NEW YORK (AP) – Of course, the Yankees are the Bronx Bombers. Turns out this group is filled with fancy fielders, too.
“I don’t think they want the attention,” catcher Austin Romine said Thursday ahead of the AL Championship Series against Houston. “You got a bunch of guys that go out there and play good defense, and it’s just now getting noticed.”
First baseman DJ LeMahieu, shortstop Didi Gregorius, second baseman Gleyber Torres and right fielder Aaron Judge may not necessarily be Baryshnikovs of the ballfield, but they can cha-cha and jitterbug quite nicely around the diamond. A series of outstanding defensive plays led to key outs in Monday’s win that completed a Division Series sweep of Minnesota.
“Gleyber has made huge strides this year defensively,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Overall defensively, I feel like we’re a better club.”
New York was in the middle of the major leagues, with a 1.7 defensive runs above average according to Fangraphs, quite a turnaround from the -15.7 of the sclerotic Yankees of 2015 and the -1.9 a year ago.
Oakland led the big leagues at 42.9 this season and Pittsburgh lagged at -51.0. Among the other remaining teams, St. Louis was third at 39.8, Houston 10th at 9.9 and Washington 17th at 0.9.
Quantifying fielding ability has been one of the greatest puzzles of baseball’s digital era, highlighting the complexity of rating movement. No wonder Olympic figure skating and gymnastics are judged by people, not CPUs.
Aaron Judge of the Yankees led right fielders at 8.7, even higher than Boston’s Mookie Betts at 7.0. Shortstop Didi Gregorius declined to 3.7 from 9.8 following Tommy John surgery. Third baseman Gio Urshela was -0.8, while Miguel AndÃºjar was -14 last year.
LeMahieu, a three-time Gold Glove, was plus 4.9 at second (where he made 66 starts), plus 0.9 at third (47) and -3.0 at first (28). Torres went up to -3.3 from -6.2 and though catcher Gary SÃ¡nchez appeared to improve, his rating dropped from 10.2 to 1.5.
“I think a lot of people have different opinions on measuring defense and it’s not a perfect world,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “We all have to rely on what our eyes tell us in some degree. There’s certain metrics that would say Didi’s not a good defender, but if you watch him play the game, you would disagree with that. So I still think it’s an evolving statistical analysis, but like everything else, eventually it will get shored up.”
New York has been a big proponent of infield shifts. The Yankees increased from 1,449 on balls put in play in 2018 to 1,702 this year, according to Sports Info Solutions, though in a sign of the massive increase in repositioning they dropped from sixth shiftiest to 13th. Their niftiest was having Torres about 20 feet into short right field in Game 3, where he scooped Eddie Rosario’s grounder with a slide, popped up and threw to LeMahieu at first for the out.
“Probably made six or seven above-average plays in the game,” reliever Adam Ottavino said. “A defensive play has so many variables: how the ball is hit, where you’re positioned, the spin on the ball, the circumstance of the game, the runners. There’s so much that goes into it, it becomes kind of hard to quantify it.”
Pitchers, especially appreciate the plays behind them.
“No matter how well you hit or how well you pitch, there always seems to be one or two defensive plays,” reliever Zack Britton said. “If you’re not able to do that a lot of the times throughout the game you can look back on it and go, man if we would have made that play we would have won that game.”
AP freelance writer Scott Orgera contributed to this report.
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