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The Yankees’ five worst defensive miscues of 2021

The 2021 Yankees will not be known as a defensive juggernaut, that’s for sure.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

No matter how you slice it, the Yankees defense was one of the worst in the American League this season, collectively worth -17 Outs Above Average (OAA) and -43 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Needless to say, although poor range across the diamond contributed greatly to these numbers, defensive lowlights were a regular occurrence for this ballclub. With so many options to choose from, which plays rank as the worst of the worst?

5. Rougned Odor struggles to play third base

Let me be clear right off the bat: Rougned Odor was the Yankees platinum glove this season. A second baseman by trade, he provided strong defense for the Yankees, finishing the season tied for fourth among second basemen with eight OAA. On top of that, with Gio Urshela on the injured list and DJ LeMahieu unable to make the throws from third due to an arm injury, he played 33 games at third base — a position he did not play at the professional level until this year. After being thrown headfirst into the fire, he did admirably, and by the end of the season, he was worth 1 OAA at the position.

Despite the overall positive performance, there were some growing pains, and because of that, there’s no shortage of bad defensive plays that we could choose here. The one I will go with takes place on August 11th against the Kansas City Royals.

There are certainly plays that look worse, such as groundballs and line drives that Odor mishandled. What makes this the worst of his errors, in my opinion, is the simplicity of the play. Odor handled it cleanly. Cam Gallagher is not a fast runner, ranking in the 12th percentile in foot speed. If he makes even a half-decent throw, the runner is out, and 99 times out of 100, every major leaguer makes that throw. Unfortunately, that one time came in the middle of a game.

4. Domingo Germán can’t throw a baseball and Luke Voit can’t be bothered

In a game that Matt rightfully called the dumbest game of this dumb season, the Yankees jumped out to a massive early lead against probable MVP Shohei Ohtani that they proceeded to blow after two lengthy rain delays. Long before that happened, however, Domingo Germán managed to make one of the worst defensive plays that a pitcher could make...and somehow wasn’t the worst defender on the play.

With one runner on and two outs, José Iglesias gift-wraps an out by grounding a ball right up the middle that gets knocked down by the pitcher. As the ball did not ricochet all that far, Germán calmly scurried over to the ball, picked it up, and threw the ball wide of first base.

That is not a good throw by any stretch of the imagination. For the most part all the first baseman can do is simply leave the bag, catch the ball, and prevent the runners from advancing to second and third; attempting to catch it by leaning into the runner would be to risk injury (similar to Max Muncy just a few weeks ago). Instead of choosing either, however, Luke Voit opts to do absolutely nothing, barely making even a quarter-hearted attempt to catch the ball as it flew by him.

3. Nobody wants to catch it in Miami

The worst defensive miscues, in my opinion, are the easy plays that should be made, but don’t because of a miscommunication. In just Anthony Rizzo’s third day as a Yankee, one of those plays happened in the bottom of the third. With nobody on and two out, Jazz Chisholm Jr. hit an easy pop up to the right side of the infield that should have ended the inning; Rizzo, Gleyber Torres, and Rougned Odor (Chisholm bats lefty and the shift was on) watched the ball fall between them.

Chisholm would eventually make the entire play irrelevant, as he would be thrown out attempting to steal second to end the inning, but this was a play that all three infielders would rather soon forget.

2. Gleyber Torres and Jay Bruce lose game to Baltimore

Gleyber Torres’s inability to play shortstop at a competent level this year has been well-documented, leading to him being moved off the position for good in the middle of September and prompting Brian Cashman to declare shortstop a “position of need” this winter. Not surprisingly, there very were many routine plays involving Torres that could have made this list. So why did this one from April 7th make it? After all, Torres fields it cleanly and the throw is off-line but not uncatchable.

There are two reasons why I rank this play so badly. For starters, this play indirectly led to the Yankees losing the game, as it took place with two outs in the top of the tenth inning; while they did tie it up in the bottom of the inning, that run would have been the game-winning run, not merely the tying run, if this play was made.

More importantly for me, however, is the fact that this play involves incompetence on the part of four individuals. One, Torres makes a horrendous throw that bounces well in front of the first base bag. Two, Jay Bruce has absolutely no idea how to field the first base position and stretches away from the ball rather than toward it. Third, Aaron Boone continued to run out Bruce at a position that he was clearly neither comfortable nor competent at. And fourth, Brian Cashman refused to actually get a real backup first baseman, as the organization was clearly not content with Mike Ford in the role. As such, it was an utterly avoidable play even before the season began.

1. DJ LeMahieu and Joey Gallo drop routine pop ups in the same AB

On September 26, as the Yankees were looking to sweep the Boston Red Sox in the midst of an intense Wild Card chase, Kyle Schwarber came to the plate with the score tied, two out, and Alex Verdugo on second. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Schwarber popped the ball up into foul territory on the third base side, LeMahieu settled under it...and the three-time Gold Glove Award winner dropped the ball. Granted an additional life, Schwarber battled Chad Green to a 2-2 count, then popped the ball up into shallow left-center field, where reigning Gold Glove Award winner Joey Gallo settled under it...and dropped the ball, allowing Verdugo to score from second.

In the end, neither of these plays mattered, as the Yankees proceeded to mount a comeback thanks to Anthony Rizzo, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton murdering a trio of baseballs. The fact that their teammates covered for them, though, does not negate the fact that these two pop flies absolutely should have been outs, and the fact that these two players, both of whom are known for their surehandedness, dropped the ball in the same at-bat is just as much a miracle of statistical improbability as it was infuriating to watch. That is why, more so than any other play in this dreadful season, LeMahieu and Gallo share, ex aequo, the dishonor of the worst defensive miscue of the 2021 season.