Evaluating a player who rarely saw regular playing time comes with some challenges. The sample sizes will be small, and it’s safe to assume that keeping hitting and fielding skills sharp is more difficult for players who don’t play every day. With a player like Tyler Wade, who only started 35 games despite making a career-high 103 appearances, a fair evaluation of his play requires multiple perspectives.
Wade clearly has skills – ranking in the 94th percentile in sprint speed and being able to play six positions on an MLB level is bringing something to the table to be sure. Yet it was the level of production that had many of us wondering if Wade had turned a corner in his career, so let’s start there.
2021 Stats: 145 PA, .268/.354/.323 BA/OBP/SLG, 92 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR.
2022 Contract Status: First-year arbitration eligible (with the Los Angeles Angels)
On the plus side, Wade set new career highs in OPS+, wRC+, fWAR, BA, OBP, and SB. As mentioned above, he played six different positions and added a speed element that not only gave the team a late-inning pinch-running option – a role Wade performed 28 times in 2021 – but his 17 steals on the season led the Yankees. Both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs graded as an efficient runner, and FanGraphs’ comprehensive defensive metric graded Wade at 2.8 runs better than average.
Additionally, when given somewhat regular playing time, the results were good for both Wade and the team. From July 17th through August 29th, Wade played in 28 of the Yankees’ 40 games, starting 17 of them. In 67 plate appearances over that stretch, he posted a .339/.439/.411 slash line, adding nine stolen bases. Wade was part of a post-All-Star resurgence for a team that went 30-10 over that stretch, and 22-6 in games in which Wade appeared.
Of course, that’s looking at the glass half full, to say the least. Wade’s BABIP over that stretch was a ridiculous .452, so we can assume he was the beneficiary of some good bounces and a few groundballs with eyes. Furthermore, in addition to the other numbers in which Wade set career highs, his full 2021 season BABIP of .378 was not only a career high, it was 90 points higher than his career average.
When we take a closer look at Wade’s defense and speed, matters get murkier in those areas as well. Wade posted zero Outs Above Average across all six positions in 2021, which is to say he was competent but nothing more. Additionally, his speed may not have been the boost we think it was; among 31 players in MLB with a minimum of 20 stolen base attempts, Wade’s 73-percent success rate ranked 21st – not awful, but not particularly valuable either.
When we look at measurements that rely less on results and more on what the player actually did, the picture gets even bleaker for Wade. His average exit velocity and hard-hit percentages were the lowest of his career, and his xwOBA of .248 was the second-lowest in his career. Unlike his career highs in OPS+ and wRC+, his DRC+, which relies less on outcomes, was a pretty poor 81, only two points off his career average of 79.
All of the above measurements, both results-based and more advanced, highlight Wade’s true obstacle to becoming a good MLB player: He simply doesn’t hit the ball very hard. Take a look at his 2021 hits spray chart:
That explains how despite posting better than AL averages in both BA and OBP, his OPS+ and wRC+ were still below league average – he simply doesn’t hit with any power, as his well-earned .323 SLG suggests. Many fans feel there are some players on the Yankees who need to spend less time in the weight room – I may be so bold as to suggest that some should have spent more time in it.
Again, it certainly can’t be easy for a player to produce when he isn’t given regular playing time, and Wade almost never was given consistent run in his five seasons in pinstripes. The last time he played more or less every day was in Triple-A in 2017, and he was one of the best players in the International League at the time. Prior to being called up to New York mid-way through 2017, Wade posted a .310/.382/.460 slash line, with a 136 wRC+ in 388 plate appearances for Scranton. His batting average led the International League at the time, his OBP was good for second best, and his wRC+ was third best (the hope of seeing that production on the big league level might explain why the organization stuck with him for as long as they did).
To be fair, very few players are given 150 games and 550 plate appearances as soon as they hit the big leagues to figure things out. Most players, even very good ones, typically have to earn regular playing time by producing when the opportunity arises, however infrequently that may be. Some players produce and move on to better things, some do not – Wade, unfortunately, did not, and his career in pinstripes ended as a result.
Some fans will miss Wade, and that’s understandable. There was no reason to dislike him, as he was athletic, played hard, and never did or said anything to rub anyone the wrong way. But from a pure value in between the lines standpoint, utility players are similar to middle relief pitchers in that they’re very replaceable, and Wade’s production in that role won’t be missed.