A note of caution to optimistic Yankee fans: Having lots of top prospects is nice, but most rebuilds don’t work, and even those that do, often have setbacks.
The Yankees’ young talent is undeniable, but even players with All Star potential often struggle early in their careers. That, of course, does not bode well for the 2017 Yankees, who have leveraged their season to the immediate success of the team’s up and comers. However, if the Bronx Bombers struggle, don’t blame it on their youth. After all, that’s what gives this year’s team a glimmer of hope. The real limitation on expectations comes from a lackluster core of veterans borne from several years of roster neglect and financial entrenchment.
Starting with the positive, the Yankees’ bullpen could be one of the best in baseball. The dominant duo of Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman gets all of the attention, but the bullpen runs deep. A veteran like Tyler Clippard could close on some teams, but he’ll anchor the seventh inning, at least until Brian Mitchell dislodges him. Adam Warren as a swing man, and Tommy Layne as a situational lefty who can also handle righties, speak further to the bullpen’s depth, and that’s before considering young power arms like Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller. If the Yankees get leads, they should be able to hold them.
Although the Bronx Bombers could boast one of the most dominant relief corps in the majors, the big question is how many innings will they be forced to pitch? Without a single starter who is a lock to throw 200 innings, Joe Girardi may be calling on his bullpen earlier and more often than he’d liked, which, by the end of the year, could seriously mitigate the team’s strength. Perhaps, if the rotation made up for its lack of quantity with quality, the epidemic of short outings wouldn’t be as much of a concern, but, aside from Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees cannot reasonably expect much better than league average performances from the rest of their starters, and even that’s being optimistic.
A blockbuster offense and a dominant bullpen are the best way to overcome a weak rotation, but the Yankees’ lineup, though improved, not only lacks depth, but also the kind of middle of the order experience that defines consistency. When Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird hit, the Yankees will score runs. If Aaron Judge breaks out, they’ll score even more. But, it’s a little unfair to expect three hitters with less than a year’s experience between them to be the engine of an offense.
Young players have growing pains, so, when Sanchez, Bird and Judge suffer the inevitable pangs, who will pick up the slack? Matt Holliday comes to mind, but can he stay healthy for a full season? Otherwise, the Yankees lineup is filled with disappointing veterans (and Didi Gregorius) whose recent track records suggest mediocrity as a baseline. Players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Starlin Castro and Chase Headley should be the ones providing leadership, but instead, they are actually the supporting cast, and that’s why the offense is unlikely to carry the team as much as it will need.
The Yankees have upside. Young prospects can breakout, and talented veterans can rediscover old glory, but when you’re depending on both, mediocrity is often the result. However, don’t expect the Yankees to hover around the .500 mark. Because of the team’s reliance on youth and veterans with mercurial talent, peaks and valleys are likely to define the season. The timing of those ups and downs could further impact how the team approaches the trade deadline. If the Yankees catch a hot streak during the summer, the organization will need to determine if the team really can make a run, or if another downturn is just around the corner.
Following are 10 key questions outlined and answered in the context of reasonable best, base, and worst case scenarios. Also, scroll below to see how well the Captain’s Blog has predicted the Yankees’ annual win total in the past, as well as a forecast for the rest of the league.
Best Case Scenario: 90 wins
The Yankees young offensive talent acclimates well, and the lineup’s veterans chip in their fair share. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, the rotation isn’t dominant, but stable, allowing Joe Girardi to utilize his dominant bullpen efficiently.
- Masahiro Tanaka comes close to 200 innings and is once again a Cy Young contender.
- Luis Severino and Michael Pineda are able to pitch around 360 innings between them, and each is at least league average.
- CC Sabathia matches his 2016 season, giving the Yankees a consistent, quality six innings almost every fifth day.
- Jordan Montgomery, Chad Green and/or a cast of young arms are able to keep the Yankees in enough games when they take the mound as the fifth starter.
- Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman live up to expectations and combine to form one of the most dominant bullpen duos in baseball history. Tommy Layne, Tyler Clippard, and Brian Mitchell provide strong middle relief, while Adam Warren and Jonathan Holder provide flexibility to mitigate against a string of abbreviated starts. The depth and quality of the bullpen allow Joe Girardi to better manage the workload of Chapman and Betances.
- Matt Holliday stays healthy in the DH role and provides well above average production throughout the season.
- Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird each play around 140 games, and consistently produce at levels well above league average. One of the two approaches All Star status.
- Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Chase Headley all contribute strong defense and above average offense, reversing recent regressions in both areas.
- Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, being younger veterans, improve from their 2016 campaigns. In particular, Castro improves his defense and becomes more selective at the plate.
- Aaron Judge has a few slumps, but provides a league average offensive year with power. The bench, led by Aaron Hicks and Chris Carter, also chip in, while the team’s minor league depth (Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres) contributes when called upon.
Base Case Scenario: 81 wins
Growing pains throw cold water on the expectations for the team’s young talent, and some of the older bats continue to disappoint. The rotation isn’t a disaster, but short outings and inconsistent performance leave the Yankees playing from behind in too many games. This both diminishes the impact of the team’s bullpen and leads to overuse. Though the team plays well at times, there are just as many struggles, leading to a season defined by mediocrity.
- Masahiro Tanaka approaches 200 innings, but is not quite as good as last season.
- Either Pineda or Severino continues to struggle in the rotation, while the other provides only league average performance.
- Sabathia’s health is an issue, and when he does take the mound, his performance suffers. The big lefty is able to start about 25 games, but he performs at a below average level.
- The Yankees are unable to find a fifth starter capable of keeping them in games. This not only prevents the team from gaining momentum, but stresses the middle relief, or even forces Warren or Mitchell to return to the rotation.
- The Yankees’ bullpen has a strong season, but Chapman and Betances are not as dominant as the recent past. Tyler Clippard has a few hiccups, Mitchell/Warren are forced into spot starts, and the likes of Layne, Holder, and Shreeve prove to be inconsistent. This forces Joe Girardi to over-work his top two relievers.
- Holliday battles through a nagging injury or two, and his advancing age hampers his production. Though still a productive hitter, Holliday is not the middle or the order force the Yankees had envisioned.
- Either Sanchez or Bird go through extended slumps that leave their overall production level around league average. The other turns in above average season, but fails to take an immediate step toward stardom.
- Either injury or regression continue to cut modestly into the offensive production and defense of Ellsbury, Gardner or Headley. Two of the three are still positive contributors, but one member suffers a significant decline from last year.
- Castro’s defense at 2B continues to be poor, and his offense continues to be below league average. Meanwhile, Gregorius’ offense takes a step back as he is slow to recover from his shoulder injury.
- Judge struggles for an extended period, forcing Girardi to increase the playing time of Hicks. Neither Hicks nor Carter produce much from the bench, and the Yankees either remain reticent to turn to the farm for support or find their prospects unready to contribute.
Worst Case Scenario: 70 wins
An inconsistent starting rotation takes its toll on an overworked bullpen. The Yankees’ young hitters also suffer through extended slumps, and the veterans continue their gradual decline. After digging themselves an early hole, the organization is reticent to start the service time clock on its younger prospects and begins trading away veterans before the deadline.
- Tanaka is forced to miss a handful of starts, and isn’t quite sharp for most of the year. His 170 innings are quality, but do not rise to the level of an ace.
- Severino and Pineda struggle equally, and constantly force the Yankees to overwork the bullpen. By midseason, either or both are out of the rotation so an open audition for next season can begin.
- Either Sabathia is limited by nagging injuries or the league catches up to his new approach. The big lefty ends his Yankees’ career with a disappointing finish, but remains in the rotation to eat innings.
- The Yankees never settle on a fifth starter, and are eventually forced to transition Warren and/or Mitchell to the rotation as a result.
- Betances or Chapman succumb to the stress of a heavy workload, and either battle injury or relative ineffectiveness. The performance of the middle relief is also checkered, and perhaps depleted due to either trades or promotion to the rotation.
- Holliday’s nagging injuries take a toll and limit the veteran to league average offense.
- Sanchez or Bird have sophomore slumps. Though each still produces around league average offensive levels, their inconsistency and mediocrity are glaring in the middle of the lineup.
- Either injury or regression cut more significantly into the combined production of Ellsbury, Gardner or Headley. One of the three continues to be a positive contributor, but the other two either suffer an injury or a meaningful production decline from last year. In addition, the combined defense of this trio also continues to decline.
- Instead of progressing, Castro’s game recedes, extinguishing the last hope of him fulfilling his long squandered potential. Gregorius’ offense also takes a step back, particularly against lefties.
- Judge struggles mightily and ends up being demoted. Hicks and Carter provide no production from the bench, and the Yankees either remain reticent to turn to the farm for support or find their prospects unready to contribute.
Yankees’ Actual Win Total vs. Captain’s Blog Prediction, 2010-2016
2017 MLB Predictions
Cardinals beat Mets in Wild Card game.
Blue Jays beat Rangers in Wild Card game.
Cardinals beat Cubs in NLDS.
Dodgers beat Nationals in NLDS.
Red Sox beat Blue Jays in ALDS.
Indians beat Astros in ALDS
Dodgers beat Cardinals in NLCS.
Indians beat Red Sox in ALCS.
Dodgers beat Indians in World Series
Regular Season Awards