The initial edition of the Fielding Bible chronicled the difference between Adam Everett and Derek Jeter. One was the best shortstop in the business and one was the worst. By now, it isn’t all that controversial to consider Jeter to be an awful defensive shortstop. Didi Gregorius took his slot and while he hasn’t been brilliant, he is considerably better than Jeter was and therefore almost as valuable overall as Jeter was in his salad days.
More and more teams are making decisions based on fielding rather than hitting. Commentators have made the same evolution over the years. We said many of the same things when evaluating players. In some cases, we didn’t know better and in some cases we just didn’t have the reliable data we have today. In either case, when teams consider fielding to decide who to play then we must also consider fielding when choosing players on our fantasy team.
We are using the Fielding Bible data to rate each team’s fielding. Billjamesonline.com has individual and team data we can rely on. We will look at infield, outfield, and shifting data. We also will look at the team’s defense efficiency rating according to baseball-reference.com. We will look at their rankings there and any changes they may have made to their defense and how that will impact their pitchers.
Jeter retired following the 2013 season, so we don’t really see the difference here. Suffice it to say, the Yankees haven’t always made decisions with fielding in mind. With Alex Rodriguez retiring, they are now free to pursue better fielding options at both third base and shortstop. So, the left side of their whole defense might be better. Unfortunately, that hasn’t manifested itself to the rest of the roster.
However, the team is destined to get younger over the next few years and with youth usually comes better fielding. Brian Cashman will have to resist temptation to add older veterans that will theoretically bolster the offense. 2017 looks to be a year of transition as some of those older veterans finally transition out.
Brett Gardner is one of those older players that might eventually cycle out of New York. However, he has been a terrific defender over the years. Like most aging players, his dominance is waning, but he has been plus 17 runs over the past three seasons. It is a far cry from the plus 48 runs he produced in 2010 and 2011, but he is still decidedly above average as a fielder. Unfortunately for the Yankees, above average is about as good as they are going to get.
Starlin Castro represents one of the attempts by Cashman to add offense to the lineup. Second base was a hole prior to 2016 and Castro was available, so he added him without really considering the fielding. He has been minus 19 runs over the past three seasons, so you could find worse if you wanted, but when considering that his offense is also mediocre there really wasn’t that much of an improvement.
The offseason truly involved a changing of the guard. Alex Rodriguez was gone by the end of the season and the club also saw long-time first baseman Mark Teixeira retire as well. In the offseason, they traded veteran catcher Brian McCann to the Astros so Gary Sanchez could take over full time. Finally, they have Aaron Judge in right field on a full-time basis. The obvious effort was to get younger and more athletic.
First base is in a state of flux as Chris Carter is there to battle it out with Greg Bird. As of this writing, the position is still unsettled. Bird offers slightly better defense while Carter has the track record of offensive production. That position probably represents a microcosm of where the Yankees are as an organization. Do you go with a younger and more promising player or do you go with someone that has produced in the past?
Going with youth brings some level of uncertainty, but that can be a good thing. The Yankees have been a middle of the road fielding team in their best seasons according to defensive runs saved. Going with youth gives them the opportunity to be good. If everything breaks right they could be surprising contenders down the stretch.
Like most teams, the Yankees have attempted to move in a direction that favors more ground ball pitchers. The average of their top four starters over the past three seasons has been 48 percent. C.C. Sabathia is slightly more adept at getting ground balls than the others, but not by much. He will be the guinea pig in the early going to determine if they will be better defensively. If he gets solid fielding behind him then it could be a good summer for the Yankees.
Michael Pineda has been all over the map in terms of batted ball data, so he will be a harder guy to predict. The others are fairly consistently in the ground ball department, so they will likely follow Sabathia’s lead. The fact that they have no real bust candidates is encouraging, but they also don’t have any must adds at this point.