Of course the Yankees got Giancarlo Stanton. Retrospectively, there’s simply no other place he logically could’ve gone. The entirety of baseball reality has unfolded in exactly this way for 100 years. They pilfered Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000 and Roger Maris from the Kansas City Athletics for Norm Siebern and a few has-beens. When free agency came around, they signed Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Jason Giambi, and Mark Teixeira. The Red Sox spent the entire 2003-04 winter trying to swing a trade for Alex Rodriguez, then Aaron Boone hurt his knee and the Yankees swindled a deal within a week. When the baseball universe yields a generational power hitter to the open market, he’s not going to the Padres or Royals. The Bronx is THE place where he belongs, whether he’s named Graig, Tino, Hideki, or Giancarlo.
Of course Aaron Judge developed into a superstar. No other franchise in the history of baseball develops sluggers like the Yankees. They grabbed Lou Gehrig from the Ivy League, Joe DiMaggio off the fishing boats, and Mickey Mantle out of the zinc mines. In the draft era, they hit on picks both high (Thurman Munson, 4th overall in 1968) and low (Don Mattingly, 493rd overall in 1979). Latin America granted them Bernie Williams and Robinson Cano. In fact, sometimes they develop power hitters for other franchises, like Fred McGriff and Mike Lowell! If there’s one team that knows how to nurture a young slugger, it’s the Yankees, be his name Yogi, Jorge, Gary, or Aaron.
Of course Stanton and Judge are together as Yankees, just like Ruth and Gehrig or Mantle and Maris. The pair combined for 111 HR in 2017. It’s unreasonable to expect that kind of power output again. Only 5 players have ever hit 50 HR in consecutive seasons: Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez. But homers are only one way in which the Yankees are a great team. None of their players will duplicate their performances exactly, but we can use last year as a landmark for projecting the upcoming season.
There were 144 players in baseball last year who qualified as having played a full season (502+ PA). These players averaged 2.7 fWAR. The Yankees return four qualified regulars: catcher Gary Sanchez, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and outfielders Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge. They also added a 6’6 245 lb. baseball-crushing machine from the Marlins. All five of them contributed at least 3.8 fWAR apiece. A sixth projected starter is center fielder Aaron Hicks, who accumulated 3.3 fWAR in only 361 PA, or roughly 60% of a full season.
The aforementioned 2.7 fWAR average comes with a standard deviation of 1.58. Each of the Yankees returning starters plus Stanton (of course) had a Z-score (number of standard deviations away from the mean) of at least 0.68. If applied to baseball’s 20-80 scouting scale, a 50 is an average player and a 60 is a full standard deviation better than the mean. If each player’s fWAR Z-scores are converted to the 20-80 scale, they come out like this:
Yes, Aaron Judge scored an 85 on a 20-80 scale. He was that good. As for Hicks, his 3.3 fWAR is worth a 0.36 Z-score and 55 grade all on its own. However, if his season wasn’t cut short by injuries, and he produced at that level for 600 PA, his fWAR would have been 5.5: basically about as good as the Dodgers’ Justin Turner. A 5.5 prorated fWAR yields a 2.01 Z-score, making him a 70 caliber player in 2017 when healthy.
However, six players do not make a full lineup. The three remaining spots will likely go to youngsters (if Greg Bird still counts as young). Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar playing second and third bases are relatively easy to put into this scale. Conveniently, they have scouting grades all over the internet because they are still prospects. Naturally, scouting opinions will vary, but we’ll look at Baseball Prospectus’ organizational top ten for guidance.
Torres is the top prospect in the system and one of the consensus best in baseball. BP gives him a 70 grade ceiling with a likely value of 60. This is pretty consistent with rankings found anywhere else. Torres is ranked between #3 overall at BP and #12 overall at FanGraphs. Scouts don’t agree quite as much about Andujar. FanGraphs ranks him as high as #14 in all of baseball, whereas MLB.com ranks him #92, and BP leaves him off their Top 101 altogether. Despite being the lowest on him, BP gives Andujar a 60 potential future and a 50 likely grade.
Bird is a little trickier. He shined brightly at the end of the 2015 season, missed 2016 completely, struggled at the beginning of 2017 before getting hurt, and came back better than ever at the end. In many ways, he’s the biggest question mark on the roster. For our purposes, a good-not-great hitting first baseman without great defense is probably a 45. Similar first basemen who earned a 45 based on Z-score in 2017 are Eric Thames, Trey Mancini, and Yuli Gurriel.
Including Hicks, Torres, Andujar, and Bird, the lineup looks like this:
|*prorated to 600 PA||Avg Grade:||60|
Based on a combination of last year’s numbers, scouting grades, and one educated guess, the average player in this lineup is worth 4.6 fWAR. That’s the equivalent of starting 9 versions of Christian Yelich. But of course the lineup is this good. What else would we expect from the franchise that gave us Murderer’s Row?
The Yankees starting pitchers displayed surprising consistency for this era. All five of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia, and Jordan Montgomery started 27 games or more (though 16 of Gray’s starts were with the Oakland A’s). Even more surprising is that all five of them return to New York for 2018. Severino and Montgomery are still pre-arbitration players and Gray enters his second arbitration year. Tanaka declined his opt-out following the 2017 season, and Sabathia re-signed as a free agent.
There were 74 starting pitchers in MLB that threw at least 150 innings in 2017. Just like their position player counterparts, the average fWAR was 2.7, but with a smaller standard deviation (1.19). Three of the Yankees nearly hit the average fWAR mark dead-on. Gray posted a 2.8, while Tanaka and Montgomery each had 2.7. While Sabathia was below par at 1.9, Severino blew it out of the water with a stellar 5.7 fWAR. (Sabathia didn’t quite hit the 150 IP barrier for entry, but he only missed it by four outs.)
It’s important to note that starting pitcher grades on the 20-80 scale differ from scouting grades. A prospect who’s projected as a #3 starter would get a 60 grade from evaluators. However, this grading curve is relative to a league average starter with 50 as the midpoint. Therefore, these grades are a full, 10-point grade lower than prospect evaluations.
Be that as it may, the average Yankee starting pitcher is 55 caliber relative to the rest of baseball. Mostly this is because of Severino’s brilliance, but few rotations go as deep with quality pitchers as the Yankees’. Even though Sabathia is below average, very few teams boast a #5 starter with a grade as high as 45. The staff averages 3.2 fWAR, which is the equivalent of five Robbie Ray clones taking the mound everyday. Of course they do; this is the franchise that recruited young Whitey Ford, traded for Roger Clemens, and signed Mike Mussina.
The Yankees began 2017 with a historically excellent 1-2 punch of Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. However, no one expected breakout performances by Chad Green and Adam Warren, which made the relief corps nearly impenetrable. Then, they added David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle at the trade deadline. Now, the bullpen is the stuff of legends.
Their IP ranged from 50.1 (Chapman) to 68.1 (Robertson). All of them easily surpassed the 0.8 fWAR average for relievers (minimum 48 IP). With a standard deviation of 0.62, it’s easy to see exactly how much better these six relievers were than the rest of the league.
Just as with the starting pitchers, the standard 20-80 scouting scale doesn’t really apply. While an average starting pitcher is a 60 on the scouting scale, an average reliever is probably a 45. As such, you can mentally adjust these grades down by 5 points if you want to match the scouts.
Even with that adjustment, the Yankee relievers stand far ahead of the pack. They average nearly one and a half standard deviations above their peers! To get a starting rotation this much better than average, you would need five Jacob deGroms! For a lineup this good, there would have to be nine Justin Uptons! Of course, this is nothing new for the former employers of Mariano Rivera, Goose Gossage, Sparky Lyle, and Dave Righetti.
Of course, all of these players won’t do as well as last year. Sabathia’s knee might finally give out. Hicks has never played a full season before due to injury and ineffectiveness. Relievers are volatile by nature, and at least one of them will probably bust (see Tyler Clippard from last year). But there’s even a contingency plan for failed expectations. Armed with about $15 million dollars to spend before hitting the luxury tax threshold and one of the top farm systems in baseball, the Yankees are as capable as any team of buying big at the trade deadline.
With every advantage at their disposal and a team completely packed with talent, should the Yankees expect to contend for the World Series? Of course.
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