Reliving the 2017 Season: New York Yankees Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: 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 team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting 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 two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past:

30 – 21: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL OAK PIT

20 – 11:  BAL TOR MIA SEA TEX TBR LAA KCR STL MIN

10 – 1:  MIL COL

Playing in the second best park for homers has a habit of making the Yankee offense look better than it was, but also punishes their pitchers. Park adjustments can go a long way in helping sort through that noise, but the Yankees might have found another way to suppress balls leaving the yard. Building a superpen stocked with guys that blow up the radar gun is one way to offset this, and went a long way this past year to help the team conquer the less desirable aspects of their mallpark. This philosophy, in conjunction with some solid or better starting pitchers, helped carry the team to an incredible level of run suppression. Throughout the year the teams seem to only get better as they continued to add new meat to the grinder, and this includes that stretch around the 4,000 batter faced mark where they took it up even another notch. This is what a modern ridiculous staff is capable of providing.

The bats, on the other hand, were much more subdued. There were a couple of toasty stretches early on, but both seem to have been a bit of overperformance. Most of the middle to the end of the season saw an average offense or worse with the close showing more of that overperformance, though even the regressed results were a little better. It’s a good thing the Yankees figured it out on the mound, because without those incredible contributions on the bump the team likely didn’t have enough hitting to get within a game of the World Series.

There are few secrets in this sauce. The team targeted and acquired dudes that can chuck. High velocity with a good secondary is a wonderful recipe, and the Yankees stocked their cupboards with aplomb. The strikeout rate was disgusting, and even better is that it came with a better than average walk rate. Then factor in that they allowed much weaker contact than the average. It was really a best of all world’s season for the pitchers, and this shows up with their ridiculous xwRAA showing the combined staff being worth something like 140 fewer runs than league average.

Shifting focus to the offense you can see a patient team that walked a ton, while not having to trade strikeouts to get their too badly. They also showed something like league average production on balls in play that actually showed up a little better in reality than on paper. Using those expected results, however, shows a team that was around 20 runs better than average, which means the bats were more of a small weakness than a great strength this past season.

Starting with those hitters, I’m not sure you can imagine what this offense would have looked like if they didn’t have, perhaps, the best hitter in the game. Aaron Judge mashed his way to glory this past season, and if you scroll down you’ll see that he became the first batter to bump Joey Votto down a notch to take that title. The other quite famous Baby Bomber, Gary Sanchez, was no slouch, either. He put up remarkable figures at the plate, and the fact that he does this while being a mostly competent catcher makes him an incredible value. The other strong performers were mostly part-timers that the team could play or sit depending on the matchup. Aaron Hicks has found his footing in New York as a glove first guy that can punish lefties. Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier were veteran acquisitions that helped add some stability to the offense, but it was a little surprising how right-handed this lineup could be with all of these guys meeting that description.

The worst performer was Ronald Torreyes, but he is mostly notable for being a glove man that can move around and grease everything else so maybe he doesn’t need to hit. The same cannot be said for Didi Gregorius who as the starting shortstop doesn’t really need to hit, but the teams that have a guy that can really separate themselves. He showed a massive discrepancy between observed and expected results. As such, he would seem to be at something of a sell high if the team had a ready, in-house replacement. Much like the team did with Starlin Castro who was jettisoned this offseason in the Giancarlo Stanton swap. While the money was the main focus, his surface level numbers had to look somewhat appealing to the Marlins, but it looks like mostly smoke and mirrors.

Chase Headley has also already been traded, but looked a lot like a league average hitter. He gets there differently, but his overall production was very similar to Brett Gardner, a guy that seems to somehow draw less ire from the fickle fans. Jacoby Ellsbury had a similar profile as a lefty batter that walked well enough while avoiding strikeouts, but showed even less pop than Gardner. Still, he’s probably fine as a fourth OF type given his toxic trade value.

Yes, Aaron Judge strikes out quite often. Nearly a third of the time, which is around 50% higher than the league average. However, this is offset somewhat by walking nearly one in five plate appearances, and a whole lot more by his prodigious power. Words and charts do not c0nvey how incredibly hard this guy hits the ball. You’ve seen the highlights and know how to watch more, but you can also see that despite the strikeouts being a limiting factor he is just an absolute monster when it is all going right. Please note the expanded y-axis here as he broke the initial settings. You might also notice that tail-off throughout the middle to end of the season before a quick spike back to former rarified heights. With news of shoulder surgery coming after the season this looks an awful lot like a guy that was playing through some pain before getting a cortisone shot prior to the playoff run. Every surgery creates risk, but imagine if he doesn’t have that tail-off period next year. Ridiculous.

While Gary Sanchez seems wrongly maligned for his defense, nobody questions the stick. While not quite to Judge’s level, who is, he showed himself very well in his first full season avoiding some of the downturn you typically see from everyday catchers toward the end of the season. Perhaps, some missed time due to a bicep issue allowed him to stay relatively fresher, which might also coincide nicely as an explainer for the fairly large dip to production mid-season. Outside of the lull, in which, his observed numbers looked even worse he was a steady performer that strikes out a little worse than average, but also walking a little better. The thunderous contact he creates floats the entire line higher, and with youth still firmly on his side I don’t see him playing much worse than this. With catcher eligibility he should be one of the hotter commodities in the game.

Like a gnat, Brett Gardner flies around the field, sometimes getting hurt in the process, doing his best to annoy his rivals. He takes away sure hits. He swings at absolutely nothing until he has to except that this year he started to ambush more pitches early in the count. He runs the bases well, he hits for a little power, but mostly carries his line via the walk. He is a pest. When he is going well the team becomes awfully hard to beat as they received precious little production from the left side last year. When he isn’t, like the end of the season when he looks as if he was gasping for oxygen, the team should be able to get by fine. He’s the cherry on top of the sundae. They probably don’t need the production, but when they get it they’re awfully hard to beat. No world-beater, Brett Gardner is the type of player that is easy to root for when you like the team, and a miserable experience for fans of the opposition.

This past season saw Didi Gregorius leap to the forefront of the position thanks to his now brighter spotlight in the Big Apple, but also due to a crazy homer spree he went on that left five dead and several wounded. You can get a sense for when those nuclear-hot stretches were, and you should also have a guess for how sustainable the model thinks those outcomes were. The model saw him as mostly an average or much worse player who peaked his head above water a bit, only to re-submerge back into the depths. The observed data makes him look like one of the more valuable players in the game once you account for him being a fine option at shortstop. Which is correct? I have a feeling we’ll find out next year. I’m staying away about as hard as you can, but on the chance that he can somehow duplicate these results you’re looking at a fairly valuable piece in deeper leagues where shortstop falls off a table relatively quickly.

I don’t think I was alone in being skeptical about the Yankee rotation coming into last season, or this one for that matter. The players you had heard of were old and decrepit and the ones you were starting to learn about were raw, untamed horses that could have ran in any direction. Turns out, Luis Severino wasn’t the reliever I had expected. He was merely one of the very best pitchers in the game last year. True rookie Jordan Montgomery joined him atop the staircase, though several steps lower. Montgomery was never a highly touted prospect, but that didn’t stop him from being a stable rotation piece for much of the season. Continuing to pitch with a frayed elbow, Masahiro Tanaka’s production came via a weird shape, but in the aggregate he was an above average pitcher that handled a fairly serious workload. Even CC Sabathia looked like an above average guy during this late-career renaissance that has seen him go from flamethrower to crafty vet.

Then we get to the bullpen. Mercy. Uncle. Make it stop. The team doubled-down on the recent-years strategy to have as many impossible fireballers as they could. They came into the season with Aroldis Chapman freshly signing the largest contract ever for a reliever and paired him with Dellin Betances who makes a pittance in comparison due to a lack of saves, but is usually very tough when he knows where the plate is. Guys like Adam Warren and Chad Green were acquired in savvy trades, and while both came cheaply because their former team didn’t see a starter, the Yankees saw incredible relievers that could cover multiple innings. It went well. Then they added on during the season with David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle coming aboard and making the unit about as good as it gets.

The team worried about their rotation depth so they brought in Jaime Garcia for the short term, and Sonny Gray for the next few years. Gray should be promised a rotation spot during that period of control, and he showed himself well enough in a brief stint. He is one of those guys where you cannot really question the production, just how much of it you will get. With this bullpen behind him he might not need to go more than five innings with regularity. Something that could keep him off the disabled list and atop efficiency leaderboards.

One look at Severino’s stuff is all you need to know that he is electric. The question was whether he would be able to not only harness everything, but if he could also add a third pitch to keep batters honest. He did. The change up wasn’t used a ton, but often enough that batters had to think about it. They seemed to do better against the pitch as the season wore on, but it hardly mattered with how ridiculous his slider-fastball combo works together.He gets strikeouts without walks, and suppresses hard contact with the best of them. A workload increase of nearly 50 innings pitched last season might be the only thing that gives you pause coming into this season. Otherwise, the sky is the limit on his talent, expected production and the price required at auction.

Out of seemingly nowhere Jordan Montgomery broke camp in the rotation and never really left. Kind of a crafty lefty with good spin and a sneaky heater he reminds a little bit of Andy Pettitte. This profile relies on command and control to go with a good pitch or two so there will be bad days, but the rest of the time you’re looking at a serviceable arm with enough pitches that he might be more than a two times through guy. The Yankees love their lefty starters to help protect against the short porch so I would expect Montgomery to continue to get opportunities, in which, he can show his strong strikeout to walk and hit suppression were more than just a fluke.

It was a rocky road for Tanaka this past season. He got off to a miserable start that only seemed to get worse. Frustrated fans were ready to move on and it would be hard to blame them. The guy has been pitching injured for several years now. Everyone is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, but a funny thing happened. Tanaka righted the ship after around the first third of the season, and was quite good for the rest of it. Observed results matched up with expected to give the impression that he deserved that new-found success, too. One idea is that with his elbow issues perhaps he isn’t ramping up as early or often during the offseason or in Spring Training in an effort to save bullets. It might take him longer within the season to find his repeatable release points that allow him to hide his incredible splitter within his other pitches. Once it clicked he gave enviable production, but working off of this theory he is someone I would much rather acquire in-season. If he comes out of the gates looking strong you might miss your opportunity, but if it’s a lot more like this there are plenty of rewards to reap at virtually no cost.

Like Tanaka above, Sabathia got off to a fairly poor start that had the boo birds feeling justified in their constant proclamations that this, THIS, is the year that CC Sabathia finally sees the nail in the coffin on a Hall of Fame career. Nope. Sorry, Charlie. Like Tanaka he righted the ship to put in average or better production throughout the majority of the rest of the season. He’ll be back again, and armed with Pettitte’s signature cutter that allows him to keep righties at bay he might just be in store for another surprisingly good season. At some point it’s all going to fall apart, maybe even this year, but it looks like his turnaround last season was no mirage.

Leaderboards

With a new leaders atop both leaderboards there is little surprise why the Yankees were so good last year. Seeing the top and bottom 20-pitchers and hitters should also show you who else was good or very bad. I’ve also ranked team aggregate lines and the combined xwRAA figures from both units for your pleasure.

 



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