Baseball is somewhat of an outlier among American sports in that the game-by-game strategy for personnel usage changes drastically when the postseason begins. Most notably, pitcher usage shifts dramatically, with the best and hardest-throwing pitchers working nearly every single important inning in October. The game slows down, and offense is typically at a premium.
Part of the impact of the shifts in October is a renewed emphasis on pinch-running. Teams rarely utlize pinch-runners outside of obvious spots during the regular season, typically opting to keep their best bats in as long as possible. But with so many high-leverage spots in October which feature a team trying desperately to tally just a single run, pinch-running often takes the spotlight. As a consequence, an effective pinch-runner can be the difference between winning and losing a tight playoff game. So, who would be the best option to pinch-run on the Yankees’ roster?
The Bombers have a number of options off of the bench that could potentially provide some solid running ability. Of course, this analysis will highly depend upon how they eventually decide to construct their playoff roster. The most likely candidates for pinch-running are, in some order, Marwin Gonzalez, Aaron Hicks, and Tim Locastro (I am assuming that Harrison Bader makes it onto the postseason roster primarily as the center fielder, not as a bench piece). Let’s take a look at these players bonafides as the club’s primary high-leverage pinch-runner.
Gonzalez has played a lot of good baseball in his career, but unfortunately he has never been known for his speed. Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t gotten any faster as he’s aged. Baseball Savant has his sprint speed pegged at 26.3 feet per second, which gives a fairly pedestrian 4.55 seconds from home plate to first. For some context, this kind of speed is in the bottom 30 percent of the league. With these kinds of numbers, he stands as more of defensive replacement than a pinch-runner on the Yankee playoff roster.
A lot has been made of Hicks and his struggles this year, but one thing he has been able to rely upon has been his speed. He’s by no means an elite speedster, but he’s at the very least solid. His sprint speed comes in at a respectable 27.8 feet per second, with 4.29 seconds time from home to first. This puts Hicks in the top half of the league in speed at the 61st percentile.
That said, Hicks has only attempted 17 steals across the last three seasons, coming out successfully 13 times. He profiles as a fine secondary pinch-runner if the need calls for it, but the Yankees likely would be best served by tabbing as their top pinch-runner:
Let’s be honest here, Tim Locastro was always going to be the best pinch-runner in the postseason for the team. His speed stands out as his most important trait as a player, and it’s the reason why he has managed to continue playing in the major leagues without much ability to hit (.155/.214/.308 triple slash line in 2022). His sprint speed of 30.2 feet per second is truly top of the line, fifth fastest in all of baseball this season.
Locastro hasn’t been perfect on the bases this year, getting caught twice on nine attempts. This should engender some caution not to rely too heavily on his ability to steal a base. That said, he did start his career with a record stretch of stolen bases without getting caught, and his 38-for-43 overall. Ultimately, he is the best option on the roster to send out as a pinch runner. He has the speed, and the ability to steal bases with some consistency.
The Yankees should strongly consider including him on their playoff roster for the tactical opportunities pinch-running Locastro could create late in games. He can’t hit much, but when the chips are down in a tight October matchup, the ability to swap a bag could swing a game. Locastro is the best man for that particular job.