2022 Season Preview: New York Yankees

Image: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees

by Ben Poon

2021 Record: 90-72 (.556 win%, T-2nd in Division)

2021 Payroll: $239,100,714 (3rd in MLB)

Projected 2022 Lineup:

1. 1B Anthony Rizzo, .258 AVG/.366 OBP/.457 SLG, 2.9 fWAR

2. RF Aaron Judge, .273 AVG/.369 OBP/.539 SLG, 5.8 fWAR

3. DH Giancarlo Stanton, .267 AVG/.352 OBP/.543 SLG, 3.3 fWAR

4. LF Joey Gallo, .209 AVG/.343 OBP/.486 SLG, 3.6 fWAR 

5. 3B Josh Donaldson, .249 AVG/.358 OBP/.486 SLG, 3.6 fWAR

6. 2B Gleyber Torres, .268 AVG/.346 OBP/.449 SLG, 3.6 fWAR

7. CF Aaron Hicks, .234 AVG/.346 OBP/.416 SLG, 2.5 fWAR  

8. C Kyle Higashioka, .219 AVG/.278 OBP/.425 SLG, 1.6 fWAR

9. SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa, .266 AVG/.317 OBP/.377 SLG, 1.9 fWAR

Projected 2022 Rotation:

1. Gerrit Cole, 199.0 IP/3.26 ERA/1.04 WHIP, 5.2 fWAR

2. Luis Severino, 150.0 IP/4.06 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR

3. Jordan Montgomery, 164.0 IP/4.03 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 2.5 fWAR

4. Jameson Taillon, 152.0 IP/4.63 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR

5. Nestor Cortes 127.0 IP/4.55 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR

Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:

1. Aroldis Chapman, 64.0 IP/2.88 ERA/1.15 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR

2. Jonathan Loasiaga, 70.0 IP/3.42 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR

3. Chad Green, 77.0 IP/3.70 ERA/1.12 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

Another April means another season of New York Yankees baseball! The Bronx Bombers had a relatively disappointing 2021 campaign, especially given how much hype surrounded the team during the offseason. After adding some positional depth and signing Corey Kluber, the Yankees started the 2021 season incredibly slowly, as they played sloppy defense and uncharacteristically blew many late game leads. While there were too many horrible losses to count, the ones that stood out were an error riddled extra inning loss to the Orioles in April, a 4-run lead blown in the 9th inning against the Angels in June, and a 5-run lead collapsed at the hands of public enemy #1 Jose Altuve and the Astros right before the All-Star break. 

At the trade deadline, Yankee fans were rejoiced to see their often complacent GM Brian Cashman make some moves to bolster the team’s playoff hopes.  Their first move was to add Joey Gallo, a power stick with Gold Glove defender in the outfield, from the Rangers in exchange for a strong haul of prospects. While Gallo’s advanced numbers have always been good, Yankee faithful were skeptical about him due to his low batting and high strikeout rate. Nonetheless, his defense was a drastic improvement from the random players that were inserted into left field on an everyday basis. 

Secondly, and more surprisingly, Cashman traded for Cubs first baseman and World Series champion Anthony Rizzo. While this move came as quite a shock, as the starting first baseman Luke Voit was the MLB home run leader, Rizzo was an immediate contributor, racking up many clutch hits in his initial games in pinstripes. The Yankees also picked up sinkerballer Clay Holmes from the Pirates, who added some depth to the back end of the bullpen. After these transactions, the Yankees went from out of the playoff picture to the top of the AL Wildcard for most of the end of the season. 

To close the season, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and the Mariners were all fighting for two Wildcard spots, with the Yankees and Red Sox taking them both on the final day of the season. Wouldn’t you know it, the Yankees had to travel to Fenway for a ticket to face the Rays in the Divisional Series. 

After giving up a 2-run home run to Xander Bogaerts and a solo shot to Kyle Schwarber, Gerrit Cole’s outing ended after only 2 innings. The game remained at 3-0 until the 6th inning, where Rizzo hit a shot down the Pesky Pole to cut the lead to 2. What followed after that homer was classic 2021 Yankees. Aaron Judge hit an infield single to bring the tying run to the plate, and then the hottest hitter on the team, Giancarlo Stanton, ripped a deep drive off the Green Monster. Judge had a really good read of the play and left on contact, leading all fans to believe he was scoring on the play. However, a perfect Sox relay cut down the run at home, keeping the score 3-1. The lead then ballooned to 6-1 in the following innings, eventually ending in a 6-2 score in favor of the rivals.

After the season concluded, the MLB lockout caused no transactions to be made until around early March, where the Yankees subsequently missed out on all of the marquee free agents, including Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, and Freddie Freeman. Instead, the Yankees re-signed Rizzo and made a trade that left many fans confused. 

On March 13, the Yankees traded longtime catcher Gary Sanchez and third baseman Gio Urshela for former All-Star Josh Donaldson, infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and catcher Ben Rortvedt. Personally, losing Gary should be regarded as an overall plus, as while he was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, his defense and lack of awareness cost the Yankees many games over the years. However, I will miss Urshela, as he quickly became one of my favorite Yankees due to his slick glove and clutch bat. While people think the trade was a lateral move, I feel the trade was positive. 

In terms of other Yankees that said goodbye, Luke Voit was traded to the Padres in exchange for A-ball pitcher Justin Lange. The writing was on the wall for Voit, as resigning Rizzo put him in the same awkward platoon he was in for the last two months of 2021. Personally, I was happy the Yankees traded Voit, as there was no need to let a starting caliber player ride the bench, but I was not impressed by the haul they received. 

Lastly, long time “prospect” Clint Frazier signed with the Cubs after the Yankees toyed with his development, and ultimately stunted his growth. All in all, the month of March put some new faces in pinstripes and I am excited to see how they compete. 

2022 Season Preview:

Besides the highlighted changes, the Yankee core remains pretty similar to years past. However, the injury bug remains present in the clubhouse, particularly in the pitching staff. Zack Britton, who struggled in 2021, will spend most of the season on the IL recovering from an elbow injury. Domingo German, who has been on and off the IL for a couple years, is slated to return in June from a shoulder injury. 

Luis Severino, who has had every injury under the sun the past 2 seasons, is experiencing some shoulder soreness and might miss his first start of the season. While the injuries seem to be better for the Yankees this year, they almost always find a way to have half the starting lineup out by June. This year, I will set the Over/Under for Yankee starters being out for an extended period of time at 3.5 and once again will happily take the over. 

The starting infield will look a little different this year, as Torres will play 2nd, Rizzo will play 1st, newly acquired Isiah Kiner-Falefa expects to play short, and former MVP Josh Donaldson looks to get the bulk of the playing time at 3rd. I think this defense looks pretty strong on paper, especially now that Gleyber is back at second. 

Torres struggled at shortstop in 2021 and it appeared to shake his confidence in the field and at the plate. However, when he got moved back to 2nd base for the last 6 weeks of the regular season, his performance on both ends of the ball drastically improved. It appears the Torres at shortstop experiment is over and the Yankee faithful are hoping to see 2019 Torres again in 2022.

One key name that wasn’t listed in the starting infield is DJ LeMahieu, who looks to be the odd man out of the Yankee puzzle right now. While it’s an unfortunate circumstance, I still expect DJ to start the majority of games, given his positional flexibility and the average age of the starting corner infielders being 34 years old. Hopefully no one gets severely hurt, but in the case someone does, LeMahieu is a perfect utility man to step in, play good defense, and have competitive at-bats. 

The outfield and DH spots will continue to be strong, just as long as the big boppers can stay healthy. I’m curious to see how manager Aaron Boone deploys his outfielder, as he seems to have a weird infatuation with Aaron Hicks, leading to an utter refusal to play Joey Gallo in center. It comes down to whether Boone wants Hicks or LeMahieu in the lineup, as then either Rizzo or Donaldson can DH and Stanton, Gallo, and Judge would man the outfield. The combination of Kyle Higashioka and Ben Rortvedt at catcher should be…interesting.

The pitching staff is essentially a rerun of last year, with not a lot of new faces joining the crew. Gerrit Cole will look to once again carry the starters, as he is the current odds-on favorite to win the AL Cy Young. Last year was also a big statistical jump for Jordan Montgomery, and his ability to munch on innings every fifth day is something the Yankees will need, given how taxed the bullpen is expected to be.

Jameson Taillon started his Yankee tenure roughly, but a strong second half firmly cemented him as part of the rotation with an improved fastball and filthy curveball. In 2021, Nestor Cortes and his different windups rejoined the team and provided a lift in the starting pitching department that was desperately needed, with a hope to continue the magic this season. 

The biggest question mark on the staff is Luis Severino, who returned shortly at the end of 2021, but is slated to return to the rotation this year. If Severino is anything like his previous self from 2017 and can be the Yankees’ #2 starters, they might have one of the most loaded pitching staffs in baseball. Not a lot needs to be said about the bullpen other than it continues to be one of the teams’ largest strengths, with guys like Chad Green, Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, Michael King, and Aroldis Chapman finishing out games for the Bombers. While the AL is incredibly strong this year, the Yankees have all the components to bring home World Series Title 28.  

2022 Record Prediction: 94-68, 2nd in the AL East, 1st Wild Card

Player to Watch #1: RP Jonathan Loaisiga

After a breakout 2021, Loaisiga has firmly cemented himself as the future for the Yankees’ bullpen, pitching in 57 games to a tune of a 2.17 ERA and a strong 199 ERA+ (meaning Loaisiga had about double as good a park adjusted ERA as the league average). In 2021, his fastball constantly hit 100 MPH, and he developed a wipeout slider throughout the season to keep batters off balance. 

Aaron Boone trusted Loaisiga in many high leverage situations during the 2021 season. That trust paid off due to Loasiaga’s propensity to pound the zone, highlighted by his almost 5/1 strikeout to walk ratio. While this was the jump Yankee fans have been wanting to see from their pitching prospects, the bar is now set high for Loaisiga and his shutdown consistency will be crucial if the Yankees want to have any semblance for the pennant.  

Player to Watch #2: INF Isiah Kiner-Falefa

During his first 4 years with the Rangers, Kiner-Falefa’s role was always defense. His offensive numbers have always been rather pedestrian compared to his defensive prowess, posting a below average OPS+ every season as a pro. Luckily for Kiner-Falefa, the Yankees felt that he was the solution to their shortstop woes. As I have mentioned, Gleyber Torres was abysmal at shortstop last season, committing constant errors and making every ground ball an adventure. IKF should provide the Yankees with a trustworthy glove in the middle that makes all the expected plays and hopefully some unexpected plays. 

As for his hitting, something tells me he might find his stride swinging in the Bronx. Hitters tend to have better success playing in the AL East for the majority of their season and Kiner-Falefa’s path sounds eerily similar to how analysts described Gio Urshela when he first became a Yankee in 2019: good glove with no stick. Once Urshela cracked the lineup he found his stride offensively, and was a key cog that could be penciled in every day. I envision IKF to relish in his role as a strong defender, but don’t be surprised if he makes some noise offensively

Player to Watch #3: C Kyle Higashioka

With Sanchez gone, this paves the way for backup Kyle Higashioka to get a crack at the starting job at catcher. A fan favorite best known for being Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher, Higashioka has always stayed under the radar as a Yankee by quietly contributing. His defense has always been noticeably better than Sanchez’s, but the offensive production from Gary was too much to pass up. Now that Sanchez is out of the picture, Higashioka’s hitting abilities will be on full display in 2022.  The “Home Run Stroka” has tended to be an all or nothing hitter with emphasis on the nothing, posting a 71 OPS+ last season in 193 at bats. Now that there is less competition for playing time, we get to see what Higashioka is over a larger sample. Similar to Kiner Falefa, if Higashioka can increase his offensive contribution to just league average, it would turn the Yankees from a contender to a force to be reckoned with.

Categories: 2022 Season Preview

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