2019 Yankees Bounce Back Candidates

For the third consecutive season, I’m going to be taking a stab at who I believe is primed for a bounce back season for the New York Yankees.  Many key Yankees underperformed by their own standards in 2018, and some just flat out stunk, whether it be due to injury, general underperformance, or perhaps something else altogether.  With the team's sights set firmly on #28, who is in best position to redeem themselves in 2019?
Photo Credit: New York Yankees (via Twitter)

Two years ago, I predicted Aaron Hicks would breakthrough in his second season in pinstripes, and 2017 was the first time we finally saw Hicks flash his true potential. 

Last year, my picks were a little bit more hit-and-miss, as I went with a trio of Masahiro Tanaka, Greg Bird and Dellin Betances.

Tanaka certainly pitched better last year than in 2017, dropping his ERA by a full run per nine innings, but he also missed some time – being limited to just 27 starts – while his K/9 stayed roughly the same and HR/9 didn’t dip as much as we would have liked.

Greg Bird was more or less an unmitigated disaster.  He again started the year on the disabled list and eventually lost his starting spot to Luke Voit who started in each of New York’s five playoff games.  I will not be falling into this trap again this year.

Dellin Betances, however, had a true bounce back performance in 2018. After dropping to the bottom of Joe Girardi’s totem pole for relievers during the 2017 postseason, Betances returned to dominant form in 2018. After a rough April and early May, Betances pitched to a 1.88 ERA, 0.911 WHIP and .150 BAA from May 10th through the end of the season. The righty even carried an 18-game scoreless streak between May 27th and July 7th, pitching to a ridiculous .057 BAA (three hits allowed) with 30 strikeouts in just 17.2 innings.

For consistency, I’m going to be using the same criteria as a did last year to determine who qualifies as a bounce back candidate, and I’ll again select one starting pitcher, one position player, and one reliever.  In order to qualify for bounce back status, the players need to meet at least one of the following three criteria:

1.    Significant time spent on the disabled list
2.    Performed well below their career averages in the prior season
3.    Have not yet lived up to their potential

For 2019, the New York Yankees Bounce Back Candidates are Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez and Tommy Kahnle.


After dominating his way to a third-place finish in the 2017 American League Cy Young race, Luis Severino appeared prime to build off that performance with an even more dominant 2018.   Through his July 1st start against the Boston Red Sox – the Sunday night game more likely remembered for the night Hicks went deep three times in a convincing 11-1 victory – Severino had assembled an absurd 13-2 record with an ERA of just 1.98, a WHIP of 0.946 and a K/9 of 10.5.  He was, by all accounts, the second-best starter in the American League behind only the even more absurd Justin Verlander.

But then something changed for Severino.  Over his final 14 starts, he would go just 6-6, but with an alarming 5.67 ERA, 1.466 WHIP, and 13 home runs allowed.  The initial fear was some sort of injury, but Severino was still taking the ball every fifth day and his fastball still sat in the 96-100mph range.  After the season – one that’s final act was an ugly start against the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS in which he didn’t get out of the fourth inning – it was determined the young righty had been tipping his pitches.

This is of course a massive concern for the Yankees and their fans heading into 2019, but not something that cannot be corrected.  Severino has worked offseason to fix this problem and will continue to in Spring Training.  His arm is still full of life and he still has nasty secondary stuff.  Assuming an injury wasn’t also to blame for his second-half struggles in 2018, and one that even if it did exist, no longer does, Yankees fans should expect their ace to return to form in 2019.  Many young starters struggle in their second full season following a career high workload the year prior, and that’s exactly what 2018 was for Severino.  He should be fine moving forward, and Yankees fans should again expect him to take the ball every fifth day and flash his dominating stuff each and every start.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The case of Gary Sanchez in 2018 was certainly a curious one.  While his defensive miscues still reared their ugly head from time to time, more concerningly, Sanchez struggled mightily at the plate.  He also saw multiple trips to the DL due to a strained groin muscle.  Sanchez’s batting line last year looks ugly: .186/.291/.406, 10 GIDP in just 89 games with his only saving grace being the 18 home runs he blasted, including an April 26th walk off as well as his massive ninth inning homer off of Ken Giles in Houston on May 1. Gary also carried New York to their only win in the ALDS against Boston by blasting two moonshots over the Green Monster in Game 2.

Sanchez was still able to throw out 30% of base runners in 2018, but also set a career high with 18 passed balls in over 200 less innings than his 16 allowed in 2017.  2019 will be a make-or-break year for Gary Sanchez.  Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has remained sturdy in his commitment to Sanchez as the Yankees’ everyday catcher, however, there is growing suspicion that the team might start looking to move on from Kraken next offseason if he puts together another poor season in 2019.  With all that as motivation, we should see Sanchez return to form this season.  A lineup with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Sanchez performing up to his capabilities is a scary thought.

Tommy Kahnle’s 2018 season was marred both by injuries, as well as general ineffectiveness.  After a dominating 2017 season, Kahnle took a big step backwards in 2018.  After a wild 171 ERA+ season two years ago, that figure dropped to just 67 in 2018, signifying that he was 33% worse than a league average reliever.  Kahnle’s ERA ballooned to 6.56 in 2018, and most concerning was his dip in velocity.  After sitting in the 98-101 range in 2017, Kahnle struggled to get his fastball above 95-96 last year, and that change in velocity led to higher contact and hard-hit rates against him. 

Kahnle went on the DL early in the year with shoulder tendinitis and remained in triple-A for a good portion of the season even when he got healthy.  He just could not seem to regain the velocity and dominance he flashed in 2017, and the Yankees lacked a key bullpen piece because of it.

Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Flash forward to this upcoming season, and there’s still a lot to be optimistic about.  As is the case with many relievers across the league, Kahnle has had up and down seasons, following up every poor season with a strong one.  So is the volatility of the modern-day reliever.  After struggling in 2015 in Colorado, Kahnle bounced back with two strong seasons in Chicago and New York.  The big thing to watch this spring will be if his velocity returns, but assuming it does (a big assumption, yes), he still has all the tools to be an important back-end piece in the Yankees’ bullpen. 

With David Robertson now gone and Adam Ottavino and Zach Britton still unsigned with no guarantees of ending up in pinstripes, the Yankees might need to rely on Kahnle a lot more than initially expected. If he’s able to bounce back, there’s no reason he won’t be up for the challenge.

Article by: Andrew Natalizio


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