Pressing Questions: The New York Yankees

Michael Pineda is a strikeout ace, but homers are still a problem
Michael Pineda is a strikeout ace, but homers are still a problem

The last four years have been a transitional phase for the Yankees, an effort to get younger and cheaper. Derek Jeter meandered into the cornfield after the 2014 season, and Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are finally out of the picture. If you’re headed to The Bronx this summer, you might actually need that proverbial scorecard — or at least a few clicks on your phone or tablet. Not everyone on roster is a name you know by heart.

New York has stayed competitive through this phase, winning between 84 and 87 games for four straight years. They snuck into the playoffs two years ago, losing in the coin-flip round. This year’s model looks good enough to contend, but not deep enough to be among the American League favorites. Nonetheless, things could be a lot worse — the Yanks haven’t had a losing season since 1992, Buck Showalter’s first season. Andy Stankiewicz, anyone?

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Maybe Joe Girardi’s a better manager than people realize, because New York’s been outscored in three of four seasons, but never dipped under .500. Or perhaps that’s a statement about the back end of the Yankees bullpen. Heck, it could be old-fashioned good luck, or (most likely) a combination of things.

Meanwhile, the Yanks haven’t been particularly formidable on offense. They finished 22nd in runs last year, and they’re 16th in scoring, cumulatively, over the last four years. We can still find plenty of fantasy intrigue here, but New York is no longer our starting point.

House of Steinbrenner, here’s a kiss, we chose you to end our P/Q List.

Q: Should we pay the freight on Gary Sanchez’s sophomore year?

I’m not going to own any Sanchez shares this year, and for better or for worse, it was the quickest decision of the season. The frame of his 2016 season — and the subsequent pricing into the new season — makes it so.

Obviously Sanchez was utterly ridiculous in his first extended close-up last year. He clocked 20 homers in just 201 at-bats, slashing .299/.376/.657. His home runs were equally split, home and away.

But it’s hard to balance that ridiculous line against the .275/.339/.460 slash he compiled over seven years in the minors. Even his strong Triple-A resume — .286/.342/.478 — pales to what Sanchez did in the majors. Baseball isn’t supposed to be this easy for anyone; a 40 percent ratio of home runs to fly balls is insane. And I’m not comfortable using a Top 45-55 pick on someone who needs to hit his high range of outcomes to justify the pick.

You want to hear it from someone else? Fine. Queue up my friend Joe Sheehan, who writes an excellent newsletter about all things baseball. In a recent entry, here’s what he wrote, as an aside, on Sanchez.

A note here to say that I think Sanchez is going too high in just about every draft in every format. He’s often going ahead of Buster Posey, which is just a mistake. The player is fine, probably headed for .270/.325/.450, but his 2016 MLB HR/FB is carrying far too much weight.

Well said, brother. As for the Sanchez-Posey debate, you’ll hear more about that next week.

Q: Will Michael Pineda ever catch a break?

Pineda has become a polarizing commodity in fantasy circles, an in-or-out case. How do you feel about pitchers, luck, and home-run frequency?

Pineda posted mediocre ratios in 2015 (4.37 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) and it got even worse last year: 4.82 ERA, 1.35 WHIP. He’s allowed 48 home runs the last two years.

But Pineda, like Sanchez, carries a funky HR/FB ratio around. He was bitten 14.7 percent of the time two years back, and at a 17.0 clip last year.

Pineda’s posted a tremendous K/BB ratio the last two years; last year he struck out 10.6 batters per nine, walked just 2.7. His peripherally-suggested ERAs are generally low, much lower than his front-door number. Note the 2.95 xFIP in 2015, and 3.30 last year.

Pineda doesn’t cost that much at the draft table; he’ll go around Pick 200, on average. What’s particularly interesting about him is the theoretical discussion. Do you expect the real-life ERA to eventually catch up to what’s suggested by the component numbers, or are you worried about a homer-prone pitcher who toils in a home-run haven? Keep in mind Yankee Stadium has boosted home-run production by a silly 38 percent over the last three years.

At the end of the day, I’m going Occam’s Razor — I’ll take the simplest route to an answer. Pineda will have to battle his gopher problems on someone else’s roster. The park is too penal, and there are other land mines in this division. I don’t like giving pitchers a golden pass for these types of problems. Why talk yourself into pitchers, anyway? You’ll find plenty of them that catch your eye without extra effort.

Q: Hey, anyone remember Greg Bird?

While it didn’t match the Sanchez impact, Bird was a similar rookie surprise two years ago, clobbering 11 home runs in 46 New York games. His sophomore follow-up died on the vine, ruined by a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery.

Bird will get every chance to win a regular lineup spot, though he didn’t hit in the Arizona Fall League (.215, one homer) and Chris Carter was added for depth. Here’s another player with a wide range of outcomes, though Bird’s ADP (around 250) reflects that. The prudent thing is to pay for a .250-.260 average and 18-22 home runs, but Bird could easily get closer to 28-30 homers if he improves his contact rate a bit and stays in the lineup most of the time. He’s only 24, and the home park is certainly a plus.

Yankees Projected Lineup

LF Brett Gardner

CF Jacoby Ellsbury

C Gary Sanchez

DH Matt Holliday

1B Greg Bird

2B Starlin Castro

SS Didi Gregorius

3B Chase Headley

RF Aaron Judge

Yankees Projected Rotation 

SP Masahiro Tanaka

SP CC Sabathia

SP Michael Pineda

SP Luis Severino

SP Chad Green

CL Aroldis Chapman

RP Dellin Betances

RP Tyler Clippard

Projected lineup courtesy of Roster Resource

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