We don’t buy into that Yankees Universe cliché that the season is a “failure” if the Yanks don’t win the World Series. That’s fan-pandering nonsense for the unrealistic folks who believe that teams win because they choose to.
We are willing, however, to offer grades on the 2020 season (including the postseason) for the key Yankees, the manager and GM. And in this exercise, failure is an option. But excellence will be recognized, too.
GARY SANCHEZ: F
He batted .147, struck out in 36% of his at-bats and lost his starting catching job in the postseason. He still has power (10 homers) but he was so bad the Yanks may have to mull his future, even though he’s still under team control.
KYLE HIGASHIOKA: B-
By the end of the season, he was the starting catcher, not just Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher. Thanks to his strong defense (did you see that blocking in the ALDS against the Rays?) and emerging offense (.771 OPS, a three-homer game), he started five of the Yankees’ seven playoff games.
LUKE VOIT: A
Voit smashed 22 homers, becoming the eighth Yankee to lead MLB in longballs. How cool is it that Voit joined a list that includes Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth? Voit played through a “foot problem.”
DJ LeMAHIEU: A
LeMahieu was a beast again, so good and gritty that he makes the Bronx Bombers less of an all-or-whiff team. He led MLB in hitting (.364) and topped the AL in OPS (1.011). Re-signing the potential free agent, even after a .615 Postseason OPS, is a must.
Got better as the season went on, finishing with a .724 OPS, and then had a big postseason (.435 average, 1.262 OPS) to remind the baseball world how good he can be. But is he good enough defensively (nine errors) to be a long-term shortstop? Hmm.
GIO URSHELA: A-
Proved that 2019 was no offensive fluke by batting .298 with an .858 OPS and also played strong defense at third. Only LeMahieu and Cole had a higher bWAR on the Yankees. Fizzled a bit in October, beyond his grand slam against the Indians, but a terrific season overall.
CLINT FRAZIER: B+
After shaky defense threw shade on his game in 2019, Frazier turned himself into a better outfielder and continued to display that “legendary bat speed.” Frazier’s .905 OPS was third on the team and only LeMahieu had a higher on-base percentage than Frazier’s .394.
BRETT GARDNER: C+
The longest-tenured Yankee did not duplicate his ’19 power surge, hitting just five homers in 49 games and batting only .223. We stuck a plus on his grade for his dynamite postseason, though (1.079 OPS).
AARON HICKS: B
Hicks walks. He’s very good at it, finishing tied for second in the AL and tied for fifth in MLB with 41. He had more walks than strikeouts (38) and his .379 on-base percentage was 57 points better than the MLB average. He had tough, smart at-bats throughout the postseason, too, notching a .424 OBP.
AARON JUDGE: C+
Judge is a tremendous player, but he’s only appeared in 63% of the Yankees regular-season games over the past three seasons, including 28-of-60 (46.7%) this year. He just gets hurt too much. A monster start (nine homers, 1.101 OPS in 17 games) fizzled once he was injured. He smacked three postseason homers, but had only one other hit and batted .133 with a .229 OBP.
Like Judge, Stanton can’t stay on the field enough and appeared in only 23 regular-season games (.887 OPS, four homers). But the King of Exit Velocity went wild in the postseason (six homers, 13 RBI, 1.426 OPS), which is promising going forward.
GERRIT COLE: A
Had some homer problems (14 in the regular season, four more in the playoffs). But he was the ace they craved and soared in the postseason, even pitching on three days’ rest for the first time ever in the deciding game against the Rays, delivering 5.1 innings of one-run ball.
JAMES PAXTON: D
An injury ruined his season – he missed the final 35 games and the playoffs after returning from offseason back surgery. He struggled when he did pitch (6.64 ERA, though a 4.37 FIP).
MASAHIRO TANAKA: C
His regular season was solid (3.56 ERA, three earned runs or fewer in nine of 10 starts). But his rep as a postseason ace was torched: He had a 12.38 ERA in two starts, which nearly doubled his career postseason ERA to 3.33.
J.A. HAPP: B-
His first two starts were eh (at best), but his final seven were sharp. He held opponents to a .581 OPS and had a 2.34 ERA over that span. The postseason hurt his grade, though. He seemed unhappy about his piggyback assignment in Game 2 against the Rays and then pitched poorly (2.2 innings, four runs) in a flashpoint loss.
DEIVI GARCIA: B-
Several strong starts made it clear how much potential is here and he should have an enormous role in a rebuilt rotation in 2021. But he got hit, too, finishing with a 4.98 ERA. Garcia, 21, is good enough to wonder what might have happened if he got more than one inning in the Yanks’ bungled Game 2 pitching plan.
JORDAN MONTGOMERY: C+
Ordinary year (5.11 ERA) got a boost from his sharp Game 4 start in the ALDS in which he gave up one run in four innings to help the Yankees force a decisive fifth game.
ZACK BRITTON: A-
Filled in as closer for part of the season and had a 1.89 ERA in 20 appearances. Continued to get grounders at an elite rate – his 71.7% ground ball percentage was best among pitchers with at least 19 innings. Held opponents to an .059 average in the postseason.
AROLDIS CHAPMAN: D
He was 3-for-5 in save chances, had a 3.09 ERA and still has strikeout stuff. But he gave up a deciding home run in an elimination game for the second straight October, the only thing anyone will remember.
CHAD GREEN: B
By the end of the year, Green was one of a few relievers in Aaron Boone’s Circle of Trust and he pitched important postseason innings (3.38 ERA). During the regular season, he had a 3.51 ERA.
ADAM OTTAVINO: D
One bad outing against Toronto (six runs, no outs) spoiled his numbers (5.89 ERA), but Boone also didn’t seem to trust him late, giving him only one playoff appearance.
AARON BOONE: B-
We’re not scapegoating him for the Game 2 pitching debacle, but he should’ve either made sure Happ was on board or scuttled the whole thing. Otherwise, he was a steady hand in a bizarro season.
BRIAN CASHMAN: C+
Points for signing Cole and acquisitions such as Voit and LeMahieu are franchise bedrock now. Should he have added pitching mid-year? Yes. Could he have? That’s a different question. Still, he must wear the rotation failures, injuries and October shortcomings, even if the Yanks contend every year.