July Update: While it would be untrue to suggest there was ever a feeling of pessimism surrounding the Yankees at any point in 2020, back in Spring Training the team did have plenty of question marks. Aaron Judge (ribs), Giancarlo Stanton (calf), Aaron Hicks (elbow) and James Paxton (back) were all not expected to be ready for Opening Day 1.0, a carry-over of New York’s injury woes from last year. However, with the layoff, the latter three have been given the all-clear for July 23, while Judge has at least been recently able to take batting practice. The Yankees are anticipating that Masahiro Tanaka (concussion) will have to miss at least one start and Aroldis Chapman’s positive COVID-19 test puts his early-season status up in the air. But all and all, New York’s roster has benefitted from the time away. The club is rightfully the DraftKings Sportsbook’s favorite to win the American League (+175).
Far be it from me to ever suggest feeling bad for the Yankees – they live up to the “Evil Empire” nickname quite well – but, if not for the trademark pinstripes, I’m sure we’d be viewing this squad in a different light. Think about it as if it were a Disney movie. Last season, after overcoming a seemingly endless parade of injuries to win 103 games, New York was thwarted in the ALCS by a Houston squad that we all now know a little more about. You stick Henry Rowengartner on that team and you’ve got yourself some serious protagonists, right?
Anyway, things really haven’t differed too far from 2019’s script in Spring Training. Luis Severino had to undergo Tommy John surgery; James Paxton was initially looking like he’d miss the first two months of the season due to a back issue; while Aaron Judge (ribs), Giancarlo Stanton (calf) and Aaron Hicks (elbow) are all also on the mend due to various ailments. Who’s left to have a fantasy impact this coming season? Let’s dive into it.
— Division Winner: -335
— League Winner: +200
— World Series: +400
Didi Gregorius, SS; Edwin Encarnacion, 1B; CC Sabathia, SP
Gerrit Cole, SP
2020 Fantasy MVP
Gerrit Cole, SP
The Yankees took a quality not quantity approach to free agency this winter, bringing in Cole on a whopping nine-year, $324 million contract that made him the highest-paid pitcher in MLB history by a wide margin. The funny thing about Cole heading to New York is that, five years ago, the narrative for regression would have been so obvious. You want to take a pitcher that posted a 16.9% HR/FB ratio and stick him in Yankee Stadium? Are you insane? However, the current landscape of pitching is a much different animal. Here’s a list of qualified starters that set a career-high for HR/FB ratio in 2019: Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Aaron Nola, Luis Castillo, Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish, just to name a few. It’s simply no longer all that large a concern, especially when the pitcher in question also happened to lead the league in xFIP (2.48), strikeout rate (39.9%) and expected wOBA (.238). It doesn’t really matter if one of every six fly balls you allow leaves the park when you’re suppressing opponent contact like Cole. He’s easily the best pitcher in fantasy baseball.
2020 Fantasy LVP
Masahiro Tanaka, SP
Tanaka hasn’t been considered an elite fantasy asset for a couple of seasons at this point, but the number of red flags we saw pop up in 2019 are still quite unsettling as we all move forward with his value. Essentially, everyone just witnessed the year Tanaka’s splitter stopped working. That’s a pretty big issue given that the split-finger fastball has been the 31-year-old’s main put-away pitch since he came over to MLB in 2014. In fact, during the first five seasons of Tanaka’s North American stint, the right-hander threw the splitter in more two-strike counts that any other offering in his arsenal, with the pitch possessing a 36.3% usage in such scenarios. It made sense, too. Prior to last season, Tanaka was consistently able to induce whiff rates of over 20% with his splitter, topping out with a jaw-dropping 29.0% rate in an electrifying rookie campaign. However, this past year, the pitch produced an underwhelming 11.8% whiff rate, which, in turn, led to Tanaka posting a career-low 19.6% strikeout rate and a career-high 78.7% opponent contract rate. With his four-seam fastball velocity already declining rapidly, it’s hard to imagine Tanaka managing much future success with his pitch repertoire dwindling before our eyes.
2020 Breakout Player
Jordan Montgomery, SP
Finding a diamond in the rough on a team with a $242 million payroll is a unique challenge, but Montgomery is a name that fantasy baseball owners have been lusting after across a few lost seasons. Really, you could argue that the left-hander has already technically broken-out, as his 2017 campaign rightfully turned many heads. That season, Montgomery pitched to a 3.88 ERA and 4.07 FIP over 155.1 innings of work, yet the true allure of the young southpaw was his impressive 12.2% swinging strike rate – a figure that would have been good for the 14th-best mark in MLB had Montgomery the innings to qualify. It’s not as if the lefty relied on just a single pitch to get him to that level, either. While Montgomery’s best offering is clearly the curveball he tends to use as a primary offering, the 27-year-old also managed whiff rates of above 15% on both his change-up and slider. Obviously, there’s risk involved in expecting anything from a man who has logged a paltry 31.1 innings since the beginning of 2018; however, with a rotation spot secured, Montgomery could rack up some strikeouts and wins on a very good Yankees team.
While there are clearly no winners with the season currently postponed, New York could conceivably be at full health by the time we see Opening Day. That would be a scary proposition for every pitcher in the American League. The Yankees managed 306 home runs and a .222 team ISO in 2019 and that was with players like Gary Sanchez, Judge and Stanton all registering fewer than 500 plate appearances. Basically, if the Injury Gods smile down upon the Bronx in 2020, I wouldn’t blame the umpires for bringing a few extra baseballs to the stadium on any given evening. There’s a reason the DK Sportsbook has New York favored to win both the American League East (-335) and the American League (+200): They’re going to be very, very good. Don’t miss out if you have a chance to grab a piece of this offensive attack.
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