After a largely disappointing 2016, the Yankees have several issues to address before the 2017 season. The starting rotation does not look very stable, and they could stand to gain better production from the DH slot. Even the formidable bullpen combination of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman has been broken up in an effort to revitalize the farm system. But with all of the question marks the Yankees have, they can rest assured knowing that defense should not be an issue.
There are two popular metrics used for defense in the sabermetrics community, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). For both measures, a rating of zero would imply that a player or team played league-average defense. For the 2016 season, the Yankees had a DRS of 1 and a UZR of 5.0, good for the 15th and 14th-best in baseball, respectively. In 2015, they had a DRS of -38 and a UZR of -19.9.
Generally speaking, a one-year sample size is not considered to be enough to determine a player's true defensive value. But there is reason to believe that several Yankees will continue to play good defense next year. Veterans like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Chase Headley all have proven track records in the field. Gary Sanchez has a cannon for an arm and should be able to hold down his position well.
The Yankees should also be able to count on improvement from the positions that cost them in 2016. Last year, a 39-year-old Carlos Beltran played about a third of a season's worth of innings in right field with a DRS of -7 and a UZR of -5.8. Aaron Hicks was above average in right field, having hit 105.5 mph on the radar gun with one if his throws from the outfield. Aaron Judge is considered to be a solid defender, but he will probably have to prove himself at the plate before he takes over right on a full-time basis. Even if Beltran returns to the Yankees, he would probably spend most of his time out of the field as the designated hitter.
By both metrics, the Yankees were below average at the second base and shortstop positions. Shortstop Didi Gregorius is usually a slick fielder, so it stands to reason that he simply had a down year with the glove. Over at second, 2016 was Starlin Castro's first full season away from shortstop, so he will enter the 2017 season with a year of experience under his belt. Both players had below-average ratings when it came to turning double plays, something that may have had to do with Castro's lack of familiarity with his new position.
It is no secret that the Yankees have been trying to get younger. In 2017, they might finally reap the benefits of the youth movement, as their defense could be one to watch for. For what it's worth, the last two World Series winners both led the league in UZR. Ideally, the Bronx Bombers will live up to their nickname next year, but they will hopefully be able to put on a show in the field as well.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs.