Yankees deadline moves paying off in the field

Chase Headley's defense has made a difference for the Yankees. (Photo: mlb.com)
Chase Headley’s defense has made a difference for the Yankees. (Photo: mlb.com)

Despite Brian Cashman’s best efforts to improve the Yankees offense at the trade deadline, it appears that this team will have to rely on its strong pitching staff to carry them down the stretch.

The Yankees’ main offensive acquisitions – Stephen Drew, Martin Prado and Chase Headley – have provided little help at the plate since arriving in the Bronx.

But that fact ignores the huge contributions that the trio has made with their gloves, sparking a dramatic improvement in the Yankees infield defense over the past month.

Let’s take a deeper look at how each has impacted the Yankees in the field since putting on the pinstripes.

Third Base
Cashman downplayed Headley’s defensive ability when the trade with the Padres was announced on July 22, classifying his defense as “average”.

Headley has been anything but average at the hot corner with the Yankees.

Not only does his defense pass the eye test with numerous highlight-worthy plays and web gems over the past month, but the stats also back up his superior defensive skills and show how he has bolstered the team’s defense on the left side of the infield.

From the beginning of the season through July 22, the team converted just 69 percent of groundballs and infield fly balls/line drives into outs that were in the third baseman’s approximate fielding zone.

Since July 23 (Headley’s first start at third base), the Yankees have improved that out rate to 79 percent, ranking first among all major-league teams over the past month.

How much has that improved defense impacted the bottom line – i.e. preventing runs? Yankee third basemen in that span have saved an estimated five runs in just 23 games; in the first 99 games, their fielders at the hot corner combined for zero Defensive Runs Saved.

Baseball Info Solutions has developed a system to track the details of defensive plays that are not captured in traditional fielding statistics. Specifically, they identify and categorize Good Fielding Plays (web-gem nominees) and Defensive Misplays (any play where the fielder screws up) for every game of the season.

Prior to Headley’s arrival, Yankee third basemen had more Defensive Misplays/Errors (36) than Good Fielding Plays (31). Only five teams’ third basemen had a worse ratio of good-to-bad defensive plays than the Yankees through July 22.

It has been a completely different story over the past month. Since July 23, Yankee third basemen have more than twice as many Good Fielding Plays (11) as Defensive Misplays/Errors (5).

Second Base
Brian Roberts‘ defense this season was mostly passable and sometimes poor, but it was his repeated defensive miscues that frustrated many Yankee fans night after night.

Although Drew has had some issues adjusting to his new position on the diamond (4 Defensive Misplays and Errors), he and Prado still have provided above-average defense at a position that sorely needed an upgrade.

In the first four months, the Yankees converted 80 percent of balls hit into the second baseman’s approximate fielding zone; since August 1, that out rate has increased modestly to 84 percent.

The duo has combined to save four runs in 14 games at second base with the Yankees; prior to their arrival at the trade deadline, Yankee second basemen (excluding Brendan Ryan) had zero Defensive Runs Saved.

The Yankees’ Hunt for October this season appears to be following a different formula than in the past. Instead of relying on their big bats to lead them down the stretch, the team is leaning on its strong pitching and defense to remain in the playoff hunt.

So while Headley, Drew and Prado have not been able to solve the Yankees offensive woes, they still have made a difference with their outstanding infield defense and their impact on this team should not be discounted.

About Katie Sharp

Former ESPN researcher; forever baseball and Yankees fan. Now living in northern Vermont and the color of the front door of our house is Yankee blue. Also write about college football and basketball and the NFL. Bleed Huskies blue (that's UConn, of course).

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