For the first time in his major league career, the Yankees’ super utility player Tyler Wade saw consistent playing time for several stretches during the shortened 2020 season. Wade played in 52 of 60 regular season games and made a number of starts in the middle infield. His role as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner also took on added importance, due to the new extra-innings rule and expanded rosters.
Wade’s ability to play multiple positions adds flexibility to the lineup, and his speed on the basepaths means he is always a scoring threat. Since making it to the big leagues in 2017 though, he has struggled to hit at the big league level. Despite getting more playing time in 2020, Wade’s offensive performance was disappointing.
2020 Statistics: 52 games, .170 /.288 /.307, 66 OPS+, 69 wRC+, +2 OAA, 0.3 fWAR
2021 Contract Status: Pre-Arb Eligible
Wade’s hitting continues to be a work in progress. Entering the 2020 season, Wade had played in just 109 MLB games and had only 241 career plate appearances under his belt. Before this season, the Yankees had mostly used him as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner in the later innings of games, so he hadn’t accrued a ton of at-bats.
After DJ LeMahieu tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of the season, Wade started at second base on Opening Day. Once LeMahieu returned, Wade didn’t see regular playing time again until mid-August, when LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres both went on the IL.
Filling in for LeMahieu and Torres gave Wade the opportunity to get more reps in by playing every day. But despite having a consistent spot in the lineup, his offensive production didn’t improve. From August 14th to September 14th, Wade played in 27 out of the Yankees’ 28 games and started 20 of them. It was a chance to prove his offensive worth to the Yankees, and to demonstrate his ability to contribute.
Unfortunately, Wade failed to take advantage of the opportunity. During the month-long stretch, he hit .155/.242/.293 and didn’t hit the ball hard enough to get on base consistently. Although he was able to lower his strikeout rate and improve his walk rate to 11.4 percent, Wade’s offensive numbers on the season suggest his development as a hitter is somewhat stymied. His average exit velocity on batted balls was 86.6 mph in 2020, a figure which has hardly changed since he entered the league in 2017.
Of course, Wade’s greatest value is in the field. From a defensive standpoint, Wade performed the best at second base this season, where he ranked in the 94th percentile in outs above average (OAA). And while he wasn’t quite as valuable at short, Wade’s 0.5 defensive WAR indicates his performance at shortstop was better than Torres, who finished the 2020 season at -0.7 defensive WAR.
Thanks to his speed, left-handed bat and ability to play both the infield and outfield, Wade carries extra value as a utility guy. His versatility to field multiple positions adds flexibility to the Yankees’ lineup. As a pinch-runner, he’s a constant scoring threat because his sprint speed ranks in the top 15 percent of major leaguers.
Until this season, Wade had yet to benefit from having a consistent spot in the lineup. His teammates’ injuries in 2020 provided him with an opportunity to showcase his offensive potential, but he failed to make an impact. In all likelihood, Wade will continue to play an important utility role for the Yankees in 2021. But his underwhelming offensive performance means it’s unlikely his role on the team will expand beyond that.