The New York Yankees are set up to be the best team in baseball, but no team is without flaws; infield defense is what scares the Bronx.
Statcast has released its new statistic, Infield Outs Above Average, and with that arrival, an analysis can be made of the New York Yankees’ defensive potential. With the likes of Aaron Judge, Mike Tauchman, and Brett Gardner in the outfield to start the year, the Yankees won’t need to concern themselves too heavily there.
It’s the infield that should scare the Bronx.
The Yankees infield defense left a lot to be desired before the infield OAA release. The team’s -30 DRS total from the infield would rank in the bottom part of the American League. Mainly spurred on by poor numbers from Luke Voit, Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres, it should be a concern.
With the new information, it’s fair to reach the same conclusion. The Yankees infield defense ranked 28th in all of baseball by the new measure. DJ LeMahieu’s 6 OAA was the highest on the team and the only net-positive infield defender the team had (minimum 75 attempts).
The Yankees’ metrics were held down by Gregorius in 2019, but he is no longer with the team. So, when focusing on the future, he will not be considered too heavy. His replacement at shortstop, Gleyber Torres, will be.
Torres had -7 OAA in 2019 and -4 in 2018. Yet, in something unusual, when he was positioned on the left side of 2B, Torres was at 0 OAA in 207 attempts. You might be asking yourself, what does that mean? It means, when Torres positioned as a shortstop, he was an average defender. Simply put, playing as a shortstop, he was an average defender. So that could mean good news for the Yankees moving forward with Torres at short.
His double-play partner, DJ LeMahieu, grades out well in the new metric. Over the last three years, he put up a 25 OAA and 29 DRS. The 2019 team MVP is the one player the Yankees can count to be a plus defender. He hasn’t had a negative DRS season since 2015.
LeMahieu served as the utility guy for the Yankees infield in 2019, but I’d advise staying away from that in 2020. His strength is playing 2B and not using him as a 2B hurts his overall value. This means players like Luke Voit, Gio Urshela and others will have to step up.
Voit is not good defensively at 1B. Thanks to the new OAA, the bulk of his issues come from going right. Of his -6 OAA, -4 came from moving towards 3B. That means the team needs a 2B who is very good at going to his left—something DJ is quite good at, so it’s possible that the Yankees can overlook Voit’s defense due to DJ’s ability to potentially cover for him. If the Yankee first baseman can improve, it would be a big upgrade for the Yankees.
Urshela grades out as an average defender by the metrics. His 1 DRS and 0 OAA send the same message. Yankee fans would label him a gold glove-caliber defender and maybe he has that potential. He makes the difficult plays look easy. However, he lets some of the easy plays get by him. All that means is he has to fine-tune himself a little bit. Can he ever reach the level of Matt Chapman or Nolan Arenado? No. He can be a plus defender no club should ever think twice about when penciling him into the lineup.
Other options are Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada and Miguel Andujar. All of them outside of Andujar, have too small of a sample size to judge their defensive abilities. Andujar’s one season was awful and asking him to improve is a lot. He appears to be making some mechanical adjustments. That likely won’t be enough to really change how he plays defensively. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d need to see evidence of him improving in the field before I make an assertion that he’s capable of better play.
Moving into 2020, the Yankees defense should field to a similar level of a year ago. If Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela can make strides defensively, the Yankees’ weakness may turn into a strength.