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The top defensive plays of the 2022 season

The Yankees flashed the leather on the regular in 2022.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

There are a lot of things that we can argue about when it comes to the 2022 Yankees. Was their lineup deep enough? Did they have enough relievers after Michael King and Chad Green went down? Was Joey Gallo always this bad?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding “NO!” But you know what question comes back with a yes? That’s right — did the 2022 Yankees have a great defense? No matter how you approach it, the Yankees had one of the league’s premier defenses this year. Are you a fan of Defensive Runs Saved? Their 129 DRS was 45 points higher than the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers; in other words, the gap between one and two was greater than the gap between two and nine. Do you prefer Outs Above Average? Their 22 OAA ranked fifth. How about UZR/150? Their 7.0 led the league. Or maybe you prefer looking at the hardware: their five finalists (P Jameson Taillon, C Jose Trevino, 1B Anthony Rizzo, LF Andrew Benintendi, UTIL DJ LeMahieu) is tied with the Guardians and Diamondbacks for most in the majors.

There were a lot of highlights to comb through, so without further ado, here are my personal picks for the top plays of the 2022 season.

Center Judgement

The day was May 31st. Although he had served as the backup center fielder since Opening Day, the “Aaron Judge, starting center fielder” experiment was just a few days old, and at this point, nobody knew just how well the elite right fielder was going to take to center field at Yankee Stadium.

And then, Jordan Montgomery grooved a 1-2 pitch to Shohei Ohtani, the second batter of the game. He launched it at 107.6 mph with a 35 degree launch angle, good for a 413 expected distance and a .740 xBA. Fortunately for the Yankees, the wind was blowing in ... and they had a 6-foot-7 center fielder with hops out there.

Home run robberies are not typically described as “routine,” and they always contain some level of flashiness. But Judge made this look as routine as could be, a true testament to his ability out there in the outfield.

As if they needed more than 62 reasons to pay the man big bucks this winter.

IKF keeps the perfecto alive

Look, Isiah Kiner-Falefa has received a lot of negative press this season, and rightfully so. He’s a defense-first shortstop who flubbed routine plays repeatedly, while his performance at the plate was nothing to get excited about (think Ronald Torreyes, without all the fun that he used to bring).

What makes IKF so frustrating, however, was that we have seen him flash the leather so often, and in many ways, he seems to have done better when under pressure. See, for instance, this one play on June 2nd against the Angels.

Off the bat, it looked like Ohtani had a surefire single up the middle, but Kiner-Falefa (who because of the shift was on the second base side of the bag) ranged to his right, nabbed the ball on a bounce, turned his body and fired a one-hop strike to DJ LeMahieu at first to get the speedy pitcher designated hitter professional baseball player. You could not have drawn it up better.

Oh, and did I mention that Jameson Taillon had a perfect game going in the top of the seventh at the time?

Nestor is Nasty to the Guardians

Nestor Cortes earned the nickname “Nasty” due to his deceptive nature and electric stuff — you know, the two things that turned him from a journeyman pitcher to one of the league’s premier pitchers and a veritable ace. But while he did not earn a Gold Glove nomination this year, he nonetheless found himself on the highlight reel on more than one occasion.

In what was to be an early-season preview of the 2022 ALDS, the Yankees took on the Guardians at Yankee Stadium on April 23rd, with Nestor Cortes on the bump. In the top of the fourth inning, Steven Kwan laced a one-hopper to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was playing back from the bag. Unable to beat the speedster to first himself, Rizzo threw the ball to Cortes. It was a footrace to the bag. Both pitcher and runner dove ...

... and the pitcher won by a fraction of a fraction of an inch.

Fast forward more than five months. It was Game 2 of the ALDS, the Yankees had a 2-1 lead in the game and a 1-0 lead in the series, and Cleveland had the bases loaded and two outs. Down 0-2 in the count, Myles Straw bounced a ball up the middle, one that would have almost certainly gone into center field (which would have likely brought in two runs) if Cortes had not managed to snag it out of the air. He fell to the ground, ball in hand, and from his back fired a one-hopper to Rizzo at first for the third out of the inning.

Oswaldo Cabrera does literally everything

Had Oswaldo Cabrera made his major league debut in May instead of August he would have been a Gold Glove finalist, and so long as his bat sticks at the major league level he’s going to see a few come his way.

Don’t believe me? In case you didn’t watch an inning of Cabrera’s performance in the field, let me remind you that he accrued nine Defensive Runs Saved (13th among outfielders with 200 or more innings) in just 278.2 innings in the outfield, and his 29.6 UZR/150 ranked ahead of everybody except Arizona’s Corbin Carroll, and his seven outfield assists was tied for 23rd in baseball. Oh, and he did all that while playing only 34 innings in the outfield in the minor leagues. And he played quality defense in limited appearances at second base, shortstop, and third base as well. In fact, for a moment, I thought about making this post just a compilation of Oswaldo Cabrera highlights — that’s how good he’s been.

So what has he done to earn all this praise? Well, the first batter of his first game in right field (and third game overall, which also happened to be his third different position) thought he was going to have a short porch special on the first pitch of the game, only to see Cabrera do this.

Starting at the hot corner the next day, he did his best Derek Jeter impression, falling over the tarp to reel in a foul pop off the bat of Jackie Bradley Jr.

Two weeks later, playing right field almost exclusively now, Cabrera demonstrated just how comfortable he had become in the outfield by playing a ball off the right field wall perfectly and throwing out Gilberto Celestino at second base by a mile.

And two days after that, he victimized Celestino again, this time throwing him out at the plate as he tried to score from second as the ghost runner in the top of the 10th inning.

And then finally, in Game 1 of the ALDS, he made a leaping catch along the wall in foul territory, fighting with the fans for the ball — and then electrifying the crowd with a high-five after the play.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing a full season of Oswaldo Cabrera.