankees are going to hit, and they’re going to feast on pitching from teams (including some in their division) that simply aren’t trying. Other teams will dread coming to the Bronx and having to work through that lineup—and very few will do so effectively.
2. Their Pitching Staff Will Be Among Baseball’s Finest
I’ve written about this before, but despite all the complaining by Yankee fans and executives, the Yankees have one of the best pitching staffs in the entire league. Possibly the very best, if we look at the data. The acquisition of James Paxton gives the Yanks another high-powered swing-and-miss arm at the top of the rotation, Luis Severino has been one of the game’s most dominant pitchers over the last two years (even counting his horrible second half, which seems to be all anyone remembers) and Masahiro Tanaka is much more reliable than given credit for.
But it’s the back-end of the rotation where the Yankees shine, and that’s because they’ve filled a gap filled by AAA players last year with capable veterans in J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia. Underwhelming, perhaps, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find two arms more reliable than those two at the back end of a rotation. These guys are good, and it seems like that’s been forgotten.
Their rotation ought to look like this, again with ZiPS fWAR predictions in parentheses:
- Luis Severino (4.5)
- James Paxton (3.2)
- Masahiro Tanaka (3.1)
- J.A. Happ (2.9)
- CC Sabathia (2.1)
There’s always a need for more pitching, and this rotation could quickly look different with a few injuries—but that’s true of 29 other teams as well. This rotation is extremely good and projects to be among the league’s finest. Seriously. Poke around other rosters and look at their rotations. You’ll appreciate the Yanks a bit more.
And then there’s the bullpen, which projects to be one of the best bullpens in baseball history—by fWAR, last year’s was the best bullpen in baseball history). Here’s how that shakes out, sorted by projected fWAR from highest-to-lowest:
- Chad Green (1.7)
- Dellin Betances (1.4)
- Aroldis Chapman (1.3)
- Adam Ottavino (0.9)
- Jonathan Loaisiga (0.9)
- Jonathan Holder (0.8)
- Zack Britton (0.8)
The Yanks have several capable options to fill the 8th spot (Mike King, Domingo German, Luis Cessa) and that is downright frightening for the opposition. There are no shortage of arms to fill high-leverage innings—if anything, quite the opposite—and most all of them feature high-powered, high-spin rate pitches with serious swing-and-miss capability. Aaron Boone has baseball’s deepest, most talented relief corps in the league by a wide margin. This bullpen will be scary good, complementing an excellent rotation.
All of this adds up to a simple if neglected truth: the Yankees will be hard to hit. Fans and commenters forget and obscure that simple reality, but it’s true. Say it with me: the Yankees will be hard to hit.
3. They Are Better Than Last Year
Add all of this up, and what you get is a team that is projected to win 96-99 games by ZiPS (PECOTA similarly projects 96 wins). Projections are fickle and not to be taken literally, of course, but the point is that the Yanks are talented, young and poised to make a serious run.
The 2018 Yankees won 100 games for the first time since the 2009 World Series winners. This year’s team may not repeat that—it’s really hard to win 100 games!—but I don’t think there’s any doubt that this team is better than last year. It’s paradoxical in an offseason marked by frustration over the Yanks’ half-hearted pursuit of Manny Machado and Patrick Corbin, let alone their non-existent pursuit of Bryce Harper, but the Yankees were one of only a handful of teams that actually did anything this offseason, adding a legitimate stud to the rotation and filling out depth for one of baseball’s elite groups.
Again, the Yankees could and should have been even better—perhaps much better—and some moves will bother us for a long time (seriously, signing Tulo/DJLM instead of Machado is going to stick with me for decades). That’s a real cause for frustration, but that should not dilute the fact that this Yankees team is improved and one of only a handful with a real chance to win the World Series.
2019 is the 10th anniversary of the celebrated 2009 squad, and there can be no denying it: this is the best Yankee team since. I am pretty damn excited to watch them this year—and you should be, too.