Yankees’ new utilityman might be their best bet to handle third base

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Miami Marlins
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Jon Berti was acquired by the Yankees yesterday afternoon, and while the trade isn’t a season-defining one, it does provide the team support at third base. The injury to DJ LeMahieu has put the entire position into question, as the timeline for a return has yet to be announced. He’s currently undergoing testing, and while the hope is that he’ll be back soon, there’s nothing concrete, and that imaging could reveal something more severe. Oswaldo Cabrera was going to get the start at the hot corner until LeMahieu came back, but Berti should give them a necessary upgrade.

Last season was a resurgent year for the 34-year-old infielder, and the keys to his success last year could lead to him being the third baseman they’ve needed since the start of the offseason.

Jon Berti’s New Changes Could Give the Yankees a Huge Boost

MLB: Game Two-Miami Marlins at New York Mets
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Defense and baserunning are two important aspects of a player’s value that often get overlooked, and Jon Berti brings those very important skills. He posted +5 Outs Above Average last season while playing four different positions, and that gives the Yankees multiple avenues to utilize him. For now, he’ll have to play third as the Bronx Bombers try to manage the injury to DJ LeMahieu, but one could argue that it’s his best position defensively. In under 600 innings across the last two seasons, Berti has +5 Outs Above Average with +6 Defensive Runs Saved, and that gives him a high floor as a starter.

Providing strong defensive value means that regardless of how you’re hitting, you can positively impact a game on the run-prevention side of things, and he can also place pressure on offense as well. He’s improved his contact skills dramatically over the past season, and that should help him utilize his speed to grab extra bases and give the Yankees more scoring opportunities. You might think that I’m only referring to the quantity of contact, as his Whiff Rate decreased from 24.5% to 19.8%, and that resulted in the lowest strikeout rate of his career (18.2%).

Increasing the quantity of contact you have can result in a drop-off in your quality of contact, and given that Jon Berti had run some of the lower xwOBACON numbers in the three seasons leading up to 2023, you’d think it would remain below average. Instead, his shot up to league-average (.370), meaning he accomplished the rare feat of increasing both the quantity and quality of contact. Foolish Baseball, a popular YouTuber in the baseball world, compared the balance of generating damage contact and generating frequent contact as a seesaw, when one goes up, the other usually goes down.

There was one way Jon Berti was able to break that mold, however, and it was with a subtle change to his hand placement which caused a change that saved his season.

The change is subtle, but the results were night and day, as Jon Berti reliably generated contact that went for hits, something he’s always struggled with in his career. You would think a versatile infielder with solid contact rates and excellent speed would hit for a high average, but now that he has that skill in his arsenal, he can provide serious value at the bottom of the Yankees’ lineup. DJ LeMahieu isn’t a bad player, but he’s slow and hits a lot of groundballs, meaning he can wreck any rally with a pulled groundball.

Sure, the same could be said about Juan Soto, but he crushes the baseball and can also change the outlook of a game with one swing of the bat. Having the flaws of a hitter like Soto without any of the elite power or OBP skills makes for a profile that could age poorly, and Jon Berti can give the Yankees some much-needed speed. Last season, the team finished dead-last in Sprint Speed (26.6) and second-to-last in Baserunning Run Value (-9), only ahead of the Colorado Rockies. Being a dynamic baserunning team isn’t vital to team success, but it does certainly help.

READ MORE: Yankees select new leadoff hitter with DJ LeMahieu going down

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees
Aug 3, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe (11) attempts to steal second base during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Volpe led the Yankees in stolen bases last year (24) and given the new rules we saw introduced last season to increase the volume of steals, it felt like a huge missed opportunity. The offense was bad, creating offense by stealing bases would have gone a long way, but they simply weren’t equipped to take advantage of that. Every team in the postseason had a team Sprint Speed above the league average, and while the Texas Rangers (79) stole fewer bases than the Yankees (100), that’s not the only way to utilize speed.

Understandably, the Yankees weren’t taking an extra base when they ranked last in Sprint Speed, but strong baserunning teams can figure out when the right time is to take advantage of a defense that’s fallen asleep. The Yankees were not one of those teams, and Jon Berti should be a huge help on that front. While his stolen-base production tumbled after 2022, his decisions when it came to advancing on the bases and creating more run-scoring opportunities for the Miami Marlins.

The Yankees have the bats to score runs without running the risk of being thrown out, but meshing that with having Jon Berti or Anthony Volpe extend a single into a double or a double into a triple doesn’t hurt either. What’s different about this Bronx Bomber squad is the depth of the lineup, and Berti is a step in the right direction on that front. Anthony Volpe will likely be their ninth hitter, and we could see the newly acquired infielder hitting seventh ahead of whoever is catching, giving them this potential lineup:

  1. Gleyber Torres 2B
  2. Juan Soto RF
  3. Aaron Judge CF
  4. Anthony Rizzo 1B
  5. Giancarlo Stanton DH
  6. Alex Verdugo LF
  7. Jon Berti 3B
  8. Austin Wells C
  9. Anthony Volpe SS

What we know about this lineup is that it’s deeper than last year’s rendition of the Bronx Bombers, but that’s not really a high bar. The only way to know just how good this lineup will be is by playing out the regular season, and maybe this ends up being the top-five offense that it’s projected to be. Jon Berti isn’t going to be the reason they’re good or bad; that comes from the returning players coming off of down seasons and the production you get from Juan Soto and Aaron Judge.

Jon Berti can however provide the under-the-radar skills that gel a lineup together, and in a perfect world, both Anthony Volpe and Austin Wells hit well enough to slide him to the ninth spot of the lineup. If he’s able to keep up the production he had last season, then we could see an offense that finishes at the top of the American League in Runs Scored.

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