With opening day right around the corner, I thought I’d come up with some bold predictions about this year’s team. I don’t necessarily think these things will happen, but neither does anyone else. If they did, my predictions wouldn’t be very bold. However, I believe any or all of my predictions could conceivably become reality. Incoming.
Ronald Torreyes will produce more WAR than Aaron Judge this year
Over the last couple of years, I’ve built out my KATOH projection system, which uses minor league stats to forecast big league performance. KATOH works pretty well, if I say so myself. But while watching a spring training game a couple of weeks ago, I began to question it all, when Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes came to bat in the same inning.
The two of them couldn’t have looked any more different. Judge was a 6-foot-7 and ripped, and just looked like a guy who’d be very good at hitting baseballs. Torreyes, on the other hand, was built like a jockey — short and thin. He looked like a guy who might struggle to hit the ball over the fence, even in batting practice. Sure, I had seen both of these players before and read the scouting reports, but seeing them hit back-to-back was really jarring, especially since KATOH projects Torreyes for more WAR over the next six years than Judge.
It was easy to see why Judge was a first round pick who is the Yankees’ consensus top prospect. It was also easy to see how Torreyes signed for peanuts out of Venezuela and has changed teams seven (!) times in his young career with little fanfare. But of course, we’re not selling jeans here. There’s much more to a player than his appearance, and Torreyes does one thing very well that Judge doesn’t do well at all: make contact.
Neither player figures to play a huge role on the 2016 Yankees, but both will almost certainly see playing time. Torreyes, who cracked the opening day roster as a utility infielder, can play second, third and shortstop, so there are lots of ways he can sneak into the lineup. Judge, on the other hand, needs a bit more seasoning in the minors. But by the time the second half roles around, he figures to be one of the first outfielders on call should any of the team’s regulars go down with injury.
Judge certainly has the higher upside of the two, especially in the long run. Though, I could easily see Judge hitting .222/.243/.389 his first time through the league and wind up with a negative WAR. Joe Borchard — a former top prospect who happened to be one of Judge’s top statistical comps — did just that back in 2002. Meanwhile, Torreyes could hit his ZiPS projection of .268/.302/.351, and wind up with like 0.4 WAR in limited time.
Nick Rumbelow will be a mainstay in the bullpen by the second half
Nick Rumbelow‘s minor league numbers have been filthy. He shot through four levels of the minors in 2014, posting a 2.05 FIP and a 34% strikeout rate. Last year, he followed it up with a 2.72 FIP in Triple-A and 16 serviceable innings out of the Yankee bullpen. Despite his performance, however, Rumbelow isn’t on the prospect radar at all. My FanGraphs colleague Dan Farnsworth left him off of his Yankees prospect list that ran 45 deep, while Baseball America left him off of their top 30.
Rumbelow was a late-spring roster cut this year, but he’ll almost certainly be back soon. The Yankees have made it clear they plan to use the last spot or two in their bullpen as a revolving door, just like they did last year. Rumbelow is one of a small army of pitchers who figure to shuttle between the minors and majors this year. Given his minor league performance and mid-90s fastball, I think he has perhaps the best chance of distinguishing himself from the pack.
Luis Severino will have an ERA under 3.00
Luis Severino‘s first tour of big league duty went about as well as anyone could have anticipated. After breezing through the minor leagues, the Dominican-born rookie pitched to an impressive 2.89 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch. His peripheral stats suggest he wasn’t nearly that good, however, as his FIP, SIERA and DRA were all over 3.80.
Unsurprisingly, the projections anticipate Severino’s ERA will regress back to 3.80 this year. But given his stuff, I think he has the potential to blow past the projections. It’s also worth noting that he drastically outperformed his peripherals in his 11 Triple-A starts as well, so perhaps last year’s ERA-FIP differential isn’t as fluky is at looks. Maybe I’m just being an un-objective fanboy, but I’m all in on Sevvy.
At least one of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances will have ERA over 3
Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are arguably the three best relievers on the planet. Among qualified relievers, they ranked 1st, 3rd and 5th in SIERA over the last two years, and swept the top three in strikeout rate. But relief pitchers are fickle creatures who have a habit of losing their effectiveness with little notice. Looking back at the top relievers from 2014 by SIERA, Brad Boxberger, Sean Doolittle and Greg Holland all ranked in the top eight. Yet, all three of them posted ERAs in the high 3’s last year.
We’re already starting to see some chinks in the armor. Chapman, of course, will miss the start of the season due to his involvement in a domestic dispute. Miller fractured his non-pitching wrist this week. In theory, neither of these incidents should drastically affect their on-field performances. But you never know.
Elite relief pitchers are all sorts of awesome, but at some point, they stop being awesome. One way or another, I fear one of the Yankees ace relievers will stop being awesome this year. Luckily, the Yankees have three awesome relievers, rather than one. So, while it would be unfortunate, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if one of them reverted back to being human.