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The Yankees’ defensive bloopers are worrisome as the postseason approaches

New York needs to stop making so many fielding mistakes if they want to advance beyond the Wild Card Series.

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Yankees need to tighten up their defense if they want any hope of advancing past the first round of the playoffs this year. The team’s sloppy fielding is a major concern as the regular season wraps up and the Wild Card matchups begin to take shape.

That defense is the Yankees’ biggest vulnerability entering the postseason is surprising, to say the least. Puzzling even, considering the guys the team has out there.

DJ LeMahieu has won two Gold Gloves at second base. Clint Frazier and Luke Voit’s respective gains in the outfield and at first base have been widely acknowledged and praised. When asked in spring training about Gio Urshela’s stellar fielding at the hot corner, Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters, “it’s like he’s slipping into a warm bath. It’s a comfortable experience for him over there.”

By no means are the 2020 Yankees poorly-skilled fielders. But they’re making too many defensive mistakes. In a way, this is good news. It’s not that the Yankees’ position players lack talent; they’ve just been playing lousy. To win in the postseason, the Yankees must play like the elite players they are. Otherwise, their playoff opponents will surely capitalize on any errors the Yankees make in the field.

Typically, errors are not the most useful statistic to look at in evaluating a fielder’s performance, since errors are judgement calls made by the official scorer. The way they’re assigned is subjective and, as a statistic, an error doesn’t come with an annotation explaining the context of the play and particular situation that caused a player to commit one.

But what errors represent in aggregate are mistakes. They might not be especially telling in terms of evaluating a specific player, but errors, on a team level, indicate how often a team makes defensive mistakes.

Following a bungled play at short by Gleyber Torres in the seventh inning of Friday’s game against the Marlins and a botched rundown in the tenth, the Yankees have committed 46 errors this season. That total is tied for the worst in the major leagues. The Pirates are the only team that has logged as many errors as the Yankees this season.

It’s telling that I had to update the above paragraph more than once during the game last night, to account for the Yankees’ growing error tally.

The Yankees will likely face either the Twins (who rank second in MLB with 19 errors) or the White Sox (who rank slightly below league average with 34 errors) in the best-of-three Wild Card Series. To put those numbers in perspective, the Yankees have committed more errors in the last 20 games than the Twins have committed all season.

Other fielding metrics underscore how weak the Yankees are defensively, relative to both the Twins and the White Sox.

In Defensive Runs Saved, the Yanks rank 8th among American League teams—they fall into the middle of the pack at -1 DRS. But their defensive value in this regard pales in comparison to the White Sox and Twins, who have 26 DRS and 20 DRS, respectively.

The Twins and White Sox lead the Yankees in Statcast Outs Above Average (OAA) too, and the numbers here really illustrate how messy the Yankees’ defense has been in 2020. According to Statcast, the Yankees are worth -8 OAA, which is sixth-worst in the majors. The Twins, who are worth +9 OAA, and the White Sox, who are worth +2 OAA, significantly outperform the Yankees in this metric.

Statcast Outs Above Average (OAA) Leaderboard

Rk. Team Year Runs Prevented OAA Success Rate
Rk. Team Year Runs Prevented OAA Success Rate
1 Padres 2020 9 11 90%
2 Twins 2020 7 9 88%
3 Rockies 2020 6 8 89%
4 Dodgers 2020 7 8 90%
5 Braves 2020 6 8 89%
6 Athletics 2020 7 8 90%
7 Cardinals 2020 6 7 90%
8 Diamondbacks 2020 5 6 90%
9 Astros 2020 5 6 90%
10 Tigers 2020 4 5 90%
11 Pirates 2020 4 5 89%
12 Cubs 2020 3 4 89%
13 Nationals 2020 2 3 88%
14 Indians 2020 1 3 89%
15 Brewers 2020 2 3 89%
16 White Sox 2020 2 2 90%
17 Royals 2020 1 2 89%
18 Giants 2020 -2 -2 88%
19 Red Sox 2020 -1 -3 87%
20 Rays 2020 -1 -3 87%
21 Rangers 2020 -2 -3 88%
22 Mets 2020 -5 -5 85%
23 Mariners 2020 -5 -5 90%
24 Reds 2020 -5 -7 88%
25 Yankees 2020 -6 -8 87%
26 Orioles 2020 -7 -10 89%
27 Marlins 2020 -9 -10 87%
28 Phillies 2020 -10 -12 87%
29 Blue Jays 2020 -12 -14 87%
30 Angels 2020 -15 -18 87%
Data is courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

The bottom line? The Yankees’ defense in 2020 is worse than that of their potential opponents for the Wild Card Series. Their sloppiness is the field is concerning, especially since the Yankees don’t want to give extra at-bats to the dangerous hitters sprinkled throughout the Twins and White Sox’s lineups. Additionally, the Yankees bullpen isn’t as strong as it was last year without Tommy Kahnle. The last thing the Yankees want to do is gift extra outs to the Twins or White Sox and increase their teammates’ pitch counts.

The Yanks need to turn things around real quick and be in top-form defensively for the postseason. To have a shot at advancing to the ALDS and beyond, the Yankees need to issue a cease and desist order on their sloppy fielding and showcase how scary their bats can be. Otherwise, their mistakes in the field will add up quickly and spell their October demise.