New York Yankees
2019 Record: 103-59
First Place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.31 (14th in MLB)
Team OPS: .829 (3rd in MLB)
What Went Right
The Yankees offense set the franchise record for home runs in a single season and fell one round-tripper shy of tying the Twins (307 homers) for the single-season major-league record. Their formidable, high-powered offense was spearheaded by shortstop Gleyber Torres, who blossomed into a legitimate middle-of-the-order stalwart and terrorized opposing American League pitchers. The 22-year-old middle infielder posted a robust .278/.337/.535 triple-slash line with a career-high 38 home runs and 90 RBI across 604 plate appearances. Despite battling persistent injury issues, superstar right fielder Aaron Judge belted 27 homers in just 447 plate appearances and narrowly missed crossing the five wins-above-replacement (WAR) threshold for the third consecutive season. Meanwhile, Gary Sanchez launched a career-high 34 homers and eclipsed the 30-homer plateau for the second time in the last three years.
In addition to the Yankees’ young core nucleus, veteran infielder DJ LeMahieu was a revelation in his first season in Pinstripes. The 31-year-old second baseman inked a two-year, $24 million deal in the offseason and went on to post an extra-terrestrial .327/.375/.518 triple-slash line along with a career-high 26 home runs and 102 RBI in 655 plate appearances. He also finished ninth in the junior circuit with 109 runs scored as the Yankees’ main table-setter. After looking completely cooked at the plate during the previous campaign, veteran outfielder Brett Gardner cobbled together an unexpected offensive renaissance, socking a career-high 28 dingers in 550 plate appearances. The unsung hero of the Yankees’ record-setting offensive juggernaut was journeyman infielder Gio Urshela, who became a cult hero in New York. The 28-year-old third baseman was plucked off the scrap heap — purchased from the Blue Jays late in the 2018 campaign — and went on to record a surreal .314/.355/.534 triple-slash line with 21 home runs across 476 plate appearances. The Yankees also struck gold with the trade acquisition of versatile outfielder Mike Tauchman from the Rockies in the late stages of spring training. The unheralded 28-year-old outfielder displayed superb plate skills, hitting .277/.361/.504 with 13 homers and six stolen bases across 296 plate appearances, and emerged as a viable starting option moving forward.
After losing their ace Luis Severino for nearly the entire regular season, Domingo German unexpectedly evolved into the lynchpin of the Yankees’ rotation in his absence. The 27-year-old right-hander went 18-4 with a 4.03 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 153/29 K/BB ratio in 143 innings of work across 27 appearances (24 starts). He didn’t pitch in the postseason after being placed on administrative leave in late-September following an alleged domestic violence incident. The legal process still needs to play out, but he’s likely facing a lengthy suspension to begin the 2020 campaign. The Yankees relied heavily on their extraordinarily deep bullpen to shoulder a massive workload as Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and James Paxton were the only starters to eclipse the 150-inning threshold during the regular season. An eye-popping six relievers — Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Nestor Cortes, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle and Zack Britton — logged at least 60 frames and combined for a Scott Proctor-esque 341 combined appearances. Hard-throwing left-hander Aroldis Chapman finished second in the American League with a whopping 37 saves and a microscopic 2.21 ERA across 57 innings of work in 60 appearances. Not only did the Yankees boast one of the deepest relief corps in the game, but they also recorded the ninth-lowest bullpen ERA (4.08) in the big-leagues last year.
What Went Wrong
Injuries. Here’s an oversimplification: The Yankees were devastated by injuries to several superstar-caliber hitters and pitchers, yet they managed to replace their production and discovered several breakout studs (Urshela and German, most notably) in the process. Behemoth slugger Giancarlo Stanton was limited to just 18 games during the regular season due to a laundry list of physical ailments. There are simply too many to list in this space. He also dealt with a Grade 2 quad strain during the postseason. It would be unfair to label the 29-year-old former National League MVP as injury prone, especially since he played in 317 of 324 games over the prior two seasons, but he’s a risky fantasy proposition moving forward after failing to stay healthy for literally the entire 2019 season. On the heels of a stellar rookie campaign, third baseman Miguel Andujar appeared in just 12 games before undergoing season-ending surgery on a torn labrum in his right shoulder back in early May. After receiving a seven-year, $70 million extension prior in the offseason, center fielder Aaron Hicks was kept on the shelf due to a back injury until mid-May. Upon returning, he recorded a lackluster .235/.325/.443 triple-slash line with 12 home runs across 255 plate appearances before a sprained the flexor tendon in his right elbow, which he sustained in early-August, kept him sidelined until the postseason. He underwent Tommy John surgery in late October and is expected to miss at least the first half of the 2020 campaign.
The Yankees rotation was also battered by injuries, most notably Luis Severino, who missed nearly the entire 2019 campaign due to rotator cuff and lat injuries. Relief ace Dellin Betances also missed nearly the entire regular season due to shoulder and lat issues before suffering a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon upon returning in late-September. In addition to a slew of injuries, the Yankees biggest in-season acquisition, Edwin Encarnacion — who was leading the American League at the time of his acquisition from the bottom-feeding Mariners in mid-June — struggled mightily at the dish and failed to make a major impact. Didi Gregorius missed the first half of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery and hit just .238/.276/.441 in 344 plate appearances upon returning. The Yankees failed to make him a qualifying offer earlier this month, which means he will be a free agent this offseason. Barring an unlikely reunion, the Yankees will likely move Torres back to shortstop and turn the hot corner over to Urshela full-time and also hope that Andujar is fully healthy entering spring training. It’s unclear what the Yankees plan to do with former top prospect Clint Frazier, but he would likely have some appeal as a low-risk gamble for a rebuilding franchise. Former top prospect Greg Bird remains a complete non-factor.
-- Is Domingo German a potential fantasy ace? After engineering a legitimate breakout campaign and notching 18 wins in 24 starts, he’s going to be drafted like one (even with a suspension looming) next spring in plenty of fantasy leagues. However, a quick glance under the hood at his raw statistical profile reveals that he was merely pedestrian from a run prevention standpoint (no matter what metric you want to consider) last season. Per Baseball Prospectus leaderboards, German’s 4.27 Deserved Run Average (DRA) ranked 48th out of 130 pitchers with at least 100 innings of work in 2019. It gets even worse if you look exclusively at his FIP (4.75), which ranked 91st out of that same crop of pitchers. Simply put, he overachieved last season. His ability to rack up wins thanks to a formidable Yankees’ squad will undoubtedly buoy his fantasy stock moving forward. Yet, given his modest career strikeout rate (10.11 K/9 across 243 big-league innings), even a slight backslide in his control would be problematic for his surface statistics. There’s ace potential here, but there’s also plenty of risk with German entering the 2020 campaign.
-- Lets’ face it, fantasy owners witnessed an all-time apex mountain-esque campaign from DJ LeMahieu last year. He ranked fourth in the big leagues in batting average (.327) and nearly doubled his previous career-high in home runs and RBI as the Yankees’ leadoff specialist. He’s sustained a preposterously-high BABIP throughout his career, so fantasy owners can count on him to provide a boost in the batting average department for years to come. Based on every piece of data out there, it appears that his unexpected power surge following his Coors Field exodus may be sustainable long-term. Per Statcast data, LeMahieu finished in the 88th percentile (or higher) in exit velocity, hard hit percentage, expected batting average (xBA), expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) and expected slugging percentage (xSLG). The composition of the current major-league baseball itself in tandem with LeMahieu’s recent uptick in launch angle and barrel percentage, give him a realistic shot to crack 20 homers in 2020. Bet on a repeat.
-- Will the real James Paxton please stand up? He’s been a sabermetric darling for years and has seemingly been on the cusp of blossoming into one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the game for years. The central problem is no longer persistent injuries that have limited his workload in the past, simply because old school 200-inning workhorses are a dying breed these days. The issue now is the maddening inconsistency performance-wise that he displayed in his New York debut last year. The 31-year-old southpaw got off to a horrific start (4.72 ERA across 19 starts) before a stellar two-month stretch (10-0 with a pristine 2.51 ERA over his final 11 starts) salvaged a potentially disastrous season. He’s one of the most polarizing pitchers in fantasy baseball, but when he’s on his game, he’s still one of the most dominant on a per-start basis.
-- Fantasy owners in deeper mixed leagues should be all over Mike Tauchman in drafts next spring. The 28-year-old outfielder was never afforded a real opportunity in Colorado and thrived when given a chance in New York last season. He has the potential to realistically pop 25-to-30 homers and swipe 12-to-15 bases if he’s given 600 plate appearances next year. With Hicks slated to miss the entire first half of the season, Gardner hitting the free agent market and the omnipresent injury concerns (real or perceived) surrounding both Judge and Stanton, it feels like Tauchman is a lock to play everyday given his plate skills and defensive versatility. He’s not a sexy pick, but he’s someone who leaps off the page if you extrapolate his part-time production into a full-time role projection.
-- First baseman Luke Voit proved that his late-season surge to close out the 2018 campaign wasn’t a mirage, cementing his status as a middle-of-the-order force to be reckoned with before a sports hernia in last July derailed his successful follow-up campaign. The 28-year-old first baseman hit .278/.392/.493 with 19 home runs across 416 plate appearances prior to the injury and closed out the regular season on an abysmal 16-for-80 (.200) slide with just two homers across his final 94 plate appearances after returning in late August. After undergoing sports hernia surgery in late-October, he should be 100 percent by spring training. He deserves a pass for his injury-related dismal second-half performance and should be a solid mid-to-late round investment in all fantasy formats next spring.
Offseason Team Needs: The Yankees biggest offseason priority will be their pursuit of a front-line starting pitcher. They’re a virtual lock to pursue free agent aces Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. If they’re unable to meet their astronomical asking prices, they make sense as potential landing spots for Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner or Zack Wheeler. Alternatively, they have enough young talent at the big-league level and the upper minors of their farm system to satisfy the demands of a rebuilding franchise on the trade market. While they’re unlikely to retain any of their own free agents, a reunion with Gardner seems highly probable, especially considering the praise he received from Yankees GM Brian Cashman at his end-of-season press conference last month. “I don’t think there’s any question as to what his capabilities are,” Cashman told reporters. “He’s tremendous on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, including playing center field.” At 36-years-old, it’s unlikely that he’ll find a multi-year offer on the open market, and it would make sense for the Yankees to bring him back as a veteran insurance policy. There simply aren’t a ton of holes in this roster. If New York can augment their existing starting rotation; and avoid another injury-plagued campaign, they’ll be contenders in the American League once again in 2020.