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Infield defense and the Yankees’ best alignment

MLB Network proposed a radical Yankees lineup that shuffled the Yankees’ infield alignment for the sake of defense. But does this suggestion hold water?

Seattle Mariners v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

For what feels like the first time in a long time, the Yankees have received a lot of good injury-related news lately. Luke Voit has returned from the IL roaring, in an attempt to break back into the starting lineup, Gio Urshela is currently on a rehab assignment with Double-A Somerset and may return when the team heads out west later this week, and Gleyber Torres could start his own rehab with Somerset as early as next week. And while these are all positive developments, as our very own Jesse Dorey wrote earlier this week, they raise a number of questions as to how the Yankees should construct their lineup on a day-to-day basis.

Not surprisingly, we here at Pinstripe Alley are not the only ones who have been debating these questions. Mark DeRosa on MLB Network did a segment last week on what he considered to be the Yankees’ optimal lineup, and, well ... it’s thought-provoking, that’s for sure:

For those of you who don’t watch the video, what sparked the segment was the fact that the Yankees need to find a way to get Voit’s bat in the lineup, as he has the third-best OPS among first basemen since making his Yankees debut in 2018, behind only Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy. To do this, he suggests the Yankees employ what our own Peter Brody has coined the Death Star Lineup (and what Voit himself calls the Goal Line Package), utilizing an outfield of Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton from left to right, which opens up the DH spot for Voit.

So far, so good. But then he gets a little strange with an infield alignment from third to first of DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, Gleyber Torres, and Anthony Rizzo. DeRosa believes that this alignment offers the Yankees its best infield defense, which — with both LeMahieu and Urshela out of position — seems quite strange, until you realize just how little he thinks of Torres’s glove at shortstop (which, honestly, is kind of valid).

Now, it’s worth noting that this setup simply isn’t going to happen. It’s true that Aaron Boone has shown a willingness to experiment a bit defensively down the stretch and in the postseason, playing Adeiny Hechavarría at third base in the postseason despite playing only 166 career innings at the position — and 156 of those happened in his rookie campaign back in 2012. However, that was a drastic measure to replace Miguel Andújar late in games, and while Torres has not been good by any stretch of the imagination with the glove, he’s no Andújar, either. (Boone might swap Tyler Wade in late, but that’s comparatively minor.) While I wouldn’t necessarily rule out trying this defensive alignment in February, it’s not the type of change that Boone’s Yankees have really considered at such a late point in the season for a healthy squad.

Making this alignment even more unlikely is the team’s recent injury history. LeMahieu’s triceps issue, which he has been dealing with all month, has kept him off the hot corner, with the Yankees opting instead to try out second baseman Rougned Odor, who had never played the position before in his life. Urshela, meanwhile, is coming off a hamstring injury and has already had one setback; there’s no way the Yankees are going to put him at a more physically demanding position — arguably the most physically demanding outside of catcher — for anything more than an emergency.

That said, despite the fact that it is certainly not happening, this alignment is an interesting premise which deserves at least the inquiry of a thought experiment. So, let’s begin by looking at the Statcast data for Urshela’s defense this year:

Statcast has never had a high opinion of Urshela’s glove at the hot corner, so that -1 Outs Above Average (OAA) is not surprising. What is surprising, however, is how much the system likes “in the role of the shortstop” albeit in only 58 attempts; only up the middle, in a spot that he almost never plays as a second baseman, is he a net negative. He’s no Gold Glove winner there, but he’s been perfectly serviceable, which is exactly what we found when diving into these numbers back in March, which was the first time the idea of Urshela playing shortstop was floated.

Similarly, LeMahieu has demonstrated competence, albeit not excellence, in his opportunities as a third baseman, accruing -1 OAA when both “in the role of the 3B” and “in the role of the SS.”

And that leaves us with the most difficult infielder to deal with, Torres. His Statcast metrics are ... complicated, to say the least:

When playing the traditional shortstop and second base position, Torres has actually been above-average with the glove this year, albeit in a small sample size at second base (as he’s only been there as the result of the shift). Everywhere else on the diamond, however, his performance varies from slightly below-average to “hot mess express.” His career data is similarly convoluted:

What does all this mean? Frankly, to me, it means that it does not matter where Torres plays; he’s going to struggle regardless. His ability to stay in the starting lineup will be predicated entirely on being able to out-hit his glove.

So does DeRosa’s ideal lineup hold any water? In my opinion, the results here are inconclusive, and you can make an argument both for and against it. Do you want to have as many players as possible at their best position? Then keep the alignment Urshela/Torres/LeMahieu. Do you want to have the best glove (Urshela) at the most important position (shortstop), at the expense of the other two? Then LeMahieu/Urshela/Torres is your order.

And now I turn it over to you, dear readers: Which path would you take, if you were in Aaron Boone’s shoes?


Which infield defense would you prefer the Yankees use?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    Urshela at 3B, Torres at SS, LeMahieu at 2B
    (1066 votes)
  • 32%
    LeMahieu at 3B, Urshela at SS, Torres at 2B
    (517 votes)
1583 votes total Vote Now