One of the things I love about working here is seeing how my fellow bloggers interpret the same data differently than me. Just yesterday, Andrés wrote about how, in his opinion, the Yankees’ strong defense is a real postseason weapon, and of course good defense is never a bad thing. You have to record 27 outs to win a baseball game, and the easier, more efficiently you do that, the better.
We’ve even seen how bad defense can completely change a series — Tommy Edman failed to convert a ground ball let the Phillies right back into Game 1 of their Wild Card Series. The Phillies won the game, blanked the Cardinals in Game 2, and St. Louis went home. You can’t entirely blame the Cardinals’ elimination on Edman’s mistake, but it turned the entire series on its head.
The problem that I have with this in the Yankee context is the specific trade-offs the club made this offseason and at the deadline. The team very clearly ceded offensive potential for defense in acquiring Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jose Trevino as well as trading for Harrison Bader back in August. Even though Josh Donaldson has provided value for the Yankees, the lack of any offense has left a ton of offense on the table:
Had Josh Donaldson posted a below-average offensive year, he would have been worth 4-5 WAR thanks to his stellar 2022 defense.— High Heat Stats (@HighHeatStats) October 6, 2022
Instead, he posted a dismal offensive season, by far the worst of his career, and was worth only 2.4 WAR. (Still good enough for 5th on Yankees!)
Good defense absolutely matters, and it matters in the postseason, too. As always, offense matters more. A player is going to get three-to-four chances to make an impact at the plate every game, and there’s just not a lot of defensive plays that change win expectancy the way that a home run or bases-loaded double can.
Just as we saw the problem with bad defense haunt a team this postseason, The Rays and Guardians Wild Card Rock Fight is a perfect example of the opposite problem: Two teams in want of a single run with the losing team scoring just a single time in 24 innings. It’s good to have a rock-solid defense, but sometimes you need a home run.
Jose Trevino, for example, is one of the three or so best defensive catchers in the game, but has seen his offense regress heavily in the second half — with a 77 wRC+ that makes him still good and playable because of how good his defense is, but when you need that home run, it’s probably not coming from him. The story with Harrison Bader is the same kind of thing. I’ve loved the defense and energy that Bader brings to the club, I don’t love the 47 (!) wRC+ he’s posted with the Yankees.
The Yankee lineup has been top-heavy all year, with Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres filling out the top third and being pretty much the only full-season effective bats. As a unit, the Yankees posted a 115 wRC+ on the season — the fourth-best offense in the game. Without those top three bats, that number drops all the way down to 99, the same mark the Rays posted — those same Rays who scored just a single run in two games against the Guardians. Obviously, the Rays didn’t have Judge, Rizzo, and Torres at their disposal, but this fact still represents a warning sign regarding the rest of the lineup.
In the second half, that number gets even worse at 79. There’s just so little defensive impact a player can have that balances out that little offensive output. True, that 79 figure does get dragged down by Giancarlo Stanton, who I think is much healthier than he was those first two weeks of September. Nonetheless, it’s just hard to imagine Donaldson or Trevino or Bader delivering the big home run that you need in October, even if their defense makes them worth a roster spot.