Much of the talk surrounding the Yankees this spring has been about the big names: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez. There has also been a great deal of excitement about top Yankee prospects Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney, and the list goes on.
FanGraphs estimates that the Yankees will win 95 games in 2018, good for second in the majors behind the Houston Astros.
Obviously, there’s a good amount of luck that comes with a 162-game season. Still, being good on paper is a pretty good place to start.
Getting to 95 wins means a lot of little things need to go right as well. For instance, three Yankees in particular aren’t making many headlines but they could play a pivotal role in 2018.
First up is Sonny Gray. The 28-year-old former Oakland A is entering his first full season with the Yankees. Gray finished 3rd in Cy Young voting in 2015. For several seasons in Oakland, Gray was the ace. After a dismal 2016 in which Gray threw only 117 innings, he bounced back in 2017, tossing 162.1 innings and posted a 3.55 ERA.
Although New York is a much bigger market than Oakland, Gray no longer needs to deal with the pressure of being the ace. He’ll start the season as the number 3 pitcher, behind Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. As a very good number 3 starter, Gray should benefit from easier matchups when opposing teams pitch their aces against the Yankees’ top tandem.
Currently FanGraphs (Depth Charts) predicts Gray will post a 3.3 WAR in 185 innings pitched. This is a reasonable estimate, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Gray were to surpass this number.
Second on the list is CC Sabathia.
During the offseason, CC Sabathia resigned to a 1-year, $10 million-dollar contract. Initially, Sabathia contemplated retirement due to persistent pain in his right knee. He had season-ending surgery in July of 2014. CC went under the knife again in October of 2016 and was on the 10-day DL last August due to right knee inflammation.
Sabathia still managed to win 14 games in 2017,in addition to accumulating 1.9 fWAR, while posting a modest ERA of 3.69. 2018 is probably going to be CC’s last season. Fangraphs (Depth Charts) predicts a 1.6 fWAR for Sabathia this season.
A healthy Sabathia could win 10-12 games for the Yankees this season. Having Sabathia in the starting rotation gives the Yankees the versatility to keep Chad Green in the bullpen again in 2018 for an additional year of seasoning. Green will perhaps compete for CC’s starter spot in 2019.
If Sabathia’s able to land on that right knee without discomfort every 5 games, it will go a long way toward the Yankee’s playoff hopes.
Third on this list, and possibly the Yankee getting the least recognition is Aaron Hicks.
2017 was Hicks’ most productive offensive season so far in the major leagues. Despite only playing 88 games, Hicks set personal bests in home runs (15), runs (54), and RBIs (52). Additionally Hicks on-base percentage (.372) shot up 91 points over his 2016 total.
Hicks posted a 3.3 fWAR in his 88 games, finishing 13th among AL outfielders and 5th among center fielders. If you adjust Hicks’ fWAR/game over a full 162 games, he would have a 6.1 WAR. This would put him 3rd among AL outfielders in 2017. In a more modest fWAR/game adjustment of 134 games (the fewest games played of the only person ahead of him not named Trout), he would have posted a WAR over 5.
This post would place Hicks ever so slightly ahead of Justin Upton, as well as the likes of George Springer and Lorenzo Cain. I’m not making the claim that Hicks will live up to those numbers over a full season, but the potential is there.
Hicks could quite possibly put up 25-30 home runs, knock in 75 RBIs, and score 80 or 90 runs hitting in the bottom half of this deep Yankee lineup.
If Gray, Sabathia, and Hicks can quietly put up the numbers they’re capable of, it would go a long way toward the Yankees winning number 28.
Let’s just hope nobody else finds out about them until it’s too late.