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Best Yankees defensive seasons that didn’t end with a Gold Glove

The Yankees may not win a ton of Gold Gloves, but that hasn’t stopped these defenders from flashing the leather.

Divisional Series - Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Rawlings announced the winners of the 2021 Gold Glove Awards. Yankees left fielder Joey Gallo came home with some hardware, winning his second consecutive Gold Glove for his work in right field. In doing so, he became the first member of the Yankees to receive the honor since Brett Gardner won in 2016, and just the second to win an award in pinstripes since one-third of the awards came to the Bronx in 2010 (Mark Teixeira, Robinson Canó, and Derek Jeter).

Not having a Gold Glove on your shelf does not mean you’re a bad defender, however. In fact, numerous Yankees in recent years have put together strong defensive seasons but were not honored by Rawlings for one reason or another. Although Yankees teams in recent years have not been known for their defense, there has been no shortage of players who have flashed the leather but went home without any awards. Let’s take a look at them (Spoiler alert: most of them are outfielders).

Ichiro Suzuki, 2013

By the time Ichiro fulfilled all our childhood dreams by donning the pinstripes, he was at the tail end of his career and was no longer the dominant player he once was. Of course, considering how transcendent a talent Ichiro was in his prime, that means he made the plays most players couldn’t make, rather than the plays only he could make.

After coming over at the trade deadline in 2012 to fill in as the Yankees left fielder for the injured Brett Gardner, Ichiro returned to the Bronx to replace Nick Swisher in his natural right field after the energetic first baseman-turned-outfielder departed in free agency. In his final season as a full-time starter, he no longer produced with his bat as he once did (his 77 OPS+ was the lowest of his career to that point), but he continued to flash the leather better than anyone in the league: his 11 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and 14.8 UZR/150 each ranked third among AL right fielders, behind only Josh Reddick and that year’s Gold Glove, Shane Victorino.

And, of course, even in his age-39 season, he continued to make the supernatural look easy, both with his range...

...and with his arm.

Mike Tauchman, 2019

On a per-inning basis, Mike Tauchman was arguably the best defensive outfielder in 2019: in just 694.1 innings across all three outfield positions (two-thirds of which came in left field), he accrued 19 DRS and 9 Outs Above Average (OAA). The former was tied with Lorenzo Cain and Hunter Renfroe for fourth among outfielders, the latter with Mallex Smith and Keon Broxton for eighth. The difference between Tauchman and the defenders ahead of him, however, was that he did that in more than two hundred fewer innings than those ahead of him — and remember, these are counting stats!

Tauchman, in fact, had played so little relative to his competition that he wasn’t even eligible for the Gold Glove Award, as the award requires you to play 713 innings in the field before the team’s 141st game — more than Tauchman played the entire season. When he was on the field, he continually made the highlight reel with his glove.

Masahiro Tanaka, 2016

Not since Hall of Famer Mike Mussina won his seventh and final Gold Glove Award during the 2008 season has a Yankees pitcher won a Gold Glove. Masahiro Tanaka, however, regularly put forward a strong case for the honor. His 2016 campaign in particular was nothing short of elite, as his 6 DRS ranked third among AL pitchers, one behind R.A. Dickey and Justin Verlander. But none of those three ended up as the winner, as Astros starter Dallas Keuchel brought home the award for the third straight year.

As it’s hard to judge pitcher defense, that’s not too surprising — voters tend to stick with guys who have won it before, as most of the winners of the last 21 years have won it on at least two occasions.

Brett Gardner, 2011 and 2017

Since making his major league debut in the 2008 season, Brett Gardner has had one of the best gloves in the league, with his 138 DRS in that time ranking second among outfielders only to Jayson Heyward. Despite that excellence, though, he has won only one Gold Glove Award, in 2016, as Alex Gordon had a stranglehold on the left field position for much of their careers. The case can be made that two of Gordon’s Gold Gloves should have belonged to Gardner.

In just his second season as the Yankees’ starting left fielder, Gardner established himself as a premier defender at the position, as his 32.0 UZR/150 in left 23 DRS were first and second, respectively, in all of baseball...regardless of the position. The only thing that Gordon had over Gardner, in fact, was outfield assists — he led the Yankees outfielder, 20 to 7, in that stat.

Six years later, fresh off Gardner’s first and only Gold Glove Award, Gordon took the title back, and once again, the final result was debatable. Gardner beat the Kansas City left fielder in DRS by a large margin (18 to 6) and slightly edged him out in UZR/150 (11.3 to 10.7) and OAA (3 to 2), while SDI preferred Gordon by a hair, 11.1 to 10.8 (fifth and sixth among AL defenders at any position).

Despite the lack of hardware, Gardner’s defense was nonetheless vital to the team’s success many times over the last decade, and in the end, that’s what matters.

Aaron Judge, 2017-present

You all know it, Aaron Judge is arguably the most underrated defender in baseball, as his ability to hit monster home runs overshadows his defensive capabilities in right field. Just how good is he? He ranks second in DRS among outfielders since 2017 with 57, behind only Mookie Betts, as does his UZR/150 of 11.2. Statcast isn’t quite as high on him, as his 20 OAA is good for “just” a tie with Cedric Mullins and Adam Duvall for 22nd, but make no mistake, that’s elite company to be in.

In 2017 and 2018, Judge was named a finalist for the Gold Glove Award in right field, but lost because he was up against literally the best defensive outfielder in the game, Betts, while injuries prevented him from playing enough innings in the field in 2019 and 2020 to be eligible. Although he wasn’t a finalist this year, he was recognized for his defensive capabilities by winning the Fielding Bible Award, as he narrowly edged out his teammate and eventual Gold Glove winner, Joey Gallo.

All the more reason the Yankees need to sign Judge to an extension as soon as possible, don’t you think?