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NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 09: Didi Gregorius #18 of the New York Yankees in action against the Washington Nationals at Yankee Stadium on June 9, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Yankees defeated the Nationals 6-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The New Look Yankees

The 2015 Major League Baseball season is progressing rapidly. As the league chugs along past the 60-game mark, it’s no big deal that the Yankees sit at the top of the American League East. In fact, we as a fan-base have come to expect this sort of commonplace success out of the Bronx. However, the 33-26 record that the pinstripes are now sporting has not come easy; it’s a culmination of how the front office has done an admirable job of adapting the winning culture to fit the ever changing landscape that baseball finds itself running upon.

In the aftermath of the Steroid Era, baseball as a whole has turned on ramped-up offenses in favor of solid defense and a wealth of pitching. In the 2000 regular season, while players like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were hitting their primes as juiceheads, the average MLB team’s ERA was a not very impressive 4.76. Then, baseball cleaned up, wised up, and the stock value of pitching went up, either to combat the aggressive bats or as part of the long term equilibrium between pitcher and hitter domination.

Last year, the average ERA for a team in the big leagues was a much more respectable 3.74. The same could be said about fielding, as a drop off in hitting prowess led to an increased focus and importance on defense (cue “Moneyball” reference). In that same year, 2000, the average fielding percentage in the MLB was .981. Comparatively, last year’s average was .984. While it is not a huge leap like ERA, the presence of spiked importance of fielding is glaring.

The 2015 Yankees are an embodiment of this, and in many ways a Bizarro-world version of their former selves. Gone are the David Justice, Jason Giambi, and Tino Martinez days of old. This year’s Yankees are built with pitching and defense in mind, with offense playing a supporting role. Currently, the Yankees are 6th in the AL in ERA at 3.69. While CC Sabathia hasn’t had the bounce-back year that many had hoped for, there have been some pleasant surprises in the rotation in the Bronx.

Masahiro Tanaka has been lights out in his two starts since returning from the DL, giving up one run in seven innings in both starts, with 15 K’s in those 14 innings pitched. Michael Pineda has 76 strikeouts in 70.1 innings pitched, with an ERA of 3.33. At the backend of the rotation, Adam Warren has been the most consistent performer of the starting five, posting a BAA of .234. Let’s not forget Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in the 8th and 9th innings, who have given up 19 hits in 58.2 innings combined.

It’s clear that the strength of the 2015 Yankees is pitching, but their defense has been solid and overlooked for the most part. Their new-found commitment to defense was prevalent even in their offseason acquisitions. Former MLB GM Jim Bowden praised the Yankees for going out and getting SS Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks. “They’re getting a plus-defender”, Bowden said. “I’m not gonna say Gold Glove, but I’m gonna say plus-plus defender.” While Gregorius has had some jitters in the field early on, he seems to have become more comfortable recently in place of the iconic Derek Jeter.

Stephen Drew, whom the Yankees acquired in a trade last season and then re-signed this year, has also always had a reputation as a defense-first position player. Baseball Prospectus says Drew possesses “Excellent awareness of the field and good instincts.” He did have a bit of a learning curve switching to second base to accommodate Gregorius, it appears that he has found more comfort at the position, which has positively impacted his offense as well. Mark Teixeira has always been a rock at first base, winning five Gold Glove awards and currently owns a 1.000 fielding percentage.

Now, the increased defensive focus doesn’t mean that the “Bronx Bombers” are no more. The Yankees are still second in the MLB in runs scored and third in home runs. They have proved this season that they don’t need to score loads of runs to win ball games. In eight of the team’s 13 wins in May, they scored five runs or fewer. This team is different than those that have blazed their way to a World Series, but the scope of baseball has changed, and the Yankees’ front office has adapted the product on the field to win in unchartered ways.