With the decade winding down, all-decade squads have become all the rage in the sports world. Everywhere you go, you can find articles listing the best pitching rotations of the decade, the best lineups of the decade - heck, before the year even began, we created the worst possible Yankees squad of the decade (which, fortunately, did not need an update for 2019).
Everybody seems to forget defense, except when they complain about bad defense. So let’s give some love to the guys with the best glove, and see which Yankees earn spots on the all-decade defensive team.
Catcher: Russell Martin, 2011
It seems like forever since Russell Martin last played for the Yankees — since then, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Brian McCann, and Gary Sanchez have served as the team’s primary backstop. While the Yankees have gotten some solid defense from these guys over the years, none of them have quite compared to Russell Martin.
In 2011, Martin allowed only 4 passed balls in 1044.1 innings, throwing out 30% of runners and with a FRM of 27.4. He may not have made the flashiest plays with the leather, but he was very consistent, an above-average framer, and had above-average range for a catcher. This is evidenced by his ability to play out-of-position elsewhere on the diamond (including a plan to play shortstop for Team Canada in the 2017 WBC).
First Base: Mark Teixeira, 2012
Trying to pick just one of the seasons for Mark Teixeira is difficult. Yankees fans at the beginning of the decade got very used to his defensive wizardry, scooping up balls, making diving stops, and just in general being a vacuum cleaner at the position.
2012, however, may go down as his best. Although his UZR saw a minor drop-off from 9.8 to 8.0, his defensive runs saved went through the roof, from 3 to 17, as he only made one error. He earned his fifth and final Gold Glove that year, most deservedly so.
Second Base: DJ LeMahieu, 2019
It’s really, really hard to overestimate how good DJ LeMahieu has been defensively, especially at second base. In 579 innings, he made only two errors, and put up 4.0 UZR and 5 DRS. The only season in the last decade to come close to that? Robinson Cano in 2012, in which he was worth 8.6 WAR and 15 DRS - in more than twice as many innings (1343).
While he played solid defense all around the diamond in 2019, allowing him to focus on second base, which seems to be the plan at the moment, will lock down the right side of the infield defensively.
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius, 2015
With apologies to the Brendan Ryan fans out there, there really was only one true option for this spot, and it does not go to Derek Jeter, who fell victim to Father Time in the first few years of the decade. The question thus became, which season?
The answer turned out to be fairly simple: 2015, Didi’s first year in pinstripes. The defensive metrics have never been particularly kind to Gregorius, but in his first year, despite 13 errors and a below-average Range Factor, he was worth 5 DRS and 7.5 UZR.
Third Base: Chase Headley, 2014
With apologies to 2011 Alex Rodriguez, who put together the best full season at third base this decade, Chase Headley’s 51 games at the position in 2014 gets the nod here. In such a short amount of time, Headley was worth 6 DRS and 9.1 UZR (an 18 DRS and 27.6 UZR pace). He solidified the hot corner in a turbulent season, and held it down for three more years afterwards.
Left Field: Brett Gardner, 2010-2011
Trying to choose between Gardner’s 2010 and 2011 performances in left field are like trying to choose between winning free tickets in the Legends suite in section 15A or 15B—they’re both equally great. In each season, Gardner accumulated 25 and 23 DRS, respectively, as well as 25.8 and 26.1 UZR. He was an assist machine, throwing out 12 runners in 2010 and another 7 in 2011. And he served as a valuable backup centerfielder to boot.
Center Field: Aaron Hicks, 2017
It was during the 2017 season that Aaron Hicks stole the center field job away from former Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury (still feels weird on the tongue). In just 440 innings at the position, Hicks accrued 12 DRS and 5.0 UZR, recording only one error, and throwing out one runner in the process. While he continued to play a solid center field in the following two seasons, he has not quite matched up to this original performance — and that’s more than ok, because it was a pretty insurmountable feat.
Right Field: Aaron Judge, 2019
Aaron Judge’s defensive abilities have improved slowly over the course of his career. He started with -1 DRS in his 2016 cup of coffee, 9 during his Rookie of the Year campaign, and now 19 DRS, good for fourth in all of baseball — despite having only 775 innings in right field this past season. This gave him a UZR/150 rate of 24.2, which was tops in all of baseball among players with 500 or more innings at a position.
Had Judge hit the cutoff for Gold Glove eligibility, he would have at least been a finalist, and the odds-on favorite to win. Coming from a guy who hits home runs as prolifically as he does, and that is the formula for a top-five player in baseball.