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MLB Team Roundup: New York Yankees

Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole

Frank Becerra Jr. / The Journal News / USA TODAY NETWORK

New York Yankees

2020 Record: 33-27
Second place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.35 (14th in MLB)
Team OPS: .789 (5th in MLB)

What Went Right

DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit became the first pair of teammates to lead the majors in batting average and home runs since Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews did it with the 1959 Braves. LeMahieu, who was announced as an AL MVP Award finalist on Monday, was actually better than his remarkable 2019 campaign. Gerrit Cole did his job as the new ace of the staff while Masahiro Tanaka turned in his best overall season since 2016. Gio Urshela proved that his 2019 breakout was no fluke and Clint Frazier showed why he should be a regular in the Yankees’ lineup moving forward. Making his return from Tommy John surgery, Aaron Hicks was one of just seven qualified hitters to walk more often than he struck out this season. Deivi Garcia impressed during his first taste of major league action and looks like a keeper for the Yankees’ rotation moving forward. Zack Britton was the standout from the bullpen, resulting in the Yankees picking up his option for 2021.

What Went Wrong

The Yankees were eliminated by the Rays in five games during the ALDS, marking 11 years without a World Series appearance. Aaron Boone’s club was without Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gleyber Torres for long stretches of time. Torres took a step back offensively even when he was healthy enough to be on the field, seeing his OPS fall from .871 to .724. James Paxton was limited to just five starts due to a Grade 1 flexor strain in his left arm, adding more uncertainty to a rotation which was already without Luis Severino and Domingo German. Gary Sanchez had a miserable year and now faces questions about his future in New York. Mike Tauchman failed to duplicate his 2019 production and Miguel Andujar struggled in a small sample in his return from shoulder surgery. Adam Ottavino’s second year with the Yankees wasn’t nearly as successful as his first.

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Fantasy Slants

**After joining the Yankees on a record nine-year, $324 million contract, Gerrit Cole posted a 2.84 ERA and 94/17 K/BB ratio in 73 innings across 12 starts this season. It was good enough for him to be the No. 5 ranked starter in Yahoo leagues, though it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Cole actually held a 3.91 ERA with 12 homers allowed through eight starts before posting a 1.00 ERA over four September starts. There’s no doubt that Cole allowed more hard contact this season, but he was still very difficult to hit. His strikeout percentage was seventh-highest among qualified starters. It would be a surprise if he’s not the first pitcher off the board after Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber in most drafts next spring.

**If you were expecting DJ LeMahieu to regress this year, you owe the man an apology. The 32-year-old was actually more productive this year while leading the American League in batting average (.364), on-base percentage (.421), and OPS (1.011). He also thrived in terms of counting stats, piling up 10 homers, 27 RBI, and 41 runs scored over 50 games. LeMahieu was a top-20 overall player in Yahoo leagues. It’s obviously nice to call Yankee Stadium home (he batted .423 with a 1.263 OPS there this year), but LeMahieu was one of the toughest players to strike out this year (9.7 percent K-rate, 89.9 percent contact rate) and he was shift-proof with a sudden opposite-field approach. He’s also been comfortably above league average in hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity for a few seasons now, but power potential could be a moving target depending on where he lands. With multi-position eligibility in his favor, there’s every reason to believe he’ll continue producing in mixed formats, though a return to the Yankees would be ideal in fantasy.

**Luke Voit was hampered by a sports hernia in 2019, but he took things to a new level this past season, blasting an MLB-leading 22 homers to go along with a .277/.338/.610 batting line. He was much more aggressive compared to previous seasons and he boosted his fly ball rate while continuing to churn out barrels. It was a winning combination for him. Perhaps mostly impressively, he pulled all of this off while dealing with lingering plantar fasciitis in his foot. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection after the season and temporarily wore a walking boot, but he should be fine for the start of 2021. Voit will deservedly be one of the first few first basemen off the board in mixed formats next year.

**Aaron Judge’s fractured rib made him a major question mark in the spring, but he actually started the season on time after the COVID-19 shutdown. He looked like an early MVP candidate after putting up nine homers, 20 RBI, and a 1.101 OPS through his first 17 games, but he went down with a right calf strain in mid-August which lingered over the next month. He finished the regular season quietly and struggled to find consistency during the Yankees’ postseason run. Judge experienced some notable decreases in barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, and average exit velocity, but we wouldn’t make too much out of a 28-game sample. He could actually be a value in drafts next year.

**After being limited to just 18 games in 2019 due to a litany of injuries, Giancarlo Stanton appeared in just 23 games this year due to a Grade 1 left hamstring strain. It’s too bad, as the 30-year-old was off to a monster start prior to landing on the injured list. He mostly struggled after returning in September, though he caught fire by slugging seven homers during the postseason. His raw power remains off the charts — with the batted ball data to back it up — it’s just a matter of how much he’s going to play. Good luck figuring that one out, so Stanton should again be one of the most polarizing players in drafts next spring.

**What happened to Gleyber Torres? While it was certainly nice to see him turn things around in the playoffs, he hit just .243/.356/.368 with three homers over 42 games during the regular season. Torres dealt with quad and hamstring injuries, so the struggles require some context, but his barrel percentage completely cratered compared to his first two seasons in the majors. The silver lining is that he made some strides with his approach. Odds are he can be had at a discount in fantasy drafts next year, which carries some appeal given his situation in this lineup and home stadium.

**It’s time to stop giving Gary Sanchez the benefit of the doubt at the catcher position. Yes, the power potential is tantalizing, especially at Yankee Stadium. Sanchez makes lots of hard contact, even when he’s struggling, but at what cost? The 27-year-old hit just .147 over 49 games this past season and it was mostly deserved, as he struck out in 36 percent of his plate appearances. Only five players (min. 170 PA) struck out at a higher clip. Sanchez took a backseat to Kyle Higashioka for most of the postseason, casting his future with the club in question. Whether he stays with the Yankees or not, he’s almost certainly going to fall behind the likes of Salvador Perez, Willson Contreras, Will Smith, Yasmani Grandal, and Travis d’Arnaud in drafts next spring.

**Aroldis Chapman didn’t make his season debut until August 17 due to a bout with COVID-19, with Zack Britton seeing the majority of the save chances during his absence. The hard-throwing southpaw was shaky upon his return, but he finished the regular season on a high note by allowing just one hit with a 17/2 K/BB ratio in 7 2/3 innings over his final eight appearances. He kept it going in the postseason before giving up a decisive home run to Mike Brosseau in Game 5 of the ALDS. Chapman might not throw as hard as he did a few years ago, but that didn’t stop him from missing a ton of bats in this small sample. Given his situation, he still needs to be looked at as a top-five closer in mixed leagues.


Key Free Agents: DJ LeMahieu, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Brett Gardner, J.A. Happ, Tommy Kahnle, Erik Kratz

Team Needs: The Yankees would surely like to retain some of their free agents, most notably LeMahieu, Tanaka, and Gardner. However, they are going to face plenty of competition on LeMahieu. They could always pivot to a shortstop (whether via free agency or trade) and move Gleyber Torres back to second base. Odds are they’ll add a couple of starting pitchers, with Tanaka a realistic possibility to return. The Yankees also need to make a decision on whether to commit to Gary Sanchez behind the plate.