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Oswald Peraza has earned more playing time

What is the Yankees’ ideal infield alignment for the rest of September?

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

The Yankees injected a bit of life into the nadir of their season when they called up Oswald Peraza, handing him his big league debut on September 2nd. His call-up alone was never going to be the panacea to all the Yankees’ woes during that period, but we’ve seen how the success of a next-man-up performance can kickstart a major league career/career renaissance, and at the very least it gave the fans a bit of excitement during an otherwise joyless time.

Fans were barking for Peraza’s call-up seemingly from the minute that Isiah Kiner-Falefa established that he was not a starting-caliber shortstop. Given the context of the impact shortstops they passed on as they steadfastly pursued mission stopgap, IKF’s failure to perform at even league-average level on either side of the ball shined a massive spotlight on the two prospects for whom he was meant to be a placeholder.

Top prospects Anthony Volpe and Peraza suddenly face enormous pressure to pan out as the infield cornerstones of the future thanks to the decisions of the front office over the winter. Peraza is generally regarded as the more sure-handed defender at short, and his unexpected power surge in Triple-A (19 home runs in 99 games) made it feel all the more obvious that the Yankees needed to rejuvenate their stumbling offense with his potentially productive bat. IKF’s blunders at short only sharpened this perceived need.

Peraza got a seven-game runout at short, posting a 109 wRC+. More importantly, he’s made all the routine plays on defense, something which certainly cannot be said for IKF. IKF’s ill-fit at shortstop has reared its ugly head on multiple occasions this season, the infielder lacking the knowhow that only comes with thousands of reps at the position.

To be fair to IKF, Peraza’s call-up seemed to light a fire under his feet. In the span since Peraza’s debut, IKF owns a 192 wRC+, tripling his season home run tally including a massive grand slam that buoyed the Yankees to victory over the Twins. But as his season résumé (89 wRC+) reminds us, it would be foolish to expect anything in the neighborhood of this offensive production.

Now the question becomes what to do with Peraza now that he’s been seemingly shuffled out of the starting lineup. I agree with Esteban when he wrote earlier today that it would be best for Peraza’s continued development if they either plug him back in as starter in the majors or send him back down to Triple-A to get regular playing time — it’s hard to see the benefit of having him ride the bench in the bigs.

To that point, I’d like to throw my support behind the former option. The Yankees’ ideal infield alignment has Peraza as the everyday starter at shortstop. Since Josh Donaldson returned from paternity leave, the Yankees have treated the starting lineup as IKF vs. Peraza at shortstop, when I’d argue the debate should be IKF vs. Donaldson at third base.

For the first time all season, the Yankees finally have a solid defender at short, and even if Peraza, Donaldson, and IKF aren’t hitting, that’s a piece of value they haven’t had up the middle all year. Of course, Donaldson and IKF complicated this equation by hitting the cover off the baseball over the last week, but I maintain that the Yankees should prioritize the higher floor that Peraza’s defense provides.

As Esteban also pointed out in a previous piece last week, IKF’s biggest deficiency is when he has to charge the baseball. Peraza on the other hand handles those plays with aplomb.

You can see how choppy and awkward IKF’s footwork is as he approaches this baseball. He never creates an angle to glove the ball, and you can practically see his internal clock speed up as he has to juggle a split-second adjustment with worrying about how he’s going to catch the speedy Margot at first.

The difference with Peraza is night and day. He reads soft contact off the bat, and instinctually knows he has to charge the ball to have a chance at first. He rounds the ball with impeccable footwork and fluidly transitions into a strong throwing where he’s able to gather, take an extra step, square up to first and fire a strike. Contrast this with IKF, whose shoddy footwork either forces an off-balance throw or prevents him from fielding the ball altogether.

This pair of double play attempts reinforces the difference between the two.

There’s no panic from Peraza, even though he’s had to range pretty far toward third base. He focuses on making a quick transfer and an accurate throw to second, trusting his mechanics and his teammates rather than hurry.

IKF on the other hand is in complete panic mode. He almost falls on his face trying to glove this ball, and the instability causes him to bobble on the transfer. This added delay in the first phase of the double play attempt in turn forces Torres to speed up his clock, and in the end everybody is safe.

Conversely, IKF looks at home at third base, the position where he won a Gold Glove in 2020.

It’s a position where he’s able to rely more heavily upon his above-average speed and reaction time as opposed to the mechanical intricacies of playing shortstop. It’s also a position where he’s far less likely to have to charge a baseball.

So where am I going with all this? While I’m certainly not advocating for IKF to start instead of Donaldson at third, perhaps there’s a compromise to be made. With Anthony Rizzo and DJ LeMaheu on the injured list, the Yankees briefly cameoed Ronald Guzmán at first before apparently settling on Marwin Gonzalez. But what if there were another option?

Donaldson has played 18 innings in his career at first, he clearly still possesses the athleticism to field the hot corner; would it be that unreasonable to ask if he can hold down the fort at first until Rizzo and/or LeMahieu return? Doing so would give the Yankees a touch of flexibility in how quickly they want to bring their two injured infielders back into the fold. IKF can clearly play third and Donaldson’s bat is far preferable over Gonzalez’s. Best of all, it would allow Peraza to start at short full-time.

I’d like to reiterate the point Esteban made that the Yankees are doing Oswald Peraza no favors in giving him only sporadic playing time with the big league team. In his seven major league games, he has showed enough to merit being handed more responsibility. Should he continue to succeed, it will only do good for the Yankees’ potential shortstop of the future.