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Yankees 2020 What Went Right: Bright Spots

To wrap up the Pinstriped Prospects series on what went wrong during the 2020 season, it’s fitting to do so by looking at some of the bright spots. While the Yankees ultimately fell short of their Championship goal, they still had plenty of positives to take away.

Luke Voit

Perhaps the biggest surprise not just for the Yankees this season, but in all of baseball. Voit clearly worked on his body in the offseason, coming into Summer Camp in excellent shape. That hard work clearly paid off, as he slashed .277/.338/.610 with 22 home runs, a .375 xWOBA, and a 152 wRC+ (16th in the MLB).

Voit also became a vocal leader for the Yankees, specifically when Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge hit the IL for extended periods of time. As the team’s best player for much of the season, he had earned that role. While he’s 31 years old, he still has three years of arbitration remaining. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Yankees sell high on his bat in the hopes of making some shrewd moves towards building their 2021 roster.

Clint Frazier

Clint, finally, got a chance in 2020 to back up all the talk that surrounded him. He slashed .267/.394/.511 with eight home runs, a .388 wOBA, and a 149 wRC+ in 160 PA. Now, this type of jump in production doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Sure, many Yankees fans were “positive” that he’d be good. But in reality, he actually made some serious changes in his batting stance.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant, we have the ability to look at the changes he made. In this video from 2019, we can see Clint’s very open stance. As he loads, he has a rather pronounced leg lift before bringing his bat through the zone. In 2020, as you can see in this video, his stance is closed and his toe tap is much less pronounced.

He’s eliminated a good amount of movement from his load and instead looked like a lot more of a grounded hitter in 2020. He also seriously improved his plate discipline, as his walk rate was an outstanding 15.6%, up from 6.5% in 2019. His Hard Hit % was also the highest of his career, at 42.5%. While his fielding can still use some work, it wasn’t awful this season. Nonetheless, it certainly seems like Clint has figured something out at the plate, making it awfully difficult for the Yankees to not have him in an everyday lineup.

Giancarlo Stanton

I know what you’re thinking. How can Giancarlo Stanton be a bright spot if he only played 23 games? Well, he played really well not just in those 23 games, but in the postseason as well. If he can stay healthy, he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in the league and might even be the Yankees’ best hitter.

In those 23 regular-season games, Stanton slashed .250/.387/.500 with four home runs a .379 wOBA, and a 143 wRC+. The Postseason, though, is where Stanton showed that he was really feeling good at the plate. In seven Playoff Games, Stanton recorded a 1.038 Slugging Percentage with six home runs. It was refreshing to see for sure. Moreover, the reason for him being a bright spot in this article is not wholly because of that performance. More so, he is a bright spot heading into next year. I think he showed that he is still very capable of being an elite hitter, and Yankees fans should be excited for what is to come in 2021.

D.J LeMahieu

Currently, the talk of the town when it comes to the Yankees’ offseason plans, D.J LeMahieu had yet another outstanding season. He slashed .364/.421/.590 with ten home runs in 216 Plate Appearances, finishing with a 177 wRC+ and a .429 wOBA. The man is, literally, a machine that doesn’t strike out, hits the ball hard, and plays a really good second base. There’s not much more you can ask for out of a baseball player.

But he is 32 years old manning a position that should if we are being honest, be manned by Gleyber Torres. Not because Gleyber is a better defender, but because Gleyber at shortstop everyday for 162 games seems unfeasible. I think if this season were 162 games and Gleyber played shortstop for 140 of them, we wouldn’t be hearing the crowd that’s saying Gleyber at shortstop is fine as long as the Yankees keep DJ. I love DJ LeMahieu as much as the next fan. However, I am willing to avoid overpaying for a player that still leaves the team with a hole at shortstop. My gut tells me, though, that somehow DJ will remain a Yankee.

Gio Urshela

So I think we can rest assured that Gio Urshela is no fluke. Gio practically mirrored his breakout 2019 campaign and is still a fantastic defensive third baseman. While he again posted a great wOBA (.365) and wRC+ (133), where Urshela really improved was in his swing decisions. In 2019, Gio walked just 5.3% of the time. in 2020, that went up to 10.3 %. As a result, he finished in the top 10% of the league in K%, improving from 18.3% in 2019 to 14.4% in 2020. To me, the true mark of a player improving is a clear improvement in swing decisions, which Gio has.

In sum, despite falling short this season there were still many positive takeaways and bright spots throughout the season. While it’s frustrating that they fell flat on their force for the fourth straight season in October, it’s hard not to be excited about next season. Personally, I think the team will be cleaner defensively and deeper on the roster. I don’t think Thairo Estrada will be an everyday player at any point. Also, Luis Severino is due back and ideally, Stanton and Judge will be poised for a full and healthy season. While it’s hard to always have your high hopes dashed every October, it’s also hard not to continue having them.

Gerrit Cole

On his first day as a Yankee, Cole broke out a homemade sign he’d made as a young fan and thanked Curt Flood and Marvin Miller. It was a perfect start and a sign of things to come: he’s been exactly as advertised on the field and superb off of it. It’s difficult to compare this strange, truncated season to Cole’s signature campaign in 2019, and he wasn’t quite as dominant throughout. But he still finished third in the American League in strikeouts before very nearly leading the Yankees to the ALCS. It feels appropriate that Cole’s huge contract came on the heels of CC Sabathia’s final year in pinstripes, as he looks set to assume Sabathia’s mantle as the heart and soul of the pitching staff for a generation. No one can truly replace Sabathia as a human and teammate, but on the field, Cole is even better at his peak than Sabathia was at his.

Deivi Garcia

Universally admired by farm system followers and notorious enough that his name was known by even casual fans, it was nonetheless uncertain exactly what the Yankees would get from the young right-hander. Though most were in agreement that Deivi could contribute to a big-league pitching staff in some way, shape, or form, views on his tenability as a starter varied greatly because of his small size and questionable command. Garcia set the minors on fire as a teenager and racked up strikeouts at the lower levels, but ran into trouble finding the plate once he made the leap to Scranton last season. And without the short schedule and expanded roster, it’s exceedingly possible we don’t see him in New York at all in 2020, let alone in August.

When the injury bug struck once again, Garcia got his shot and made the most of it. He showed off a cool, calm demeanor on the mound and said all the right things off it. Most of the numbers over his first six major-league starts don’t jump off the page, though they were much better prior to his final regular-season appearance in Boston – there is one area that stands out. Those command and control issues that plagued him in Triple-A? Gone. His minuscule 1.6 percent walk rate placed him in the top six percent of pitchers league-wide. While he became famous for his curveball as a minor leaguer, Garcia effectively mixed four pitches this season, adding in a slider against righties and a changeup against lefties. Six starts aren’t enough to make any sweeping prognostications, but he earned a long look in 2021 camp at the very least.

Zack Britton

In a sense, nothing Britton did this year was all that surprising. The elite ground ball rate and solid overall run prevention stand out, much as they do nearly every year. One thing was different, albeit with the considerable small sample size caveat. While Britton had a propensity to lose the plate over the first season and a half in New York, he found the answer this year, slashing his walk rate to a three-year low. He also mixed in more of his highly effective breaking ball in 2020, diminishing the quality of contact he gave up as a result: Britton surrendered just two barrels against 53 batted balls and cut his overall hard-hit rate to its lowest mark since his world-beating 2016 with Baltimore. Don’t let the end fool you – Aroldis Chapman is still great and will be the closer in 2021 barring any disasters. The best reliever in the Bronx, though, just might be the one handling the eighth inning, not the ninth.

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