With Super Bowl LI in the rear view, we inch closer to Yankees baseball. The 2017 season figures to be one of transition. Young players will have an extended opportunity to demonstrate their talents. Power, hard contact, and quality defense will be on full display. One skill set that could be notably absent, however, is speed.
There’s a notion that with youth comes speed. As players age, they tend to lose some of those fast-twitch muscles. Carlos Beltran went from a perennial 20/20 threat with the Royals to practically immobile in the Bronx. Over the last calendar yea,r the Yankees managed to shed the contracts of some of their slower veterans. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Beltran himself are all out of the organization.
For the most part, the Yankees replaced them with far younger alternatives. Gary Sanchez will play behind the plate; Greg Bird will hold down first base; and either Aaron Judge or Aaron Hicks will take over right field duties. They’re young and will almost certainly exceed the production of their 2016 predecessors at the plate (save for perhaps Beltran), but don’t count on them for speed.
Quantifying a player’s speed and subsequent baserunning ability is no easy task. It’s an imperfect science, but there are some tools that help. FanGraphs offers a baserunning metric, BsR, that combines all of their speed factors. Per their glossary, BsR is the “...number of runs above or below average a player has been worth on the bases, based on stolen bases, caught stealing, extra bases taken, outs on the bases, and avoiding double plays. It is the combination of wSB, UBR, and wGDP.”
Baseball Prospectus also offers a baserunning measurement, BRR. This tool “measures the number of runs contributed by a player's advancement on the bases, above what would be expected based on the number and quality of the baserunning opportunities with which the player is presented, park-adjusted and based on a multi-year run expectancy table.”
In both instances, a score of 0 represents league average. A positive score is above-average, a negative one below-average. To get a picture of where the Baby Bombers stand, I’ve compiled a list of players with their respective BsR and BRR scores for their last active season. My threshold is any batter on the 40-man roster who has already made their major league debut, and will be 27 or younger on opening day.
Only Didi Gregorius scored securely above-average in both measurements. That’s not too surprising. The younger Yankees haven’t been considered speed demons by any means. They mostly check in at slightly below-average. Starlin Castro, however, has been egregiously bad on the basepaths. This confirms the eye test. A cursory glance of MLB.com’s video archives provides plenty of examples.
Mookie Betts made a great catch in that clip, but how many times have we seen Castro thrown out on poor baserunning plays? There have been a number of blunders that make you scratch your head.
The 2017 season will be an exciting one for the Yankees, mostly because of their emphasis on young talent. The offense figures to outperform their veteran predecessors. One of their glaring weaknesses, however, is on the basepaths. They will will probably hit - and hit for power - but they won’t run. Will this ultimately be a pressing concern? With Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner on the roster, and speed demon Jorge Mateo on the horizon, probably not. But don’t expect the young roster to be any faster than its 2016 counterpart.