Recapping 2018: New York Yankees Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: New York Yankees Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason. Here’s the final results:

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM TBR COL PHI

10 – 1: MIL TOR STL WAS OAK CLE NYY

Coming in just ahead of the Cleveland Indians with both teams making up the bottom of the very most elite tier was the New York Yankees. The team that was synonymous with spending more money than everyone else has backed off that stance in recent years with their 2018 payroll inline with what they ran as far away as 2000 or 2001 when past payrolls are adjusted to current dollars. It hardly hurt as the Baby Bombers had their first 100-win season in a decade, though the trick will be to relive the early aughts when that was the annual expectation. It is a bit curious that the team has backed off the loftier payrolls they used to run when they’re making more money than ever and are likely the most valuable franchise amongst the major sports. The only run approaching sour was that 2013 to 2016 stretch where they failed to win 90 games, but were able to use some of those non-contention years to add to a farm system that has since been depleted. While their most promising youngsters are far away, the team in the Show enjoys the contributions of those they liked, and those they didn’t were spun off to become promising players they do. What is left is yet another stout Yankee team that is leaner, and just as mean as past iterations.

While the offense gets so much of the credit, it is the park to whom they should be doffing their caps. That makes pitching in this funhouse even more difficult meaning those that do so deserve extra credit. The Yankees thirsted for star power in their rotation last year, but with so much of it re-directed to the bullpen the team did not hurt for good pitching. Their worst stretches showed blips into the land of worse than average, but these forays were brief with most of their time better than average. Occasionally wildly so. Much of that was reserved for the first half when they showed two prolific troughs with nice journeys to get there, though the close to the season showed a team that was much more consistently good than great. Three starters saw at least 500 batters, and the team threw countless options at the role to manufacture the rest with a turn to the deadline trade market once it became apparent in-house was an out-of-order option. The real story, however, was the dynamic bullpen that featured two of the very best in the game and several others that were solid contributors. Not all of the names were household to start the year, but by the end it wasn’t just the Yankee fans that tune in prior to the playoffs that came to trust those guys.

Leading the charge out of the pen was Dellin Betances. The prior offseason saw Yankees President Randy Levine bray that Betances wasn’t good enough to be a closer. This past season showed he’s one of the very best pitchers in the game regardless of the inning used. Occasionally used to go multiple innings, but usually a traditional, one-inning reliever, Betances grinds bats into bones for his stew. He didn’t have a single 100-batter faced stretch with fewer than 40 batters struck out, and yes, that comes with some walk concerns, especially in the middle of his season when they got out of control, but he put that baby to bed with a wonderful finish that saw him rein in the free passes. Quelling contact was his forté with very low exit velocity allowed, and mostly avoiding the nitro zone. Batters that do make contact seem to have a higher likelihood of success due to all the liners than you might think, and might be a contributor to his underperformance on those balls in play. Still, his expected was better than average and it showed up bang on, which is perfectly fine when running a K-BB% north of 30%.

Dellin Betances

In his second, or third, or fifth, if we’re being honest, act, CC Sabathia has fully morphed from the flame-throwing phenom into the crafty lefty that changes speeds, moves the ball around, and sees enough quick hooks to stave off the worst of his creations. This, and he, might resemble Bartolo Colon in a lot of regards, and it’s worth mentioning they were former teammates, but it’s another that he reminds of these days. It was no small rumor that Andy Pettite was doing good works to teach Sabathia the cutter that he built his career upon, and Sabathia has seemingly taken that to heart as the cutter and slider comprise most of his arsenal these days with an occasional sinker moving in the other direction to keep batters honest.  He struck guys out a little below the average until a late-season, out of nowhere spike, though walks were somewhat of an issue throughout much of the season. Perhaps, the walks are by design to avoid batters really teeing off in a park where everything to right and right-center has a chance to go out. Not to say there weren’t any pokes, but he did a good job of keeping the harder contact usually below the nitro zone. Whether he has another year like this in him is up for debate, but the Yankees have already promised him that chance after an early-winter re-sign.

CC Sabathia

Betances might have been the better reliever, but Aroldis Chapman was the Closer so I guess he was better. He does show up as a bit better by rate, but was held back by missed time due to some lower body issues. He walked a good deal more than Betances, but made up for it by nullifying contact better. Both struck out the world. Last year was the second straight that he missed about a month after a shoulder flare up in 2017 so it seems likely to expect him to miss out on a full season again going forward, but when he’s on the field there are few better in the game even if the walks are already out of hand with no sign of slowing down.

Aroldis Chapman

Most fans probably would have told you that Luis Severino was the best pitcher on the Yankees last year, but that person would be ignoring the rash of poor performance that arose later in the year. Encouraging to see the young man get back to being around the average, but both pale in comparison to his strong first half. He outperformed pretty consistently over that stretch making him look even better, but the lower expectations still saw him as an average or quite a bit better arm. After a reputation coming up as a bit of a wild stallion, Severino consistently ran better than average walk rates last year. He created a big strikeout to walk gap by also having a very strong strikeout rate, also. However, you can see why the performance was so poor as the strikeouts fell back closer to, and even below, the average, which might give a good idea of what to expect in the future if the punchouts dry up for whatever reason. Part of this is that his contact actually allowed was a good bit better than the worse than average expectations. A pitcher can make up for that when he’s sitting guys down, but it becomes much tougher when he can’t put guys away.

Luis Severino

One of the two starters the team picked up at the deadline to bolster the rotation was Lance Lynn, who saw worse results than probably should have been expected, and was probably due more to the many liners in productive places more than the small park letting him down. Strikeouts were average or better, but started much higher, perhaps, indicative of the Yankees making a tweak that the league ultimately undressed in short order. The strikeout decline did come with a dramatic falloff in his walk rate from average to much better. Moving on to yet another great reliever we arrive upon David Robertson who ran opposite expected and actual outcomes from Lynn, though with much more consistency, and a disgusting strikeout rate it might be possible to chalk that up as something that is more repeatable for the reliever. Yankee fans won’t see much of it in any case as the team said goodbye to the vet for the second time in his career. His departure created a fairly massive hole for the Yankees to fill, which they hope to do so by signing Adam Ottavino.

Lance Lynn

David Robertson

Despite choppy waters early on when it came to the walk, Domingo German still looked like a decent, better than average arm. Once the league saw him a bit the production got worse, though the walks fell off, though he continued to run a strong strikeout rate on the positive side. The rest of the season from this point shows a fairly consistent and, at times, large gap with worse actual results. It’s possible he was tipping pitches or the strikeout rate masked some contact concerns. The better expectations show a pretty strong pitcher, but even if that gap persists he still looked like a useful starter even at the higher actual level. He looks like a guy that could be a tweak away from unlocking another gear, but gains will have to be made on inducing worse contact as there isn’t much growth opportunity in the already very good strikeout rate. Showing more frequency at that lower walk rate wouldn’t hurt things unless it’s forcing him to catch too much of the zone.

Domingo German

German might be breaking into the Bigs with plenty of lessons yet to be learned, the other side of the coin shows the grizzled vet Masahiro Tanaka. Few pitchers can be as enigmatic as health concerns perpetually loom, and ability seems to run the gamut from one of the better arms in the game to a guy that is tough to put out there. This past year showed more of the former as the majority of his time was in the average or better range. There was a spike in the early middle that he seemed to sort out, and while overperformance was fairly persistent he also got whacked with outsized actual production later in the year to even the scoreboard a bit. He had a multi-month fling mid-season where he flirted with the vaunted 30% strikeout rate, and saw average walks turn better over the course of the season. Exit velocity moved around a good deal, perhaps, indicating a pitcher that is toying with his mix in order to avoid predictability. Tanaka saved his best performance until later in the year giving the team a hot arm as they headed into the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka

Yet two more good relievers that had weird first halves managed to sneak in as better than average options. Holder’s actual results were incredible leading out, but the expectations told a more cautionary tale, and when they met up it was at that worse level. The thing is, even at that worse level he was still pretty good. The strikeouts were more in line with the average with the walks fairly similar to their own benchmark. He did a good job to draw consistently weaker contact over the course of the season with most of it in the air. This manifested as a ton of pop ups, but also a handful of pokes that limited his ceiling from being one of the best to merely more serviceable. The other reliever, Chad Green, showed a similar massive gap early on, but his adequate actual production showed up as well worse than that expectations. Both perspectives fell into agreement over the second half, and when they did so it was at that lower, better actual level. Green abhors the walk preferring to give in, if need be, as evidenced by his plethora of smashes to the limits of the nitro zone. The strong strikeout rate is what allows him to be serviceable instead of a more shaky option due to the hard contact that comes from aggressively filling up the zone.

Jonathan Holder

Chad Green

One more starter that fans won’t have to kick around anymore was Sonny Gray who has since been traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Gray was atrocious at home as the park got into his head, but on the whole he was something like an average pitcher. The second half of his season hits at some underperformance likely from constantly thinking he has to make the perfect pitch. Not that things get any better in Cincy, which sees just as much offense if not more. The easiest improvement he could make is to get back to avoiding the walk like he did quite well earlier in his career. The strikeouts were fine at average and even better at times, and it’s not like batters are murdering everything off of him. His hardest contact stayed down below the homer zone, but likely went for singles and doubles, and there was a ton of it to the right of 100 MPH off the bat. Those sorts of balls are less of an issue when you aren’t putting a guy on first, but it also should be said that those walks could have easily led to extra bases in their own right if Gray had grooved instead of missed. After signing an extension with his new club he doesn’t need to worry about longterm future in the game, and hopefully can get back to basics with his old college pitching coach Derek Johnson who just turned a bunch of flawed guys into a pretty nice staff in Milwaukee.

Sonny Gray

Taking his place in the season-long rotation will be J.A. Happ who re-upped with the club after a deadline acquisition brought him over from Toronto. Happ continued to do his thing of avoiding walks, striking guys out at an average or better clip, and occasionally getting taken yard. Happ is constantly attacking batters, and has the stuff to keep them off balance, but that zone aggressiveness does have it’s drawbacks. In aggregate, he was essentially an average pitcher, and as a starter that puts him in a mid-rotation role or better. He showed a fairly persistent ability to outperform, though the gap was slight for long stretches. The pop ups he generated paired nicely with the strikeouts, but all that pitching at the top of the zone means very few ground balls. When those liners are falling in and clumping up he might have some poor performances, but no pitcher is immune from the bad day.

J.A. Happ

The Yankee offense gets a ton of the press, and early on it was well-deserved. The grind, however, shows no mercy regardless of franchise value. Key injuries felled sluggers Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge with neither every seeming all the way back even upon return. Throw in a recurring hamstring injury that meant missed games rather than a stint on the Infirmary List and the team’s best players missed enough time to make a very good offense early look more pedestrian. Being the Yankees they tooled up at the deadline adding Luke Voit and Andrew McCutchen with both going on a tear in their turn, though McCutchen will not get a second go round after hitting free agency and signing with the Philadelphia Phillies. There was enough below average production to ground the offense a bit, but that shouldn’t overshadow that the rest of the time they were above average, if not quite good or great.

The aforementioned Judge might have missed around six weeks due to a fractured wrist, but when he was on the field he was a one-man army capable of carrying an offense by himself. Sure, he’ll strike out at an obnoxious 30% clip, but his strong walk rate is often enough to offset the empty punchouts on it’s own. The obscene exit velocities he ran, at least prior to the lesser performance upon return from injury, manifested quite often as screaming liners that will probably seriously hurt a player someday, but until then they’re going for hits often. He also gets enough lift on plenty of others to result in a large number of balls in the seats. Even easier in a park where his mishit balls can often backspin out of the yard. The injury was unfortunate, but he will have had all winter to get things right. Judge looks primed for another monster season coming up, and should be the centerpiece of the offense.

Aaron Judge


The other Aaron, Hicks in this case, carries much less of a reputation as the linchpin of an offense, though provided a lot of that this past season. You an see the ramp up from average to a good deal better, but a hamstring injury seems to have caused a rash of underperformance over the last month-plus. It’s likely the restricted mobility saw some of his doubles get held to singles and some singles turn into outs. Luckily, even the lesser actual came in above the average, and considering his ability to play a solid centerfield that likely makes him a quietly very good player. He strikes out around the average, but the true switch-hitter took an above average walk rate to the next level later in the year when his legs were worn down. The extra free passes helped make up for declining exit velocity. Always interesting to see how a player alters their game in response to a limiter. A healthy Hicks relies on that speed due more of a liner approach, though he’ll hit his fair share of pokes in the 100-105 MPH bands, too.

Aaron Hicks

 

On the other hand, Giancarlo Stanton has zero problems hitting the ball hard. Few do it more often, though Aaron Judge is certainly one of them. Stanton saw a bit of a slower stretch early on as he acclimated to the Junior Circuit, though built up strongly until a collapse at the end of the season. His production shows average or better performance prior to that late season cliff, and he put together a sustained run of solid performance over the middle half of the season. The strikeouts were an issue, as was his inability to hit righties at anything more than an average clip on the year, though he feasted on lefties. The walks were around the average until a spike later in the year. Considering that timing coincides with his exit velocity and production shelf it is highly probably that Stanton was dealing with an injury issue that likely diminished his ability. The fact he didn’t miss any time bodes well for his heart, but also tells us that the walk rate isn’t likely to be a continuing thing going forward. Instead, he merely is a monster when he does make contact even if that’s a bit rare, and still makes him one of the better hitters in the game.

Giancarlo Stanton

When putting together this piece all the way back in 2014 the name Gleyber Torres leapt off the page in a stacked Chicago Cubs system. The piece didn’t go down to his rookie level, but he didn’t let that stop him from continuing to be a very good hitter at every level despite his young age. That mostly continued this past year, his first in the Show. The strong start came back to Earth once the league saw him a bit, but performance looks well justified by the expectations, which bodes well for the long stretches where he was quite good. That he eventually would struggle should have been it’s own expectation as it happens to virtually everyone as the opposition talent is just too good to not figure out a plan. With that in mind, it is very encouraging to see him make the adjustments later that allowed another strong run of success. This showed up as a return to his higher levels of exit velocity after a lull, and a cut into his strikout rate that had mostly sat in the worse than average to troublingly so levels. The better than average walk rate helped, though the spray shows enough pop ups to negatively offset some of the lower end pummeling he puts on the nitro zone. Gleyber was a good hitter last year as a 21 year old in the Show, and looks likely to continue to thicken up this lineup well into the future.

Gleyber Torres

Catching, like pimping, is not easy. It beats players down so that even the very best are a fraction of their greater self late in the season. Unfortunately for the club, late in the season came early for Gary Sanchez who tweaked his groin and never really got it better even after spending two different month or longer stretches on the Infirmary List. A shame, as his early production was incredible regardless of position played. He fell a bit short, and saw a good deal more of that later in the year when he eventually was able to claw his expectations back to the average. He walked at an average or better rate all year, including prodigious heights early on when pitchers stopped giving hi anything to hit. The strikeouts were universally average or worse, but mitigated a good deal by the walk rate. The spray shows us a guy that can hit the ball out of any stadium and often carries that strong exit velocity to the higher angles. He never really got his average exit velocity back to the early heights due to the injuries, but after the long layoff he should be ready to put up numbers closer to what the beginning of the season showed when he looked like one of the best hitters in the game.

Gary Sanchez

Neil Walker signed late into Spring Training, which seemed to hold him back from the get-go. However, the persistence of the shortfall in his production might hint at a player that is now a switch-hitter in name only who also no longer has the athleticism that might allow his ability to fully translate. He struggled mightily with lefties, and while those expectations were average or better throughout the season his actual only manifested to that lower threshold later in the year for a decent stretch and a shorter blip. He walked fine with the better performance later correlating with his best strikeout avoidance on the season. He even put a good number of balls into the nitro zone. Going to the wasteland that is Marlins Park next year will do him no favors, but getting a real Spring Training can only help see his good production start to show up sooner.

Neil Walker

Rookie of the Year finalist Miguel Andujar proved in 2018 that his bat can play at the highest level. Unfortunately, he also showed that putting him at the hot corner is going to lead to some pissed off pitchers. He spent much of the season looking like an above average hitter, and often wildly so. However, digging in we see a couple of flags. The strongest justified stretch early was short-lived and preceded his worst performance on the year. When he rose from the ashes his actual performance showed outsized production compared to averagey expectations, which persisted throughout the rest of the season. Andujar does well to limit the punchouts, but that looks like more of the byproduct of an aggressive approach that yields few free passes. He hits the ball hard quite often, though there was a discernible shelf in his exit velocity that mostly maintained at a more pedestrian rate that also saw his launch angle gradually climb. You see tons of incredibly hard liners that show why he put up 47 doubles, but he struggles to carry those harder velocities to the more ideal angles that can lead to no doubters over the fence. Regression should be the expectation for next year, though he still looks like an above average hitter, though likely a better fantasy player than real life due to the swiss cheese glove.

Miguel Andujar

Since the retirement of Derek Jeter the shortstop position has been held down by the steady hands of Didi Gregorius. Tearing his ulnar-collateral ligament in his throwing arm during the playoffs will mean a lengthy absence to start 2019, which is a shame coming off, perhaps, his best season yet. he started the year on an incredible run that was somewhat justified by the data, but it wasn’t long before he gave everything back and then some. The rest of the season showed an averagey hitter, which is pretty dang good from a competent defensive shortstop. Later on he saw some overperformance, though a lot of that looks sustainable due to the increased walk rate and even further diminished walk rate. A healthy Gregorius might even be a good bet to continue to overperform due mastering the short dimensions to his pull side. YOu can see a number of balls that fall short of the nitro zone in one direction or another, but a good number of those end up going out due to the park. Getting his arm back in shape might be the hardest path, and getting there could take time away from getting the bat up to speed, but Gregorius could be the kind of guy that can tilt a race late if he can find his footing.

Didi Gregorius

With respect to the other players that saw some run, the last one worth covering is old man Brett Gardner. Long a good defender who battled at the plate to grind out enough positive contributions to offset the fact that he rarely had high heights this past year saw a turn for the worse. A rough start was one thing as he looked even more passive than ever, but started to adjust as the season wore on. This led to a nice run of performance closing in on the average, but it the last month-plus showed a continued poor performance due to the return of the strikeout as he attempted to goose some more bases out of his hits. The exit velocity and especially launch angle trended upward, but the performance was still lacking down the stretch despite the efforts at reinvention. After signing on for another year at a lower level than what his bought-out option would have provided, Gardner gets another chance to ingrain himself in the hearts of Yankee fans. For better and for worse.

Brett Gardner

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

 

 

 

Greg Bird

Austin Romine

A.J. Cole

 

Chasen Shreve

 

Luis Cessa