How good could the Yankees' outfield be defensively?

Al Bello

A lot of runs stand to be saved with the Yankees' current outfield personnel.

Like any optimistic fan, I like to spend my offseason thoughts about the Yankees focusing on what parts of the team look to be in good shape. As such, I've tried to think about the infield as little as possible. The outfield, however, has shaped into what could be a very interesting and talented unit. That said, there's the looming possibility that several of those outfielders could be moved via trade and this group looks very different come Opening Day. But that sort of thinking is no fun, so I got to wondering about just how good this current group could turn out to be defensively.

Starting with a glance at the players' UZR over the last five seasons, it looks like the unit should be quite good.

(min 1000 innings)

Name

Inn

UZR/150

UZR

MLB UZR Rank

Brett Gardner

4342.1

20.6

60.9

2nd

Ichiro Suzuki

6515.2

9.3

42.8

8th

Alfonso Soriano

5469.0

5.7

24.1

23rd

Jacoby Ellsbury

4611.2

6.7

20.7

28th

Carlos Beltran

4659.2

-8.1

-27.9

165th

That's four players that are significantly positive contributors when it comes to the metric...and Carlos Beltran. It will be interesting to see if, assuming they retain him, the Yankees employ Ichiro as a late-game defensive replacement for whichever veteran is manning right field that day. Otherwise his usefulness as a defender could easily be matched by his faded bat. Those caveats aside, there is no other team in the league that has outfielders with this sort of track record for being positive contributors on defenses. And from a strictly observational standpoint, there are four players here with speed ranging from above-average to elite to help run down flyballs in 2014. I would expect a lot of assumed outs to find their way into gloves this season.

The Ellsbury-Gardner combo won't wow anyone with their arms, but their speed and quick first-steps should do wonders for covering the spacious gaps at Yankee Stadium. It remains to be seen what how drastic the shifts manager Joe Girardi will employ to maximize the two defensive stalwarts, but it might be wise to try to use the two to compensate for whomever is out in right field. I assume it will be Carlos Beltran, due to both his fancy new contract and reputation, however his range just is nothing like what it used to be. It may have initially seemed redundant, but after the acquisition of Beltran having two players with the range of center fielders seems like a pretty smart hedge.

Even with the jettisoning of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, there's still quite a few flyball pitchers on this staff. So it will be most helpful to them that the Yankees project to have a very good defensive outfield next year. This certainly all changes if the Yankees end up dealing Gardner or (to a much lesser extent) Ichiro. It would hurt to possibly turn what is currently a strength into a question mark, but those are the things that happen when a roster has a lot of holes. I'll continue to assume (hope) it won't come to that and look forward to a lot of exciting defensive plays in the outfield that will make Lyle Overbay playing out there in 2013 seem like a fever dream.

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