(Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

(Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

From 2009 through 2012, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were the only lefties to start games for the Yankees. That’s a little odd, considering the huge number of random lefties that got spot starts from 2004 through 2008. So odd, in fact, that I made a Sporcle quiz that no one has even the slightest chance of completing.


The Yankees broke that four-year drought in 2013, when David Huff and Vidal Nuno combined for five starts. Heading into 2014, Nuno was in the running for a rotation spot. He understandably lost out to Michael Pineda. But when Ivan Nova went down with an elbow injury, Nuno lined up for the next start. It was his.

And it was a disaster.

You could be charitable and say sure, Nuno had some not terrible starts here and there. For instance, he lasted 6.1 innings in a 1-0 win against the best-record-in-baseball Angels. There were five shutout innings against the Rays in April.

The Yankees did have something of a reason to believe Nuno could help. He pitched well during his brief MLB stint in 2013, which followed a lights-out performance in AAA. In 2012 he cruised through A+ and AA with a 2.54 combined ERA and a 3.82 K/BB ratio. He didn’t have the stuff of an ace, but as a #5 starter it seemed he might cut it.

Cut it he might. Just not in New York. What stood out in his 14 starts was an alarming home run rate. In four of those 14 starts he gave up multiple homers, including three twice. In other words, when he’s off even a bit hitters can take advantage. Out in Arizona, another hitters’ park, he allowed a homer in nine of his 14 starts.

In other words, the Yankees might have given up a useful starter who, at the time of the trade, had five and a half years of team control. Yet they got back Brandon McCarthy, who seemed to find himself while wearing pinstripes. For a team with perpetual sights on contention, the trade was a coup for the Yankees. If they can re-sign McCarthy there will be no reason to ever look back on this one.

For a while it seemed as though the Yankees would forge ahead with a five-righty rotation. But in late July, three weeks after trading Nuno, they acquired Chris Capuano from the Rockies. And so the Yankees traded away a mediocre lefty and picked one up for cash considerations. Given the acquisition of McCarthy, that sounds like a great trade-off.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Yet Capuano did play a valuable role down the stretch. Rarely did he dazzle, but he also rarely had a breakdown. (The exception being his 0.1 inning, four-run start against Tampa, which he redeemed in his very next start by pitching six shutout innings against them.) Never did he allow more than four runs in a start, and three times he allowed none. It’s more than anyone expected from a guy who couldn’t hack it on the last-place Red Sox.

Were it not for the huge number of starting pitcher injuries, the Yankees might not have even needed Capuano. They wouldn’t have run Nuno out there for so many starts. But when three fifths of your Opening Day rotation is on the DL by May 15, with two of them done for the year, you have to reach deeply into the pitching well. With a healthy Sabathia (potentially a problem of his own) and a healthy Pineda, chances are David Phelps takes over for Nuno. If Phelps still gets hurt in that scenario, there’s Shane Greene.

All told, the lefty fodder combination of Nuno and Capuano didn’t perform too too badly. They combined to pitch 143.2 innings to a 4.89 ERA, which is essentially what Mike Minor did. Given the unreasonable number of injuries to the staff, they could have done a lot worse.

Categories : Pitching
Comments (175)
  • FanGraphs’ contract crowdsourcing results for the top 55 free agents
    By

    On the eve of the offseason, FanGraphs’ released their contract crowdsourcing results for the top 55 free agents this coming offseason. Here’s the link. The crowd generally underestimated contract values for the top free agents last year, as the intro notes. Still, it’s a nice look at how a large group of people think these free agents will be valued, which is something no one can ever seem to agree on.

    The FanGraphs’ crowd projects four years and $56M for Chase Headley, three years and $36M for Brandon McCarthy, three years and $30M for David Robertson, and one year and $7M for Stephen Drew. Sounds reasonable enough to me. I wonder if a team will step forward and offer a fourth guaranteed year to McCarthy or Robertson. That would probably put them over the top. I think the crowd’s six-year, $132M projection for Jon Lester is way light, especially compared to Max Scherzer’s seven-year, $168M projection. Anyway, check out the numbers. They’re a good starting point for conversation.
    · (196) ·

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

One way or the other, the World Series and the 2014 baseball season will end tonight. The Royals blew the Giants out of the water in Game Six last night, a game that had a very Game Six of the 2001 World Series vibe. Hopefully Game Seven tonight is as exciting as Game Seven in 2001 was for everyone but Yankees fans.

Anyway, with the World Series set to end in 15 hours or so, the offseason will officially begin tomorrow. There are a ton of dates and deadlines throughout the winter and some are more important to the Yankees than others. So, with four baseball-less months upon us, here is the annual RAB rundown of the important offseason dates.

  • Tomorrow, October 30th: At 9am ET, eligible players become free agents and players on the 60-day DL and restricted list are activated. The Yankees have ten players hitting free agency: David Robertson, Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Rich Hill, and the retired Derek Jeter. Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Martin Prado, and Slade Heathcott will all be activated off the 60-day DL and Alex Rodriguez will be activated off the restricted list. The Yankees will have 35 players on the 40-man.
  • This Saturday, November 1st: Option decisions due. Most of them, anyway. Some contracts specify a different date. The Yankees’ only option decision is for Andrew Bailey, who has a club option for 2015 believed to be worth $2M or so. He didn’t pitch at all this year following shoulder capsule surgery and had numerous setbacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team walked away.
  • Next Monday, November 3rd: Deadline to make eligible free agents the one-year, $15.3M qualifying offer. Robertson will definitely get one, Kuroda might. RAB readers would make him one. McCarthy, Headley, and Drew are not eligible for the qualifying offer because they were traded at midseason.
  • Next Tuesday, November 4th: End of the five-day exclusive negotiating period. As of 12:01am ET next Tuesday, free agents can negotiate and sign with any team. Also, the 2014 Gold Gloves will be announced at 7pm ET. The Yankees don’t have any finalists.
  • November 10th: Last day for free agents to accept or reject the qualifying offer. If the player rejects and signs with a new team, his new team will forfeit their first round pick and his former team will receive a supplemental first round pick.
  • November 10th to 12th: GM Meetings in Phoenix. These used to be boring from a hot stove point of view — they’re for business matters — but there have been more deals struck at the GM Meetings in recent years. The wheels for the Curtis Granderson trade were put into motion at the 2010 GM Meetings, for example.
  • November 10th to 13th: Major awards announced. Rookies of the Year will be announced on the 10th, then Managers of the Year, Cy Youngs, and MVPs in the following days. Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka are candidates to finish second to Jose Abreu for the AL Rookie of the Year. The Yankees don’t have any other serious awards candidates.
  • November 10th to 18th: The “All-Star Series 2014″ in Japan. A team of MLB players will play three exhibition games and a five-game series against the Japanese National Team. Capuano is the only Yankee currently on the roster despite not really being a Yankee anymore. Jeter declined to participate.
  • November 20th: Deadline for teams to finalize their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees will add 1B/OF Tyler Austin to the 40-man roster to protect him. Other Rule 5 Draft eligible players include RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Zach Nuding, 1B Kyle Roller, RHP Branden Pinder, and OF Mason Williams, among others. I’d bet on one or two of those bullpen arms being protected.
  • December 2nd: Deadline for teams to make contract offers to their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players, otherwise known as the non-tender deadline. A whole new and less interesting batch of free agents will hit the market on this date. Esmil Rogers and David Huff are the Yankees’ two obvious non-tender candidates.
  • December 8th to 11th: Winter Meetings in San Diego. This is usually when all hell breaks loose and there are tons of rumors and signings and trades each day, though last year most of the action — Robinson Cano, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury signings, Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler trade, etc. — happened before the Winter Meetings. Was that just a blip or the start of a trend?
  • December 11th: Rule 5 Draft, which is the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings. Teams that do not have an open 40-man spot as of November 20th can not make a pick. As a reminder, players selected in the Rule 5 Draft have to stay on their new team’s 25-man active roster all year, or be put on waivers and offered back to their old team before they can be sent to the minors.
  • January 13th: Deadline for eligible players to file for arbitration. Just a formality. Nothing exciting. Michael Pineda, Shawn Kelley, Frankie Cervelli, David Phelps, Nova, Huff, and Rogers are the team’s arbitration-eligible players this winter. Here are their projected 2015 salaries.
  • January 16th: Deadline for eligible players and teams to file salary figures for arbitration. Both sides usually try to avoid letting things get this far, but they can still negotiate a contract of any size after this date.
  • February 1st to 21st: Arbitration hearings. The two sides can still negotiate a contract at any point up until literally walking in the room for the hearing. The three-person panel will choose either the salary filed by the player or team after hearing each side’s argument. The Yankees haven’t gone to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang back in 2008.
  • February 20th: Pitchers and catchers report to Tampa. Yay Spring Training.

The Yankees already took care their most important piece of offseason business by re-signing Brian Cashman. Nothing could have happened without having him or a new GM in place. So now, in the most basic terms, the Yankees need to find half an infield and a bunch of pitchers this offseason. Re-signing Robertson will be among their top priorities, as will re-signing or replacing McCarthy, Headley, and Drew. At some point they have to finalize their coaching staff and hire both a first base coach and a hitting coach. I’m sure that’ll happen sooner rather than later. The Yankees have a busy offseason ahead of them, but that’s nothing new.

Categories : Hot Stove League
Comments (350)

Five years ago today, the Yankees and Phillies played Game One of the 2009 World Series. The Yankees got absolutely manhandled by Cliff Lee that night, as I’m sure you remember. Chase Utley hit two solo homeruns off CC Sabathia — Sabathia allowed just three homers to left-handed hitters during the regular season — and the Phillies won the game 6-1. There was panic in the streets of RAB. Here’s the box score. The 2009 Yankees are the only team in the last ten years to win the World Series after dropping Game One.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Giants and Royals are playing Game Six of the World Series tonight (Peavy vs. Ventura, 8pm ET), and San Francisco can clinch their third championship in the last five years. Kansas City is trying to force a Game Seven. The NBA season starts tonight, though neither the Knicks nor Nets are playing. Both the Devils and Islanders are in action though. Discuss any of those games or anything else right here.

Categories : Open Thread
Comments (362)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon, we looked at the mess that was the Yankees’ infield defense this past season. It wasn’t a mess all year, just most of the year. Things got substantially better once Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, and Martin Prado were acquired at the trade deadline. By then it was too late though. The damage had already been done the first four months of the season.

The outfield defense is another matter. The Yankees built a strong defensive outfield by pairing Jacoby Ellsbury with Brett Gardner, two of the best outfield glovemen in baseball. The generally immobile Carlos Beltran was slated for right field but the plan was to replace him with the still solid Ichiro Suzuki in the late innings, so the damage would be minimized. Ellsbury and Gardner were going to be the stars of the outfield show.

Because of injuries and ineffectiveness and all that, the Yankees had three players (Beltran, Ichiro, Alfonso Soriano) start at least 20 games in right field in 2014. Gardner was the only player to start 20+ games in left field (Chris Young started 16) and Gardner and Ellsbury were the only players to start 20+ games in center — Gardner started exactly 20 and Ellsbury started 138. Gardner and Ellsbury started in the outfield together in 120 of the team’s 162 games.

Overall, the Yankees’ outfield ranked 20th in baseball at -11 DRS and 18th with -7.1 UZR, which doesn’t pass the sniff test. Ellsbury was hit with -5 DRS and +0.5 UZR this year — one-year sample, yadda yadda yadda — continuing a recent trend of Yankees’ center fielders grading out poorly while playing alongside Gardner. It happened with Curtis Granderson a few years ago as well. I don’t buy Ellsbury being an average defender (per UZR) and certainly not a below-average one (per DRS). He was excellent. Right? I’m not the crazy one. DRS and UZR are.

For the hell of it, here are Gardner’s (left field only) and Ellsbury’s defensive spray charts from this past season:


Source: FanGraphs

Source: FanGraphs

One of these days commoners like me will be able to put together defensive heat maps that compare players — or entire outfield units — to the league average defensively. Something like this. Alas.

Anyway, those big blobs of green and spots of red doesn’t really tell us much. They look kinda cool if you know what you’re looking at, but that’s about it. Here are some more straight forward numbers on balls hit to the outfield. This table includes routine pop-ups, scalded line drive, and regular ol’ fly balls. If it made it to the outfield in the air, it’s included here.

Total Plays NYY BABIP MLB BABIP MLB Rank
Left Field 566 .4629 .4528 16th
Center Field 656 .3247 .3671 2nd
Right Field 536 .4683 .4284 28th
All Fields 1,758 .4310 .4315 16th

More balls fall in for hits in right and left field than center because those are the pull fields — hitters tend to hit for the most authority when they pull the ball, not when they go back up the middle. More batters are right-handed — there were 1.27 plate appearances by a righty for every one plate appearance by a lefty in 2014, including switch hitters — and that’s why hitters around the league had a higher BABIP to left field than right. Make sense? Good.

Ellsbury ran down almost everything so it makes sense the Yankees had the second lowest BABIP on balls hit to center in baseball this year. Only the Desmond Jennings-led Rays were better (.3159). Beltran and Soriano and almost everyone else they ran out there in right field stunk defensively this summer, so it’s no surprise the team had the third highest BABIP on balls hit to right. Left field is where it gets a little weird, because the Yankees are only middle of the pack there in terms of BABIP even though Gardner manned the position.

We’re used to Gardner being a top notch defender. One of the best in baseball. The numbers have said so for years and our eyes agreed. That wasn’t so much the case this year though. Gardner was good, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t as good as he has been the last few years. There were a few more balls hit over his head in particular, and the spray chart above reflects that. Maybe it was just an adjustment period as Gardner moved back to left field after playing center last year. Maybe he’s just slipping in the field. Maybe he’s mad at the team for signing Ellsbury and displacing him. Who knows? Whatever it was, Gardner’s glove wasn’t as good as we’re used to seeing.

There’s more to being an outfielder than simply catching fly balls, of course. Not every ball will be caught, and that’s when the throwing arm comes into play. This postseason has exposed all baseball fans to Alex Gordon, who shuts the running game down even when he doesn’t make a throw. Opponents know his arm is strong and accurate, so they don’t even bother testing him. Throwing runners out is both sexy and just one piece of the outfielder arm puzzle. Here’s how the team’s outfielders did at holding and throwing out runners:

Opp. Hold Rate Throw-Out Rate MLB Hold Rate MLB Throw-Out Rate
Gardner 160 64.4% 1.9%
All NYY LF 204 64.7% 1.5% 63.5% 2.2%
Ellsbury 165 44.8% 0.6%
All NYY CF 203 45.8% 0.5% 43.5% 1.9%
Ichiro 98 45.9% 2.0%
All NYY RF 176 42.0% 2.3% 46.0% 2.4%

Gardner was more or less league average at holding and throwing out runners this year. Left field isn’t a big throwing position anyway. The only real throws are to home plate, not the other bases. Ichiro has a strong arm in right but he takes for-frickin-ever to get rid of the ball, limiting its effectiveness. He was still roughly a league average-ish thrower while the team’s other right fielders were below-average. Blame Beltran and Soriano, mostly.

Ellsbury, on the other hand, was actually a bit above-average at preventing runners from taking the extra base but he rarely threw anyone out. In fact, he threw out exactly one runner trying to advance on a base hit this season. Just one. Here’s the play, which happened in early-September:

Ellsbury threw out two other runners on bases this year — he doubled Nelson Cruz off first when Cruz forgot how many outs there were, and he threw Dustin Pedroia out trying to stretch a single into a double. Saying Ellsbury’s arm is not strong would be an understatement. It’s one of the weakest outfield arms in baseball. He compensates for it by getting to the ball quickly and with a quick release, sorta like Hideki Matsui back in the day. Throwing is clearly Ellsbury’s biggest weakness as a player. That’s life.

The Yankees received three different levels of defense in the three outfield spots this year. They got good defense in left field, the bigger of the two corners in Yankee Stadium. They received excellent defense in center, and right field was pretty terrible despite the cozy dimensions in the Bronx. Throwing was an issue in all three spots though it was hardly a disaster. The outfield was clearly the strength of the team’s defense this year, and fly ball pitchers like Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Chris Capuano, and Vidal Nuno benefited the most.

Categories : Defense
Comments (67)
  • Sherman: Beltran spurned larger offer from Royals to sign with Yanks
    By

    Via Joel Sherman: The Royals offered Carlos Beltran a larger contract than the three-year, $45M deal he took from the Yankees last offseason. The exact details of Kansas City’s offer are unknown, but Sherman says it did include an option for a fourth year. The Diamondbacks reportedly offered Beltran a three-year contract worth $48M last winter, so he turned down at least two larger offers to come to New York.

    Beltran, 37, spent parts of seven seasons with the Royals and was named the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year while with the club. Kansas City is expected to decline Billy Butler’s option after the season and they’ll also need to replace Norichika Aoki in right, so hey, maybe they’ll be interested in trading for Beltran this winter, especially if they lose the World Series and feel they need another veteran bat. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.
    · (209) ·

(Leon Halip/Getty)

(Leon Halip/Getty)

One way or another, the World Series will be over within the next 48 hours. The offseason calendar kicks in the day after the new champion is crowned, and the first item of business is the qualifying offer. Teams have until the fifth day after the end of the World Series to extend the offer to their impending free agents, meaning they’ll be handed out no later than next Monday.

The Yankees have one slam dunk qualifying offer candidate in David Robertson and a bunch of other guys who are not eligible for the offer, like Brandon McCarthy, Stephen Drew, and Chase Headley. They also have one borderline candidate in veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who has yet to decide whether he will play next season. He’s contemplated retirement in each of the last two seasons before returning to New York.

The club made Kuroda the qualifying offer the last two offseasons because it was a no-brainer. Sure, he was getting up there in age, but Kuroda had pitched like a borderline ace in the previous year each time and it was only a one-year contract. A pricey one-year contract, but a one-year contract nonetheless. It was perfect. Kuroda only wanted one-year deals because he was unsure about his future and the Yankees got a quality pitcher while avoiding long-term risk.

All of that applies this winter except for the borderline ace part. Kuroda wasn’t bad this past season by any stretch of the imagination, but he wasn’t as good as he was from 2012-13 either. His 3.71 ERA was nearly half-a-run worse than the 3.31 ERA he posted last year and the 3.32 ERA the year before that. Otherwise Kuroda’s performance was pretty damn close to what he did the previous two seasons. Check it out:

FIP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% Whiff% FB velo
2012 3.86 18.7% 5.7% 13.0% 52.3% 9.6% 91.3
2013 3.56 18.2% 5.2% 10.3% 46.6% 9.9% 90.6
2014 3.60 17.8% 4.3% 10.0% 46.9% 9.9% 90.7

If you hadn’t watched a single Yankees game this summer and just looked at the numbers, you’d think he was the same old Kuroda. Everything is right in line with the last two years aside from his ERA. His line drive rate was lower than last year (21.0% vs. 22.0%) and left-handers didn’t hit him any harder (.312 wOBA vs. .322 wOBA) either. Kuroda’s numbers at Yankee Stadium this year (3.89 ERA and 3.83 FIP) were substantially worse than they were from 2012-13, however (2.57 ERA and 3.45 FIP).

The qualifying offer has been set at $15.3M this year, a touch lower than the $16M Kuroda earned in 2014. It’s a very reasonable salary for a mid-rotation workhorse on a one-year contract. Any hesitation to make Kuroda the qualifying offer is not based on the money (even though the Yankees don’t appear to have a ton to spend this winter). The only question is whether giving a soon-to-be 40-year-old starting pitcher with a history of fading in the second half — to be fair, Kuroda didn’t fade in 2014, he actually got better in the second half — is the best use of that money.

The Yankees need pitching this winter. That’s not really up for debate. Returning starters CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), and Ivan Nova (elbow) all have injury concerns, and others like Shane Greene and David Phelps are nice young stopgaps at this point, not rotation anchors. Adding a veteran starter or two is a necessity. If he wants to continue pitching — far from a given — is Kuroda the right veteran starter? If not given his age, does that make the qualifying offer too risky? The Yankees could end up with a pitcher they don’t feel too comfortable with in 2015.

It’s worth noting Kuroda declined the qualifying offer these last two winters and instead negotiated new contracts at a higher base salary. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to get more than $15.3M on a one-year contract this offseason but I wouldn’t rule it out at all. Kuroda’s family still lives in Los Angeles and both the Angels and Dodgers need rotation help. I’m sure many other clubs would have interest if he decided to continue pitching even with draft pick compensation attached. If Kuroda wants to continue pitching, he’ll find a job. Is that enough to justify the qualifying offer?

Qualifying offer for Kuroda?

Categories : Polls
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Good news, sorta. MLB, the Yankees, and the Mets are stepping up to replace the items stolen from the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center earlier this month. Among the items stolen were two of Yogi’s three AL MVP awards as well as all ten of his World Series rings. Geez. There is a $15,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest, though authorities and museum representatives fear the items won’t be recovered. That’s a damn shame.

Here is tonight’s open thread. It’s a travel day for the World Series, so there’s no baseball tonight. The Redskins and Cowboys will be on Monday Night Football and the (hockey) Rangers are playing as well. Feel free to talk about those games or anything else here.

Categories : Open Thread
Comments (122)
  • Aaron Judge selected to AzFL’s Fall Star Game
    By

    Outfielder Aaron Judge has been selected to represent the Yankees in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Star Game, the league announced. Here are the East and West rosters. The Fall Star Game will be played this coming Saturday night at 8pm ET and will be broadcast on MLB Network.

    Judge, 22, has hit .250/.311/.475 (106 wRC+) with two homers in ten games with the Scottsdale Scorpions after a monster regular season. The Fall Star Game is designed to highlight the game’s top prospects in the AzFL, not reward strong performance. That’s why Judge is representing the Yankees and not first baseman Greg Bird, who is hitting .349/.382/.651 (171 wRC+) with a league-leading five homers in 15 games for Scottsdale.
    · (62) ·

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

It wasn’t hard to see the bad infield defense coming. Coming into the season, the Yankees’ best infield defender was their first baseman, who was coming off a season lost to wrist surgery. They had a soon-to-be 40-year-old coming off major ankle/leg injuries and a broken down 36-year-old manning the middle infield, and their third baseman was a second baseman by trade. It was a far cry from the 2009 infield, which was arguably the best in baseball history.

To make matters worse, the Yankees built a ground ball pitching staff because Yankee Stadium is tiny and fly balls equal homeruns. Their starters ranked third in the league with a 45.1% ground ball rate this year even though noted ground ballers CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova combined to make only 12 starts. There were plenty of poor throws, booted grounders, and balls that simply scooted by defenders for base hits and extended innings in April and May.

Early in the year, the bad infield defense was the most consistent part of the team. It showed up every night and impacted the game. Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts were predictably poor at shortstop and second base, respectively, and third base was shaky regardless of whether Kelly Johnson or Yangervis Solarte was playing. Mark Teixeira showed considerable rust following the long layoff, compounding the problem. Their best infield gloveman (Brendan Ryan) started the year hurt and was then glued to the bench because he can’t hit.

The Yankees tried — and sorta succeeded, actually — to compensate for their range-challenged infield by employing the infield shift. A lot. Like almost every batter featured a non-traditional infield alignment. Heck, the team acknowledged part of the reason they signed Roberts and Johnson was their familiarity with the shift after playing with the Orioles and Rays (and Blue Jays). Oh sure, there were plenty of balls that beat the shift but that’s inevitable. Here’s a nugget from Ken Davidoff in early-June:

Baseball Info Solutions utilizes the measure “Defensive Runs Saved” then breaks that into two categories: non-shift and shift.

Heading into Wednesday’s action, the Yankees ranked last in the major leagues — 30th out of 30 clubs — in both categories. They had minus-16 runs saved without the shift — in other words, their porous defense was responsible for allowing 16 more runs than the average defense would have allowed given the same balls hit in the same spots.

With the shift, the Yankees were at minus-4 runs saved, an improvement of 12 runs.

“While they have struggled to get outs when shifted relative to the rest of the league, because they are so range challenged it actually makes sense for them to shift aggressively so that they can put their infielders in a position to have to move the least to make a play,” Joe Rosales, a research associate at BIS, wrote in an email. “If they weren’t shifting as much as they have been, things would look even worse.

There is no publicly available shift data (yet), though all throughout the season various reports said the Yankees shifted their infielders as much as any team in baseball aside from the Astros. I don’t think we need any numbers to confirm the Yankees’ infield really stunk defensively when aligned normally and stunk slightly less when shifted against certain batters though. We all watched the games.

The shift wasn’t enough, so Brian Cashman and his staff sought out to improve their infield defense at the midseason because they had to. Roberts and Johnson weren’t hitting or fielding, and Solarte cooled off so much that he was shipped to the minors. If they couldn’t get the offensive helped they needed — there were very few impact bats on the market at the trade deadline — then improving the run prevention was the next best thing.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The infield overhaul started on July 22nd, when the Yankees acquired Chase Headley from the Padres. Right away it was obvious he was a massive, massive, massive upgrade at third. That guy can really pick it. The overhaul continued nine days later, when the team swung deals for Stephen Drew and Martin Prado at the trade deadline. Drew was slated to play second base everyday, but his bat landed eventually him on the bench and put Prado at second on a full-time basis.

Drew is a shortstop by trade and he was playing second base literally for the first time as a professional — he had never play a position other than shortstop in his career, Majors or minors — and there were some growing pains early, but I thought he settled in quite nicely and was an asset in the field later in the season. Prado was primarily a third baseman the last few years, though he had plenty of second base experience and looked natural there when pressed into duty.

Quantifying defense is tough — there are some pretty good stats out there, but they’re far from perfect — so there’s only so much we can do. Here’s how the Yankees’ infield performed on all ground balls before and after the trade deadline, with no adjustment for hit velocity or trajectory or anything fancy like that:

Games Ground Balls NYY BABIP MLB BABIP
Before Deadline 107 1,279 .2611 .2489
After Deadline 55 636 .2390 .2590

Imperfect analysis but that’s a big improvement! The Yankees went from having the eighth highest BABIP in baseball on ground balls before the trade deadline to having the fifth lowest after July 31st. Simply put, they were turning more ground balls into outs after acquiring Headley, Drew, and Prado.

The revamped infield showed more range and surer hands — Teixeira appeared to shake off the rust as the season progressed as well — after the trade deadline and the numbers back that up. The infield defense went from big problem to … well, let’s call it a smaller problem. I hesitate to call it an asset. Jeter was still an issue at shortstop but there were extenuating circumstances. The Yankees weren’t going to move him off the position with his retirement only weeks away. No chance.

So, the Yankees did the next best thing. They updated the guys playing alongside Jeter at second and third bases, and the improvement was noticeable. The routine plays went back to being routine and every so often a not-so-routine play was made as well. The infield defense was terrible for the first four months of the season and it cost the Yankees games. The help at the trade deadline was a big upgrade but it came too late to help the team make the postseason. The Yankees now have a clean slate (so to speak) at the non-first base infield spots and are able to fill them to above-average defenders this winter.

Categories : Defense
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