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Yankees 2021 Season Preview: Tyler Wade

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T-Wade is the Yankees’ utility man again, but the team may want to get an upgrade if possible.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Tyler Wade finally became a full-time member of the Yankees last season, but the results were still a little disappointing. Wade played in 52 of the team’s 60 games, the third-highest total on the team. He entered as a pinch-runner in seven of them, but started in more than half of his games last season.

Wade didn’t see any time in the outfield last season, but could return there in emergency duty this season. As of now, he’s the only player on the Yankees roster other than Gleyber Torres who can play shortstop, which gives him value. That, along with his impressive speed, is the primary reason he’s still on the team in 2021.

2020 Stats: 105 PA, .170/.288/.307, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 21.0 K%, 11.4 BB%, 68 wRC+, 0.3 WAR

2021 ZiPS Projections: 411 PA, .221/.294/.338, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 25.5 K%, 8.5%, 68 wRC+, 0.3 WAR

Wade’s ZiPS projections are... interesting. If Wade sees 411 plate appearances this year, something is probably seriously wrong with the season. The fact that ZiPS projects Wade’s WAR to be the same as his 52-game 2020 season despite the dramatic uptick in plate appearances is definitely concerning. Wade should never see 411 plate appearances, unless the team’s starting infield and outfield are ravaged by injury.

Wade showed mild progression with improved plate discipline last year. He posted his best strikeout rate and his highest walk rate of his career, which helped his on-base percentage rise more than 100 points higher than his lowly batting average. His sprint speed and defensive outs above-average were both in the top 20 percent MLB-wide, and he hit for marginally more power than in the past.

Still, he left more to be desired when hitting. His .595 OPS and 67 wRC+ were a regression from his 2019 numbers, and after four years hitting in the big leagues, it’s clear that Wade is never going to be much of a hitter. He’s played 161 MLB games in his career, the equivalent of an entire full season, and has slashed a minuscule .190/.274/.301 over that span. So, Wade is not here for his offense.

Fortunately, Wade really does provide value on the bases and in the field. He has gone 13-for-15 in stolen base opportunities and is easily the fastest player on the Yankees, and he can capably play six different defensive positions. For a team that is short on infield depth, has an injury-prone outfield and isn’t especially fast, Wade’s profile can still help them.

There was some talk of Gio Urshela taking over as the team’s backup shortstop, but there is still a place for Wade on the team – for now. If a utility infielder that can hit a little and play a capable shortstop was to become available, the Yankees would be wise to inquire. If any of their infielders were to get injured, Wade would be the next man up, which isn’t a viable long-term option.

Ideally, the Yankees would see increased offensive production from Wade this year. But, if he can help them with his legs and with his glove, he’ll meet his expectations this season.