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Yankees Who Need To Have Solid Seasons For Wild Card Contention
- Updated: February 16, 2017
Best realistic case scenario for the New York Yankees this season is a Wild Card playoff spot. The AL East is a stacked division once again, which will make it difficult for a rebooting team to contend for the division crown. The Boston Red Sox have a stacked team, the Toronto Blue Jays should be formidable again, and the Baltimore Orioles have been the most winning team in the AL in the past few years. Anything can happen during a season, but odds are that the Yankees will be competing for second or third in the division rather than winning it. For other divisions, that would spell a bad season. However, the AL East has represented one of the Wild Card spots all but one season since the Wild Card Game was introduced. Last season, Toronto and Baltimore both were in the game, which means three AL East teams made the postseason last year.
Realistically, the Yankees could compete for the Wild Card Game. Last season, they hung around until mid-September. That is with a team that traded away their best offsensive player (Carlos Beltran), closer (Aroldis Chapman), and a starter in an already thin bullpen (Ivan Nova). There is no reason why the Yankees cannot shoot for the Wild Card Game this season. The organization will say that the goal is winning the AL East and going to the World Series, but a successful season would be one where the Yankees contend until the end of the season.
The Yankees competing for a Wild Card spot depends on certain players performing well. The obvious players who many fans and MLB writers will point out will be Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, whoever plays in RF, Gary Sanchez, and the two who will finalize the rotation. All those players do need to play well, but there are three players who will be vital to the team’s success that might not draw the attention of others. These players do not need to have All-Star seasons or be in the MVP conversation, but they need to put in solid/above-average seasons. If these three players are capable of turning in good-to-great seasons, chances are that the Yankees will be contending for the postseason come the end of September.
Perhaps he is more obvious than the other two, but Michael Pineda needs to turn his career around and put in a solid 2017 season. With a load of potential at his hands, Pineda has not demonstrated the potential pitching ability that he had during his rookie season in 2011. When the Yankees gave up beloved Jesus Montero, it was a bit underwhelming that Michael Pineda was the player that the team received in return. However, the trade made sense from the stance of trading a prospect for a young starting pitcher with massive upside.
Last year, Pineda had a poor season. His stat line is below:
6-12 W-L, 32 GS, 4.82 ERA, 175.2 IP, 207 SO, 1.344 WHIP
The obvious negatives in this standard stat line is the high ERA and poor W-L record. One plus is that Pineda had over 200 strikeouts while only pitching 175.2 innings. Pineda showed that he has strikeout stuff last season. However, he also demonstrated that he can give up the long ball. In his 32 starts, Pineda gave up 27 home runs. That is only 5 more than both C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, but it is still on the high side. What is surprising about the 27 HRs is that most of the ones hit off of him came against right-handed hitters. 18 of the 27 were from right-handed bats, which seems odd since Yankee Stadium is lefty heaven (though left field is not that deep either) and conventional wisdom would say a right-handed pitcher would be better against a right-handed batter.
Needless to say, Pineda needs to be better this season. As one of the three guaranteed spots in the rotation, Pineda needs to pitch as a second or third starter, not the pitcher who barely made the rotation. If he can get his ERA down under 4, then the Yankees have at least two starters who are performing well. For the coming season, Pineda needs to drop opponents’ slugging percentage down from last season’s .462. Giving up home runs is part of pitching in Yankee Stadium, but containing that number (as well as other extra base hits) will lower his ERA and keep the young offense in games more often.
On the surface, Chase Headley’s 2016 was a complete mediocre season. His final slash line was .253/.331/.385 with only 51 RBIs. A large reason his numbers are so mediocre is due to his abysmal start to the season. Until May 15, Headley was batting below .200 and did not even have a single extra base hit. However, after that day, Headley slashed a more respectable .266/.341/.418. Diving a bit deeper, from May 15 to September 17 (when the Yankees were essentially eliminated from postseason contention after being swept in four games by Boston), Headley slashed .276/.347/.435 and hitting 12 of his season total 14 HRs.
This coming season, Headley will play a key role in the lineup. While he will not be the big power threat like Gary Sanchez or Chris Carter, he will need to help balance out the order. Looking at the lineup, Headley is probably looking at batting anywhere from 5th to 8th. In that spot, Headley needs to be a run producer. Over his career, Headley might not be a massive home run threat (his career high is 31 but has not hit over 20 HRs in a season other than that) but he can drive in runs. He led the NL in 2012 with 115 RBIs. This season, Headley needs to see his RBI total reach into the 70s at least. If Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro can both do it, so can Headley.
In addition to driving in runs, Headley needs to be a solid left-handed bat when facing right-handed pitching. For the season, Headley only slashed .240/.327/.399 batting left-handed while he performed much better batting from the other side. Against lefties, Headley slashed .272/.337/.354. Clearly, Headley provided more power from the left side (11 of his 14 HRs came while batting left-handed). With Greg Bird as the only other left-handed “threat” in the lineup, Headley needs to provide that run producing threat from the left side.
When thinking about how the bullpen will play into the Yankees’ overall success, Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are the ones who come to mind first. Both are among the best in all of baseball and should dominate batters once again this season. However, the argument could be made that Tyler Clippard is the most important pitcher in that bullpen. While Chapman will stay in the 9th and Betances will be the setup man, Clippard will be in charge of the 7th inning and before. He will be the main bridge between starter and the two headed monster of Chapman and Betances.
In 162 games, Clippard will most likely see the most variability in the innings he pitches. If Joe Girardi learned something from last year, it’s that Betances needs to be paced out the entire season to prevent his crash in last month, where his ERA ballooned an entire point last year. Clippard will be the main reliever out of the pen when situations become tense before the 8th inning. For the Yankees last season, Clippard posted a 2.49 ERA in 25.1 innings and struck out 26 batters. Respectable numbers that Clippard needs to repeat.
One statistic that does need to drop for Clippard coming into this season is his inherited runners scored percentage. In his small sample with the Yankees, Clippard allowed 38% of runners he inherited. For the season, he was at 39%. That contributed to a team percentage of 33%, which ranks in the lower tenth of the league. All a whole, the bullpen needs to cut down on this rate. But Clippard is somebody who will be pitching numerous outings beginning in the middle of an inning. Betances and Chapman will receive clean innings more so than not. Clippard will be tasked with getting the Yankees out of jams.
Others Need To Play Their Part…
The three that I singled out are not the only Yankees who need to play well this season. However, these three are more crucial than what they may seem to be. Pineda can help the bullpen by being a solid third starter. Headley can take pressure off of Bird, Judge, and Sanchez if he can be somewhat of a threat. Clippard simply needs to be the bridge to get the rotation/early bullpen help to the shutdown part of the game. These three do not need to have Herculean seasons, simply strong showings that contribute to overall team success.
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