For Game 1 of the American League Championship Series in Houston, Yankees manager Aaron Boone decided to go back to the basics and start Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop. As a reminder, he had benched him midway through the Division Series against Cleveland because he thought IKF was “pressing,” and Oswaldo Cabrera started Games 4 and 5 in his place, moving in from the outfield.
When the time came to announce the ALCS roster, left fielder Aaron Hicks didn’t make it because of the knee injury he sustained in Game 5 against the Guardians, paving the way for Boone to finally bring shortstop Oswald Peraza with him and the rest of his teammates.
Peraza’s presence gives the Yankees three candidates to start at shortstop: IKF, Cabrera, and himself. It’s safe to say, after 2,054 plate appearances in MLB through the years, that Kiner-Falefa is a below-average hitter. Yes, he offered some promise early in the season, but his wRC+ finished at 85, a point higher than his 84 in 2021 and just three points better than his career 82 mark. In addition to that, he hasn’t been offering reliability and trustworthiness on defense. He can play several positions across the diamond, so he is valuable as a utility player. As a starter? That experiment should be over by now.
While Cabrera does offer more offensive thump (111 regular season wRC+ in 171 trips to the plate) and can field the shortstop position adequately, he is needed in the outfield after Hicks’ injury because playing Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Carpenter or Tim Locastro back there on a regular basis is not ideal for a lot of reasons that go from health (the first two) to performance (the latter).
This leaves us with Peraza. The Yankees have a history of over-protecting their young players in order not to expose them. However, Peraza as the starting shortstop gives them the best chance to win at the moment. That’s right.
He may not be an asset offensively at the moment, but the young Peraza does have upside and did well in his 57 plate appearance sample this year, in which he slashed .306/.404/.429 with a 146 wRC+. He is also the best defensive shortstop the Yankees have, and it may not be all that close: seen as a true shortstop, he has the instincts, the hands, the footwork and the athleticism to stick at the position for a long time.
It’s important to remember that Peraza hit .259/.329/.448 with 19 home runs, 33 stolen bases, and a 106 wRC+ as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. Then he came to the majors and had that solid stint in September, in which he added a homer and a couple of thefts. But that’s not it. There was some growth in Peraza’s game in the minors, and that’s why it’s always better to go to the game logs rather than just reading his 106 wRC+ and dismiss him as another average hitter.
In 234 plate appearances since June 11th, the young infielder hit .316/.382/.560 with 14 home runs, a .942 OPS, a 148 wRC+ and 22 stolen bases. That’s 234 trips to the plate, not 20. If the Yankees just let the kid play and stop overthinking the obvious, they would quickly realize that even if he is closer to the 106 wRC+ version of himself than the 148 wRC+ one, he is their best option to deploy at shortstop. Even with a wRC+ close to 90 or 95, he would offer more upside, more power, better defense, and more speed than IKF.
It’s time for the Yankees to play their best cards. It’s not that difficult.