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    Examining the Off-Season Part 6: Forecasting the 2020 Yankees

    The Winter Meetings are officially done and over with now. The Yankees made the biggest impact of any team by signing Gerrit Cole, the top free-agent available on the market.  They also re-signed fan-favorite Brett Gardner to a one-year deal with an option, ensuring the outfielder spends what could be his final year or two with the team that drafted him.

    The Yankees are without a doubt the favorites to repeat as American League East Division Champions and could be favorites to win the American League championship after shoring up the only real hole on their roster.  Fans are eager for that 28th World Series championship after not winning one in the last decade.

    New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge looks toward the stands after flying out on a pitch from Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

    Hungry for more

    Last season the Yankees finished with a 103-59 (.636) regular-season record, a +204 run differential, and won the American League East (by seven games) for the first time since 2012. As the saying goes in the Bronx, any season that doesn’t end with a parade is a failure.

    Aaron Judge echoed those sentiments after the Yankees 6-4, walk-off loss to the Houston Astros in game six of the American League Championship Series. Judge told reporters, “It’s a failure…“No matter how many games we won during the regular season it is a failure.’’ The look of the player’s faces in the clubhouse after that game was absolutely heartbreaking.

    That group of ‘savages’ came together and battled for each other, their city, and fans until the very last out. It was a special team, one that was extremely fun to watch. The team that General Manager Brian Cashman has assembled for this season should prove to be record-breaking.

    There is no question that 2019’s early exit left a bitter taste in the mouths of all the returning players. Expect Judge, veteran leader Brett Gardner, and manager Aaron Boone to set the tone early and come back with vengeance. I for one wouldn’t want to be in their way.

    Health

    The injury bug sure bit the New York Yankees in 2019. The club sent a staggering 30 players to the injured list, accumulating for over 2,500 days spent on the IL during the regular season. To put that into context, no other team spent over 600 days last season.

    All-Star reliever Dellin Betances pitched in one game, expected ‘ace’ Luis Severino didn’t debut until mid-September, and the intimidating Giancarlo Stanton played in just 9 games before returning back on September 18th. Judge, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar, and other impact players all missed significant time.

    Earlier this year Cashman was quoted in saying, “We’re concerned about any time we lose players. We know injuries are part of the game, but we’ve had an enormous amount of injuries this year, more so than anybody else and more so than probably all of baseball history. Managing Partner Hal Steinbrenner told reporters that he and Cashman will investigate and leave no stone left unturned when evaluating the medical, training and strength staff members.

    As no changes have been announced to date, I would not expect a major or radical overhaul in any of those departments. Those Yankee staff members are really good at their jobs, after all a person can only control so much. In summary, expect a much healthier 2020!

    Repeating AL East Dominance

    New York played fantastic when facing their American League East foes. In fact, the Yankees finished with a record above .500 against the entire division.

    • vs Baltimore: 17-2
    • vs Boston: 14-5
    • vs Tampa: 12-7
    • vs Toronto: 11-8

    If you are wondering that is a combined 54 wins in 76 games. Impressive stuff.

    While this going to be hard to repeat, Baltimore and Boston should field worse teams in 2020. Toronto and Tampa should be about the same, if not improved.

    Interleague Play

    Yankees always perform well when they are tested against National League opponents. 2019 was no different as the club went 12-8 against NL West opponents.

    Here is New York’s interleague schedule for 2020:

    • vs Cincinnati, April 17-19
    • vs Pittsburgh, May 6 & 7
    • at Milwaukee, May 19-21
    • at Pittsburgh, June 16 & 17
    • vs Chicago, June 16-18
    • vs New York, July 7 & 8
    • at St. Louis, July 17-19
    • at New York, July 28 & 29

    It will be easier to play the NL Central teams than the more competitive NL West. The Yankees should easily handle the Reds, Pirates, and Mets. The Cardinals are by far the biggest challenge with the Brewers and Cubs following. I do think both, Chicago and Milwaukee will be worse then they were last season. Milwaukee has been decimated by free-agent departures and Chicago is actively looking to re-tool.

    Prediction, Yankees improve to go 14-6 in interleague play next season.

    Nick Nelson (Robert M. Pimpsner)

    Baby Bombers

    It is always exciting to see players achieve their hard-fought, lifelong dream of making it to the big leagues. Last year we watched Mike Ford, Thairo Estrada, Joe Harvey, Michael King, Brady Lail, and Adonis Rosa as they played in their first Major League action.

    The Yankees added several names to the 40-man roster this off-season that will likely make their major league debuts, such as top prospect Deivi Garcia and Nick Nelson but there are others who could see their first action in the big leagues.

    Among them are right-handed pitchers Albert Abreu, Brooks Kriske, Clarke Schmidt, and Daniel Alvarez as well as left-handed pitcher Trevor Lane. Abreu, Kriske, Lane, and Alvarez could be potential bullpen pieces throughout the 2020 season.  While Garcia, Nelson, and Schmidt could find themselves as spot starters when the Yankees need a hand in the rotation.

    In the field, the Yankees have shortstop Kyle Holder who has long been ready for the majors in with the glove but has turned a corner with his bat over the last few seasons.  The 2019 Eastern League MVP, Chris Gittens, could finally get his chance this year after hitting .281/.393/.500 while slugging 23 home runs and hitting 16 doubles with the Trenton Thunder.  Outfielder Estevan Florial has an outside chance of making his major league debut during the 2020 season.

    New Faces

    The Yankees have several new faces for the 2020 season already, one of them is the aforementioned Gerrit Cole who is now the team’s ace. There are a lot of expectations on the right-hander who solidifies the front of the Yankees rotation, giving them a top pitcher with the ability to go deep into games.

    During the 2019 season, Cole threw 212 1/3 innings during the regular season, striking out 326 batters, limiting opponents to a .186 batting average.  He pitched to a 2.50 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP and a 2.64 FIP.  He had the best K/9 of his career at 13.82.  During the regular season, he threw an average of 6 1/3 innings per start and did even better in the postseason throwing an average of seven innings per game.

    In four trips to the postseason, Cole has thrown 65 2/3 innings over 10 games, with 36 2/3 of those innings coming in 2019.  He has a 2.60 postseason ERA with 78 strikeouts and limited opponents to a .175 batting average.

    The newest faces on the roster come in the form of the two new coaches that joined the staff.  Pitching coach Larry Rothschild is now gone, in his place is Matt Blake who brings with him a deeper understanding of new technologies and philosophies in pitching.  Tanner Swanson joins the Yankees as the new catching and quality control coach.  Swanson has been credited with turning Mitch Garver’s into the catcher he is today and the hope is he can do the game with Gary Sanchez.

    Different year, Same Power

    In 2018, the Yankees set the Major League Baseball record for home runs hit in a single season in league history on a Gleyber Torres home run against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on the season’s penultimate day.

    ‘The Bombers’ shattered their own record of last season’s total of 267, as they crushed a whopping 306 homers. However, the Minnesota Twins bested the Yankees by one round-tripper, giving them the record of team homers in major league history.

    That was with practically no Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, and other injured power hitters missing significant time in the likes of Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Luke Voit.

    While Aaron Hicks will again miss a good chunk of the season, and the Yankees will not have Edwin Encarnacion and Didi Gregorius it seems to me that New York has a great shot at beating the Twins in 2020.

    This team, just like in years past, will hit for a ton of power. That’s really fun and exciting to watch in the regular season but does not play well in October. Hopefully, the Yankees will catch fire at the right time and defy the odds.

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