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Searching for That Guy in the Yankees playoff run

Every deep playoff run needs an underrated star. Who can be that for the Yankees?

Division Series - Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Every team has one — think David Freese, Cody Ross, and Jorge Soler. Every year, a team goes on a deep playoff run and That Guy steps up.

That Guy isn’t necessarily a bad player; he’s just not the first, or second, or even third who you’d expect to play a critical role come October. With the Yankees, we expect Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole to be huge parts of a potential pennant run, but they can’t do it themselves. Someone’s gotta be That Guy for the 2022 Yankees, and it’s never too early to consider the early favorites.

Harrison Bader

There’s something to hitting ninth — or perhaps hitting in front of Aaron Judge — that can bring out something special in a player. Bader’s role on this team is to hit as well as he can, while matching Myles Straw as the best defensive center fielder remaining in the postseason. We saw him make a strong defensive play to save a run on Tuesday night:

Bader does two things really well here — first, his effortless cutoff technique, and second, how quickly he’s able to transfer the ball from his glove to the throw. He looks like a third baseman on the play, and had about as much time to transfer as a tough play at the hot corner. If he’s slower here, Amed Rosario likely scores, it’s 2-0 Guardians, and the game is completely different.

And then, of course, Bader got the Yankees on the board:

I love Harrison Bader, I think he brings exactly the energy the club needs, and even his answers to media questions are near-perfect. His defense isn’t going to slump in this playoff run, but if he can provide an offensive spark at the bottom of the lineup, he’s got a great chance at being That Guy.

Wandy Peralta

The Yankees left Aroldis Chapman off the ALDS roster, and lost Scott Effross to Tommy John surgery. Clay Holmes looked fine in Game 1, but you’d be forgiven for still not having a lot of faith in him.

Enter Wandy Peralta, who recorded four outs on just eight pitches, inducing a double play from Josh Naylor and carving through the 4-5-6 of the Guardians order. Chapman and Effross were real weapons against opposing teams’ power-hitting lefties (or at least were supposed to be!), which opens up the lane for Peralta to be a relief hammer in this postseason run.

Peralta’s been one of the more underrated arms in all of baseball this year, notching a 2.72 ERA despite not touting the eye-popping strikeout totals that most of his contemporaries offer. Although I really like strikeouts, especially in the postseason, this approach allows him to work more than three outs — something he did 15 times in 2022 — and by conserving pitches, he can be better leveraged in a postseason run. If the Yankees didn’t have the off-day yesterday, there’s no question that he’d be available to go more than three outs in a next-day Game 2, thanks to how efficient and economical he is.

We’re only one game in, and there will be more candidates to be That Guy, but a center fielder with a little more in his bat than he’s shown, and a relief pitcher who can be extended over multiple innings are two strong candidates to be unexpected postseason main characters. Of the two, I think Peralta has the inside track for right now, but I’m happy for either player to continue stepping it up.