New York Yankees 2023 Season Preview
We’ve known for a long time that there have been, ahem, inconsistencies with the baseballs used in the Major Leagues. There was the jumpy, super-juiced ball of 2019, in which the Seattle Mariners’ 1997 record of 264 homers was topped by FOUR teams, including the Yankees, who finished second with 306.
Then there was the dead ball season of 2022, in which we saw the lowest batting average (.243) since 1968 and the lowest slugging percentage (.395) since 2014. Mysteriously, the dead ball didn’t stop Aaron Judge from setting a new American League record for home runs, busting Roger Maris’s record of 61 in ‘61 with 62 round-trippers. The Yankees also hit 254 homers as a team, 11 more than the Braves and 35 more than the third-place Brewers.
An Insider investigation authored by Bradford William Davis prominently featured astrophysicist Dr. Meredith Wills, who has been studying baseballs for the last several seasons, and the two uncovered some interesting findings. Armed with existing data that suggested that there was a change to the baseball around mid-May that led to more offense and more home runs, it was clear that at least two different baseballs were used during the season.
However, the research of Wills and the Insider crew found a third baseball, nicknamed “Goldilocks”. A disproportionate amount of these balls were used in the playoffs and also in Yankees games.
The Yankees didn’t need help - and MLB vehemently denies the results of the study. They were a good team regardless and would have likely been a division champion and a World Series contender without the boosted balls. They were on an historic pace at 70-34 through 104 games, but went just 29-29 over the final 58 games, when most of the balls were said to be in use.
New York has had 10 straight postseason appearances without an AL Pennant, let alone a World Series ring. In hopes of ending that streak, the Yankees won the Judge sweepstakes to keep him in pinstripes and signed Carlos Rodon to bolster the rotation. Will that be enough to reach this season’s high expectations?
Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.
2023 New York Yankees Odds
(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 6, click for updates)
World Series: +750
AL Pennant: +360
AL East: +110
Win Total: 94.5 (100/-120)
Make Playoffs: Yes -425 / No +340
New York Yankees Offense
This offense was about more than just power. The Yankees led the big leagues in BB% and were one of eight teams with over 100 stolen bases, which could have a huge carryover effect into 2023 with the pitch clock and bigger bases. Their 115 wRC+ was fourth, though Judge had a lot to do with all of the production. He had an obscene 207 wRC+, which means he was over two times more productive than the average MLB hitter with a .311/.425/.686 slash line and a .458 wOBA.
Matt Carpenter’s insane 47-game run led to a 217 wRC+ when he hit 15 homers in 154 plate appearances. Other than that, though, supplemental production was hit or miss. Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo combined for 63 homers and the Yankees will have both guys back in the fold once again. DJ LeMahieu ultimately wound up with a solid season overall, but he went from a 132 wRC+ in the first half to an 86 wRC+ in the second half. Gleyber Torres did a similar, albeit less drastic, thing with a 129 wRC+ in the first half and a 99 wRC+ in the second half.
The baseline for the Yankees offense is typically really solid, which happens as a powerful and potent lineup in a ballpark conducive to hitting for power, but the ceiling is different this season because of an infusion of young talent. Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera should factor heavily in the plans and will be tremendous safety nets for a Yankees roster with a bunch of players on the wrong side of 30.
Peraza could start from Day 1 at shortstop and he had a nice .306/.404/.429 slash in his 57 plate appearances late in the regular season. He’s hit pretty consistently in the minors and also had 35 stolen bases between Triple-A and MLB last season. Cabrera hit 15 homers across three levels last season, but hit 29 across Double-A and Triple-A in 2021. He, too, debuted last season and had a .247/.312/.429 slash in 171 plate appearances.
The Yankees continue to spend their fair share of money, but GM Brian Cashman has really emphasized trying to develop from within. Sometimes it is easier to graduate players from your own system instead of trying to mold and shape trade acquisitions and free agents to fit into the philosophy you are trying to live by. That’s one of the many reasons why the Yankees have held onto 21-year-old Anthony Volpe, who will debut this season after finishing last year at Triple-A. He’s +1100 to win AL Rookie of the Year and is having a fine spring. He may even beat Peraza out for the starting shortstop role.
In bringing back Rizzo and Judge, the Yankees have two cornerstones and still have Stanton, who probably makes the most violent contact of any hitter all-time when he puts the barrel to the ball. Mix in proven veterans like Torres, Josh Donaldson and playoff hero Harrison Bader (great glove, mauls LHP) with the youngsters like Volpe, Peraza and Cabrera and there is a ton to like about this lineup. Sour grapes aside about the baseballs and the playoffs as a Guardians fan, it’s hard to see the Yankees performing much below last season’s numbers, even accounting for regression from Judge off of a career year.
Health will always be the question, though. In a highly competitive division with a right-handed-heavy lineup that is susceptible to striking out against above average or better righties, the Yankees will need all hands on deck as often as possible to reach lofty expectations.
New York Yankees Pitching
Money doesn’t always buy talent, but one thing it absolutely does is give a team the ability to embrace risk. The risk was low when the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole prior to the 2020 season. The risk is decidedly higher with the signing of Carlos Rodon prior to the 2023 season. Rodon signed a six-year, $162 million deal in mid-December and I genuinely don’t know how this is going to play out.
(Author's note: Carlos Rodon was shut down for 7-10 days with a forearm strain on Mar. 9 and will miss some time)
Rodon has had far and away the two best seasons of his career in the last two years. Over his last 55 starts, Rodon owns a 2.67 ERA with a 2.42 FIP and a ridiculous K% of 33.9% while accumulating 11.3 fWAR over 310.2 innings of work. However, Rodon pitched just 232.1 MLB innings from 2017-20. Concerns about his injury history limited his market going into the 2022 season when he signed with the Giants for two years, $44 million with an opt-out after the first year.
Rodon exercised that opt-out after throwing a career-best 178 innings. In a vacuum, Rodon’s troubling medical file is a concern, but the context of this rotation puts it front and center. Domingo German was suspended for a domestic violence incident and his 2022 got off to a late start, but he’s only exceeded 100 innings one time in five seasons at the MLB level. Luis Severino threw 18 innings from 2019-21 before throwing 102 innings last season. He missed more than two months from July 13 to September 21.
Along with those concerns, Frankie Montas is already out with labrum surgery in his pitching shoulder. He’s likely to miss the entire season, so that trade hasn’t quite worked out as hoped. The Yankees are stretching out Clarke Schmidt to be rotation insurance, which I don’t hate, to be honest. I think he has some upside after posting a 3.12 ERA and a 3.60 FIP in 57.2 innings last season. I also haven’t given up on Deivi Garcia yet. The Yankees also have the prospect currency to be buyers at the Trade Deadline again.
Cole remains one of the game’s top hurlers, despite the Yankees fan base will tell you about last season’s performance, and Nestor Cortes emerged as one of the game’s top left-handed starters. But, those two guys might end up having a lot of burden to carry. Of course, Rodon may continue to stay healthy and Severino may put his litany of issues behind him as well.
Cortes got better as the season went along and only allowed three home runs over his final 62.2 innings of work while not sacrificing anything across his other metrics. Cole did struggle in the home run department in the second half with 16 dingers allowed and a 17.4% HR/FB%, but his K% improved and his BB% got better, so I would chalk that up to some unwanted variance more than anything.
New York also had a top-five bullpen by fWAR with a 2.97 ERA and a 3.35 FIP. All of the same faces are back, but Tommy Kahnle is back for his second go-round as a Yank (and he’s already hurt). Scott Effross was one of the big Trade Deadline acquisitions for New York, but he missed a month from mid-August to mid-September and ultimately needed Tommy John surgery. Michael King was a shutdown reliever and primary setup man until he fractured his elbow in July. He’s expected to be ready for Opening Day. Everybody else is intact, though.
That means that this should be a very solid group once again. The Yankees also loaded up on non-roster invites looking for some depth.
You wouldn’t think about it, but the Yankees were actually an outstanding defensive team last year. They led the Majors in defensive runs saved (DRS) by 43 over the Dodgers and also led MLB in UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 chances), catcher framing runs and the FanGraphs’ all-encompassing Def metric. They were fifth in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric.
Catcher Jose Trevino far and away led the league in framing runs, Def and DRS. Despite Trevino’s greatness in the crouch (and solid defensive numbers from Kyle Higashioka), the Yankees were only 12th in K% and 24th in BB%. Rodon led MLB in K% among qualified starters last season and Cole was third, so we could definitely see the K% go up, but I thought that was interesting.
Player to Watch
SP Gerrit Cole: I tried to figure out why there was an uptick in home runs for Cole, specifically in the second half of the season. For the full season, there were no noticeable changes in things like Pull%, Hard Hit%, Barrel%, FB%. In fact, his Pull% actually decreased in the second half, but his HR rate skyrocketed in September. I guess generically saying “fastball command” is fair, since 6/10 HR were hit on fastballs, but that was his highest month by Whiff% of the final three months of the season. It was tied for his lowest month by spin rate (which did decrease each month over the course of the season), so maybe that was it. I think part of it may have been the aforementioned Goldilocks balls. It could’ve also been an underlying injury or some wear and tear. I think he’ll be just fine given his rate stats and the Statcast metrics, but bettors are sure to think twice about laying big numbers with him.
New York Yankees Win Total Pick
As a general rule, I don’t mess with the extreme win total numbers. I typically won’t bet overs for teams in the mid-to-upper 90s or unders for teams in the 60s. There simply isn’t a whole lot of margin for error with those types of win total odds because health is often the determining factor. If the Yankees stay healthy, they should win over 100 games again. If they don’t, they could certainly end up in the upper 80s in a tough division. It all depends where the injuries are.
That being said, this is a team that has a lot of offensive depth and more guys are coming. If Volpe doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll be up soon and OF Jasson Dominguez won’t be far behind. Peraza and Cabrera are already at the MLB level and ready to make an impact. Pitching injuries are what concern me. The depth in the upper minors isn’t as strong there and there are already some injuries and other risks. As currently constructed, this is the best team on paper in the AL, so I’d lean over as opposed to under, but I don’t see a lot of value on the win total of 94.5.
Lean: Over 94.5