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Trickle Down Volpenomics

We all know Aaron Judge is the engine that drives this team, but Anthony Volpe might be the piece that pushes the Yankees over the top.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Because of the various rule changes made by MLB, teams and individual players have quickly recognized and taken advantage of the added incentives for attempting to steal bases. Bigger bases, as well as limiting pitchers to two disengagements per plate appearances, have given teams every reason they needed to start running.

Twenty-four days into the 2022 MLB season, all 30 teams attempted 412 steals with a 73 percent success rate, in comparison to 515 attempts and a 79-percent success rate 24 days into the 2023 season. In that context, having a competent position player that can effectively fulfill the table-setting leadoff role is has become more important for teams that are looking to compete in the postseason. Scoring runs is and has always been at a premium in the low-run scoring environment that presents itself once October baseball rolls around.

The first rookie shortstop to make the Yankees Opening Day lineup since Derek Jeter, Anthony Volpe has shown a plethora of signs that he has a bright future as the long-term table-setter in The Bronx. Pinstripe Alley’s own Esteban Rivera already delved into the rookie’s vault lead technique, and how it makes him such an effective base stealer, over at FanGraphs. In the tweet, below you can see how this vault works, and how good Volpe is at using it as he steals third effortlessly.

There’s more to baserunning than just being able to steal bases, though. Taking extra bases and scoring runs on balls put in play, wild pitches, errors, etc., is oft-neglected but still crucial part of a ballplayer’s job. Most importantly of all, you have to be able to get on base. As the adage goes, nobody can steal first base.

Despite a paltry .197 batting average in 74 plate appearances, Volpe’s competency at finding a way on base, and doing damage from there, has seamlessly transitioned from the minors to the majors. During his first full MiLB season in 2021, he put up a 19.8 percent walk rate in 54 games at Low-A ,and a 10.5 percent walk rate in 20 games at High-A. In 2022, he posted an 11.5 percent walk rate across 110 games in Double-A and an 8.1 percent walk rate in 20 games with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate. As of April 21, he has a 17.6 percent walk rate, the fourth-highest BsR in baseball, and eight stolen bases across 74 plate appearances in 20 games.

After spending the first 12 games of the 2023 season showing flashes of his crowded toolbox at the bottom of the lineup, Yankees skipper Aaron Boone has rewarded the rookie shortstop by giving him a test run in the leadoff spot over the last week or so. It seems that Boone has pushed the right button at the right time, as Volpe’s .240/.387/.400 slash line in the leadoff spot is a huge improvement over the .167/.302/.222 slash line he put up while batting ninth. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation here, but it certainly didn't hurt for Boone to show real confidence and trust in his young shortstop.

The 21-year-old’s potential at the top of the Yankees lineup is massive, especially when looking at the fact that Aaron Judge will most likely be batting directly behind him. The single-season AL home run champion has batted second in 447 career games and will probably be entrenched there until he retires.

Judge standing in the batter’s box already puts pressure and stress on starting pitchers. Pitchers having to deal with Volpe wreaking havoc on the infield dirt while trying to get the 2022 AL MVP out is the epitome of standing in between a cliff and a hard place with Jason Bourne aiming a high-caliber sniper rifle at their head from miles away.

That stress at the top of the lineup could prove crucial all season. With injuries already hitting the Yankees, they need their top of the order to produce throughout the regular season. In October, when the temperature drops, the stakes rise, and runs are at a premium, the threats Volpe poses will remain vital. He’s already shown he can hurt opposing pitchers from the leadoff spot, and hopefully, that remains the case all year.