SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
Yankees fans were understandably upset about a relative lack of impact activity from New York this winter, but they vastly improved their defense and once again figure to be in the mix in the AL East all season.
Head-to-head record (2021)
4/8: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Gerrit Cole, 1:05 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-network)
For the third consecutive year, it will be Nathan Eovaldi taking the ball on Opening Day for the Red Sox, this time around coming off the best season of his career. We’d seen what Eovaldi is capable when he’s healthy, most notably down the stretch and in the playoffs back in 2018 but also at times in 2020, but never that consistently for so many innings. Eovaldi finished with a 3.75 ERA, but also a 2.79 FIP, over 32 starts and 182 1⁄3 innings, receiving much-deserved Cy Young votes. He’s not quite in the ace tier of baseball, but as we saw last season he can be in the next tier down, which is no small feat. He has a wide array of pitches, and as long as he’s still got the pinpoint control he should be acceptable atop the Red Sox rotation.
On the other side, though, is a guy who is part of the best pitcher in baseball conversation in Cole. The Yankees ace’s 3.23 ERA last season was his worst since 2017, and was still well above average, as was his 2.92 FIP. Cole misses bats and doesn’t issue walks, but he can leave some pitches over the zone. The Red Sox need to be ready to jump on mistakes here, kind of like they did in the Wild Card Game last season. Yeah, just do that again, would be my advice. Cole features a high-90s fastball, along with a curveball, slider, and changeup.
4/9: Nick Pivetta vs. Luis Severino, 4:05 PM ET (FS1)
The Red Sox rotation gets a lot more iffy after Eovaldi, especially with Chris Sale on the injured list. But on the other hand, we’ll see a ton of upside this weekend from Sox starters, especially with Pivetta. Overall, his numbers come out to perfectly average from 2021, with his park-adjusted ERA at a perfectly average 100, while his FIP- was one percent worse than average at 101. His ability to miss bats gave him the potential to shut anyone down at any time last year, and the good news on that front is the fact that his stuff looked impressive in spring. On the other side of the coin, though, he can catch to much of the plate and get hit around with a barrage of hard contact. With a Yankees lineup that can crush pitches but also strike out a ton, nothing would surprise me from Pivetta in this one.
The Yankees have their own wildcard going on the other end with Severino. Just a couple of years ago, it looked like Severino would be the Yankees ace for years to come. In 2018, at just 24 years old, the righty had a 3.39 ERA and 2.95 FIP in 32 starts. Unfortunately for him and New York, he’s only thrown 18 innings since then, six of which came out of the bullpen last season. It’s hard to know what to expect from anyone after all the time he’s missed, but if he can get back to something close to that 2018 version, the Yankees have a terrifying one-two punch here.
4/10: Tanner Houck vs. Jordan Montgomery, 7:07 PM ET (ESPN)
This is going to be a fascinating and important season for Houck, who got a spot in the rotation after the aforementioned injury to Sale. We know what the young righty can be at his best, with a good fastball and a wipeout slider that can make even the best hitters look silly. But we also know that his third pitch was still in development the last we saw him, and he’ll need that splitter consistently if he’s going to be able to get deep into games. That’s been the big weakness in his career so far, and while there are days his slider is so good that he doesn’t even need the splitter against lefties, he can’t count on that every time out. That splitter is going to be the thing to watch here, both in terms of its quality and also just how often he throws it.
Montgomery kind of flew under the radar last season as a key part of New York’s rotation and an anchor heading into this season. After some frustrating injury-riddled seasons, the southpaw made 30 starts in 2021 and finished with a 3.83 ERA and a 3.69 FIP. There’s probably not the upside here that exists with the other pitchers we’ve talked about, but he’s solid across the board. They’re going to see a lot of soft stuff from Montgomery, as his top two pitches used last season were his curveball and changeup, both of which come in under 85 mph. The key will be not expanding the zone and making him attack from behind in the count with the fastball.
Anthony Rizzo was of course a top Red Sox prospect traded to the Padres way back when Boston got Adrian Gonzalez. When he was on the trade block last summer he seemed like a logical Red Sox target, but instead ended up in New York where he re-signed this winter on a two-year deal.
Marwin Gonalez was supposed to be a key part of Boston’s bench last season with his experience and versatility, but was cut midway through the season before ending the year with Houston. He made the Yankees Opening Day roster after signing a minor-league deal this spring, and will be part of their bench to start the year.
Starting Position Players
Aaron Judge is entering his final season before free agency without an extension in hand, leaving the Yankees at risk of losing their best player. Judge has had trouble staying healthy at times in his career, but when he’s on the field he’s the total package. The power and on-base ability are both elite, and he plays underrated defense in right field, while also cutting his strikeout rate down the last few years.
Speaking of sluggers who struggle to stay healthy, Giancarlo Stanton is also quite scary when he’s on the field. His strikeout issues are a bit more pronounced still, and he doesn’t have the defensive value, but Stanton can still crush baseballs on a regular basis, and hit 35 homers in 2021.
Joey Gallo was a midseason acquisition by New York last summer and his performance tanked after the trade, largely due to BABIP issues. He’s the epitome of a three-true-outcome hitter, which means a lot of strikeouts, plenty of walks, and always the chance of a home run.
Josh Donaldson was a post-lockout acquisition by New York, as part of the deal that sent Gary Sánchez to Minnesota. Donaldson is another injury risk as he enters his late-30s, but he can still hit, coming off a 2021 in which he finished with a 124 wRC+.
DJ LeMahieu is coming off a down season for after two stellar seasons with the Yankees, finishing with a perfectly average 100 wRC+. He totally lost any semblance of power a year ago, and the Yankees are hoping for a bounceback there to boost their lineup.
Rizzo isn’t the player he was in his prime with the Cubs, but he still makes a ton of contact and hit for solid power.
Gleyber Torres is the wildcard in this New York lineup, as he’s gone in the wrong direction developmentally since his impressive 2018 and 2019 seasons. Still only 25, there’s plenty of time for a recovery.
Aaron Hicks hasn’t played 60 games in a season since 2018, and in his small 32-game sample last season he was totally lost at the plate. The Yankees are hoping that was just a blip and he can still be the same walk and power hitter he was prior.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa was acquired in that same Donaldson deal, and while he provides a big upgrade defensively at shortstop, there’s really not much there offensively beyond a lot of contact.
Kyle Higashioka takes over a more substantial role behind the plate after a few seasons serving as a backup, and like Kiner-Falefa he is an upgrade defensively but not so much at the plate.
Aroldis Chapman is still the closer in New York, and showed at times last season that he can still be a dominant reliever late in games. However, he also showed at other times that his command can suddenly disappear, and teams can put up runs in a hurry.
Jonathan Loáisiga was more consistent for New York than Chapman last season, finishing with a 2.17 ERA and a 2.58 FIP. His strikeout stuff is more fine than great, but his command is tremendous and he’s very difficult to square up.
Chad Green is easier to square up and his fly ball tendencies leave him vulnerable to the long ball, but he controls the zone so well while also racking up strikeouts that he’s still, all in all, a very effective reliever.
Zack Britton was either injured or ineffective all year in 2021, and he may miss all of 2022 after undergoing Tommy John late last season.
Domingo Germán is dealing with a shoulder injury and will miss a significant chunk of time, starting the season on the 60-day injured list.
Ben Rortvedt was the third part of the trade with the Twins, but he got hurt late in camp and will start the season on the injured list with an oblique injury.
Stephen Ridings is also starting the season on the 60-day IL with an shoulder issue of his own.
After the original Opening Day was postponed due to rain, the sun should be shining for Friday, though still with relatively cool temperatures. The same cool and clear conditions should stick around for the whole weekend.
A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.