MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees

For the 2015 Yankees, everyone has been better than projected

To view the Yankees as a contender entering 2015, you had to squint really hard and continually repeat the word, “if.” It seemed New York had a short to contend, only as long as just about everything went right. That meant Alex Rodriguez contributed, Mark Teixeira bounced back, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann improved on shaky debut years, Didi Gregorius proved competent, Masahiro Tanaka stayed healthy, on and on.

Welcome to 2015, where almost everything has gone as well as — check that, better than — anyone could have hoped.

After being tabbed for fourth place before the season, the Yankees are likely headed to the playoffs, destined to blow past all preseason win-total expectations, not because of any one individual but because of general over-performance nearly across the board, particularly among position players.

Let’s go around the diamond, using Baseball Prospectus’ WARP stat as a guiding light.

*All projections are preseason forecasts from PECOTA.

C Brian McCann
Projected WARP – 2.4
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – 3.4

There’s been some talk of McCann as the Yankees’ MVP, and it’s not an outlandish claim. The catcher has bounced back from a disappointing 2014, improving in average, on-base, slugging, OPS+, wRC+ and tAV. Already he has surpassed his projected WARP by a full win, and he’s got 20 games to improve on that figure.

1B Mark Teixeira
Projected WARP – 1.7
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – 3.1 

PECOTA was naturally down on Teixeira entering the season, given that he was coming off an underwhelming 2014 and an injury-decimated 2013. But Tex played like a fringe MVP candidate, on track to top even his 90th percentile projection before his recent injury.

2B Stephen Drew
Projected WARP – 0.5
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – -0.3

Ok, this is one position where the Yankees have not gotten better-than-expected production, but it’s not like expectations were that high for Drew and whatever other warm bodies the team planned to play at the keystone.

3B Chase Headley
Projected WARP – 1.7
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – 1.6

Headley hasn’t had a sensational year, and the Yankees probably hoped for a bit better when they gave him a four-year deal in the offseason, but the third baseman’s performance has been right in line with the projections, or even a touch better.

SS Didi Gregorius
Projected WARP – 0.8
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – 2.0

Gregorius’ first season in pinstripes has gone about as well as anyone anticipated. The shortstop has reached base at a much better rate than last year with similar slugging and typically strong defense. He’s been a pleasant surprise.

LF Brett Gardner
Projected WARP – 2.5
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – 2.5

After a quick start, Gardner has cooled down in the second half, but by the end of the year his WARP will likely trump projections anyway.

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
Projected WARP – 3.6
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – 0.8

Ellsbury has been the one true disappointment on the Yankees’ roster. He was projected to be one of the team’s best players but has instead struggled to stay on the field and produced below his typical offensive and defensive levels even when he has played.

RF Carlos Beltran
Projected WARP – 0.8
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – 2.0

Like McCann, Beltran disappointed in 2014 in his first season in pinstripes, and like McCann, Beltran has responded with a better 2015 campaign. WARP is harsh on Beltran because his defense leaves much to be desired, but by most offensive measures the right-fielder has lived up to expectations.

DH Alex Rodriguez
Projected WARP – 0.8
Actual WARP (as of 9/10) – 2.4

PECOTA, like most fans, expected very little from A-Rod, who has of course been one of the Yankees’ best hitters in an impressive comeback year. The projections did not see Rodriguez playing this much nor hitting this well in 2015, and his performance has provided the Yankees a nice boost.

Of the Yankees’ nine everyday starters, four significantly out-performed their projections, two have already matched their forecasts with three weeks to go and only one (Ellsbury) has been a serious disappointment.

The starting rotation’s over-achieving hasn’t been as dramatic, but most fans would have happily signed up for 130+ innings from Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, the first three of whom were considered massive injury risks. Tanaka and Pineda have roughly matched projections, while Eovaldi has put up 2.0 WARP after PECOTA forecast him for -0.4.

Out in the bullpen, Dellin Betances has topped his projection by more than 2 WARP, and Andrew Miller and Chasen Shreve have bested theirs by more than 1.

There has been no single factor to credit for the Yankees’ success in 2015. They’re likely headed to October because up and down the roster, players have performed better than expected.

(Photo: Gregory Fisher-USA Today Sports)

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