The New York Yankees nearly established a single-season record for homers last year, and scoring runs was far from an issue. The bullpen was stellar, and there wasn’t a shortage of strikeouts by the pitching staff as a whole.
However, not a lot of people talk about the Yankees’ defense, particularly in the outfield, where the team has some excellent performers.
Advanced metrics show the whole picture
Yankees outfielders had 30 DRS in the 2019 season. That number ranked fourth in the majors behind the Houston Astros (51) Los Angeles Dodgers (51) and Philadelphia Phillies (32). Considering that the Astros’ outfield defense took a substantial hit after Jake Marisnick was traded to the New York Mets, and that the Bombers now know what they have in Mike Tauchman, they may take the AL lead in the category this year.
By UZR the Yankees’ outfielders ranked seventh in 2019 with 15.6, behind the Arizona Diamondbacks, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. The Bombers were also sixth in UZR/150, with 5.1.
The Yankees’ outfielders also had the second fewest errors, with nine. In 2019, only the Royals, with eight, had less than that. New York’s fielding percentage for outfielders was a shiny .991, right behind the Royals’ .993.
Some people seem to think that the Yankees aren’t near the elite in outfield defense because they have heavy sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton and aging players like Brett Gardner. But that is far from the truth.
Stellar center fielders
We probably don’t need to tell you that Gardner, even in his late 30s, remains a very good defensive outfielder.
The man is 36 years young, and not only he had his best offensive season yet, but also, he kept performing as an excellent defensive outfielder. While best deployed in left field, Gardner is more than capable of handling center.
Statcast had him in the 72nd percentile in Outs Above Average, while his 3.0 UZR and 3.9 UZR/150 were also good. In 1168.1 frames, he had 5 DRS. Of course, his true home is left field, with a 7 DRS, compared to -2 in center, but he had respectable UZR (1.7) and UZR/150 (3.1) marks in the latter while playing 820 innings.
There are other two outfielders in the Yankees capable of playing an above-average center field, Aaron Hicks and Mike Tauchman. Hicks has it all: range, athleticism, speed, a good arm, and excellent instincts in center field. Because of all those traits, he is the regular at the position when healthy.
DRS valued Hicks highly in 2017 (12) but badly in 2018 (-8) and 2019 (-1) in center field. However, since he hasn’t had a bad UZR mark since 2014, he put up great fWAR seasons in 2017 and 2018. Last season was incomplete due to injuries. The eye test and several metrics agree with the notion that Hicks is a good defensive outfielder.
Tauchman, meanwhile, is the definition of a late-bloomer. He is already 29 years old, yet the Yankees were the first team to give him a true opportunity, and it happened last year. He performed adequately both offensively and, particularly, with the glove. He was in the 95th percentile in Statcast’s Outs Above Average, and had a whopping 18 DRS in just under 700 innings in the outfield as a whole and 87 games. Between the three outfield positions, he had a 7.1 UZR and a 14.4 UZR/150. He was perhaps the best at the position for the Yankees in 2019.
The most underrated defensive right fielder in baseball?
Aaron Judge is, of course, known for his impact bat. However, he also has game-changing defense and a cannon of an arm that makes hard throws look effortless. Judge is such a physical specimen that he makes running to cover ground in the outfield and displaying that right missile seem so easy. And it’s not.
He was in the 94th percentile in Outs Above Average, he led MLB right fielders with 20 DRS, and had seven outfield assists in 775.1 innings. With 8.7, Judge also paced major league players in the position in defensive rating, per FanGraphs (minimum of 700 frames). It’s time for Judge to get the recognition he deserves for his play on the field.
The Yankees also have Giancarlo Stanton, who is a sneaky-decent defensive outfielder despite how he has looked in specific plays here or there. Last season was lost due to injury, but consider this: in 2018, he played a total of 648 innings and had a 7.3 UZR and a 17.7 UZR/150, with 5 DRS. It isn’t always pretty, but if healthy, he gets the job done.
Among those expected to be in the outfield rotation, only Clint Frazier is a true liability in the field (and he works to improve) and we don’t know what the Yankees will get from Miguel Andujar. But their outfield defense, all things considered, is very, very good.