Adding Giancarlo Stanton is great for the Yankees. I don’t need to use any sort of analytics to tell you that. It was already a lineup that did not have shortage in power and production. Now, thanks to some stealthy reinforcement, the offense figures to be hypothetically deadly to the opposing pitchers.
That begged the question: When it comes to the numbers, how good is the lineup projected to be, and how is it compared to recent Yankee lineups? Is it something worthy of the championship year stuff?
In this post, we will use the 2018 Steamer Projections. Keep in mind that these are just projections, which try to forecast the players’ median expected outcome, so some of the numbers that you see here can be, well, bullish. That means that many (or all) of these guys can perform above that median expected outcome and put up numbers that are better than what’s presented. However, it is worth noting that Steamer is known as one of the most accurate projections out there. As much as you want to hear that Aaron Judge will hit 70 home runs, we are given what we are given and will stick with them – bear with me.
The stat that I like to use to evaluate hitters’ value is wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), which you probably have seen if you’ve stuck around this site long enough. wRC+ tries to assign a value to hitter based on 1) basic numbers 2) wOBA 3) park factors 4) how rest of the league has performed. The league average for players is 100. Which means that, since Gary Sanchez put up a 130 wRC+ in 2017, he created 30% more runs than a league-average hitter would have in a same amount of plate appearances in this past season. If you want an estimation of how useful a hitter has been, wRC+ works.
As of December 14, 2017, with the Yankees in the thick of the Winter Meetings in Orlando, here are the hitters that would be featured regularly in the lineup if the season were to start right away:
C – Gary Sanchez
1B – Greg Bird
2B – Ronald Torreyes/Tyler Wade/Gleyber Torres
3B – Torreyes
SS – Didi Gregorius
Corner OFs – Aaron Judge/Giancarlo Stanton/Brett Gardner
CF – Aaron Hicks/Jacoby Ellsbury
DH – A rotation of Judge/Stanton
Based on that, here is a glance at a possible lineup that the Yankees could have on the opening day:
And now, let’s take a look at what the 2018 Steamer projects for these guys.
LF Brett Gardner
.259/.345/.413, 16 HR, 62 BB, 111 K, 104 wRC+
In 2017, Gardy had the best power season of his career by hitting 21 home runs and put up a respectable 108 wRC+. Steamer projects him to do slightly worse but still perform at just above the league average. For a guy who will turn 35 at August, I’ll take that outcome.
RF Aaron Judge
.254/.368/.516, 37 HR, 91 BB, 188 K, 132 wRC+
Here is where I’d like to remind you this is just a projection but man, this is a considerable drop-off from Judge’s monstrous 2017 season. Here is a thing though – the projection usually gets more accurate when a player accumulates more plate appearances in their career. If Judge has a 2017 redux for 2018, then the projection for his 2019 would be much brighter. For now, we have a guy who suffers a sophomore slump yet puts up a well above-average 132 wRC+.
DH Giancarlo Stanton
.282/.376/.639, 55 HR, 78 BB, 164 K, 161 wRC+
That’s some pretty stuff, isn’t it? Stanton’s 161 wRC+ is the 2nd-highest projected in all of MLB (next to Mike Trout at 176 wRC+) and that gaudy 55 HR total gives you a glimpse of how good he can be when healthy for most of the season.
1B Greg Bird
.254/.344/.494, 28 HR, 61 BB, 117 K, 121 wRC+
Bird has had a very limited look in the MLB thanks to injuries, but because of what he could do while healthy, the Steamer projects a near-30 HR season with a .838 OPS in 2018. That would be quite neat. That would be the 2nd highest OPS from a Yankee first baseman since 2010 Mark Teixeira put up .846 OPS. Remember when gluten-free Tex put up a .905 OPS in 2015? That was fun.
C Gary Sanchez
.269/.333/.513, 30 HR, 41 BB, 111 K, 122 wRC+
Sanchez had a 130 wRC+ in 2017 so this is a slightly worse outlook. However, you can’t complain about an everyday catcher putting up a 122 wRC+. While you can bank on him doing better than what the Steamer thinks, but if you ask me, I’ll take it.
SS Didi Gregorius
.269/.314/.435, 19 HR, 31 BB, 77 K, 97 wRC+
Steamer thinks Sir Didi’s .287/.318/.478, 25 HR, 107 wRC+ 2017 season was a bit of overachieving compared to his talent. Just like Judge, Gregorius had a 2017 breakout with his bat and, because his past numbers are also put in consideration, the Steamer has him do less.
CF Aaron Hicks
.252/.341/.424, 18 HR, 62 BB, 101 K, 105 wRC+
Again, same deal with Judge and Gregorius. Hicks had a breakout 2017 on the plate but because of his past performances, the projection does not look as appealing as how he did this season (.266/.372/.475, 15 HR, 127 wRC+). Playing in the MLB is tough and it is certainly possible that Hicks regresses in 2018. However, there are reasons to believe in his breakout – his top prospect history, his tools, the improved plate approach, etc.
3B Ronald Torreyes
.266/.305/.366, 6 HR, 26 BB, 66 K, 77 wRC+
We will, for now, stick Torreyes in the third base spot. He played there for 26 games as Headley’s backup in 2017 and it seems that he figures to be the starter at this moment 1) unless the front office puts Gleyber there right away 2) they re-sign Todd Frazier or trade for another 3B. Anyways, Torreyes got a projected OPS of .671, which is just a bit lower than what he put up the past two seasons (.680, .689, respectively) but he’s not known for his hitting prowess. He did hit markedly better in 2017 (.258 to .292 avg.) but that kind of stuff can easily fluctuate. 2018 will be the season for him to prove that he can maintain hitting for a higher average.
2B Tyler Wade
.246/.313/.354, 7 HR, 36 BB, 94 K, 79 wRC+
I was going to put Gleyber here but because Tyler Wade has had some ML exposure this year and Torres might need more seasoning in the AAA before making it to the show, I put Wade here. Anyways, a 79 wRC+ in 245 PAs for a guy who can hit AAA pitching but struggled in the ML in brief look sounds about right. If I had to bank on it, I’d say Wade won’t be the primary second baseman in 2018. The Yankees will either make a move or promote internally (*ahem* Gleyber).
Based on this glance, we have a lineup that is projected to have 6 out of 9 hitters that could hit 20 or more home runs and produce runs better than a league-average hitter. Acquiring Stanton gives the lineup the higher highs because of his ridiculous projected 161 wRC+. If Judge comes close to his 173 wRC+ 2017 season then boy, there’s a two-headed monster right there. Now, here is a fun part. How does this Steamer-projected 2018 lineup compare to the past Yankee lineups?
To do so, I looked at every past Yankees positional hitter depths since 1996 with a minimum of 300 PAs each for a player. For fun, I decided to filter for the Yankee teams with more than six hitters with 100 or greater wRC+ WITH one or more hitters with 150 or greater wRC+ (since, in my opinion, it is very possible that Judge also breaks 150 wRC+ in 2018. With apologies to Steamer). Here they are:
- 1998 Yankees (9 hitters above 100 wRC+, Bernie Williams with a 158 wRC+)
- 1999 Yankees (6 hitters above 100 wRC+, Derek Jeter with a 156 wRC+)
- 2002 Yankees (7 hitters above 100 wRC+, Jason Giambi with a 175 wRC+)
- 2005 Yankees (8 hitters above 100 wRC+, Alex Rodriguez with a 174 wRC+ and Jason Giambi with 165 wRC+)
- 2007 Yankees (8 hitters above 100 wRC+, Alex Rodriguez with a 175 wRC+ and Jorge Posada with a 157 wRC+)
- 2008 Yankees (6 hitters above 100 wRC+, Alex Rodriguez with a 152 wRC+)
- 2017 Yankees (8 hitters above 100 wRC+, Aaron Judge with a 173 wRC+)
With the exception of the 2008 Yankees, which was plagued by some bad pitching (so bad that Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner got extended looks), the other teams made the playoffs and two of them won the World Series. This is not really the accurate way to compare lineups, mind you – it’s more or less finding similarities based on categories.
On one hand, if the Yankees can’t make any more moves for an starting infielder this offseason, you could make a case that they will be fine without them. They already have six guys projected to produce above average league level with two power monsters lurking. However, that notion should not stop them from exploring moves for more immediate upgrades. What is more important is how balanced the lineup is from head to toe. For instance, let’s look at the 2009 WS champs Yankees. While they did not have anyone who put up a Judge-like monster performance in the regular season, 8 hitters put up wRC+ higher than 120. Imagine 8 out of the 9 guys in the everyday lineup all being top 50 hitters of the league: that’s what the 2009 Yankees had.
In comparison, the 2018 projected lineup has four guys above 120 wRC+. In my opinion, it is important to build something that does not give pitchers a breathing room from no. 1 to 9. A lineup of eight or nine really good hitters can really, really wear pitchers down and hypothetically present scoring opportunities more often.
Based on Steamer, the 2018 Yankees lineup is projected to do pretty solid. However, the reality will be different since projections are just forecasts. You can’t project the adjustments that hitters will make to take their game to the next level. You also can’t project season-long slumps that could happen to anyone (2005 Mike Lowell says hello). I am probably biased but Steamer seems to low ball guys like Judge, Gregorius and Hicks – all of them who had 2017 breakouts – because of their performances prior to 2017.
The 2017 Yankees did some remarkable stuff. They led the baseball in home runs (241) and FanGraphs rated their offense as the 2nd best next to the Astros. Adding Giancarlo Stanton will only help their cause. While things could go differently than expectations, all we can do now, in the thick of the winter, is to just imagine. Who knows, maybe 2018 will bring some of the wildest dreams come true.