Much was made during the off season on how the New York Yankees focused on defense in targeting acquisitions. And while none of us saw this good of a start to the season the team has brokered to this point, one question is how much that defensive upgrade applies to the current success. According to the major statistical sites, the answer is: Not very much. Let's get a few valid points out of the way. First, unlike batting and pitching statistics, fielding statistics to this point have had a larger margin for error. While we feel good about what the two former categories are telling us these days, fielding statistics have been perceived to be on less solid ground. Secondly--and perhaps because of the last statement--we are strongly cautioned against taking much stock in fielding statistics on a short sample size. We have been told in the past that such statistics should be viewed on the long term, perhaps over several years, to take seriously.
There is hope that the new Statcast system being hyped over at MLB.com can shed some new light on fielding and make that slippery slope less so. See this Christina Kahrl article for some insight on the new system.
At least for now, we are still stuck with the data we have had available to us. After making the above statements and all the cautions I've already mentioned, I still want to look at what we have for the Yankees thus far this season. My last reminder is to keep some healthy perspective on what I will review.
While the offense has been extremely ordinary and the pitching has been outstanding, the fielding has been--according to at least two of the three sites I am reviewing--mediocre. Fangraphs.com has the Yankees as 27th in defense (by runs) out of thirty teams. They only have the Athletics, the Mariners and the Padres as worse.
Baseball-reference.com has the Yankees as the 20th best defense. Again, that's not very good. Only ESPN.com's proprietary statistical analysis has the team in the top 50% at a tie for 13th. So what's going on here?
Well, we know that Didi Gregorius got off to a bad start. His numbers look rather Jeter-like at present. But what else is happening for the position players? I'm going to list the players and how the three sites rate them thus far.
Player - ESPN : Fangraphs : Baseball-reference (in runs)
- Brian McCann - +1 : +1.5 : -1
- John Ryan Murphy - +1 : +0.6 : 0
- Chris Young (RF) - +2, +0.9 : +2
- Chris Young (LF) - NA : +0.1 : +1
- Chris Young (CF) - NA : -2.3 : -1
- Stephen Drew (2b) - 0 : -1.7 : 0
- Stephen Drew (SS) - NA : +1.2 : 1
- Brett Gardner - 0 : -2.4 : 0
- Carlos Beltran - 0 : +0.1 : 0
- Jacoby Ellsbury - 0 : +1.3 : 0
- Chase Headley - -1 : -0.4 : -1
- Mark Teixeira - -1 : -2.2 : -1
- Gregorio Petit - -1 : -1.6 : -1
- Garrett Jones (RF) - -1 : -0.9 : -1
- Garrett Jones (1B) - NA : -0.1 : 0
- Didi Gregorius - -1 : -1.2 : -1
What is your reaction to those numbers? Do any surprise you? If so, for better or worse? Here are some of my observations:
- The numbers vary quite a bit from site to site.
- Stephen Drew hasn't hit, but his work at second base has seemed stellar. So his second base score surprises me on how low it is.
- I don't understand Brett Gardner's scores at all. He gets to everything.
- Chase Headley got off to a bad start, but his career numbers tell you he'll be more than okay.
- Didi Gregorius has never scored the love his reputation seems to give him.
- Carlos Beltran...in postive numbers!?
- I don't understand Mark Teixeira's numbers.
The rest seem reasonable.
These numbers (again with the caution that short sample sizes are extremely culpable with fielding) seem to show a team not much better defensively than last year. And certainly, it has not scored as well as what we expected to get after the front office work during the off season.
The defense hasn't been too costly in the grand scheme of things. According to ESPN and Baseball-reference, the defense has only cost the team a run. It takes around ten runs to make a win. Fangraphs.com is the toughest of the trio and rates the entire defense at -7 runs or about two-thirds of a win.
The bottom line from that last paragraph is that the Yankees' defense hasn't really cost them during this hot opening start to the season. But it certainly hasn't helped as much as we thought it would. Then again, this is a strong possibility that the numbers this early into the season don't mean anything either way.