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The Yankees have an elite defense heading into the playoffs

For the first time in years, the Yankees can brag about their excellent defense as they take the field in October.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

The Yankees offense can be inconsistent, and the bullpen outlook is uncertain, to say the least. There is a unit, however, that is unquestionably elite and is ready to help the pitching prevent some runs: the Yanks’ defense is excellent heading into the playoffs.

This is very important and it could be a good omen given their foe in the Division Series. The Cleveland Guardians prioritize contact over power, and the Yanks are equipped to deal with that. New York prioritized bringing in impact fielders before the season and prior to the deadline, and the defense looks fantastic for the playoffs as a result. It is the best fielding unit the Yankees have had in a while, and both the numbers and the eye test back that up. The team finished with a record 129 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), the highest output since the stat exists.

The Yankees were also fifth in Outs Above Average (OAA) with 21, behind the Arizona Diamondbacks (41), San Diego Padres (30), Houston Astros (29), and the St. Louis Cardinals (25). They have game-changing fielders at several important positions, such as catcher (José Trevino), third base (Josh Donaldson), and two of the outfield spots (Aaron Judge and Harrison Bader). First baseman Anthony Rizzo and infielders DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres are no slouches either.

There are no words to describe how impactful the move to add Trevino was. For the cost of a reliever that found his way back to the Bronx in the summer (Albert Abreu), the Yanks added a top-five catcher in baseball and perhaps the one with the best defense: with 21 DRS, he led the league among players of his position. Trevino also led MLB in framing runs, with 19 (the second-place catcher, Johan Heim, had 9.1) and in FanGraphs’ defensive rating, with 29.1.

Rizzo is not the fielder he once was — time passes by for everybody. However, he remains steady out there and can scoop errant throws from his infielders like few others.

Between LeMahieu and Torres, they accumulated 17 DRS, nine for Gleyber and eight for LeMahieu. Opinions on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s shortstop defense are mixed: OAA had him at -2, but he finished the regular season with 10 DRS. The other realistic option the Yankees have at shortstop, Oswald Peraza, is a very good fielder, too.

Josh Donaldson may not be a good hitter at this stage of his career, but he sure can field the hot corner. He had eight DRS in 2022, sixth-best among MLB third baseman and second-best in the American League, and he also had a cool seven OAA.

Oswaldo Cabrera gave the Yankees some much-needed offensive thump, particularly in September, but he also gave them a very capable corner outfielder with an impact arm. The funny thing is that he is a natural infielder, but he has made a huge impact in right field with nine DRS. His arm back there is really something to behold.

Harrison Bader is the definition of a game-changing defensive center fielder. That Gold Glove he has wasn’t just gifted to him — he earned it, back when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals. Having Bader out there patrolling center can really swing a game in favor of the Yankees.

Aaron Judge has proven over the course of his brilliant career that he is way more than just a power bat. He is also very good with a glove on his hand: he had three DRS and two OAA in more than 1,120 innings in the outfield, but 632.2 of them came in center field and he was more than just passable there.

Even Aaron Hicks had eight DRS, though he is not elite like he used to be. Unlike in past years, the Yankees have no defensive liabilities when it comes to its regulars, and Hicks, Cabrera, Judge, LeMahieu and Marwin González (if he makes the postseason roster, which is far from a given) give them versatility, too.

Can the Yankees’ defense lift them to the Championship Series and beyond? Only time will tell, but it’s certainly a step up from their previous October runs.