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Marwin Gonzalez v. Tyler Wade, Battle for (F)Utility

Was the combination of signing Marwin Gonzalez and DFA’ing Tyler Wade an upgrade or simply a sidegrade?

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees made the somewhat-surprising decision to designate longtime role player Tyler Wade for assignment after the 2021 season, eventually trading him to the Angels in November. Several months passed before the Yankees decided who would take his spot on the bench, and it turned out be one of the non-roster invitees to spring training: former Astros utilityman Marwin Gonzalez.

The question now becomes whether the Yankees made a good choice when they made this switcheroo. It should be noted upfront that the comparison between these two players is made a little tricky by the fact that Gonzalez has been a true utilityman for the Yankees while Wade has been more of an everyday player. Wade has been receiving regular reps in the Angels’ infield a much higher sample size to pull from. Nonetheless, the information available offers some hints to the Yankee’s thought process.

Note: All statistics come from Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant, and were active as of the beginning of play on Monday, May 16th.

Batting

Gonzalez has an adequate slash line for a backup player with .208/.259/.333 (77 OPS+), albeit in just 27 plate appearances. Wade has fared slightly better at .247/.304/.301 (81 OPS+) in 83 trips to the dish. Honestly though, both slash lines are mediocre at best. Neither has put up numbers that would warrant more at-bats.

Marwin Gonzalez Performance
Credit: Baseball Savant

While the surface level stats indicate mediocre hitters all around, the underlying numbers also indicate relatively mundane hitters. Gonzalez has a max exit velocity on his batted balls in the 16th percentile at 103.3, though he has hit the ball hard on a consistent basis. A full 66.7 percent of Marwin’s batted balls have been classified as hard-hit (above 95 mph). This could indicate that Gonzalez might run into a little bit more luck as the season goes on and put together a potentially decent offensive year for a backup player.

Tyler Wade Performance
Credit: Baseball Savant

Turning to Wade, his batted-ball profile has been, let us call it, not great. This year, his average exit velocity has ranked all the way down in the first percentile at 84.8 mph. Woof. Additionally, Wade has a hard-hit percentage of 22.2 percent, “good” for — once again — first percentile in the league. This results in an expected weighted on-base average of .249, in the third percentile. Those numbers do not look good, even with the rosiest-tinted glasses. It also might indicate that Wade has outperformed his metrics and might result in more outs over time.

At the plate, Gonzalez and Wade both profile as below-average hitters. That being said, Wade has one of the worst batted-ball profiles in the league, and while Marwin’s profile has been somewhat better, there have been not enough at-bats to form a good indication of how he would fare with more time. Wade and Gonzalez are functionally a wash when looking at their batting, with the one exception being the fact that Gonzalez is a switch-hitter while Wade hits left-handed. Being a switch-hitter gives the Yankees more flexibility in constructing a lineup or deploying him as a pinch-hitter.

Fielding

As utilitymen, both Gonzalez and Wade are expected to be good defensive players. By all indications, each player has performed well in this regard in the early goings and occasionally-limited samples. Gonzalez has been just above average at shortstop (2 OAA) and third base (1), as well as serviceable in the outfield.

Credit: Baseball Savant

This chart indicates that Gonzalez has been getting the outs that he should be recording, though he has not notched any truly outstanding defensive plays as of yet.

Wade has provided similarly solid glovework for the Angels. In the outfield and at third base, he has been average, though that only means so much since the majority of his time in the field has come at second. He has actually offered below-average defense at the keystone by OAA with a -1 in 40 attempts from that area of the field; at shortstop, he’s a little better at 2 OAA in 26 attempts. The chart below shows that Wade has been consistently getting the outs he is supposed to get, while making at least one very difficult catch.

Credit: Baseball Savant

Both Gonzalez and Wade have provided their teams with average or better defense from multiple positions. Given the samples, neither player really has any significant advantage over the other.

Baserunning

Tyler Wade has always been one of the faster players in the league, and that continues this year. The former pinstripes pinch-running specialist has an average sprint speed of 28.8 ft/s, which is good enough to be in the top eight percent of the league in sprint speed. However, with that speeds comes inconsistent usage. Wade has a fairly-horrible 50-percent caught stealing rate through mid-May, having been caught three times in six attempts — well below the 80-percent point where stealing a base becomes feasible.

Then again, Gonzalez is simply slow for a major league player. His sprint speed of 25.1 ft/s ranks in bottom 14 percent of the league, which is a territory mostly occupied by catchers. So Gonzalez does not really provide any significant speed on the base paths. Wade has potential to improve, but the impact of his speed has not really manifested thus far in 2022. In comparison to Gonzalez though, Wade certainly offers more potential and actual speed on the basepaths.

Ultimately, the Yankees’ decision to DFA Wade and sign Gonzalez seems perfectly reasonable in hindsight. Neither player offers a ton of upside or anything spectacular, but they also both provide good defense and adequate offense. Gonzalez certainly seems to hit the ball harder than Wade does, but Wade runs a whole lot faster than Gonzalez. Marwin provides good defense for the Yankees at multiple positions while operating as a switch-hitter on the bench. Wade operates as a good defensive player who offers great, though inconsistently used, speed for the Angels.

Both players are good utilitymen to have on the bench, but neither profiles as an everyday starter. Functionally, the Yankees chose to have a player with greater offensive versatility and upside (Gonzalez) over a player with greater speed (Wade).