Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
After bagging Gerrit Cole on the free agent market over the winter, the expectations are sky-high for the Yankees in 2020. They've got their October lion to front a playoff rotation and the big bats to back him for what could be a deep postseason run, maybe even all the way to a ticker-tape parade.
What key statistics could fuel the ride? Or derail it? We've spent much of the spring hand-wringing over Yankee injuries (again) and while the club's roster seems deep enough for another season of subsisting on subs, who knows what will happen?
Just like last year, Injured List numbers will impact the Yankees' season. While we wait for baseball to resume, and it could be a while, let's chew on that and three other numbers that could make or break a pinstriped season:
Will Band-Aids work again, if necessary?
The great narrative of the 2019 Yankees was how they overcame a record number of injuries, including to stars such as Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Luis Severino, to post 103 wins and reach the AL Championship Series.
The 2019 Yankees put 30 different players on the IL a total of 39 times and both numbers are the highest totals on record for an MLB team. Seven Yankees hit the IL at least twice.
This season was supposed to be the year most everyone was back and we could really see this generation's Yankee juggernaut, but all three of the above-mentioned players are out again - Severino for the season after Tommy John surgery - and Gary Sanchez's back hurts.
The number of IL trips figures to loom large again - the Yanks had to use 54 players last season and were only one of two teams with a winning record that used that many. Can we really expect them to find players such as Gio Urshela or Mike Tauchman if a new crop is needed?
Cole Train speeds to 200
The 29-year-old Cole might be the best pitcher in baseball, a student of the art who's got immense physical gifts and a gluttonous appetite for work. He's exactly what the Yankees need, especially with Severino out and James Paxton mending after back surgery.
So the Yanks need innings from Cole. Lots of them, at least 200. If he's healthy, he should get there while piling up zeroes and strikeouts and the Yanks should get what they paid $324 million for -- at least in the first season of his nine-year deal.
Cole has thrown 200-plus innings and made 32 or-more starts in four of the last five seasons and three in a row. Over the last two seasons in Houston, he delivered 200.1 innings and 212.1 innings while notching ERAs of 2.88 and 2.50. Five different projection systems listed on his page at FanGraphs predict he'll get to at least 32 starts and at least 200 innings. If he does it, he could help stabilize a rotation that's already experienced a couple of spring jolts.
Home runs are great. Everybody (well, except the wacky splinter group known as pitchers) loves home runs. The Yankees thrive on home runs and their season total likely will have a lot to say about where they end up.
It sure did last year when they became just the second team to hit 300-plus homers (306) and finished behind the Minnesota Twins for both the MLB all-time record and season lead. The Yanks, who led MLB with 943 runs last year, scored 51.1 percent of their runs on the long-ball -- the fourth-highest rate in the majors. They set an MLB record with 139 games with at least one home run.
In games they hit at least one tater, they were 95-44, a .683 winning percentage. They were practically unbeatable when they hit two-plus homers (71-14, .835). Home runs are obviously important to them and we expect them to blast away. But Judge and Stanton are hurting. So is Sanchez. Can Gleyber Torres really hit 38 again? If the injured rotation fizzles, can they slug their way into October?
The Yankees' relief corps had 7.6 WAR last year, second in MLB to the Rays (7.7) and figures to be one of the best in the game again in 2020. One FanGraphs projection has the Yanks pegged to amass the most WAR of any bullpen in the majors this season.
Obviously, doing that would be a huge boost to their chances this year. As an opposing scout puts it: "You don't get a break with the Yankees, with that bullpen. Aaron (Boone) has a lot of choices and can do some things early in games, like last year."
The bullpen figures to get some starting assignments, too, since the Yanks enjoyed employing an opener last year, going 13-7 in those games, even with the openers recording a 5.72 ERA. The strategy worked better earlier, though -- the Yanks were 2-7 in their last nine games with an opener.
Overall, Yankee relievers are really good at strikeouts, fanning 26.4 percent of hitters last year -- third-best in the majors. Their 2.81 K/BB ratio was seventh. Nothing is guaranteed, of course -- last year's group matched a club record with 25 blown saves, though their 75 percent save rate was much higher than baseball's 63.2 percent overall mark.