The New York Yankees, like all MLB teams, will go into the 2021 season with many unknowns. The only thing we know is that we know nothing! After a spring training cut short, a summer camp, and a season reduced to just 60 games, what effect will that have on pitchers and players as we advance into the 2021 season? It will be most difficult for pitchers to go into the season not having a regular routine for the past 16 months.
Getting away from players for a moment. How do you plan for a season that you aren’t sure will even take place? The coronavirus right now is ravaging the country unchecked and doesn’t appear to be relenting. It appears that a vaccine is in the future, but will it be available widespread in time for spring training? Many experts say no. The average person may not be able to go through the two shots by July 4th. It may be over 90% effective, but without long term trials, we really have no guarantee that will be true, and if it is, how long immunity will last.
With so many health questions to be answered, it will be difficult for strength and conditioning coaches to plan to have players ready, particularly pitchers. Last year, Eric Cressey was hired by Brian Cashman to be the New York Yankees director of performance (including all facets of conditioning), gets it. Cressey is a coach for Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu, along with seven Cy Young Award-winning pitchers.
“Because these athletes are so competitive and care so much, they tried to maintain their best throwing programs,” says Cressey. “But while the innings are a way to see what we’re encountering from one year to the next, we really don’t know how much serious throwing each pitcher did between the March shutdown and the July reopening. I know of pitchers who bought pitching mounds and threw off of them. I know one pitcher who bought a mound, set up a screen and threw into the screen as if it were a game. I have a feeling that’s one of the reasons there were so many injuries. Now we don’t know how much each pitcher really threw from February to October.
“So,” Cressey advises, “be prepared to calibrate and recalibrate several times in the next few months. The industry cannot afford a rash of injuries.”
Another consideration is the bullpen; baseball managers won’t be able to use the bullpen like they did this season if we do, in fact have a 162 game season upcoming. The bullpens will be burnt out before the All-Star break, here again, if there is one. The means that pitching coaches will have to condition their starters to go much deeper into games, risking even more injuries.
“Most teams will probably go into the spring with caution,” says Yankee pitching coach Matt Blake. “We all will probably have to make adjustments. We have to be prepared for injuries, hopefully minor. But that is going to entail developing a lot of starting depth.”
For hitters, it is less of a problem as they can ramp up more quickly. But considering what happened this year in spring training with Severino, Paxton, Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez, the Yankees will have no idea what shape players will be after only playing 60 games this year. After so little work this season, it is not out of the question that all teams may face more injuries than ever as they go deeper into the 2021 baseball season. For the New York Yankees, that’s hard to imagine having so many injury-prone players.
The other aspect of what to expect for the 2021 season is what actions the teams will take with free agents during this offseason. How much will they be willing to give up, and how much money they will spend on players that may or may not play a 162 season. This is especially true of the New York Yankees, who lost more money than any other team this past season.
So, what we do know is that we know little about what the 2021 season will bring. We also know it will have a dramatic effect on this offseason. Although the hot stove is heating up, most decision-makers will likely not make many decisions early, waiting to get a clearer picture of what 2021 might hold later in the offseason.
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