Welcome to the mid-season outfield defensive check-in. Just a reminder, for the defensive check-in series we are using Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). You can read more about these two defensive metrics and how they are calculated here.
The Yankees outfield defense has been extremely impressive this season. We don’t need advanced metrics to tell us that, but I am going to refer to them anyway. The Yanks rank third in DRS at +27 behind the Diamondbacks (+30) and Brewers (+40). They also rank second in UZR at +15.1 behind only the Brewers (+18). This is probably the best defensive outfield the Yankees have had in a long time, and their fourth outfielder, Giancarlo, is very capable filling in at LF and RF either.
The scouting report on Aaron Judge’s defense was pretty clear when he was coming up through the minors. We heard phrases like “will make all of the plays” or “moves well for his size.” After the last 1.5 seasons, I think it’s safe to say that his defense was undersold. At worst Judge is above average, and at best he’s an elite defender. He may even steal the Gold Glove from Mookie Betts this season (+0 DRS, +5.3 UZR). Great range, a cannon for an arm, and he can rob home runs at will, due to his height. Judge is the complete package.
Giancarlo Stanton is also a good defender in his own right. It is his natural position after all. He has played mostly DH this season, but has filled in a bit in RF (15 games). He’s shown the same strong throwing arm and above average speed for his size that he’s had throughout his career.
The development of Aaron Hicks over the last few seasons has been a fun thing to watch. The former first round pick has turned himself into one of the better center fielders in baseball. When Brian Cashman traded John Ryan Murphy for him back in the 2015 offseason, fans were a bit underwhelmed, but that just reiterates why Cashman is the best. He got a defensive stud, who has developed a decent bat, for a backup catcher. Another heist indeed. Hicks’ defensive numbers haven’t been as impressive as last year’s, but he is still a solid defender with great range and still owns the fastest statcast throw in baseball history (105.5 mph!)
Even though Brett Gardner is approaching 35 years old, he can still fill in at center field on occasion. The Yankees are using him there just often enough to get some extra value. He still plays the position above average, and I have included his numbers below for reference.
Every off-season Gardner’s name comes up in trade speculation and every season Gardy continues to patrol left field at an elite level. The 2016 Gold Glove award winner still has great range, and is fast enough that his arm plays up in left field. Gardner has a team option for next season and I fully expect the Yankees to pick that up, either to be the starting left fielder again, or to split time at several outfield positions.
Stanton has also played a bit of left field this season (28 games). It is a new position for him and I’m sure we all remember he looked pretty raw in spring training. However, as good defenders seem to do, he’s made adjustments. Stanton has transferred his good defensive reputation to left field and it just gives the Yankees yet another option out there. Each metric rates him as above average.
The above numbers are why the Yankees have a defensive advantage in the outfield when playing most teams. This concludes the Yankee outfield defensive check-in. We’ll revisit these numbers later in the season to see where everyone is at.