The New York Yankees are 42-19 on the 2018 campaign and it’s time to celebrate just one of the outstanding elements of the team, the outfield defense, that has helped them to get there.
The Yankees outfield, left fielder Brett Gardner, center fielder Aaron Hicks and right fielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton currently lead the American League with 22 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Gardner has an astonishing 14 of them.
If you are not familiar with DRS, Fangraphs says that it “tells you how many runs better or worse that player has been relative to the average player at his position.” That’s the simple explanation, check out Fangraphs for a fuller definition.
Gardner’s veteran leadership in the Yankees outfield extends to the league, as he leads ALL outfielders with 14 DRS this season, if you combine his work in both left and center field.
According to Mark Simonsis of Baseball Info Solutions, most of Major League Baseball’s top defenders, such as Betts, Buxton and Heyward are five to 10 years younger than Gardner, 34, yet his range, arm and accuracy continue to make him an elite defender year after year.
Simonsis says of Gardner:
“Great defense is not always about diving, sliding or leaping. In this case, it’s just about getting in position to make plays and doing your job. Gardner isn’t the fanciest defender out there. But he’s among the best in the game.”
In 2017, he won the Fielding Bible Award for left field. His 20 DRS in ’17 was fourth among all outfielders and in 2016, he won a Gold Glove as well as winning the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year.
Before the season began, Joel Reuter of Bleacher Report ranked the 30 best outfielders going into 2018 and all four Yankee outfielders (including Giancarlo Stanton) made the list. Gardner ranked 18th. Reuter wrote of Gardner’s consistency and durability in the outfield:
“Brett Gardner has averaged 149 games over the past five seasons, posting at least 3.0 WAR each season and 19.7 WAR overall.”
Gardner is an impact player in the Yankee outfield and has performed at an elite level defensively every year he’s been in pinstripes.
Aaron Judge ranked number four on Reuter’s pre-season top 30 defenders’ list and one has only to watch the big man to appreciate his range, rocket arm, and accuracy on defense.
Judge, who has eight DRS this season, had nine all of last season and is on pace for a career year defensively.
He is currently tied for fourth in MLB in assists with five and is third in the league in double-play assists with one.
Matt Provenzano of Pinstripe Alley points out that Judge has a special talent for stealing home runs because of his height. As a result of Judge’s ability to steal home runs, Provenzano
“… took a look at Statcast’s defensive leaderboards for 2017, which rank plays made by probability, so a five star catch would be one where there was a 0-25% chance of being made. Not only was Judge excellent in that particular category, at 3 of 24 plays, but he ranked 15th in the league in Outs Above Average at nine.”
In other words, Judge’s defense ranked up there with some of the best in the league.
Between Gardner and Judge, Hicks capably directs the outfield. Hicks has elite arm strength as well as the ability, like Judge, to steal home runs.
While 2017 was an off season for Hicks because he missed half of the season due to a nagging oblique injury, defense has always been Hicks’ strength and the Yankees have counted on it in ’18 to anchor the defense in the middle.
Stanton has played both right and left field this season and hasn’t embarrassed himself at either. Yankees fans expected stellar defense from the 2017 National League Most Valuable Player in right field, but he has also played ably, though not without a few rough spots, in left field.
Erik Carlson of Pinstripe Alley says that “what he’s lacked in the batter’s box he’s made up for in defense…” and, in fact, Stanton had 10 DRS in 2017 to Judge’s 9 for the year. Carlson also points out that “Stanton is in the top 25% of outfielders on statcast’s outs above average leaderboard.”
The combination of talents in the Yankees outfield—the speed, range and power arms of the players who man it—win games. Gardner, Hicks, Judge and Stanton may struggle at the plate, but it’s a rare day when they struggle defensively. This season, the Yankees outfielders have been consistent, durable, and league leaders on defense.