The Yankees under Aaron Boone have looked very similar to the Yankees under Joe Girardi in terms of in-game strategy. However, they have differed in one key way.
Boone’s first Yankees team back in 2018 was known for its shoddy baserunning. A young squad with an unathletic bench made several mistakes on the basepaths – although the team finished exactly average (15th) in outs made on the bases, they made the 3rd-most outs at first base, 6th-most outs at third base, and 11th-most outs at home plate. This came despite stealing the 6th-fewest bases in the league, indicating that most of the 2018 Yankees’ outs on the basepaths occurred during play rather than on designed steals. Sloppy baserunning killed far too many rallies.
Although there was some improvement in 2019, the Yankees were just generally less aggressive that year. Their stolen base total was still in the bottom-10 leaguewide, and their outs-on-bases was 15th again. They did, however, run into six fewer outs.
That’s why the 2020 Yankees’ superior statistics on the bases came as such a surprise. It was a shortened season, but the Yankees finally crossed over into a positively-graded baserunning team in year three under Boone.
After years residing in the bottom of the pack in stolen bases, the Yankees were 14th in the league with 27 steals in 60 games last year. They also posted a stellar 79.4 percent success rate on their attempted steals, above the MLB average of 75 percent. While the base-stealing is great, the more encouraging takeaway is that the Yankees stopped running into dumb outs.
New York was tied for the fifth-fewest outs-on-base in 2020, including just two outs at home plate over 60 games. The Yankees also led the league in “bases taken” – a category that includes advancing on sacrifices, other outs, passed balls and wild pitches. This speaks to a newfound aggressiveness on the bases, and a successful trend, at that.
Over the years, the Yankees’ bench has become more athletic, which probably has a direct link to that aggression. When the Yankees put Tyler Wade, Mike Tauchman, or (to a lesser extent) Brett Gardner into the game, there is an expectation that they’re there to run. The days of having Carlos Beltrán, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann in the middle of the lineup and going station-to-station are over.
The BsR statistic is a handy tool to evaluate baserunning. It’s FanGraphs’ go-to metric to measure productivity on the basepaths – zero is average, and however far above or below that marker indicates how good a baserunner you are, factoring in stolen base success and outs made on the bases. Despite only starting 29 games, Wade appeared in 52, the third-most of anyone on the team. He has become Boone’s go-to pinch-runner, and he’s a good one, posting a BsR of 2.2. Tauchman made 27 starts, but played in 43 games.
It’s interesting that Wade and Tauchman are some of the team’s best baserunners, even though they’re bench players. The only Yankees regular with a truly above-average BsR is Aaron Hicks, while everyone else is somewhere around average on either side of the coin. Gleyber Torres, long regarded as one of the Yankees’ worst baserunners, has improved his BsR each year he’s been a big-leaguer, so at least there’s been some progress.
The Yankees’ minor league baserunning coach, Matt Talarico might have something to do with improving the Baby Bombers’ performance on the bases and ensuring that these changes are system-wide. Our own Dan Kelly grabbed an interview with him last month, and it’s worth a read here to see what the coaches are teaching the next generation of Yankees.
While Talarico is busy working with the Yankees of the future, the team has already improved its baserunning at the major league level. It’s reasonable to think that this will continue in 2021 since the Yankees are returning many of the same pieces as last year. The Yankees will never be among the league leaders in stolen bases – it’s not their game, and it shouldn’t be with all the home runs they hit. But they have cleaned up an area that was a concern just a few years ago. As long as the Yankees aren’t running into easy outs on the bases, they’ll be able to provide even more RBI chances for the big boppers in the lineup.