When the Yanks’ streak of 18 consecutive games without an error ended on a Jorge Posada errant throw last night, it ended a fun little streak, but not one that tells us much of anything about the Yanks defense. You can’t make an error on a ball you can’t get to, after all. But as Peter Gammons notes, the Yanks took off when Alex Rodriguez returned not because of the extra offense, but because the pitching staff finally righted itself.
Recently, the Yankees have gone on a big-time roll and taken first place in the AL East, all after the return of Alex Rodriguez. However, the key difference hasn’t been offense, although the tandem of A-Rod and Mark Teixeira is similar to what David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez once were with Boston. With A-Rod and Teixeira in the order, the Yankees’ runs per game have only risen slightly. The Yankees’ ERA, though, has dropped by more than two runs, as CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain and Co. have come together as a power rotation.
The Yankees’ rotation is made up of hard throwers who get minimal hard contact, and put little pressure on the defense. Teixeira, the owner of two Gold Gloves, has made the infield much better, and Melky Cabrera’s defensive matrix is the best of any major league center fielder. Last year, the Yankees were near the bottom in defensive efficiency, but this year they are 13th out of 30 major league teams.
I’m not sure what defensive matrix Gammons is referring to, but UZR has Melky at a studly 13.4 in CF. When he moves over to RF, that mark improves to 24.3 and Brett Gardner adds his 19.3 UZR to the mix. Gone is Bobby Abreu and his -25.3 UZR last year and in comes Nick Swisher’s just about league average -0.3 mark. Robinson Cano has improved his UZR by 12.5 runs from last year. You don’t need any fancy stats to tell you the difference between Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira at first, and even Derek Jeter has gone from -0.7 UZR last year to 3.0 this year, the highest total FanGraphs has for the Cap’n. As a team, the Yanks have gone from a squad with a -5.4 UZR rating last year, third worst in baseball, to a better than league average UZR at 0.4 this year, good enough for 14th in the league.
By no means are the Yankees a great defensive squad, but as Joe Girardi said, they “make the plays they’re supposed to.” They couldn’t even do that last year. Better defense means more batted balls are turned into outs. More outs means fewer pitches by the pitchers, and fewer pitches by the pitchers means fewer innings thrown by the bullpen. It’s the baseball circle of life, and it’s helped the Yanks to the best record in the American League.