Thursday, May 17, 2012

Yankee Defense, Then & Now

Any picture that shows Youkilis getting out is a great one.

I've always been a big proponent of baseball teams that play great defense. I've been a part of teams that could put a decent amount of runs on the board, so if they could just play solid defense and prevent the other team from scoring, then wins wouldn't be that hard to come by. Of course, since I was hitting on those teams, scoring runs became more of a challenge. But one team that hasn't had trouble scoring a lot of runs is the New York Yankees.

From 2002 to 2011, the Yankees have scored a total of 8,885 runs, which is 109 more runs than the team with the 2nd most... the Red Sox. Over those same 10 years, the Yanks also have the highest wOBA, the highest wRC+, and the 2nd highest OPS. The 2012 version of the Bronx Bombers are 3rd in all three of those categories. So it should be pretty obvious that this is not a team people should worry about when it comes to putting crooked numbers under the "R" on the scoreboard.

This photo appeared on Page 1 of a Google search for "crooked number". Why? I have no idea, and I don't want to know. Monkeys rule!

So how about their team defense, which is the focus of this post?

Well, in 2002, the Yankees were ranked 27th in Fielding Percentage, and 25th in errors, in all of MLB. If it wasn't for the fact the offense scored 38 more runs than any other team in the league, then there would have been a really good chance the Yankees went from 5 World Series appearances in the previous 6 seasons, to missing the playoffs entirely. Which would have been pretty damn embarrassing.

To put that in perspective, the Yankees actually had a higher Fielding Percentage (.984 vs. .979), and committed 32 fewer errors (127 vs. 95), in 2005 than in 2002. Yet Moshe Mandel of The Yankee Analysts wrote a piece in 2009 saying that the '05 Yankees had the "Worst...Defense...Ever!!" (yes, he used two exclamation points). So as a defensive-minded person, I was not pleased.

The Nunez to the outfield experiment went about as well as the first test of radioactive material.

Which tells you why I was okay with the Yankees trading Jesus Montero. The team already scores plenty of runs, so I really wouldn't have liked to see the team use Jesus Montero even as a part-time catcher. Jesus Montero has 3 passed balls in 125 innings as a catcher this season, while Russell Martin has 3 passed balls in 253.1 innings. And while Montero's caught stealing percentage is 20%, Martin's is at 30%. And I don't want a guy with that low a CS% in the AL East, where the Rays and Blue Jays are 2nd and 5th in stolen bases in the American League.

What about now? Is the defense still that bad? Do we need them to score nearly 900 runs again to have a shot at the playoffs?

Well, so far in 2012, the Yankees are ranked 1st in Fielding Percentage, and 1st in errors (tied with the Mariners), in all of MLB. As I write this I'm watching/listening to the Yankees vs. Jays game on, and the Toronto announcers spent a good chunk of one-half inning talking about how good the Yankee defense is these days. They mentioned all the Gold Gloves by Derek Jeter and Mark Teixiera. Although Robinson Cano dropped a ball while trying to turn a double play the very same inning, Robbie has been an outstanding second basemen, who's currently got the 3rd best UZR/150 of all 2B in MLB. Last week, on MLB Network, it was said that Curtis Granderson was voted the 3rd best outfielder in MLB by players. ARod is playing really well at 3B, and Nick Swisher is average at worst in RF.

It doesn't have the history of others, but in my mind, this is the most beautiful trophy in all of sports.

So New York has really turned things around over the past 5 or so years, putting together a team that not only hits the snot out of the ball, but also fields it really well too. It's no wonder Brian Cashman pulled the trigger on a trade for Michael Pineda, and is working hard to hold onto top pitching prospects like Manny Banuelos.

Oh, and Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez have both played more innings in LF than Brett Gardner, and have UZR/150s that are much lower than Brett's (-2.4 and 3.6 for Jones and Ibanez, versus 14.1 for Gardner). Which tells me the defense would be even better if it weren't for Gardy's injury.

Get well soon, kid.

I truly believe that if the Yankee starters can get their... stuff... together, then winning another World Series is a strong possibility.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)