The Yankees struggled at certain positions in 2014, but there was still plenty of time for other players to shine. As the SB Nation MLB GIF Awards continue, we move on to the best defensive plays of the year. Which of the five GIFs below should stand as the pinnacle of Yankees defense for the season?
It did not take long for Jacoby Ellsbury to establish himself as one of the more likeable players on this team. One has to play pretty good defense to move an elite defensive specialist like Brett Gardner off of center field, but Ellsbury proved that he was more than capable throughout the season. This robbery of a long Ben Zobrist drive in Tampa Bay was just one of several highlights Ellsbury had on defense this year, but his casual reaction to the play pushes this GIF over the top. More of this in 2015, Jacoby.
Brendan Ryan, Juggler
It's kind of weird that the Yankees have a bench player like Brendan Ryan signed to a multi-year deal, albeit at a low cost by their standards. The classic no-hit infielder, he was as pitiful with the bat as he's ever been, hitting .167/.211/.202 in 49 games while notching only five more hits than he totaled as a Yankee in 2013... when he was acquired in mid-September.
However, there's no denying that he's an absolute wizard on defense all around the infield. It took an impressive leap from the 6'2" Ryan to even reach this line drive by J.D. Martinez, and it made for an excellent play when he caught the ball with his bare hand after it ticked off the top of his glove. Not bad.
The Triple Play
The Yankees went 41 years without a triple play after an unlikely trio that included third baseman Bobby Cox and first baseman Mickey Mantle converted one in 1968. Now, the Yankees have turned three triple plays in five seasons, as this one came on the heels of A-Rod's around-the-horn triple play in 2010 that broke the drought and the bizarre 4-6-5-6-5-3-4 triple killing last year.
This time, it was then-rookie sensation Yangervis Solarte who started the trick, and who else would it be? Solarte had the Midas Touch in April after all, and not the obnoxious car jingle variety. With runners on first and second and none out in the second, Sean Rodriguez hit a sharp grounder down the third base line that Solarte snared, then touched the bag for the force. From there, it was a quick turn around the diamond with rocket throws from Solarte to second and from Brian Roberts to Scott Sizemore at first--another unlikely trio. Yet who was the beneficiary on the mound from the triple play? CC Sabathia, who was also pitching during the previous two triple plays.
Baseball is a silly game. #analysis
Solarte starting that triple play was nice, but neither he nor Kelly Johnson were actually good third basemen. It had been awhile since Yankees fans had seen one of those with A-Rod's defense declining due to age and his ailing hips over the past five years. Chase Headley was thus quite the sight for sore eyes at the position when he came over from the Padres. He made a number of nice stops at third, but highlighted here are a pair of impressive dives that robbed Xander Bogaerts of hits on back-to-back nights against the Red Sox. I don't think Xander will be sending Chase fruit baskets anytime soon.
As previously mentioned, Ellsbury had to be excellent to justify moving Gardner back to left, but it certainly didn't hurt that Gardner was already an incredibly accomplished left fielder anyway with two Fielding Bible Awards to his name. There were a few different Gardner catches I debated using here, but I'm always partial to Gardner's diving catches. Aesthetically pleasing and bailing out Vidal Nuno! Ah, memories.
Make sure to vote in the poll below to determine Pinstripe Alley's favorite defensive play of the year!