It’s not too often that I get this excited about watching a Yankee play defense. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a privilege watching Aaron Judge patrol right field for the last six seasons in pinstripes, but this is another level that not even Judge can rival. Harrison Bader may be the best defensive outfielder I’ve seen in my two decades of watching Yankees baseball.
There was much talk about Bader’s defense upon the trade being announced. The numbers and eye test matched up for him too, leaving little room for any doubt about Bader’s knack for catching just about everything. After just a few games of watching him, I’m truly in awe of his level of understanding for how to attack any given fly ball, and how each baserunner’s speed plays a role in the decisions he makes. Typically it’s hard to say that defense from any player can be that big of a difference maker in the long run, but my goodness, there is no doubt in my mind that Bader’s defense is intangibly valuable. He’s that special and I’ll prove it to you by recapping some of the great plays he has already made.
This isn’t something you see every day. Bader ranged all the way from center field to cut this ball off from hitting the wall. There is no doubt in my mind that this should have been Oswaldo Cabrera’s ball, but Bader was well aware of the fact that Cabrera is getting used to the position, and may not get a beat on it like he can. Yes, he let the ball carry a little far and wasn’t able to make an out per se, but if this ball gets to the wall it is without a doubt a triple. Also, if it wasn’t for Oneil Cruz’s blazing speed, it’s possible there could have been a play at the plate.
There isn’t much to say here beyond that you can’t take a better route to this ball. If you’ve ever played the outfield before, you know this lone drive and the one right at you are the two hardest to read. You have to read the spin off the bat and know the hitter at the plate on top of relying on instincts. Bader has probably caught hundreds of line drives off the bat of Pham in batting practice back during their Cardinals days. Even though it was hit at 105 mph on a straight line, Bader had no problems running back, switching his feet while keeping his eye on the ball, and camping perfectly under it.
As Yankee fans, we’ve been lucky witnessing Judge throw dots from any spot in right field, but you have to know it’s not a very common skill. It takes the proper foot work, read off the bat, and last few steps at the end right before you catch the ball to stay behind it and make the throw with balance. Devers made it easy by hitting it right at Bader, but what you do in these plays matter.
This is in the ninth inning of a blowout game folks! This is how you make fans fall in love with you instantly. His ability to change direction with his feet is truly incredible. He knows when to spring, when to decelerate, and how to stay perfectly behind the ball. Most center fielders are drifting to this ball and throwing it with a pirouette. Not Bader. He takes a perfect route to it giving the runner no chance to advance.
I’m genuinely giggling in happiness watching this clip back. Just sit back and enjoy. This is what we’ll get to see for the rest of the season, playoffs, and next year. Outside of early career Brett Gardner, I don’t think there is a valid comparison to Bader’s defense in the last 20 seasons, and even Gardy may not be in the same league as Bader. The combination of speed, reads, routes, footwork, and arm accuracy is something I will never get used to. There are great defenders, and then there are the Harrison Baders of the world.