As Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu once said, "Know yourself, know your enemy." As the most storied franchise in Major League Baseball history, the Yankees–and their fans–have a lot of enemies. If there is one team that directly impedes Yankees fans' ability to enjoy life, it is the Boston Red Sox. Over the past few years, the Red Sox have confounded other teams by keeping their farm system stocked full of blue chip prospects.
For all of the chirping Yankees fans may have heard over the past few years, the Red Sox have certainly had their fair share of what appear to be busts, at least so far. However, even the most biased Yankees fan has to acknowledge that the Red Sox have maintained a revolving door of exciting prospects, particularly when it comes to position players. And when it comes to position players, a lot of them seem to have (or lack) one thing in common: height.
Since 2006, Red Sox fans have seen Dustin Pedroia, listed at 5'8", scrap his way to stardom. Mookie Betts, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., are all listed at under 5'10". Recently traded prospect Manuel Margot is listed at 5'11". The giant of the group is Rafael Devers, a 19-year-old third baseman who was already at Low-A Greenville this season who is listed at 6'0" tall. Finally, the Red Sox used the seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft to select Andrew Benintendi, the 5'10" outfielder out of Arkansas University.
Benintendi epitomizes what the Red Sox probably see in shorter players. He turned heads with a 1.205 OPS and a 20/20 season for the Arkansas Razorbacks, but perhaps even more impressive was the fact that he drew 50 walks against NCAA pitching, to just 32 strikeouts. In his first taste of pro ball, he spent time with Boston's Short Season-A and Low-A affiliates, with a combined BB:K ratio of 35:24 and a .974 OPS.
In an era when relief pitchers frequently hit triple digits and strikeouts are increasingly common, contact is being prioritized more than ever. Taller hitters have larger strike zones and are prone to alarming strikeout rates. The Red Sox might be taking notice, especially considering their 2015 draft class. Of the 39 selections made by Ben Cherington's team, only 17 were pitchers and nine of the 22 position players selected are listed below six feet, including Benintendi.
Yankee prospects, on the other hand, tend to look down upon Boston's farmhands (literally, not figuratively). Last June, the Yankees didn't draft any position players under 6'0" until the 38th round. The Yankees' farm system is led by players like Aaron Judge (6'7"), Gary Sanchez (6'2"), and Jorge Mateo (6'0"). They did draft three position players under 6 feet in June in the later rounds, but none ended up signing.
Of course, this is not to suggest that the Yankees should totally overhaul their draft strategy to prioritize height over other factors. Even within Boston's organization, the most exciting players on the depth chart are probably Yoan Moncada and Xander Bogaerts, who check in at 6'2" and 6'3", respectively. Players like Benintendi and Betts are very likely to be extreme outliers when it comes to shorter players. Also, 6'0" may be a round number, but it is still a very arbitrary figure to use. The Red Sox are steadily debunking the idea, however prevalent it is, that height is the end-all predictor of athleticism or production on the baseball diamond.
Furthermore, with players like Pedroia and Betts, the Red Sox are able to get All-Star level production from players who aren't even expected to anchor the lineup. While the last two years in Boston have been entertaining from a rivalry perspective, it is important to remember that they encountered the worst case scenarios with their pitching staff and the acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
Whether you dislike or hate the Boston Red Sox, you have to give credit where it is due. In a time when every number in the stat column has been thoroughly analyzed, the Red Sox are finding a competitive edge by looking at something that isn't even a baseball statistic. Perhaps the Yankees can find a similarly unconventional niche. If they could find one for starting pitchers, the possibilities would be endless. All of this is to highlight what makes baseball so great. There has been and will always be new ways to find an edge. People just have to be willing to look for it.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs, Arkansas University, and MLB.com.