This year’s Yankee team has been fun to watch, offensively. However, on the other side of the ball, they leave a lot to be desired.
There have been many mental, and some physical, lapses on defense the first few weeks of the young season. However, most knowledgeable baseball minds all agree: errors and fielding percentage are a poor way to judge a team defensively, so let’s take a look at what the advanced metrics think about the Yankee infield in the early going.
For this exercise, we are going to be looking at Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). You can read more about these two defensive metrics and how they are calculated here.
These values can fluctuate from season to season, but this is just a “defensive check in” so let’s look at the data. (Insert small sample size disclaimer here).
The leader of the defense in the infield, as you might’ve guessed, is Didi Gregorius at short. He has exceptional range, and a rocket arm. I’m not sure he is in the same category as Francisco Lindor or Andrelton Simmons, but he’s pretty close. Perhaps a Gold Glove is in his future?
The Yankees have been looking for a full time replacement at second base for Robinson Cano since he left. The keystone was a revolving door before Starlin Castro was brought over two years ago. Castro had a decent bat, but was never great in the field for the Yankees (averaged -7 DRS and -5 UZR).
Now that Gleyber Torres has been called up, he is the second baseman for the present and the future. There aren’t any advanced metrics available for him yet, but his defensive reputation in the minors is stellar. MLB pipeline gave him a 60 grade arm, and a 55 grade on defense overall, which is considered “plus”.
The scouting report says: “Torres covers enough ground to stick at shortstop and has the hands and arm to be a solid defender there.” Since second base is further down on the defensive spectrum, Gleyber figures to be even better there.
We’ve had the luxury of watching Mark Teixeira over at first base vacuuming up everything in his zip code for years. Now, however, the Yankees are back to having some mashers over there, with little defensive chops. Neither Tyler Austin nor Greg Bird are considered to be defensive stalwarts, but they have both shown that they are able to handle the position competently.
Miguel Andujar’s bat is ready for the majors. I don’t think anyone can question that at this point. He remains a work in progress over at the hot corner, however.
Andujar has an absolute cannon for an arm, but his footwork isn’t smooth at this point, and he looks a bit uncomfortable over there. He has all the tools to be a solid average defensive player, but scouts think he just needs more experience, and perhaps some more major league coaching to fine tune his abilities.
Brandon Drury figures to be back from his migraine/vision issue very soon. He performed very well for the Yankees before going on the DL, so it’s not a given that Andujar plays the rest of the season alone at 3B.
A lot has been written about Gary Sanchez over the last year in regards to his defense. However, I am going to let you in on a little known secret: Gary Sanchez is a very good defensive catcher.
Yes, there were a few passed balls last year, but there are other components to catching that FAR outweigh that issue, which he has seemed to improve upon so far this season. Gary is an above average pitch framer, and remains as one of the best throwers in the league (fastest thrower via Statcast).
(Note: DEF is UZR with positional adjustment via Fangraphs)
This concludes the Yankee infield defensive check-in. Outfield check-in coming soon!