The Yankees are a few hours away from opening their best-of-five ALDS matchup against the Orioles, a team they know pretty well since they reside in the same division. The pitchers should be familiar, the hitters should be familiar, and everyone’s defensive abilities should be familiar.
The Orioles were rated as a below-average defensive team overall by the various advanced metrics this year, but they are strong up the middle with Matt Wieters behind the plate, J.J. Hardy at short, and Adam Jones in center. One thing Baltimore’s defenders do very well is stop the other team’s running game, which means the Yankees won’t be able to create much havoc on the bases these next few days.
No Stolen Bases For You
Thanks to the cannon arm of Wieters, the Orioles led the AL in throwing out attempted base-stealers and not by a small margin. Overall, they threw out 36 of 99 base-stealers (36.4%), far better than the second place Blue Jays (33.1%). Wieters threw out nearly 40% (38.6% to be exact) of the runners who tried to steal again him, which is well above the ~25% league average. Only Ryan Hanigan (48.5%), Yadier Molina (47.9%), and Miguel Montero (42.1%) were better among regular catchers, and in case you haven’t noticed, all of those guys play in the NL. Over the last two years, it’s a 37.7% throw-out rate for Wieters. The guy just shuts the running game down.
Perhaps the best way to look at this is just in terms of number of attempts. Opponents attempted a stolen base just 99 times against the Orioles this season, tied with the Cardinals for the second fewest in baseball. Only the Diamondbacks (85) had fewer steals attempted against them. The Yankees, for what it’s worth, had the fifth fewest stolen bases attempted against them this year (118). Anyway, the Bombers are called the Bombers for a reason, and that’s because they don’t steal all that much. Their 93 team steals (120 attempts) were the eighth fewest in baseball, and only four players had double-digit steals: Ichiro Suzuki (14), Alex Rodriguez (13), Eduardo Nunez (11), and Curtis Granderson (10). The stolen base isn’t a huge part of the Yankees’ offense, but it’ll likely be a non-factor in the ALDS thanks to Wieters.
The Yankees catch a little bit of a break because Nick Markakis, one of Baltimore’s all-around best players, is still sidelined with a broken thumb that will keep him on the shelf through the ALDS. He actually originally suffered the injury against the Yankees, when CC Sabathia hit him with a pitch. With Markakis out and Jim Thome healthy, the Orioles have been playing Chris Davis in right field, his worst position. He’s not especially quick or the smoothest of route takers, but the one thing he has going for him defensively is his arm, which is a rocket. Here, look…
It’s unfortunate that TBS cut to Nelson Cruz running like that, but you can still see how strong that throw was. Davis got it to third on the fly, and you probably won’t be surprised to learn that he used to pitch — “Davis also has touched 93 mph off the mound,” wrote Baseball America in their draft write-up back in 2004, the year the Yankees selected him in the 50th round but did not sign him. Anyway, enough with the nostalgia.
With Davis and Adam Jones, another former amateur pitcher who has long owned one of the strongest arms in baseball, patrolling the outfield, the Orioles are not a team that allows runners to take the extra-base very often. In situations where a runner could have gone first-to-third on a single hit to Jones, the runner held at second 69.2% of the time. The league average for center fielders is 43.8%. They don’t even run on his arm anymore. Davis only played 230 innings in right this year (and in his career), so we don’t have reliable data for him. Still though, look at that .gif. Runners beware.
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The Yankees were a very station-to-station team this year, due in large part to Brett Gardner‘s injury and Nunez’s demotion to the minors. They did, however, steal 27 bases (in 33 attempts) in the final 29 games of the season thanks to Ichiro‘s scorching hit finish, A-Rod‘s return to the lineup, and Nunez’s return to the majors. In terms of taking the extra-base on first-to-thirds, etc., the Yankees attempted it only 37.3% of the time compared to the 40% league average. With Wieters behind the plate and the duo of Jones and Davis in the outfield, New York is going to have to be very judicious about trying to create offense with their legs in the ALDS.