Bold Predictions for the 2014 Yankees

The regular season gets underway tonight in Houston, and both of us provide six Yankees predictions for 2014 after the jump. Bucking general perception and the projection systems, we’re taking a chances with our guesses. What fun would it be to play it safe?

Chris:

Masahiro Tanaka will have a FIP below 3.00:

Its hard to know what to expect from Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka. Although he was all sorts of dominant in Japan, its anyone’s guess how his stuff will translate when he squares up against the best hitters in the world. According to a Baseball Prospectus poll of both fans and industry insiders, most think Tanaka will be about as effective as Homer Bailey, who’s been good for an ERA in the mid 3′s in the last couple of years. Unsure what to make of his Japanese numbers, the projection systems are all over the map on Tanaka. His 2014 forecasts run the gamut from a 2.59 ERA (Oliver) to a 3.87 clip (Steamer), although most cluster somewhere in the mid 3′s.

I think he’ll be significantly better than that. Tanaka won’t blow hitters away like Yu Darvish does, but instead relies heavily on his split-finger fastball to induce ground balls. Historically, split-throwing pitchers who who have come from Japan have transitioned very well. Hiroki Kuroda, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Koji Uehara are the most prominent examples. I expect the same from Tanaka this season and think he has a shot at being one of the best pitchers in the league in 2014.

Ivan Nova will have a FIP below 3.50:

After pitching to a blasé 4.38 ERA over two and a half years in the Yankees’ rotation, things really clicked for Nova in 2013. Nova followed up his disappointing 2012 with a 3.10 mark across 139 innings last year, although his 3.47 FIP implies he may have gotten a little lucky.  The projection systems aren’t buying the improvement: Every projection system out there forecasts Nova to have an ERA near or above 4.00 in 2014. The most optimistic projection out there comes from Oliver, which pegs him for a 3.95 mark.

Nova’s excellent 2013 campaign coincided with an improved curveball in his arsenal, which turned into his go-to strikeout pitch. And as good as Nova’s 2013 stats look, he was even better between his two triceps injuries, reeling off 12 starts of 2.29 ERA ball from June to September. Assuming his injury problems are behind him, I expect big things from Nova and his curveball in 2014.

Dellin Betances will be optioned to Triple-A Scranton at some point this season:

After years of struggling to make it as a starter, Betances really took off after moving to the bullpen last May, posting a 1.35 ERA and a 2.20 FIP over 32 appearances. The 25-year-old built on that success with an excellent Spring Training, which was enough to guarantee himself a spot in the Yankees’ Opening Day bullpen. Betances has generated a lot of buzz this spring and many speculate he’ll soon develop into one of the team’s primary set-up men. The projection systems that project Betances as a reliever — Davenport, PECOTA, and Steamer — all peg him for an ERA in the low 4′s.

Betances was great last year, but it was still a pretty small sample size, and his control remained an issue: He walked 11% of opposing hitters and that rate jumps to 13% if you include the five batters he hit. Betances has nasty stuff, which makes him easy to dream on, but we’ve been hearing about that stuff for nine (!) years now. I still haven’t seen enough to be sold on Betances, and I can envision his command being enough of a problem to earn him a trip to the minors.

Derek:

Brian Roberts will play 130 games

Although his projections are universally abysmal, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Roberts will have a dead cat bounce in 2014. Yes, the player who’s health woes have made him unable to play a full year since 2009 will be a very useful hitter toward the bottom of the order.

He’s not going to make us forget about Robinson Cano, but I like his high-contact profile. Maybe his propensity to put the ball in play will result in a high BABIP campaign inflating his offensive numbers. That can’t happen without him staying on the field, but I’m going to say that the 36 year-old will have one last hurrah. I’m going to bank on him being the Eric Chavez of 2014.

Derek Jeter will hit .310

Jeter won’t go down quietly in his swan-song, showing us a semblance of the bat we’ve come to know and appreciate. The FANS, Steamer, and ZiPS forecast a .281, .279, and .259 batting average each, but I’ll raise the trio and bet on a .310 average for the Captain.

If he puts up a .310 season, there’s a chance that he would push 3 WAR. A .316/.362/.429 slash-line with terrible defense still netted the Yankees three wins in 2012. Aside from shaking off the rust, the biggest concern will be Jeter’s legs in 2014. If he can stay healthy, I like Jeter to finish his career proudly.

Brett Gardner will steal 50 bases

Assuming Gardner remains steady in the seventh spot, I believe he’ll run wild this season. With Kelly Johnson and Roberts behind him, the stolen base risk-reward will be more favorable than when he hit in front of Cano, Mark Teixeira, and the other big bats. I don’t expect him to return to the top of the order, because I’m already predicting Jeter to hit well and assuming that Jacoby Ellsbury will stay healthy.

The FANS, Steamer, and ZiPS foresee Gardner swiping 32, 29, and 23 bags respectively. That’s a far cry from my estimate, but I firmly believe that the opportunity for Gardner to eclipse 50 is there for the taking.

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