Tomorrow there will be Yankees baseball. Real baseball that counts. Over the last four-plus months there were many days I didn’t think I would write that in 2020, but here we are, one day away.
In what has become an annual tradition, here are the over/under predictions for the 2020 Yankees.
(I understand the season could be called or canceled at any minute, so these totals are based on the entire 60-game regular seaon being played).
Aaron Hicks: 45.5 games played
Last season, I was an idiot and set Hicks’ games played total at 145. Through 2018, he had never played more than 137 games in a season and had only played more than 97 games twice in six seasons. But I thought after playing 137 in 2018 and having signed a seven-year contract extension he would show that he wasn’t as brittle as he had been throughout his entire career. Hicks repaid my positive thinking about his health by injuring his back on a 35-minute bus ride in spring training, which would keep him out of the lineup until mid-May. Eventually, he would be shut down with an elbow injury that would require offseason Tommy John surgery. Name a baseball-related injury and Hicks has had it. Now 30 years old, I have a hard time believing a player who couldn’t stay on the field in his 20s is suddenly going to get healther on the other side of 30. I hope I’m wrong, but I know Hicks all too well to think he’s going to get through a two-month season with only six scheduled off days without a problem. Under.
Gleyber Torres: 13.5 home runs
The home run total for Torres last year was set at 25 and he crushed it with 38. So much for a sophomore slump and pitchers adjusting to Torres as he increased his OPS by 51 points from his rookie season and carried that play into the postseason where he and DJ LeMahieu tried to carry the offense by themselves through the ALCS. (It turns out you need more than just two of your nine hitters to win the pennant.) If Torres were to hit 14 home runs and pass this total, it would be the equivalent of hitting 38 home runs over 162 games. I don’t think he’ll have a problem doing that, especially with 10 of the 60 games this season coming against the Orioles. Over.
Brett Gardner: .340 on-base percentage
I’m reusing this one from last season, which Gardner failed to eclipse after posting a .325 OBP. He did hit a career-high 28 home runs to make up for it, but if you were an everyday player in 2019 and didn’t 25 home runs with the super ball, I’m not sure what you were doing at the plate. Gardner went from finished in 2018 to looking 10 years younger in 2019 with ridiculous(ly manufactured) power. However, that’s not his game and if Gardner isn’t getting on base, he’s not doing his job. With Gardner inexplicably hitting prominently in the Yankees’ 2019 postseason lineup (even ahead of Torres!), his inability to get on base cost the Yankees dearly in the ALCS, and he was part of the reason why the team’s World Series drought continued for another season. Even with Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton all “healthy”, Gardner is never just outfield insurance with those three being counted on as the starting outfield. As long as Gardner is on this team, he will be used like he’s an everyday player, and he needs to play like he’s one. Under.
Gerrit Cole: 2.50 ERA
Cole will most likely get 12 starts this season, and in each one of them, he will have unrealistic expectations with every pitch he throws. He has proven he can handle the type of pressure he’s going to endure as a Yankee, even with no fans in the stands, but the expectations for him feel like they’re at least seven innings and two earned runs or less for each of his starts. I think Cole would tell you his personal expectation is to be better than that, and he was better than that last year, posting a 2.50 ERA and allowing an earned run every 3.6 innings. Cole didn’t lose a game over the last four-plus months of the 2019 season, going 16-0 with a 1.78 ERA in 22 starts. I don’t think anyone is expecting him to duplicate that performance in 2020 … actually, I take that back since I have seen Yankees social media and I know how scary of a place it can be … so, while there are some who expect him to duplicate that performance in 2020 and go 12-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA, I’m not. I am however expecting him to be the best pitcher in the league. It would have been nice if Cole could have pitched in front of fans in Baltimore at the end of March and done in his first start was CC Sabathia wasn’t able to do in Baltimore in 2009, but unfortunately, his first season as a Yankee will come in empty stadiums and he will need to take to social media each postgame for adulation. Under.
Aaron Judge: 0.5 stints on injured list (for an injury, not illness)
Sometimes I will stare off into space or my wife will ask me why I’m being so quiet, wondering if something’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong, I’m just wondering if I will ever get to see Judge play a full, completely healthy season. It’s no secret Judge is the most important part of the Yankees’ lineup. When he’s not in the lineup, it screws everything up. We end up with Brett Gardner batting in the top third or Giancarlo Stanton leaving runners on base out of the 3-hole or Aaron Hicks being counted on like a top-of-the-order major-league bat. The Yankees go as Judge goes, both in the regular season and postseason. When he hit in the 2017 playoffs, the Yankees won. When he didn’t, they went down 0-2 to the Indians, 0-2 to the Astros and couldn’t win either of their two chances to clinch the pennant. When he hit against the Red Sox in 2018, the Yankees nearly pulled off a miraculous Game 1 comeback and did win Game 2, and when he didn’t, they were once again eliminated. Judge disappeared in the 2019 ALCS after his home run off Justin Verlander in Game 2, and the Yankees won one of the final five games of the series. In 2016, Judge’s first season ended early because of an oblique injury. In 2017, his only true full season, in which he set rookie records and should have won the MVP, he was hampered by a shoulder injury, which hurt his numbers in the second half. In 2018, a freak hit-by-pitch came him out for two months, and in 2019, another oblique injury took another two months from him. If not for the shutdown these past four months, Judge would now just be getting back into the lineup and would have missed the first half of the season after this odd broken rib/collapsed lung fiasco. Staying healthy is part skill and part luck, and Judge has been unlucky through the first three “full” seasons of his career. I’m going to be optimistic with this one because I don’t have any other choice. If the Yankees are going to get to where they want to go and where they haven’t been in more than a decade, Judge has to stay healthy. Under.
Miguel Andujar: 40.5 games started
DJ LeMahieu was so good in his first season as a Yankee that it can be forgotten that he wasn’t even in the Opening Day starting lineup and he wasn’t supposed to be in the starting lineup every day. The Yankees were going to use LeMahieu to play multiple positions and give guys (unnecessary) days off. But instead of being a super utility player, LeMahieu turned into the team’s best hitter and MVP candidate and became the first Yankee to be able to make contact at will since Robinson Cano left the team. I have a feeling a similar situation is going to happen with Andujar this season. I love Gio Urshela for what he did last season as much as anyone and hope that he really did figure it out offensivley for good last season, but one season out of a career coupled with the super ball isn’t enough to think Urshela definitely has gone from an AAAA player to the best 8- or 9-hole hitter in the majors and a true 25-home run threat. Whenver everyone else was getting blown away by Cole over these last few weeks of Summer Camp, Andujar was busy taking the Yankees’ ace and probably the best pitcher on the planet deep twice. Andujar’s defense at third has reportedly improved, but he will never be Urshela there. I think Andujar will force his way into the lineup and reclaim the spot he vacated in early 2019. Whether through performance or injury, Andujar will get his at-bats. Over.
Gary Sanchez: 20.5 games before going to old stance
It’s hard to break a bad habit, especially if that habit has been with you your entire life and has been with you through the minors up until becoming an everyday major leaguer. Sanchez’s catching stance changed this offseason and the new one is more than obvious and couldn’t have been easy or comfortable to transition to. Over the years we have seen many Yankees try to change what they have always done and most of the time, they end up resorting back to what they have always done. Maybe Sanchez has fully accepted and taken to his new positioning behind the plate, but if anything feels funny or goes wrong once actual meaningful games start, he will quickly drop the change the way Adam Ottavino went back to his mid-delivery glove tap this week. Under.
Giancarlo Stanton: 73.5 strikeouts
Last year, I had this at 200 strikeouts for Stanton, which he went under because he only played in 18 games. I will never understand what happened with Stanton throughout the 2018 regular season or why he was in and out of the lineup in th ALCS as the Yankees looked for some semblance of an offense, but now in his third season as a Yankee, he had a chance to erase the up-and-down 2018 season, which was marred by his final at-bat of the season, and erase whatever happened to his 2019 season. I’m less confident when Stanton is at the plate than when any other everyday Yankee is at the plate, and that shouldn’t be the case for someone with his ability and history. I’m willing to give him a clean slate in 2020 and I don’t want to regret it with him weakly flailing through sliders in the other batter’s box. Under.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!